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Words to watch by (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday April 12, 2006 11:36AM; Updated: Wednesday April 12, 2006 4:28PM
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NBA Announcers' Report Card
Grade Team
Orlando Magic
Matt Guokas, David Steele
Guokas used to annoy -- he was prone to bias carried over from his time as a Magic coach that clouded his analysis on both national broadcasts and in his turns as Cavaliers color man, but he's gotten better. Matty has lightened up quite a bit in his first two years calling Magic games, and he provides an ex-coach's tone without resorting to the usual X's and O's. This is a real workmanlike duo: They don't goof around much, tend to use sarcasm judiciously, and Steele likes to let Orlando's home public address man Paul Porter do most of the screaming after the big plays.
Philadelphia 76ers
Mark Zumoff, Steve Mix
Zumoff obviously studied at the feet of Bill Raftery, as he's a big fan of finishing his sentences a good 97 decibels louder than volume level he began with. I like the unorthodox dynamic, like a pianist who vacillates between a shifty New Orleans stride and cacophonous noise for effect. Mix adds what he can with a dry sense of humor and a Bird/Magic-era perspective.
Phoenix Suns
Tom Leander, Eddie Johnson, Dan Majerle
In his third season with the Suns, Leander has become one of the best at dragging Ye Olde Jock Tales from his announcing partners. EJ and Thunder Dan gladly play up their past, though they're (thankfully) careful not to exaggerate upon what were a pair of tremendous NBA careers. At this point, Phoenix-area television stations could simulcast a live Creed bootleg or some such tripe as the audio portion of Suns telecasts, and I'd still TiVo every game.
Portland Trail Blazers
Mike Barrett, Mike Rice
Pardon the pun, but Mike Rice was an acquired taste. Though he's been the radio color man for years in Portland, his first full season as television analyst was off to a pitiful start. The man just wouldn't stop talking, and his partner Mr. Barrett only seemed to encourage him. Since late December, I've taken to the duo, though I think Rice has modified his tone a bit.
Sacramento Kings
Grant Napear, Jerry Reynolds
Napear is known far and wide as the "if you don't like, you don't like NBA bas-ket-ball!" guy, which is nice and all, but there is more to the voice of the Kings than breathless (and kind of scary) soundbites. Napear is pretty matter-of-fact with his broadcasts. I like listening to him, but he comes across as a bit dour sometimes. He doesn't easily abandon his grudges, either, which is only admirable if your wife was stabbed by a one-arm man and you were framed for her murder. Reynolds is a folksy type who is best known (to me, at least) as the guy who predicted that Travis Mays and Lionel Simmons would be All-Stars by their third NBA season.
San Antonio Spurs
Dick Stockton, Sean Elliott
Having both Stockton and Elliott call Spurs games is an embarrassment of riches for a local telecast, and though Stockton muffs a name here or there (notably calling Shawn Marion "Sean Elliott" several times in a game last month), he can be excused for the fact that he has called around 18 trillion sporting events in his professional career. Elliott provides solid, steady insight. Seemingly, he's either played with or against half the guys on the court, and he manages to balance a solid sense of humor with keen observations, all without being too showy.
Seattle SuperSonics
Kevin Calabro, Craig Ehlo
Calabro's been around forever. His rapid-fire delivery and guttural voice (almost Hunter S. Thompson-like, in his more lucid moments) may grate on the uninitiated, but hoop junkies delight in his broadcasts. High school A/V clubbers take note of his on-the-fly descriptions, his ability to mesh personal observations with play-by-play drudgery and the space he allows for his color men to fill in the empty spaces -- Calabro's as good a teacher as they come. Ehlo is passable; he's an enthusiastic presence but doesn't offer a whole lot this early in his career.
