Posted: Monday January 23, 2006 3:53PM; Updated: Monday January 23, 2006 4:46PM
To Scooter's left was Tom Heitz, the associate director and traffic cop. Tom produces the pre-taped stuff and video clips that play coming in and out of the telecast. He also was in touch via headset with someone at the scorer's table, so everyone in truck knew what was happening regarding timeouts, subs, disputed calls, etc. On the far right of the table was Colby Bourgeois, the technical director who actually handled the mechanics of switching between the cameras whenever Renardo would call "Take four" or whichever angle they wanted to go to. Behind them, three other guys worked on various stuff, from looking up records to creating on-screen graphics.
Everyone was busy, absorbed in their own tasks while yelling out directions and questions and tips. Suddenly, around 8:00 p.m., everyone started counting down. "Four ... three ... two ... one ..." And the TNT theme music kicked in and a wide shot of Manhattan appeared on the largest screen.
A rush of adrenaline filled the room, and from a speaker mounted over the screens, Albert's distinctive baritone introduced the world to the Knicks/Pistons game, beginning, "On an unseasonably mild 41-degree day..." In the background, I could hear color analyst Steve Kerr coughing and Reggie Miller greeting Tayshaun Prince in the lay-up line. I briefly thought I'd accidentally hit one of the switches in front of me and turned their microphones on, screwing up the beginning of the broadcast. Then I heard Marv drop an "Um..." in there, and I discovered that this was just rehearsal. My adrenaline dropped immediately.
Even with all the practice in the world, once everything is happening live some snafus occur. The TNT crew has a detailed rundown of how long everything during the pregame player introductions is going to take, down to the second. But nobody knew that Martha Reeves was going to perform a wildly indulgent five-minute version of the national anthem. That skewed everyone's timing, and they were about five seconds from having to put up Larry Brown's career record over a black screen when the arena lights suddenly flickered on in the nick of time, illuminating Brown just as his numbers popped up on the screen. If you were watching at home, you noticed nothing. If you were in the truck, you sat through about 60 seconds of chaos while everyone tried to figure out another option on the fly.
Once the game began, it got pretty quiet in The Truck. Renardo called for camera switches, Scooter asked someone in his headset to prepare video packages ("Let's put together a few clips of Rip Hamilton moving without the ball"). During timeouts, they readied for the next segment of action, prepped Cheryl Miller for a sideline report on the Antonio Davis situation, talked to the studio in Atlanta to get ready for a cut-in from Ernie Johnson. Shots of the various celebrities at the game were edited together. (When a shot of Fat Joe materialized, someone recalled a game a few years ago when former TNT analyst Mike Fratello spotted mistakenly referred to Fat Joe as "Big Al" for an entire evening.)
I found it hard to follow the game action, I suppose because I wasn't used to all the commotion. There were so many screens and so much HD, it was hard to focus, like trying to listen to one album while 20 other records were playing at once. I knew the Pistons were dominating and it was easy to see each play unfold, but discerning the bigger picture, the story of the game, was difficult.
When the game ended, the Knicks had been drilled by the Pistons, 105-79. I suppose to keep the viewers viewing, there were no postgame interviews, and at the final buzzer the telecast was quickly thrown back to Atlanta, then out to Sacramento for the second part of their doubleheader, Lakers at Kings.
My night in The Truck hasn't changed my standards -- I still won't watch anything Brent Musberger is announcing -- but it has humanized the broadcasts a bit. These are guys who enjoy their jobs and work pretty damn hard doing them. When Rasheed Wallace swatted a shot, Renardo screamed, "This ain't the YMCA!" Who hasn't yelled something similar while watching at home?
Thanks for teaching us all about how sports broadcasting works, J.R.
Something I Learned This Week In An NBA Locker Room
A certain NBA player's wife once caused her husband's team to call a player-only meeting where her husband was instructed to reign his wife in, after she threatened to rat out the married players who had girlfriends.