NBC shuffled its roster just before opening the network's National Basketball Association season (Los Angeles Lakers-San Antonio Spurs, tomorrow, 3 p.m., channels 2 and 4), but, given the caliber of the announcers doing the shuffling, don't think that means NBC made a misstep.
Bob Costas, originally set to be one of the network's play-by-play men along with Marv Albert, instead will be host of the pre-game program "NBA Showtime," joining former Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley. Taking Costas' play-by-play spot will be Dick Enberg.
NBC apparently spent much of the past few months trying to find a partner for Riley -- the candidates reportedly included Channel 2 alumnus and ESPN all-purpose player John Saunders and CNN sports anchor Hannah Storm -- but couldn't find a fit.
"When they made the announcement that I was the studio host, it was always with the idea I would be paired with someone with experience," Riley said in a news conference this week. "Dick [Ebersol, NBC Sports president] and Terry [O'Neil, executive producer] just couldn't find someone who clicked."
Then, during NBC's recent telecasts from the McDonald's Open in Barcelona, Spain, Costas and Riley teamed for the pre-game and halftime shows, and sparks flew.
"He [Costas] approached Dick and Terry because of the unsettled nature of the show," Riley said.
"On the flight home from Spain, I realized this whole thing was a jigsaw puzzle and that this was the way things would fit together best," Costas said.
Ebersol and O'Neil liked what they saw, and what they saw is what NBA viewers are going to see on NBC.
"For me, working with Bob is like working with Magic Johnson," Riley said. "I'm used to working with the best.
"My role is that of a co-host equal to Bob, although there is no equal to Bob."
Actually, beyond that press-release kind of talk lies a question: Just how much of Riley will NBC give us?
"NBA Showtime" will run about 20 minutes, and the first part of it will be dedicated to a roundup of NBA news, probably in the rapid-fire style of "NFL Live." There also will be a feature and the "NBA Insiders" with USA Today rumormonger Peter Vecsey and former Washington Bullets general manager Bob Ferry.
"It's going to be tight. It's going to be fast-paced," Riley said.
So, it's going to be tough to give Riley much room. But there's always the eight-minute halftime show. That's when Riley may break out the Telestrator, he said. (Hmm, will the Lakers and new coach Mike Dunleavy be watching in the locker room?)
Actually, Riley said, NBC first approached him about joining the network as an analyst, the more logical job for a former coach or player. But Riley wanted something different, he said.
"If I was going to make this move, I wanted to distance myself from the game and let these withdrawal pains subside," Riley said.
Still, Riley doesn't expect to watch tomorrow's game as just a dispassionate observer.
"I'm going to look out there," he said, "and say, 'That guy is coaching my team.' "
NBC will have weekly NBA games on Saturday starting Jan. 27. . . Enberg is scheduled to call the NBA All-Star Game this season, and Albert will be play-by-play announcer on the NBA Finals. . . . NBC also announced this week that Enberg will do play-by-play next season on its Notre Dame football games. . . . Saturday's Notre Dame-Pittsburgh game on ESPN drew a 6.5 cable rating (percentage of all homes with cable) for 3.7 million households, an all-time best for college football on ESPN and the cable network's top rating for a non-National Football League telecast. . . . Only 12 days remain before ESPN's first college basketball broadcasts. On Nov. 14, ESPN carries a doubleheader from the Dodge NIT -- Marquette-Duke and Vanderbilt-Arkansas.
Baltimore Orioles announcing update: Jim Palmer said yesterday his decision on whether to return to Channel 2 telecasts -- likely as a combination play-by-play announcer/analyst -- will wait until after he learns of ESPN's plans for him next season. ESPN has until Nov. 15 to pick up an option on his contract, Palmer said. Meanwhile, TV Hill has risen 10 feet as audition tapes for the No. 2 radio job accumulate at WBAL. . . . Home Team Sports will be sending tapes of Washington Capitals and Bullets games to the Navy hospital ship Comfort in the Persian Gulf. Of the nearly 1,100 men and women on the ship, about 800 are from the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, but maybe they would want to see the Bullets anyway.
Max McGee's comments during Sunday's radio broadcast of the Green Bay Packers-Minnesota Vikings game forced WTMJ, the Packers' flagship station, to issue an apology. Speaking of the Vikings' Herschel Walker, McGee said: "You know, Walker looks like he has on so much pads when he carries the ball, he really can't put the ball. . . It looks like he's just stole a watermelon heading south."