This Team Shouldn't Be in NBA Finals

The best thing to happen to NBC this year was Utah and Chicago, the NBA's two best teams, qualifying for the finals.

The second-best thing was the Detroit Pistons firing Doug Collins as their coach on Feb. 2.

Six weeks later he was hired to join Bob Costas and Isiah Thomas on NBC's No. 1 NBA announcing team.

Without Collins, NBC would be saddled with possibly the worst announcing team on an NBA finals since the CBS days of Brent Musburger and Tom Heinsohn.

Collins might be the best basketball commentator since Rick Barry. The problem with Barry, at least back then, was that he couldn't get along with anyone. CBS had to fire him or lose everyone else who couldn't stand being around him.

The problem with Costas is that he simply is not a basketball play-by-play announcer. He may have been in the 1970s when he was fresh out of Syracuse and working games for the old ABA Spirits of St. Louis, but he sure isn't now.

Costas does many things well, just not basketball. His boss, Dick Ebersol, loves him. But in this case, love was blind when Ebersol made Costas his No. 1 announcer on the NBA when he had Dick Enberg at his disposal.

Costas misses calls and situations and has to be bailed out by Collins. Costas tries to cover up his deficiencies with flowery language, and that doesn't work.

You hate to say it, but NBC really misses Marv Albert.

As for Thomas, well, what can you say? He was a fine basketball player and, by all accounts, a smart business executive with the Toronto Raptors. But he is not a broadcaster. He brings nothing to the table except his name.

With the Bulls trailing by two late in the game Wednesday, Thomas said, "The Bulls are right where they want to be."

Uh, holding a double-digit lead was where the Bulls wanted to be.

Thomas is about as likely to say something meaningful or insightful as Ahmad Rashad is to ask a tough question of best friend Michael Jordan.

RATINGS GAME

NBC could have Jim Carrey and Pee-wee Herman call this NBA finals and it wouldn't matter. People would still watch.

The national rating for Game 1 was a whopping 18.0 with a 32% share of the audience, and the game drew an estimated 53.3 million viewers. Those are all NBA final Game 1 records. The previous high rating for a Game 1 was a 16.8 in both 1993 and '96, and the previous high for number of viewers was 48 million for Chicago-Seattle in '96.

Tonight's Game 2 should break more records. Even halftime should be worth watching, since a 74-year-old fan will try to make as much as $2 million. He gets five shots, with $250,000 on the line for the first four and $1 million for the fifth.

Meanwhile, NHL ratings are floundering.

Fox's regular-season ratings went from a 1.9 average last year to a 1.4 this year, and playoff ratings have dropped from a 2.1 to a 1.8. ESPN's regular-season average was a 1.5 last year, a .6 this year. ESPN's playoff rating has gone from a 1.1 to a .7, a 36% decline.

There are reasons for the decline. The two-week Olympic break pushed the playoffs back into the thick of the NBA playoffs. And a New York Ranger- Philadelphia Flyer conference final series, as there was last year, is certainly going to draw a bigger national rating than, say, Detroit-Dallas.

Last Sunday's Detroit-Dallas game, which drew a decent 2.2 national number, got a 21.6 rating in Detroit. But all that is needed is a 4.2 rating in New York to get the same number of viewers.

Four years ago, Fox agreed to pay $155 million over five years for NHL games. Did it do the right thing?

"You're always concerned about a decline in ratings," said Ed Goren, Fox Sports' executive producer, "but we think this year is an aberration. Our first three years, we did as well as regular-season college basketball on CBS, with better demographics."

Will Fox pick up its option after next season?

"As with anything we do, it has to be a sound business decision," Goren said.

Fox and ESPN will continue to share games through the Stanley Cup finals, which begin Tuesday. Fox will show Games 1, 5 and 7, with ESPN doing the rest. At least the scheduling is such that none of the games will go up against the NBA finals.

