NBC fills Airwaves, mostly well


Here's today's role-playing exercise: Let's say you are NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol and you've been handed the greatest end-of-winter gift a network executive can receive: the return of the biggest name on the sports marquee, Michael Jordan.

How do you handle it? Probably the same way that NBC did yesterday, presenting almost every possible angle to the re-emergence of Jordan to the Chicago Bulls after a 17-month absence.

The cogs in the mighty Peacock machinery got grinding around noon Saturday as Peter Vecsey broke the story that Jordan would be making his rumored re-entry during yesterday's road game with the Indiana Pacers, which, just happened to be on -- surprise, surprise -- NBC.

The next move was to rearrange the network's telecast plan, which originally had 53 percent of the nation seeing the Bulls-Pacers game, with the other 47 percent getting the Utah Jazz-Charlotte Hornets contest. Eventually, only Charlotte and Salt Lake City saw the Jazz-Hornets game.

Promos for the game were cranked out in time for Saturday's prime-time schedule, "NBA Showtime" anchor Bob Costas, who was to have had the day off, was dispatched to Indianapolis, and NBC was on the trail of the biggest sports story of the year.

The coverage was mostly good. Costas was typically witty and urbane, framing Jordan's return as unprecedented in team sports history. Game commentators Marv Albert and Matt Guokas also were insightful, as usual. Guokas, the former Orlando Magic coach, deftly dissected Jordan's 19-point, 7-for-28 shooting performance, offering that Jordan's leg strength hadn't quite returned, as his first six shots all hit the front of the rim.

The reporting, however, was mixed. Vecsey got good on-camera information from Chicago general manager Jerry Krause and off-camera tips from team owner Jerry Reinsdorf about the terms of Jordan's return.

And then there's Ahmad "I spoke to Michael Jordan" Rashad. Rashad opened the show by saying he had spent the last 24 hours with Jordan. He said the two had chuckled over erroneous reports about where Jordan was, but never actually disclosed from whence they chuckled.

Rashad's post-game interview with Jordan, the first by any member of the media since rumors of his return began to drift out last week, was one softball lob after another. But what could you expect from a guy who hasn't asked a tough on-air question since he proposed to his wife, Phylicia, a few years ago?

What tournament?

About the only thing that could have derailed one of CBS' best NCAA tournaments in recent years was all the Jordan hoopla at NBC, but Len DeLuca, CBS Sports vice president for programming, kept a sunny disposition from the network's New York war room, where all of the tournament games could be seen.

"Between 12 and 3 [when the Bulls-Pacers game was on] we obviously won't have the same audience, but the return of the world's greatest basketball player heightens interest in basketball for everyone," said DeLuca. "I'd like to think that we're fortunate that Michael's return came this week. Now, the Sweet 16 and Final Four will be the focus."

Nice spin, Len

By the way, DeLuca got in a couple of digs at NBC, which didn't air any tournament scores through the weekend, and also was scooped on the note that Jordan would wear uniform number 45, not 23, by CBS reporter Bob Lobel.

DeLuca also couldn't contain a chuckle over the fact that while NBC was airing a pre-game Vecsey report, CBS was showing the first pictures of Jordan taking the court in a Bulls uniform.

"We did more promotion of Michael's return than they did. If you watched NBC this weekend, you would not know that there was an NCAA tournament," said DeLuca. "If you are the basketball network -- and we are -- you cover all the stories. That obviously includes Michael Jordan."

By the way, if you tuned in to Channel 13 yesterday at 5 p.m. expecting the Syracuse-Arkansas game, and were surprised to see UCLA-Missouri, don't blame CBS. A network spokeswoman said Channel 13 requested the change.

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