Houston days over, TNT's Smith is still skyrocketing in playoffs


The basketball postseason is the perfect time for those like Valparaiso's Bryce Drew or Eddie Jones of the Lakers to step out of the shadows and bask in the glow of the national spotlight.

Basketball broadcasters have been known to do the same, come playoff time, in much the way former Houston guard Kenny Smith has this spring for Turner's NBA coverage.

Seemingly, out of nowhere, Smith has emerged in just a few weeks as the best NBA studio analyst working, essentially doing what he has always done with his brother: talking hoops in a down-to-earth manner.

"That's all my brother and I do, talk basketball, and I'd like to think I bring some of that casual quality with me on the air," said Smith recently.

Smith, 33, a North Carolina graduate who was taken by Sacramento as the sixth overall pick in the 1987 draft and was on the 1987-88 All-Rookie team, had a largely inconsistent 10-year NBA career, retiring after spending parts of last season with Detroit, Orlando and Denver.

However, he was a key player on the Rockets squad that won the league title in '94 and '95, setting a championship series single-game record with five three-pointers in a quarter of a 1995 game against the Magic.

Smith, who did earlier guest analyst stints when he was an active player, said he "kind of backed into" his current gig off those previous appearances. He made his debut late in the regular season and has been going strong ever since.

"It's been a lot of fun so far, but I didn't realize it was this much work," said Smith. "There are staff meetings, production meetings, then you have to make phone calls to get prepared. It's work. That's the word for it."

Smith would make a fine permanent addition to the Turner studio, but the Queens, N.Y., native is being rather cagey about whether he'll return to Atlanta. Quite likely, given the rather somnambulistic NBC NBA studio operation, Smith may very well get a call from the Peacock gang, and he probably wants to keep all his options open.

Champion and scholar

ESPN yesterday announced that Caitlin Bair, a senior at Howard County's River Hill High, has received a $2,500 "SportsFigures" scholarship.

Bair, captain of the school's girls soccer team and president of both the River Hill student government and the National Honor Society, was awarded one of eight scholarships, given to a male and female student-athlete in each of four regions of the country.

The scholarship is named for the weekly "SportsFigures" program, which teaches math and physics through sports themes with the help of athletes and sports personalities.

Information, please

All right, so it's early in the season, and Charley Steiner is a likable sort, but his play-by-play on ESPN Radio Sunday baseball broadcasts, quite frankly, leaves a lot to be desired.

Steiner, who is partnered with Kevin Kennedy, more often than not leaves out the location of pitches from his call, which often comes well after a pitch has landed in the catcher's mitt or been fouled off. He's also been negligent in telling the listener the type of pitch (for instance, slider or fastball).

Now, if Steiner and Kennedy were working television, that kind of work would be acceptable, because we could see what's happening. But, on the radio, the listener is completely dependent on the play-by-play man to set the scene and describe everything that's happening, which Steiner hasn't been adept at doing.

To be honest, true baseball fans must really miss the CBS Radio baseball coverage (San Diego announcer Jerry Coleman excluded), which ended after last season, with ESPN taking over the package this season. CBS provided each local station with at least two games a weekend, rather than the Sunday night game that ESPN does.

Just as importantly, CBS personnel seemed to have a feel for the game, or at least a better one than ESPN does so far.

Weekend ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore last weekend:

Event .. .. .. .. Day .. Ch. .. R/S

Bulls-Hornets ... Sun. . 11 ... 7.8/16

Pacers-Knicks ... Sun. . 11 ... 6.6/18

Sonics-Lakers ... Sun. . 11 ... 6.5/16

Jazz-Spurs ... .. Sat. . 11 ... 4.9/12

NBA pre-game . .. Sun. . 11 ... 4.3/13

Pacers-Knicks ... Sat. . 11 ... 4.2/12

Gymnastics .. ... Sun. . 13 ... 4.2/11

Golf .. .. .. ... Sun. . 13 ... 3.7/9

Bowling .. .. ... Sat. . 13 ... 3.6/9

Golf .. .. .. ... Sat. . 13 ... 2.8/7

R-Rating. S-Share

Pub Date: 5/12/98

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