Toronto Raptors
Chuck Swirsky, Leo Rautins
These guys live and die with their team. Rautins admitted as much in December, during the waning moments of another Raptors loss. Though Raptors TV had cut away to a commercial locally, the satellite-dish feed stayed with Swirsky and Rautins (and their live microphones) at courtside as the boys in purple let another one slip away. "I know we're not supposed to root for teams," Rautins told his play-by-play man in an all-too-sincere tone, "but these guys kill me when they play this way." Swirsky agreed, though the (semi) touching moment was soon ruined by Rautins' singing along with an AC/DC song that was booming from the public address. Rautins is a Canadian basketball legend and enjoys working up the "play the right way" angle. Though Swirsky takes things a little too seriously sometimes, they make for good TV.
Utah Jazz
Ron Boone, Craig Bolerjack
Jazz TV broadcasts aren't as fun without Rod Hundley behind the microphone. Bolerjack is certainly capable, and Boone has forgotten more about basketball than most of us will ever grok, but when the Jazz gave up on the radio/television simulcast last fall, they left hoops fans without radio-quality play-by-play on the tube. Without Hot Rod, the games are about as bland as you'd expect from a team that doles a combined 38.5 minutes per game out to Keith McCleod and Milt Palacio.
Washington Wizards
Steve Buckhantz, Phil Chenier
Buckhantz calls an interesting game and comes across as a likable sort, but he's a little too exacting with his notes, facts and figures. He doesn't seem like a full-on obsessive-compulsive case (I've seen him at games, and he doesn't rush off to the loo between quarters to wash his hands), but listen to him read off transaction reports -- every second-round pick ("that later turned into ..."), future consideration and forgotten expiring contract is mentioned in Buckhantz's attempts to educate his listeners. He's just as precise with his stats, though, which is always appreciated. It takes quite a bit to rouse Chenier, though he's far from sullen or detached. A deliberate, informative broadcast.
A+ Ripe for parody and possessing a cackle that would make Cruella DeVille proud, Hubie trudges on in a televised atmosphere that seems more and more intent on lending itself only to forced one-liners and encouraged combativeness. Few have ever understood the pro game like Brown, and luckily for us, he is more than willing to talk at length about the game he loves.
A Doug doesn't like to joke around much, and if he has one weakness, it's his unmatched ability to step on a well-crafted punch line. I've no issues with that, however, as Collins cuts straight to the core of the teams he's paid to analyze. Precise, to the point and usually right.
A+ My personal favorite play-by-play man, Durham's dynamic sense of play-calling makes him a star on both the AM dial and the small screen. Like a team's franchise player, Durham will let his broadcasting partners get their licks in for the game's first three quarters before he takes over in the game's waning moments.
A Having served in several on-air capacities (play-by-play announcer, color man, sideline reporter, studio analyst), Jones is the best in the business at making life easier for his co-workers. In his current role as color man, Jones does a masterful job of sneaking in analysis during downtime before setting up his play-by-play partner (" ... and that's what Coach Popovich is worried about. ... Here's Marion in the corner with 12 to shoot") to re-take over the mic. Very cool.
B+ Kerr allayed my fears in his first season at TNT, as I was worried that the five-time champion would be a little too self-deprecating on the air. Thankfully, he doesn't rely much on shtick, just a good sense of humor and plenty of insight. And the idea that he may be a better columnist than he is color man ? well, that's just not fair. Save something for the rest of us, Steve.
A+ Bill's a lightning rod, to be sure, but he also may be the most subversive talent the tube has to offer. Where others see a fawning sellout, I see an ardent fan who can't believe he's allowed to wax and preen on The Man's dime. Where others see a blustery hyperbole machine, I recognize a guy who loves to toy with the absurdities behind throwing huge gobs of money and focused klieg lights at men in short pants. I think Walton is one of the funniest guys on TV, I think he knows exactly what he's doing, and I know the proceeding paragraph will probably result in a brick being thrown through my living room window.
B Musburger can still call a basketball game; he's heavy on gravitas and genuinely seems in awe of the LeBron/D-Wade generation. And though part-time play-by-play guys usually seem out of their element when they have to deign to call NBA games, Musburger appears to have his talking head on straight.