No Leno Joke: Clippers Have a Winner


The Clippers are 1-21, but not all is bleak.

For one thing, what other NBA team has been honored with a ticker-tape parade on late-night television?

For another, the Clippers have a winner in broadcasting newcomer Michael Smith.

Jay Leno invited the team to come on down after its victory last week, and the Clippers were good sports about it and showed up.

The Clippers rank up there with Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky as Leno’s favorite targets. We remember last year during the Winter Olympics in Japan, Leno cracked, “What is Japan, 17 hours ahead? That means the Clippers have already lost tomorrow night’s game.”


Just last week came this one: “If you’re a Clipper fan and gonna go to a game, bring your sneakers. There’s a good chance you might get to play.”

Leno is showing no sign of easing off. During an “Iron Jay” bit Wednesday night, to a question about NFL expansion and the possibility of L.A. getting a team that could score 30 to 35 points a game, the answer was, “What for? We’ve already got the Clippers.”

But there is something positive to write about the Clippers, and that is Smith. He’s a former player who does play-by-play and commenting equally well, and has been doing both, mostly on radio.

Smith was a Southern Section player of the year in three sports at Los Altos High--football, basketball and volleyball. He was a 6-foot-8 quarterback who set all kinds of records, including eight touchdown passes in one game. He starred in basketball at Brigham Young, spent two seasons with the Boston Celtics, four in Europe and part of the 1994-95 season with the Clippers.

He was doing commentary on BYU basketball for local television when longtime Clipper announcer Ralph Lawler spotted him while the Clippers were in Salt Lake City a couple of years ago. After the Clipper radio job opened up, Lawler called and suggested to Smith that he try play-by-play.

“The idea appealed to me,” Smith said. “The analyst jobs are going to go to the bigger names and I thought doing play-by-play would be a different niche.”


One problem. Smith had no play-by-play training. But Lawler took care of that.

Smith, his wife and five children live in Laguna Niguel, not far from Lawler. During the summer and the ensuing NBA lockout, Smith and Lawler became inseparable.

“Ralph would listen to me, shake his head and walk out of the room,” Smith said. “He’d come back and say, ‘OK, do it again, but with 10 times more emotion.’

“I’ve never in my life met anyone like Ralph. I’ve never met anyone who cares more about someone else’s success. He’s just amazing to me. There is no one who loves his job, who loves his team and organization, as much as Ralph.

“Any success I have in broadcasting, I will always owe it all to Ralph Lawler.”


HBO will show a replay of last Saturday’s Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield fight tonight at 10, and if you saw the live pay-per-view telecast, you know the TVKO-HBO announcers won’t be pulling any punches.

After the decision was announced, Jim Lampley said, “Two judges have fraudulently converted this fight into a draw.” He called it “highway robbery” and “a travesty” and concluded that “once again, at a critical and propitious moment, boxing’s cesspool opens to emit an unconscionable odor.” (Propitious? That’s a Lampley word.)

Roy Jones Jr. said, “Any time Don King is involved, you can expect a draw to come from somewhere,” noting the Pernell Whitaker-Julio Cesar Chavez controversial draw of a few years ago.


Both fighters and all three judges will be part of tonight’s replay show, taped earlier this week.

A sneak preview: Lampley asks judge Eugenia Williams, who had Holyfield winning, if she had any second thoughts, and Williams says, “Not at all.”

Lampley: “We’ve looked at your dossier of experience and this was by far the biggest fight you’ve ever been assigned to. There was nothing in the previous list that was anywhere close. Given what you’re going through, would you want to be assigned to another heavyweight championship fight?”

Williams: “Absolutely.”


It hasn’t been announced yet, but ESPN has made plans to televise the Baltimore Orioles’ historic exhibition game against the Cuban national team in Cuba on March 28. . . . Three days after being fired as coach of the New Jersey Nets, John Calipari has landed a job with ESPN. He’ll serve as an analyst on the “NBA Matchup” show, which is on ESPN2 Saturdays at 9:30 p.m. . . . Baseball moves: Kevin Kennedy has gone from ESPN to Fox Sports Net and Rick Sutcliffe will replace Kennedy at ESPN.

