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Albert stays cool while bosses at NBC let him take heat alone

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Say this for Marv Albert: He is cool under pressure.

Albert, NBC's lead NBA announcer who faces arraignment today in an Arlington, Va., courtroom on felony sodomy charges, worked his two Eastern Conference final games over the weekend without either mentioning his difficulties or showing any strain from them, displaying occasional flashes of wit.

That Albert, who has called NBA games on the radio and on television for 30 years, would perform so well under the microscope is not a surprise. He is a consummate professional who is always prepared and always enthusiastic about every assignment.

That said, one still can't help but question the propriety of his working these telecasts. Albert, who has strenuously denied allegations, is entitled to a presumption of innocence until the commonwealth of Virginia proves the charges against him in a court of law.

But, in the court of public opinion, Albert's presence is a distraction. No doubt, an incalculable percentage of the viewing audience tuned in, certainly on Saturday, to see if Albert would have something to say about his troubles.

To his credit, Albert didn't, but the mere notion that people watched for Albert's reaction contradicts the sports broadcaster's credo that fans watch games for the games, not for the announcer. It will be this way, quite likely, until this matter is resolved, and that's unfair to the athletes on the floor.

By the way, if Albert's NBC superiors, among them network president Robert Wright and sports division chief Dick Ebersol, truly believe in his innocence and that he belongs on the air, it's way past time for one or both to step forward publicly and say so. Otherwise, to leave Albert, a long-time NBC employee, hanging out there with the rather vague, unsigned three-paragraph statement that went out last Thursday, not to mention the absence of both men from the dais at his news conference last week, gives the impression that their hearts really aren't in his defense.

From the bookshelf

To a good chunk of the American male populace, and a growing chunk of the female constituency, the nightly pilgrimage to ESPN's "SportsCenter" is like making a trip to Mecca. The nightly program of highlights, news and commentary is, to some, a sacred place, and its anchors are like holy men, whose every word is to be devoured.

All right, maybe not Larry Beil.

At any rate, two of these shamans, Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, have penned a book on their program, "The Big Show: Inside ESPN's SportsCenter" (308 pages, Pocket Books, $23), which provides a rather intriguing, though certainly not complete, look behind the curtain.

The reader is given a tour of the process that gets us to the 11 p.m. "Big Show," as well as a walk through the minds of Olbermann and Patrick, the most popular "SportsCenter" anchors, that will open some minds on certain counts and confirm a number of suspicions on others.

The book is written conversationally, with the two men alternating comments in differing type faces, which isn't nearly as obnoxious as one might think. And while both Patrick and Olbermann give the obligatory, "Who, me? A big-time star?" routine, both on occasion display unhealthy doses of arrogance and attitude that muck things up.

For instance, we really didn't need a 46-page chapter in which Olbermann presents the 100 people he thinks deserve to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and another chapter in which each tells us who his favorite athletes are.

Apart from those lapses, "The Big Show" is a good read, and the fact that some of the proceeds go to the family of their late colleague Tom Mees, who drowned last year, makes it all the more worthwhile.

Charles in charge

Just when it seemed as though Charles Barkley was on the verge of mellowing and maybe even maturing, he had to go and open his mouth.

We're referring, of course, to his diatribe against NBC's Hannah Storm after Game 4 of the Western Conference title series Sunday, in which he accused Storm of making too much hay out of his pre-game remarks, in which he seemed to accuse some of his Houston Rockets teammates of not approaching the series with Utah with a sense of urgency.

Barkley, who once claimed to have been misquoted in his own autobiography, uncharacteristically did not name the teammates, perhaps because he didn't have the guts to call out Hakeem Olajuwon or Clyde Drexler. At any rate, Storm was right to draw a logical inference about whom Barkley was speaking, though reasonable people can disagree.

However, Barkley got disconnected from reason when he pronounced that "women shouldn't be announcing men's sports, anyway," then called her an expletive when the cameras were turned off.

Barkley, who went to such great lengths in a recent HBO profile -- reported, oddly enough, by a woman, Mary Carillo -- to cite the female influences in his life, came across as the ridiculous boob he usually is.

Wouldn't it be nice if NBC or anybody else just didn't talk to Barkley for the rest of the season, oh, what the heck, the rest of his career? It won't happen, of course. In fact, he was right back at halftime yesterday trying to play nice.

Too late, Charles. Your true colors have been displayed.

Pub Date: 5/27/97

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