Team-by-team report card for television broadcasters
Posted: Wednesday April 12, 2006 11:37AM; Updated: Thursday April 13, 2006 2:12AM
Whether you're an obsessive game-watcher -- utilizing your satellite dish, watching 10 games a night, taping as many as you can while your laptop downloads last night's contests onto your hard drive -- or just angling your rabbit ears toward your local team's broadcasts, the work of the on-air announcing duo is an integral part of the fan experience. Below are one nut's thoughts on some of the stranger quirks and better qualities of the announcers behind the league's 30 teams. Be sure to scroll past the teams for this same nut's perspective on those who limit their work to the national scene.
Rathbun is an energetic guy, calls a good game and isn't afraid to discuss the opposing team's fits and follies, probably because the opponent's weaknesses are an altogether finer sort of fodder than Atlanta's perpetual ineptitude. Smitty tends to lean heavily on comparisons with his playing days to fill airtime, but he knows the game and will get better as he develops more go-to material. Rathbun has a lot going against him -- a lousy team, a rookie partner and next to no home atmosphere -- but he manages to rise above it and make Hawks games a lot more interesting than they should be.
You have to have a healthy sense of perspective, humor and bit of patience to like and understand the way Heinsohn calls games. He's an unabashed homer: No Celtics foul goes unchallenged with Tommy behind the mike, and the man refuses to back down off his bluster even when a replay (or several) proves him wrong. That said, even through his emerald-colored specs, Heinsohn sees directly into the core of winning basketball. He uncannily knows exactly what it takes for his beloved C's to pull out a win, even if he has to stumble across some hyperbole to get to the point. Gorman's distinct New England accent is more endearing than annoying. He's right on top of the action, and I take great joy in trying to emulate his "Peeahrce ... for three!" play calls at the most inopportune times (dentist visits, afternoons in the local library, moments of heightened intimacy, etc).
I've given him chance (NBA TV) after chance (calling Grizzlies games in Memphis) after chance (with the Bobcats), but I absolutely cannot stand the work of Matt Devlin. He somehow makes an injury-riddled expansion team even more unwatchable, insisting on unleashing groan-worthy jock miasma on a near nightly basis: unfunny attempts at SportsCenter-styled one-liners, easily dismissed hyperbole hackings and a too-smooth, FM-ready voice that reminds us of a character Harry Shearer once played on Saturday Night Live. Branch isn't bad as a color man, but he's rendered a nonentity when having to compete for airtime with Devlin's slick brand of play-calling.
Full disclosure: I've been listening to Red Kerr call Bulls games since the days before my training wheels were lopped off, and both he and Dore are two of the finest gents you'll ever meet. That said, Dore far surpasses the boundaries of homer-heavy fandom in each broadcast -- and that's coming from me, the cat with the red-and-black bedsheets. Kerr won't tell you anything you don't already know, but he's still a fun listen. Provided, of course, you enjoy listening to games along with septuagenarians who consume copious amounts of hard candy.
This is a pretty appropriate squad for the entertaining and decidedly mercurial Cavaliers. Reghi is an upbeat chap, doesn't mind making his own voice heard above the chattering crowd and does as good a job as you can hope for in documenting the LeBron Phenomenon. Williams can be a goof-off, the good kind: He's there to have a laugh and lend insight when the situation calls for it. Cavs legend (and sometimes color man) Carr isn't nearly as demonstrative as Williams, but he more than makes up for his monotone with nitty-gritty analysis -- footwork, body language, that sort of stuff. All in all, a fine trio.
Ortegal is your typical coach turned analyst, though he's about as good as they come. Another expert in body language, Ortegel has the ability to chide the players he's in charge of analyzing without denigrating their skills or coming across as a know-it-all. Followill is the perfect complement, anticipating well and lobbing perfect set-up questions to his on-air partner.
Though I don't think I set my expectation level too high, Hastings continues to disappoint mine eyes and ears. He was the Paul Shirley of his day, offering wry observations to the press regarding his own limitations as a player and the league in general, so I couldn't help but anticipate his bringing a sense of levity to Nuggets broadcasts. Alas, he's an insufferable sourpuss, complaining about the refs to no end and falling just short of wondering aloud why Denver doesn't win every game by 48 points. No, the airwaves don't need another smart-aleck, and the self-loathing shtick can wear thin, but left to fill two hours a night, Hastings falls short. Hanzlik is a cheerier sort as a reserve analyst, and Marlowe does a solid play-by-play.
Blaha commands respect. He is judicious with his rants and raves, though it is sort of cute the way he refers to the Pistons by their first names instead of their last. Nothing too exciting about his play-calling, but he provides a fun atmosphere and doesn't miss a beat, game after game. Laimbeer antagonizes the hell out of his listeners. It isn't anything that he does personally (actually, he's rather innocuous on air, and pretty good as an analyst), but any non-Pistons fans of a certain age just isn't ready to accept Laimbeer as anything but a misanthrope in short pants and a plastic face mask. Kelser, the reserve color analyst, is energetic and knowledgeable.
Barnett is one of my favorite color analysts, though I readily admit he is hardly the most accessible one out there. He deals in minutiae, of elbows under shooting wrists, the difference between an ankle sprain and an ankle tweak, right-handers who only drive left and lefties who can't drive at all. Ain't too hip, but I can dig it. Fitzgerald is a fine play-by-play guy. His man-crush on Mike Dunleavy Jr. is a little unnerving, but he's only human.
Worrell's a real gem, able to keep a bemused tone and fresh outlook throughout Rockets games that are alternately boring and chaotic. He fashioned his delivery through years of working alongside the, um, "excitable" Calvin Murphy -- and, to a lesser extent, the Molly Ivins-ish stylings of Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor. Worrell's current partners include the snooze-worthy Drexler at home and the moderately less somnambulant Bullard on the road.