Good move: Utah Coach Rick Majerus will join Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg in the CBS studio Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile, reports are heating up that Majerus may be headed for San Diego State. . . . The UCLA men may be long gone, but the UCLA women’s West Regional game or games will be on ESPN with Pam Ward and Vera Jones reporting, and AM 1150 with Lou Riggs, Mike Sondheimer and L.A. Sparks assistant coach Collen Matsuhara. . . . The “Celebrity Jeopardy” segment with Keith Olbermann, Bob Costas and Robin Roberts will be on Channel 7 Monday at 7 p.m. . . . The four-race British Airways International Jockey Challenge is being run Sunday at Santa Anita and Fox Sports West will offer coverage from 3:30-4 p.m.


Ratings for the NCAA tournament are steadily decreasing, while NBA ratings, despite the lockout and Michael Jordan’s retirement, are on the rise. Nowhere is that more evident than in Los Angeles. The tournament was averaging a dismal 2.5 rating here after the first two rounds, while the NBA on NBC is averaging a 7.8.



What Los Angeles Is Watching

A sampling of L.A. Nielsen ratings for March 13-14, including sports on cable networks: SATURDAY


Over-the-air Channel Rating Share NCAA tournament: Florida-Weber State 2 4.2 10 NCAA tournament: Gonzaga-Stanford 2 3.8 11 Soccer: U.S. Cup, Mexico-U.S. 7 3.6 11 Track & field: World Indoor Championships 4 2.9 8 NCAA tournament: Connecticut-New Mexico 2 2.7 9 NCAA tournament: St. John’s-Indiana 2 2.6 8 Golf: Honda Classic 4 2.6 8 Horse racing: Florida Derby 7 1.9 5 Hockey: Mighty Ducks-Phoenix 9 1.0 2



Cable Network Rating Share Tennis: State Farm Evert Cup final ESPN 1.5 4 Auto racing: NASCAR Busch Grand National ESPN 1.2 4 Horse racing: San Felipe Stakes ESPN2 1.0 3 Pro basketball: Portland-Clippers FSW2 0.8 2 Women’s NCAA: Wisconsin Green Bay-UCLA ESPN 0.8 1 Golf: Toshiba Senior Classic ESPN 0.8 2 Horse racing: Santa Anita Live FSW2 0.7 2 Auto racing: NHRA Sportsman Series (tape) ESPN2 0.6 2 Auto racing: Winston Cup Happy Hour ESPN2 0.6 2 Hockey: Vancouver-Kings FSW 0.4 1 Tennis: Newsweek Champions Cup ESPN2 0.2 0 Women’s NCAA: Appalachian St.-Tennessee ESPN2 0.1 0




Over-the-air Channel Rating Share Pro basketball: Lakers-Sacramento 9 10.0 16 Pro basketball: New Jersey-Miami 4 5.4 15 Los Angeles Marathon 13 4.7 13 NCAA tournament: Kentucky-Kansas 2 3.8 10 Golf: Honda Classic 4 3.4 9 NCAA tournament: Miami of Ohio-Utah 2 3.0 8 Auto racing: Cracker Barrel 500 7 2.7 7 NCAA tournament: Duke-Tulsa 2 2.1 6 Hockey: Detroit-Colorado 11 0.6 2



Cable Network Rating Share Golf: Toshiba Senior Classic ESPN 1.4 3 Tennis: Newsweek Champions Cup ESPN 0.6 2 Horse racing: Santa Anita Oaks FSW 0.6 1 Hockey: Dallas-Philadelphia ESPN 0.5 1 Horse racing: Louisiana Derby ESPN2 0.3 1 Women’s NCAA: Maine-Old Dominion ESPN2 0.2 0 Women’s NCAA: Penn St.-Louisiana Tech ESPN2 0.2 0 Women’s NCAA: SW Missouri St.-Colorado St. ESPN2 0.1 0


Note: Each 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.