Losing Costas a big blow to NBC's NBA coverage

With the end of the NBA season will come the close of Bob Costas' pro basketball broadcasting career, or at least this chapter of it, and viewers will be the poorer for it.

Costas, who is calling the Lakers-Pacers championship series with Doug Collins for NBC, is known foremost for his work on baseball.


But one of Costas' first big breaks in sports announcing, not long after he graduated from Syracuse in the 1970s, was doing games for the Spirits of St. Louis. The colorful American Basketball Association (ABA) team featured the appropriately nicknamed Marvin "Bad News" Barnes and a youthful Moses Malone.

When Marv Albert ran into legal problems four years ago, NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol asked Costas to give up hosting "NBA Showtime," to call games. Costas agreed to do the job, fully recognizing that the day might come when he would relinquish the microphone to Albert, who returns as lead voice next season.


"I consider Marv to be the signature voice of basketball on NBC. I would have been happy to continue doing this indefinitely, if Marv didn't come back," said Costas. "But this is the place where above all other assignments he should be."

Albert is indeed a Hall of Fame talent, but that doesn't mean that Costas, who brought a wealth of intelligence to the telecast, won't be missed.

"When people talk about broadcasters over the past 20 years he's at the top of the list," said Collins, who, is, himself, the best basketball analyst working, pro or college. "Bob is a brilliant, brilliant guy. His mind darts and races as fast as any person that I have ever been around in my entire life.

"He just has a unique ability especially in crisis, it almost appears to me sometimes that it's so easy for Bob that he gets bored with things. But when there's a little bit of a crisis he's at his best."

Collins has been more than a little perturbed by comments from within the league and from the talk show circuit that some grand conspiracy has existed throughout the playoffs to shake up the postseason to get the most beneficial match-ups for television.

In fact, Collins is so exasperated that he wants Commissioner David Stern to fine and suspend coaches and players who suggest that things aren't on the up and up.

"All it does is lead to this jockeying in the press, about who is playing an illegal defense, who's getting fouled and who's not," said Collins. "That just leads to stuff that goes nowhere but problems."

Costas is a little more bemused about it all.


"If someone is inclined to believe that ... then any fragment of evidence will be used to support it," said Costas. "People use fragments of support whatever their argument is, and ignore other bits of evidence that don't. That's just human nature."

Jim Gray and Ahmad Rashad will report from the sidelines during the series, while Hannah Storm, Peter Vecsey and Isiah Thomas will be joined by Bill Walton for pre-game and halftime festivities. The Game 2 telecast begins tonight at 9 p.m., while Game 3's broadcast goes on the air at 7 on Sunday on Channel 11.

By the way, it will be difficult for anyone to make the case that Baltimore is a basketball town, deserving of an NBA franchise, when you can't even hear the title series on the radio here. Shame on both WBAL (1090 AM) and WJFK (1300 AM) for not arranging something, even on tape delay.

Damon's departure

Channel 11's weekend anchor, Damon Andrews, is off for greener pastures, namely a gig with Fox Sports Chicago, at month's end.

Andrews, who came here from Memphis in 1998 to replace Mark Viviano as the weekend sportscaster, was a developing talent, and he'll only get better in a bigger market and with more than the paltry 2 1/2 or so minutes allotted for sports at Channel 11 during their evening sportscasts.


It might not be a bad idea for Channel 11 general manager Bill Fein to take a long overdue and bold step and hire a female sportscaster to replace Andrews, who with Channel 13's Stan Saunders, were the only African-American sportscasters in the market.

It's been 20 years since there was a woman on the air here, and the chances are that this will only be a jumping off point for a competent female sportscaster on the way to something bigger, but that doesn't mean that the chance isn't worth taking.

The puck drops here

Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall at ABC's affiliate meetings this summer when the subject of hockey ratings come up? If you were, you would be half the audience the network is apparently getting - in prime time, no less-for the Stanley Cup finals.

Locally, for instance, Channel 2 got a 1.4 rating and 2 share of the audience for Monday's Game 3 of the New Jersey-Dallas series, barely above the 1.3/4 a soccer match drew Saturday afternoon. The final 45 minutes failed to register a rating above 1.

Granted, all this is coming in the summer, when viewership is at its lowest, and the rights fee the network is paying also covers ESPN and ESPN2, but ABC's $600 million investment in the NHL is looking like a bad joke.


Off our Rocker

The saddest part of the John Rocker cause celebre is not the Atlanta reliever's boorish behavior, but the ridiculous piling on by the media.

That Rocker, who was an unknown even in baseball circles at the start of last season, has become the poster boy for racism and bigotry is an example of how the media beast has lost total perspective in its relentless search to find something - anything - with which to feed itself.

Sure, Rocker is a buffoon, a Bogeyman of sorts, but he's also an obvious target, a far easier symbol to demonize than the institutionalized racism and sexism that pervade our society and sports.

But then, those things don't make for good sound bites.

Around the dial


Go ahead. We dare you to come up with a compelling reason to watch either the Belmont Stakes tomorrow (Channel 2, 4:30 p.m.) or Saturday and Sunday's French Open men's and women's finals (Channel 11, tomorrow 3 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m.) now that virtually all of the star power has been drained out of them. OK, at least the Belmont will have a touch of history attached, as it will mark the end of ABC's horse racing run, but that's about it.

The College World Series begins in earnest this weekend, with a split doubleheader on ESPN today. San Jose State meets Clemson at 3 p.m., followed at 7 by Stanford taking on Louisiana-Lafayette. Tomorrow, CBS' Greg Gumbel calls the Southern California-Florida State game with former Arizona coach Jerry Kindall (Channel 13, 12:30 p.m.)

CNN's "Page One" (tomorrow, 11:30 a.m.) examines an interesting topic this week: Does an athlete have to win a championship to be considered great? This month's "Real Sports" debuts Monday at 10 p.m. on HBO, with a visit with Spencer Haywood, the first basketball player to leave college early for the pros, as well as a look at a Senate bill that would ban gambling on college sports and a profile of Andre Agassi.