SHORT WAVES

What a Saturday for sports viewing. There is Real Quiet's bid for a Triple Crown on ABC. Monica Seles goes after a French Open title on NBC. The College World Series championship game is on CBS. . . . There is a heavyweight title fight on pay-per-view, although Evander Holyfield's match with Henry Akinwande on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden hasn't generated much excitement. . . . And then there is the Dodger soap opera. Tonight's interleague game at Seattle will be on Channel 5 and Saturday's game will be on Fox, which is again showing its own team as one of four regional Game-of-the-Week telecasts. The Dodgers' Charles Johnson will wear Fox's Catcher Cam.

A new syndicated show, "Golf 2000 With Peter Jacobsen," makes its debut on Channel 2 Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Included in the show is a travel log segment with the omnipresent Jim Gray and a celebrity interview segment with Ann Liguori. . . . ESPN2 began televising the first Pro Beach Hockey season Thursday night and the coverage runs through the end of August. The games, taped in Huntington Beach, will generally be shown late Tuesday and Thursday nights. The Mighty Ducks' Chris Madsen calls the action. . . . Lifetime television begins its WNBA coverage with a New York Liberty-Cleveland Rocker game next Thursday at 5 p.m. After that game, Lifetime will have a Friday night game each week through the 10-week regular season. ESPN begins its WNBA coverage June 15. . . . Inside Sports, a magazine that thrived when ESPN "SportsCenter" czar John Walsh was the editor in the '80s, has folded.

IN CLOSING

NBC is cutting back its No. 1 announcing team on baseball to two, Costas and Joe Morgan. Ebersol and Bob Uecker did a conference call with reporters this week to explain that Uecker, because of ongoing back problems, has chosen to drop his NBC duties while continuing with the Milwaukee Brewers. NBC, which has the All-Star game and the American League championship series, is wisely not replacing Uecker, reasoning that two announcers are enough. NBC should adopt the same kind of thinking with the NBA next season and pair Enberg with Collins. Those two would be outstanding.

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What Los Angeles Is Watching

A sampling of L.A. Nielsen ratings for May 30-31, including sports on cable networks: SATURDAY *--*

Event Channel Rating Share Baseball: Cincinnati at Dodgers 11 3.1 10 Men's soccer: U.S. vs. Scotland 7 2.3 6 College World Series: USC vs. LSU 2 1.8 6 Tennis: French Open 4 1.7 5 Golf: PGA Memorial tournament 7 1.6 5 Boxing: Michael Grant-Obed Sullivan HBO 1.3 4 Baseball: Angels at Minnesota 9 1.2 3 Boxing: Carlos Palomino-Wilfredo Rivera 34 0.9 3 NHL playoffs: Washington at Buffalo ESPN 0.9 2 Prep track: Masters meet FSW2 0.8 3 MLS soccer: Chicago at Galaxy ESPN2 0.7 1 Baseball: St. Louis at San Diego FX 0.5 1 College World Series: Florida-Miss. St. ESPN 0.4 1 Bowling: Greater Harrisburg Open 2 0.4 1 CART Miller 200 qualifying ESPN2 0.3 1 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series TNN 0.2 1 Drag racing: Federal Mogul Series ESPN2 0.1 0

*--*

SUNDAY

*--*

Event Channel Rating Share NBA playoffs: Indiana-Chicago 4 19.4 39 Tennis: French Open 4 3.7 11 Track: Prefontaine Classic 2 2.3 6 Golf: PGA Memorial tournament 7 2.0 5 NHL playoffs: Dallas-Detroit 11 1.8 5 NASCAR Platinum 400 TNN 1.1 3 CART Miller Lite 200 ESPN 1.1 3 Drag racing at Joliet, Ill. TNN 1.1 3 Horse racing: The Californian 2 1.3 3 MLS soccer: N.Y./N.J. at New England 34 0.9 3 Baseball: Chicago White Sox-Detroit WGN 0.5 2 College World Series: Arizona St.-Miami ESPN 0.5 1 College World Series: L.B. St.-Fla. St. ESPN2 0.3 1 Baseball: Atlanta-Chicago Cubs ESPN 0.3 1 PPG Dayton Indy Lights ESPN2 0.3 1 NFL Europe: England-Barcelona FSW 0.2 0

*--*

Note: Each full rating point represents 50,092 L.A. households. Cable ratings reflect the entire market even though cable is in only 63% of L.A. households.

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