In the New York Post, this tumultuous summer at ESPN is making Bristol feel more like a bloodied battlefield.
One of the the progenitors of the sports media business, Phil Mushnick has expressed his feelings succinctly. “So ESPN busted up its one credible and even interesting live event team — its NBA trio of Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson — to promote Doris Burke, dreadfully pedestrian and unwilling to offend even the most offensive.”
It should also be noted that the affable Doc Rivers will likely be the number one NBA/ESPN analyst. In other words, the likely trio will be Breen, River and Burke.
In 2018, she was honored by Basketball’s Hall of Fame, with the annual Curt Gowdy Broadcast Award. In case you didn’t know, Burke got it before so many other notables like Brent Musburger. The HOF has been impervious to any cries on Brent’s behalf.
Remember that the Basketball Hall represents both the college and NBA game. So it’s a big family to feed and lots of people to please and serve. Brent’s absence is glaring. He did six NBA Finals, (1975-80) and six NCAA Final Fours, (1985-1990), all on CBS. The Hall of Fame has a mandate to serve both the college and pro game.
Talking about Springfield’s Hoops Hall, it took 33 years for the first Black man to win the Gowdy. Walt Frazier, now 78, went in first for his spectacular work on the floor. He earned it with deserving honors; a deep thinker, well prepared and creative. Never overweight, not even now. As Vin Scully might say. “He has the profile of an iron board.” The love for Walt began at the Old Madison Square Garden in 1967. He had attended Southern Illinois, then settled in the Big Apple when the Knicks drafted him. The Clyde was a man of the people. He rode the New York subways and was the sharpest and flashiest dresser in town.
Starting in the old MSG in 1967, the team moved to the new one which abutted Penn Station. In retirement Walt was hired by MSG to do Knicks games first on Knicks radio and later on television. It took time on-air until his rhyming and rich vocabulary were accepted and humorous. After a foolish play, Frazier might say somewhat angrily, “That was asinine.” He can be acerbic and edgy when he moved from radio to TV. “It’s a Ewing doing” or “Oak has the stroke.”
So why did Walt have to wait for Burke or others most notably, like Brent Musburger, who’s still waiting. He brings qualifying ingredients for the NBA and college ball. In 1987, Walt Frazier was enshrined into the HOF after winning two league championships with the Knicks. He played with suave in New York from his rookie year in 1967-68 through 1977. He closed it out in Cleveland in 1979 which wasn’t his choice. Walt’s still a wonderful craftsman on-air, given the time to delve and set up nicely by Knicks’ play-by-player, Mike Breen.
At this point, the first seven HOF winners have all died.
1990 – Curt Gowdy (Celtics and NBC)
1991 – Marty Glickman (Knicks and NBC)
1992 – Chick Hearn (Los Angeles Lakers)
1993 – Johnny Most (Boston Celtics)
1994 – Cawood Ledford (University of Kentucky)
1995 – Dick Enberg (NBC and lots of college hoops)
1996 – Billy Packer (NBC, ACC and CBS)
The winner in 1997 was Marv Albert who has since retired, yet still active at age 82.
Greg Gumbel triggers the subject of unloading older play-by-play voices who are aging. Greg is unlikely to cover the NFL for CBS anytime soon. At 77, he’s still serviceable and will likely stay on, remaining in the studio doing NCAA Basketball. The man is soft spoken, but occasionally lacks the energy. For fans who can’t tolerate shouters or contrivers, Greg has a soft touch and is always pleasing to the ears. He rarely screams or yells which many announcers lack. He called two Super Bowls in 2001 and 2004 with Phil Simms.
From the NY Post earlier, Gumbel said “So I think that doesn’t apply to me. What does tickle my thought process is, I’ve never felt in my entire life there is an announcer who can bring someone to the TV set to watch a game that that viewer wasn’t already going to watch. And I believe the only thing a broadcaster can do is chase people away.”
Still, Greg can turn a game telecast into a soporific. He does let his easy-going wit temper the mood of his CBS audience, with his breezy tone. His disarming sound also maintains its equanimity, no matter the score. But if his partner in the booth produces little meat, don’t count on Greg to trigger more chatting.
Is it aging? There are few voices on the networks who sail deeper into their 80s. Cliff Drysdale turned 82 last May. He’s still on ESPN’s tennis coverage including Wimbledon. His voice is still in fine fettle. The South African still sounds youthful. Dick Vitale should stay on! He brings some old-school to the stage. His battle with cancer is redolent of a man who keeps the spirit and faith.
So two men, both of whom have done multiple Super Bowls, will be doing less this fall or winter. Nantz is dropping college basketball including the Final Four and Gumbel won’t be doing the NFL for the first time in decades. Apparently, he keeps his NCAA hoops in the studio. Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith will handle the entertainment. Ernie Johnson Jr. is always comforting too.
Nantz followed Brent Musburger in 1991. Jim’s relationship with coaches, executives and officials brightened the tapestry of the NCAA Tournament telecasts. He’ll miss his viewers and we will miss him.