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Differences of opinion

TNT's fun NBA coverage a respite from ESPN's anger

Posted: Friday November 4, 2005 2:47PM; Updated: Tuesday November 8, 2005 2:22PM
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TNT's Inside the NBA crew offers the type of reasoned perspective that seems to be in short supply in the television universe.
TNT's Inside the NBA crew offers the type of reasoned perspective that seems to be in short supply in the television universe.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
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In Mark Cuban's blog last week, the Dallas Mavericks owner called out TNT's postgame studio crew -- specifically Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley -- for their criticism of the Mavs' blown pick-and-roll coverages during their opening night win over the Suns. The Mavericks (like most successful teams) keep detailed statistics on how each play and the resulting defensive coverage turns out, and then shifts their defense accordingly. But both Barkley and Smith found the Mavericks defense lacking and panned it on national TV.

Showcasing his usual deft touch with words (and punctuation, for that matter), Cuban called both Barkley and Smith "idiots," wondered aloud about their respective basketball IQs and insinuated (nay, insisted) that neither Barkley nor Smith had the work ethic necessary to take a head coaching job. It was a fascinating read.

On some levels, Cuban's frustration is understandable, especially if he sees Barkley and Smith as the NBA equivalent of dyed-in-the-wool types like Joe Morgan and Tim McCarver -- ex-jocks turned baseball talking heads. But, unlike Morgan and McCarver, Barkley and Smith don't take themselves a fraction as seriously. What point is to be made by attacking people who, for all of their bluster, truly seem to enjoy the game? Better that Cuban turn his attention for the kind of unsmiling "analysis" that deserves it.

Like, for instance, ESPN's depressing crew of studio analysts.

It took a few quick minutes of last Wednesday night's ESPN presentation to remind me of just how lousy their studio coverage can be. Greg Anthony is at once dour and dismissive, a joyless on-air presence. Tim Legler continually goes to great pains to distance himself from the "aw shucks, I just shoot the ball" persona he created as a player and Stephen A. Smith needs no introduction.

With TNT's analytical, yet good-natured approach as an example (the Ernie Johnson/Smith/Barkley combo was on air for two full seasons before ESPN established their studio crew), how could the Worldwide Leader have whiffed so badly? Does anyone find this crew insightful, entertaining or redeeming in any way? Who wants to tune into an NBA pregame show, expecting a verbal version of a lay-up line, only to see it devolve into a spirited game of "who's the bigger badass?"

Intelligent political discourse was chased off the airwaves long ago in favor of pointed, and often pointless, bluster. It pains one to watch ESPN try to emulate these black-or-white, either/or arguments. Levity and perspective is in short supply on the ESPN set, falling to the Blue State/Red State arguments that have moved from cable news networks into the televised toy department.