King Kaufman's Sports Daily

TNT shows boring ring ceremonies. That's not why it's so good at covering basketball. Not exactly. Plus: Greatest fans!


Salon Staff
November 1, 2006 10:00PM (UTC)

My favorite part of Opening Night of the NBA on TNT was watching the Miami Heat's assistant athletic trainer walk across the court to get his championship ring.

Seriously.

TNT showed the Heat's ring ceremony in all its hokey, sort of awkward, dorky, too-long glory. The whole thing took an incredible 19 minutes, from commissioner David Stern rocking the mike to congratulate the owner right on through to Alonzo Mourning thanking the fans and telling them the Heat were going to go out and do it again.

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This was right before the Heat went out and lost to the Chicago Bulls by 42 points, but never mind that for now.

I love that TNT is willing to show us this kind of stuff. It's really noticeable one week after the end of the World Series, where Fox won't even show the teams lining up along the baselines before Games 1 and 3, one of the oldest and stateliest traditions in North American sports.

Truth be told, the Heat's ring ceremony wasn't great TV. Chrome domes Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson making fun of Ernie Johnson's newly bald head back in the studio had been a lot more diverting. Johnson has been undergoing chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

But it was indicative of an approach that makes for great sports TV.

The ring ceremony was a part of Opening Night, bigger in some ways than the game itself. The home team ended up losing by six touchdowns, and that'll be nothing more than a footnote on the way to the playoffs, most likely. But the people who were in the arena Tuesday night will probably remember that ring ceremony for years to come.

TNT, the network covering the game, decided correctly that the ring ceremony was part of the game. That is, part of the experience of that night's particular event. And so it covered the ring ceremony.

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It's inconceivable that Fox would cover something similar. While the ceremony was going on, we'd get Jeanne Zelasko and Kevin Kennedy yammering away with some inch-deep analysis. Then Fox would show us a five-second highlight of the ceremony during the game. Maybe.

OK, I don't know that. I don't mean to set up a straw man. I only know what I've been watching for the last decade or so as Fox covers baseball. One example that's not even a week old: Stan Musial, 85 years old, one of the greatest baseball players ever and easily the most beloved sports figure in St. Louis history, threw out the first ball before Game 5 of the Series in St. Louis, and Fox didn't even point a camera at it.

My point is I wish every network covered every sport the way TNT covers basketball.

TV executives talk a lot about wanting to give the viewer the sense of being in the ballpark during baseball broadcasts. To that end, Fox baseball coverage involves endless shots of fans in the stands, managers in the dugouts, more fans in the stands and so on. TNT takes a much simpler approach. It makes us feel like we're in the arena by giving us pictures of what the people in the arena are looking at.

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One nitpick from the Opening Night broadcast of the Bulls' rout of the Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers' win over the Phoenix Suns: TNT seems to have fallen in love with the floor-level artisticam. The network has long been markedly better than ESPN and especially ABC at avoiding artsy camera angles and just showing the game.

Here's hoping all those cuts to hard-to-fathom angles at key moments were nothing more than Opening Night exuberance.

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Greatest fans in the world! [PERMALINK]

Mourning addressed the Miami fans and called them "the best fans in the world." Moments earlier they'd been damned with faint praise as "the best fans in the NBA." On Friday Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt told his team's fans, "You all are the best in baseball."

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I'm sure I've heard the fans of every championship team called something like the greatest fans in the world at some point.

Florida Marlins fans, greatest in the world. No doubt about it.

It's like one of those classes where everybody gets an A. Doesn't anybody have fans that are just sort of OK?

Actually, the answer to that is yes and no. All fans are the greatest in the world when their team is winning the championship. They show up, they cheer really loudly. Other times, fans tend to be just OK or not so hot, mostly going right along with the team's fortunes.

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Various factors such as the quality of the stadium or arena, ticket prices and a team's relationship to a city might keep fans enthusiastic during lean times or bitter during fat, but I don't think any town's fans, as a group, are better than any other town's.

Except you people! You're the greatest sports fans in the world! (Pauses for wild cheering.)

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Sports hubris [PERMALINK]

I know it's not a direct parallel, or even a close one, but the Heat getting pole-axed right after that 19-minute ring ceremony reminded me of one of my favorite examples of sports hubris, the Anthony Hembrick-Booker T. Word fight in 1991.

Hembrick had been an Olympic fighter in 1988. He'd been disqualified when he missed his bus to the venue. But he'd launched a pro career and started 14-0. He hadn't fought anybody, had had only one 10-rounder, when he was matched up against Word for a USBA title on USA cable. Word was kind of a bull-like puncher who affected a Mike Tyson look, simple black trunks. Nothing special.

That's what Hembrick thought, anyway. He entered the ring and performed an elaborate, choreographed dance routine with his seconds, who were all dressed in bike shorts, an actual fashion at the time, though not so much among on-the-job boxing seconds. Word stood in his corner and watched.

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Then he knocked Hembrick out in the first round.

The Heat didn't display that kind of hubris. There's no reason to begrudge them their ring ceremony. They earned it, after all, and they didn't rub it in the Bulls' noses. All it meant for Chicago was a little extra time in the locker room.

I'd say that 19 minutes was about 14 too many, but I don't think I'd see any reason to get my nose out of joint even if I were a fan of the Bulls, or of the Dallas Mavericks, whom the Heat beat in the Finals.

Still, as long as the Heat aren't my team, it was fun to watch them lose by 42 points right after. It just was.

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Previous column: NBA preview

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