NBA playoff coverage sure to put you in hoop heaven


To quote Bill Blazekowski from the Michael Keaton-Henry Winkler movie "Night Shift," is this a great country or what?

Starting tonight, and for the next two months, life will be sweet, as the most underrated sporting event, the NBA playoffs, gets under way.

And for the first time in league history, every playoff game in every round will be available on national television, either on TNT, TBS or NBC.

The guys from Turner will kick things off tonight and tomorrow night, with staggered starting doubleheaders on both TNT and TBS, another TNT twin bill on Saturday and a single game Sunday night, along with a sideline reporter for each game.

"It's the best time of the year for everyone. It will be very much like March Madness. You'll have April and May Madness," said Chuck Daly, one of six Turner NBA analysts.

Not so surprisingly, Michael Jordan is the X-factor in this year's tournament, the one guy capable of bucking the conventional wisdom that San Antonio and Orlando, the teams with the best records in the West and East, respectively, are the favorites.

"He can get into an area where no one can affect his game and he's going to get every call down the stretch," said Hubie Brown, another Turner analyst. "Plus he takes your crowd out of the game as they marvel at his brilliance."

Ump makes the call

When you're a talk-show host at a station like WBAL (1090 AM), with a big-time 50,000-watt signal that goes up and down the East Coast, you have to be prepared for virtually anybody to call.

That said, one can understand the audible surprise in Pam Ward's voice when a caller from Connecticut last night identified himself as locked-out National League umpire Terry Tata.

Tata said he had been listening to Ward talk about Orioles owner Peter Angelos' seemingly inconsistent stance on replacement umpires after coming down so hard on replacement players during the strike. Tata said the umpires didn't find Angelos' position contradictory. Angelos told Richie Phillips, the umpires' union head, that he would walk a picket line.

Tata said watching Opening Day yesterday was emotionally difficult, and criticized the replacements as subpar minor-league rejects.

And the winner is . . .

CBS grabbed eight Emmys, all for coverage of the last Winter Olympics from Lillehammer, Norway. ESPN got five Emmys, followed by ABC, NBC and Fox, which took four awards apiece.

For the fourth straight year, NBC's Bob Costas was named best studio host. Keith Jackson of ABC received play-by-play honors, one day after he was inducted into the Sportscasters Hall of Fame. Fox's John Madden won his 10th Emmy for analysis and commentary.

Among ESPN's haul were well-deserved awards for "NFL GameDay" as best studio show and for a brilliant "SportsCenter" feature on former Vanderbilt football player Brad Gaines, who was tackled by Mississippi defensive back Chucky Mullins, who was paralyzed by the hit and later died.

Opening Day observations

There will be more to say next week when the Orioles return home, but yesterday's Orioles' telecast was just what you've come to expect from the Home Team Sports gang, namely good pictures, interesting banter between Mel Proctor and John Lowenstein, and an overall solid effort.

But, that "Johnny O" guy who kept creeping up between innings shilling for HTS programs and contests got old fast. Really old and really fast.

By the way, Channel 13's decision to go with an eight-minute Orioles package at the top of the 6 p.m. news last night was plenty weird, particularly in view of the burial of a Secret Service agent who was born in Maryland and killed in last week's Oklahoma City building bombing.

Just as weird was the station's call to keep its lead sportscaster, John Buren, in town, rather than send him to Kansas City, as Channel 2 did with Scott Garceau, though Channel 13 did dispatch the capable Chris Ely. Meanwhile, Channel 11 had Gerry Sandusky in the studio here and Mark Viviano at Camden Yards, where, at last check, the Orioles did not play yesterday.

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