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TV, or not TV?
Commissioner David Stern has long believed that when it comes to television, less is more. When there's a glut of televised games, it's harder to draw audiences and advertising dollars, particularly on network telecasts—a lesson learned painfully last summer by Major League Baseball and CBS. This partly explains why Stern last week had league attorneys file an appeal with the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court in Chicago of a decision the NBA lost Jan. 24 to superstation WGN.
Until last April, the league-imposed maximum for games allowed to be shown on the superstations—WGN in Chicago, WTBS in Atlanta and WOR in New Jersey—was 25 per season. At that time the NBA Board of Governors voted to lower the figure to 20 for 1990-91, and it was reported to be considering decreasing the number each year in five-game increments until the superstations have no games in '94-95. However, U.S. District Court Judge Hubert L. Will said that the reduction from 25 to 20 games was "a significant restraint of trade" and would "reduce availability and competition in hope of raising the price in the future."
The superstations were naturally delighted with Will's ruling, which would protect their right to telecast a significant number of games, and, they believe, stave off the possibility of copycat cutbacks by the NCAA and Major League Baseball. But the NBA fears that the decision would reduce the league's value to a network and damage the financial condition of weaker teams that depend on national TV revenues. League officials suggest that Will's ruling would further dilute the product by encouraging the development of additional superstations built around popular teams.
And how does all this affect the fan? Cutting out the superstations would leave viewers only two places to watch nationally televised games—NBC and TNT, which between them now show 72 regular-season games plus the playoffs. But that could change. One cable executive said last week that the NBA is close to going to pay-per-view. "To do that, you really have to have tight control of the product," the executive said. " David Stern runs the NBA with a very proprietary approach and with a firm hand." But Will's ruling has loosened Stern's grip, at least for now.
The H-O-R-S-E Powers
When George (Iceman) Gervin retired in 1986, he took with him not only four NBA scoring titles, but also an unofficial honor as well: Player Most Likely to Inflict an E in H-O-R-S-E, a game in which competitors must match each other's shots. "He could make more shots from behind the backboard than anyone I've ever seen," recalls Spur vice-president Bob Bass. "He'd sit down in the second row of scats and bank them in." But there were other H-O-R-S-E hotshots of yore, and Gervin particularly admired the late Pete Maravich, who used to spin the ball on one finger, toss it into the air and then head it into the basket. "Today guys play more jump-shot shooting games," says Gervin.
Still, top H-O-R-S-E players do exist in the NBA. Among the best are Houston guard Kenny Smith, whose repertoire includes over-the-head shots from behind the basket and from half-court while sitting down; Phoenix swingman Dan Majerle, who is deadly on 40-foot set shots from the bench; Boston reserve Michael Smith, who can hit bank shots off the 24-second clock; and Portland guard Danny Ainge, a manic player who once won a two-hour-long shooting duel with then Celtics teammate Sam Vincent when he made a shot standing on a chair behind press row in Milwaukee.
But the current H-O-R-S-E shoo-in is Chris Mullin of Golden State. "He's not going to make up as many shots as some other guys," says Warrior guard Kevin Pritchard. "But he's not going to miss anything you come up with, either."
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