HBO probes Carolina-Duke rivalry
Each week, SI.com's Richard Deitsch reports on newsmakers from the world of TV, radio and the Web.
College basketball's unrivaled rivalry is about to get its close-up. HBO Sports will examine the Duke-North Carolina rivalry next February in a one-hour documentary tentatively titled "Duke vs. North Carolina."
The critical success of last year's documentary on the famed Michigan-Ohio State series in college football prompted network executives to greenlight an exploration into the hoops version of the Hatfield's and McCoy's.The campuses sit only eight miles apart, but a river of mutual dislike runs through them.
"Jim Lampley (a UNC graduate) has been telling me about the rivalry for 20 years or so," says HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg. "I was also aware of the subculture of both universities, and even though UNC was the state school, they think of themselves as the dignified force in the rivalry. They think Duke is a bunch of animals even though Duke is supposed to be the Ivy League of the South. That never meshed right with me and it was interesting. Plus, you had all these legends coming out of these two schools, the [Michael] Jordan's, the [Christian] Laettner's and the [Mike] Krzyzewski's and [Dean] Smith's. Unbelievable iconic names have floated through both places and it makes for a great documentary."
The athletic dislike between the schools has produced a cottage industry of tempestuous tomes, including Will Blythe's To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever, one Carolina fan'sepic grudge against Duke that was excerpted in SI in 2006. SI's Alexander Wolff examined the rivalry in great depth in the March 6, 1995, issue of SI. (Worth noting is two months prior to Duke v. Carolina, HBO Sports will debut another sports documentary,The Integration of College Football, an hour-long documentary that traces the emergence of the black athlete in the 1970s among major college football in the South. It will debut Dec. 16, 2008).
Greenburg said he'd like to have an advanced screening in Raleigh where HBO would split an auditorium in half between Blue Devil and Tar Heel supporters. "It'd be great to have each side chanting the fight song before we showed the film," he said, laughing.
HBO staffers have already completed most of the interviews with the famed members of the Carolina-Duke rivalry, including sitdowns with Krzyzewski, Dean Smith and an array of famous basketball alums. At the moment, however, the producers have yet to gain access to the most famous Carolinian of all: "We have been exchanging e-mails with Michael Jordan's people," said Greenburg. "How would I classify things? You can say I'm hopeful."
THEY WROTE IT, PART I
"In his previous draft-night role alongside [Jay] Bilas, [Stephen A.] Smith's rants were too much to stomach. He relentlessly ridiculed the Portland Trail Blazers two years ago, saying they didn't know what they were doing as they made multiple moves that resulted in acquiring Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, who have developed into terrific players. Smith looks foolish in retrospect, and his loud rip jobs detracted from ESPN's presentation."
THEY WROTE IT, PART II
"Mets ownership, Fred and Jeff Wilpon, completed the impossible: They have made Hank Steinbrenner appear the level-headed baseball owner in town. They oversee an organization that fired a manager and shot themselves. Short of squirting seltzer down their own pants in public, the Mets could not have handled the dismissal of Willie Randolph worse than they did. That sound the Mets are hearing is the rest of baseball laughing at them."
-- New York Post columnist Joel Sherman, delivering a howitzer at Met management
A couple of wiseacres inside ESPN's communication department have chided me in the past for bestowing too much praise on Newsday's Neil Best, a consistent newsbreaker on sports media issues, as well a decent fellow. My response is ESPN's press specialists should focus less on who I praise and more on making sure the press releases for Reilly and Simmons have the same amount of words and exclamation points. Best's story Sunday about the potential breakup of WFAN's Mike and the Mad Dog (Simon and Garfunkel, anyone?) radio program, if proven true, would be the biggest story in sports-talk radio in 2008.
Speaking of giving praise to fellow writers, the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein, a former SI staffer, offers a terrific dissection of the Cubs and White Sox broadcast as well as a surreal public battle between Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti and seemingly everyone in Chicago not named Jay Mariotti.
The Wall Street Journal sports department had a fabulous week. Last Friday it reported ESPN was in talks with the NFL Network to form a partnership that would give the league-owned channel wider distribution on one of ESPN's channels. That would be an interesting partnership, especially during the prelude to the NFL draft, as well as the Sunday morning slot, when both channels would presumably be competing for the same football consumer.
The WSJ also attempted to answer the impossible question: Who is the world's greatest athlete? Czech decathlete Roman Sebrle took the honors. LeBron James was No. 2. Roger Federer was fifth. Ronaldinho was No. 9. No Tiger, WSJ? Ouch.
A good lesson for all broadcasters: Don't claim it's over... until it's actually over. After Croatia scored in the dying minutes of the second extra-session against Turkey in a Euro 2008 quarterfinal game, ESPN announcer Derek Rae declared the proceedings done. "For Turkey, it's surely good night, Vienna, good night, European Championship," Rae said. Analyst Tommy Smyth added to the eulogy: "One of the bravest men (goal scorer Ivan Klasnic) in football puts Croatia into the next round." A minute later Rae was screaming "we're going to penalties in Vienna!" after Turkey's Semih Senturk leveled the game at 1-1. The Turks eventually won.
Worth nothing here is that ESPN's coverage of the Euros has been excellent and the on-air talent not named Rob Stone has delivered for the international soccer fan. As we've written often, we hope that ESPN has finally been freed from the arcane and jingoistic notion that an American-born announcer must call soccer on an American network. The always pleasing Big Soccer.com has a tremendous discussion going on about ESPN's coverage of Euro 2008.
ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson was vocal during the playoffs that Kobe Bryant's career will trump Michael Jordan's when all is said and done. Uh, no.
WHAT I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO
Taking a page from ESPN's e-mail happy staffers, three Fox Sports staffers sent along e-mails about Baseball's Golden Age, an upcoming 13-episode weekly series (it debuts July 6 at 8 p.m. ET). The series will feature never-before-seen footage ("culled from fans, players' families and the players themselves," according to to the FSN press release, which also self-describes its own series as "brilliant") of diamond greats from yesterday.