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After Volleyball, He Looks to Hit It Big

There are essentially two ways to get into sports broadcasting. One, have a big name. Two, work hard.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who began working for TNT this week as a studio analyst on the NBA playoffs, took the first route.

Paul Sunderland, the host of Prime Sports’ Laker pregame show, among other things, took the second.

Sunderland at one time was the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of his sport. The problem was, his sport was volleyball, and you don’t become a household name playing volleyball.

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Sunderland was a member of the U.S. volleyball team from 1974 to ’84. He helped the United States win an Olympic gold medal in 1984.

He got into broadcasting in 1985 as a volleyball commentator, working with his longtime friend and U.S. teammate, Chris Marlowe, who was the captain in 1984.

Now volleyball is only a small part of what Marlowe and Sunderland do. Marlowe, who credits sportscasting guru Lou Riggs for helping him with fundamentals, has become one of the top up-and-coming, all-around play-by-play announcers, and Sunderland . . . well, he does just about everything. He mainly works for Prime, NBC and ESPN, but he pops up all over the place.

“My immediate goal is to work every day,” he said, “and my ultimate goal is to be the next Bob Costas. I want to work the big events, I want to be the host of the 2000 Olympics.

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“If that sounds as if I’m ambitious, it’s because I am. I look at this business the way I looked at volleyball. The first thing was to make the team, the second was become a starter, then a star and eventually win a gold medal.”

Sunderland was a three-sport star at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks and played basketball at Oregon for two years before transferring to Loyola Marymount, where he played basketball and volleyball. He lives in Malibu with his wife, Maud-Ann, a former Swedish fencing champion, and they have two children, Natasha, 12, and Leif, 7.

He may sound egotistical, but those who know him say he is nice and hard-working.

Not familiar with Sunderland’s work? You can watch him tonight, along with co-host Reggie Theus, on Prime Sports’ half-hour Laker pregame show at 7.

Abdul-Jabbar, for his part, made a good point Thursday night when he criticized Indiana’s Reggie Miller for the lack of respect he showed the New York Knicks.

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Ratings game: Monday’s Laker telecast on Channel 9, despite starting at 5 p.m., averaged an impressive 9.6 rating and peaked with a 13.6. The 9.6 is almost double the rating that Channel 9 averaged for Laker telecasts during the regular season.

So it figured Prime Sports was primed for some kind of ratings record with tonight’s game at the Forum between San Antonio and the Lakers. But then Channel 5 added tonight’s home Dodger game because pitcher Hideo Nomo will be starting.

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Warm up the remote control.

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It comes as no surprise that last Saturday’s Oscar De La Hoya-Rafael Ruelas pay-per-view telecast did best in California.

According to Mark Taffet, the chief financial officer of Time Warner Sports, which owns TVKO, the fight distributor, some cable systems in Southern California have reported buy rates of more than 10%.

Meanwhile, with systems representing about 11 million homes in a universe of between 25 and 26 million having reported, the national average is around 1.6%.

“When all is said and done, I think the figures will show we reached 425,000 homes,” promoter Bob Arum said.

The record for a non-heavyweight fight is 902,000 homes, set when Pernell Whitaker and Julio Cesar Chavez fought to a controversial draw in September, 1993. The buy rate was 4.4%.

The overall record for boxing is 1.4 million homes and an 8% buy rate for Evander Holyfield-George Foreman in May of 1991.

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Arum said the numbers for De La Hoya-Ruelas would be a lot higher were it not for piracy by people with illegal cable boxes.

“It’s a tremendous problem,” he said. “About 20% of the country has rigged boxes, but with boxing fans it’s probably more like 80%.”

The courts are starting to come down hard on those found guilty of piracy. This week, Prime Sports won a $1,037,533 judgment against a company that was stealing the signal and showing it in condominium and apartment complexes.

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TV-Radio Notes

The TVKO announcing team of Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Roy Jones Jr. did an excellent job calling last Saturday’s pay-per-view fight card, particularly when it came to keeping viewers up to date on the condition of injured boxer Jimmy Garcia. Also, all three called for Garcia’s undercard fight with Gabriel Ruelas to be stopped before it was. “I’ve been advocating for years that when an outclassed opponent no longer can win a fight on points on the scorecards, the boxing commissioner should stop the fight,” Merchant said. Of Jones, Merchant said: “It may have been the most impressive broadcasting debut by an athlete ever.” . . . HBO will replay Oscar De La Hoya’s knockout of Rafael Ruelas Saturday at 3 p.m. and also review the Garcia situation. . . . HBO offers a heavyweight doubleheader Saturday at 7--Lennox Lewis vs. Lionel Butler and Michael Moorer vs. Tim Puller.

Did anyone else feel it was unnecessary for ABC to show a turf race before the Kentucky Derby last Saturday? More feature material on the Derby entries would have been better. ABC spokesman Mark Mandel said his network didn’t add the turf race because of a sponsorship deal. “We’re hoping to build on the series for the future,” he said. . . . In the latest installment of its women in sports series, “Passion to Play,” ABC on Sunday at 1 p.m. focuses on athletes who are mothers. Host Donna de Varona is the mother of two. . . . NBC will cut away from the end of Game 4 of the Phoenix-Houston NBA series on Sunday in Los Angeles and San Antonio to pick up the start of the Laker-Spur game at noon.


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