NBC finally admits that the never-ending NBA season is under way, so it will hit us with both barrels after all the presents have been opened and the living room is trashed tomorrow: The San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Clippers is the early game (3:30 p.m.) while the Knicks and Michael Jordan wrap it up at 9 p.m.
Just as important is the new "NBA Showtime" cast will be introduced at 3 p.m., Jim Lampley and Quinn Buckner serving as hosts, Pete Vecsey back as resident wise guy and Bill Walton replacing Bob Ferry in the fill-out-the-set chair.
Pro hoops will have the Aloha Bowl contest, Kansas (7-4) vs. BYU (8-4) on ABC, to contend with, not to mention the around-the clock showings of "It's a Wonderful Life" on every even-numbered channel.
* The "HTS Year in Review" show tomorrow night (7:30) on Home Team Sports is hardly "a look back at the hottest action and the stories that rocked the sports world," as advertised, but it is an interesting talk with the four general managers of area pro teams. Al Koken does a nice job of moving the conversation along and attempting to drag some personality out of the speakers.
* Will this fantasy never end? Remember Ken Levine, the quirky radio play-by-play announcer of the Orioles a couple of years back? The comedy writer ("Cheers") aspired to be an announcer on the major-league level and, after making it here, he moved on to do minor-league ball in Seattle (Mariners), much to the delight of local listeners.
Anyway, Ken has a book out entitled, "It's Gone. . .No, Wait a Minute," and it's fully as enjoyable and accurate as a majority of his work was on WBAL. He is particularly harsh toward The TV Repairman, who, truth to tell, always handled Levine with kid gloves out of extreme pity.
* The NFL games on Saturday, Saints-Jets (CBS) at 1 p.m. and Raiders-Redskins (NBC) at 4, have a 30 percent chance of being competitive, no more. The Sunday pairings aren't much better, Broncos-Chiefs (NBC), 1 p.m., and either Packers-Minny or Giants-Eagles (CBS) at 4. So why not just dump the last week of the season and hand out a half-dozen more wild cards?
* The college bowls get previewed on Channel 2 Sunday at 4:30 p.m., but you can get all the dope tomorrow at 3 p.m. on Channel 7.
Speaking of previews, "ACC Sports" on HTS Sunday (7:30-9 p.m.) will preview the four conference teams in bowl games -- Florida State in the Orange, N.C. State in the Gator, UNC in the Peach and Wake Forest in the Independence. "This program outdraws everything else we do by a wide margin," an HTS spokesman explained.
* The Redskins-Eagles game at 1 p.m. last Sunday drew a 16.8 rating, nearly matching the 16.9 rung up by the Raiders-Dolphins in prime time the Monday night before. ABC announcer Al Michaels' explanation covers the situation succinctly: "We haven't had a compelling game from beginning to end all season." Amen.
* "The money is not that important, just to be home [Madison Square Garden] to defend my title," heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe said of his Feb. 6 defense against Michael Dokes (( on HBO. And you can take that to the bank, fans.
* Good line from Phil Mushnick in the New York Post: "Joe DiMaggio's autograph on a baseball is now pitched on TV for a minimum of $350. . .there's a generation of fans who figure that's why he's called 'The Yankee Clipper.' "
* Here's a list of the bowl games you'll be missing or catching glimpses of as you are channel-grazing next week:
Tuesday, Copper: Washington State (8-3) vs. Utah (6-5), 8 p.m., ESPN; Freedom: Fresno State (8-4) vs. USC (6-4-1), Raycom, 9 p.m. Welcome back, Duane Dow!
Wednesday, Holiday: Hawaii (9-2) vs. Illinois (6-4-1), ESPN, 8 p.m.
* "NFL Today" (CBS) conducted a poll asking who's the rookie coach of the year and 27 NFL GMs answered Bill Cowher with 13 1/2 votes, Mike Holmgren with 8 1/2 , Dennis Green, 3, Bobby Ross, 2, and Dave Shula, zip. Wait, Shula didn't even get the nod from his own GM?
* Three cheers for Joe Theismann. He looks at the inconsistent, sometimes horrible year Mark Rypien has been having with the Redskins and describes it thusly. Then he catches what-for from media types who insist they want commentators to be truthful, but then cringe when a guy is. Think about it. When is the last time John Madden or Pat Summerall gave a negative assessment of anything or anybody?
* Vivacious Phil Vitale says Clemson wins his college hoops Cupcake Schedule Award with its pre-ACC slate of Liberty, Howard, UNC-Greensboro, Furman, Citadel, Davidson, Appalachian State, Mercer and Furman again.
Word has it that Georgetown, which starts reading the NCAA Division I computer rankings from the bottom and starts making calls, is incensed it didn't qualify.
* Quickies: Please, someone, give John Robinson a coaching job. He was absolutely brutal while supposedly analyzing the thrilling Marshall-Youngstown State Division IAA championship last Saturday. . . Nearly as bad was Dan Hampton working the Seahawks-Broncos game. "NFL football doesn't get any better than that," he said of the 10-6 epic. . . The SportsChannel servicing the New York area begins a series of 12 American Hockey League games beginning Jan. 3. . . Psst, the "Monday Night Football" game next week is Lions at 49ers. It's already been nominated for a Golden Turkey Award. . . If the NFL doesn't do something about the clock operator in Denver, Las Vegas is apt to take Broncos games off the board.