While he thinks there's considerable work to be done in terms of rebuilding the NBA's tattered image, NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said yesterday that the league is far better equipped to handle it than baseball was after its work stoppage three years ago.
That's because, in Ebersol's view, NBA players appear far more amenable to doing what needs to be done to clean up the mess made by the lockout.
"Mark McGwire talked to [NBC reporter] Jim Gray at the [baseball] All-Star Game about how lucky baseball players had been to get a second chance. It was also three years after the issue," said Ebersol. "I don't think it will be a three- or four-year [rebuilding] process because from the get-go, the players have demonstrated that they understand that there's work to do in reconstructing the bonds with the fans. You don't hear this with baseball.
"You've got a lot more basketball players who are willing to deal with the fans and understand that things have gotten out of hand. It's refreshing and encouraging."
Ebersol said he expects the network to carry its first game on Feb. 7, with 27 or 28 regular-season telecasts, and a full playoff schedule to run through the end of June.
The new game plan
Believe it or not, it shouldn't be hard for the Ravens to find a new coach, even one of the profile of Packers chief Mike Holmgren, according to some television experts.
"Mike Holmgren set a criteria, and for a coach at his level, having a first-class playing and practice facility is important," said CBS analyst Randy Cross, who was in the booth for the Ravens-Jets game and the first Ravens-Steelers game. "Besides, they've got some great young talent, especially on the defensive end. It's a matter of a coach like that sitting down with the front office and talking about what he wants."
What a new coach is bound to want here is a significant, if not controlling say over personnel matters, a potential deal breaker, given the team's perceived desire to retain control.
"I love a tight end in there making decisions," said CBS pre-game analyst and former 49ers tight end Brent Jones, alluding to Ravens vice president of personnel Ozzie Newsome, "but they're going to have to give up some control."
To be sure, the defending champion Broncos come into tomorrow's rematch with Miami in the AFC divisional playoffs on something of a down note, having lost two of their past three.
But the Dolphins, according to the CBS observers, shouldn't approach the game with some sense of superiority, even with their Week 15 win over Denver, since this game takes place at Mile High Stadium.
"You're going to see a different Denver Broncos team. That loss will weigh heavy on their minds," said Jones. "Once they wrapped up home field, they kind of scaled things back a bit to get ready for the postseason, but they'll be ready."
Said Greg Gumbel, who will call the game: "The only thing that might push the Broncos even more is if those whiny 1972 Dolphins showed up and started complaining some more."
The Miami-Denver game (Channel 13, 3: 30 p.m. for the pre-game show) follows the San Francisco-Atlanta NFC playoff tomorrow (Channel 45, noon pre-game show). On Sunday, the Jets-Jacksonville game leads off the proceedings (Channel 13, noon pre-game), with Minnesota playing host to Arizona in the nightcap (Channel 45, 3: 30 pre-game).
Around the dial
Besides football, the pickings are relatively slim this weekend.
Roy Jones Jr. is the big name on HBO's boxing card tomorrow at 10 p.m. Jones, the world light-heavyweight champion, takes on 39-year-old current New York police officer Rick Frazier, with "Sugar" Shane Mosley fighting Golden Johnson in a lightweight title bout.
ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" moves to a new time, 9 p.m., effective tonight, with the main fight pitting Vinny Pazienza in a 10-round super middleweight fight against Undra White. These two pugilists have 15 combined losses , so one shouldn't necessarily expect a dream fight.
Speaking of time changes, we're slightly derelict in noting that WJFK (1300 AM) has moved the "Stan the Fan" nightly talk get-together to 7: 30 p.m. for a full three hours.
In what has quickly become the marquee match-up in women's basketball, No. 1 Connecticut will play host to No. 2 Tennessee, the three-time defending champion, Sunday right after the Jets-Jaguars game (Channel 13, 4 p.m.). CBS isn't expecting very much, ratings-wise, from the game, which it's carrying as a part of its contractual obligation for the men's NCAA tournament, but the game should still be fabulous. The Penn State-Arkansas women's game will be the lead-in to the Denver-Miami football game tomorrow (Channel 13, 1 p.m.).
Finally, we're told that CNN's Vince Cellini and Fred Hickman, who vowed to keep their facial hair until the end of the NBA lockout, will meet the razor's edge during "Sports Tonight" tonight at 11.
And, by the way, we erred in this space by saying that the NBA All-Star Game was scheduled for Feb. 8, which was the date of last year's game. This year's contest would have taken place on Feb. 14.
Pub Date: 1/08/99