The NBA is Back: But Will Anyone Watch?

The NBA is Back: But Will Anyone Watch?

February 5, 1999

   The NBA is back, but the question lingers: Will people watch?

With as many as 10 teams capable of winning the championship after the retirement of Michael Jordan and the apparent demise of the Chicago Bulls, the field is wide open for a dominant team or teams and star(s) to emerge.

Will it be Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles? Or Scottie Pippen, Hakeem Olajuon, and Charles Barkley in Houston? Or Latrell Sprewell in New York? And where will Dennis Rodman play?

The excitement is real, and television executives and NBA analysts are predicting an unpredictable season and praying that fans and viewers forget about the 204-day lockout.

"It's wide open," said TNT analyst Hubie Brown. "If the teams come out and give the effort, they have a great opportunity to win back the fans. Attendance might be down a little in the beginning, and viewership might be a little off. But no one can answer the question of whether the fans will forgive the NBA. It's all going to come down to the individual franchises. If the team comes out of the box and plays with intensity, has terrific chemistry, and wins games, then people will be quick to forget about the lockout. But if the team has zero chemistry, a lackadaisical effort, and loses games, then the fans won't participate."

Most of the analysts at NBC and Turner Sports agree that the 50-game season favors the teams that have an established chemistry, such as Indiana and the Lakers, or made offseason additions to bolster their lineups, such as Houston and New York.

NBC's Bill Walton makes a tremendous point about all the free agent signings: "Never mistake activity for achievement."

Turner has a total of 45 games (local blackouts notwithstanding): 31 on TNT on Tuesday and Friday nights and 14 on TBS on Monday nights. NBC has dropped the Bulls from its national showcase games and replaced them with the Lakers, who will make 11 appearances on the network. The Knicks will be on NBC nine times.

The Celtics are not considered a contender and have only two NBC appearances, both against Larry Bird and the Pacers.

Nantz is best

The nearly 1,000-member National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association named CBS's Jim Nantz its 1998 Sportscaster of the Year. Nantz breaks the stranglehold of NBC's Bob Costas and ESPN's Chris Berman, who have alternated winning the award since 1987 . . . Nantz hosts CBS's coverage of this weekend's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am tomorrow (3-6 p.m.) and Sunday (3-6:30 p.m.). He'll be joined by Ken Venturi, Gary McCord, David Feherty, Peter Kostis, Peter Oosterhuis, and Bobby Clampett . . . CBS starts its coverage of the events leading up to the Feb. 14 Daytona 500 with pole qualifying tomorrow from 12:30-3 p.m. . . . NBC airs the World Alpine Ski Championships from Vail, Colo., tomorrow from 4-6 p.m. . . . New England Cable News sports anchor Kristen Mastroianni fills in for Eddie Andelman on WEEI's "A Team" today from noon-3 p.m . . . On Sunday night at 6:30, ESPN airs a 23-minute special on Al Davis. NFL Films produced "Al Davis: Legend, Maverick - The Courage of His Conviction." . . . ESPN2 provides live coverage of the NFL expansion draft Tuesday from 4-6:30 p.m. Mike Tirico hosts the telecast from the Canton (Ohio) Civic Center, where the Cleveland Browns will select players. Marty Schottenheimer joins Tirico, and there will be reports from John Clayton, Sal Paolantonio, and Solomon Wilcots . . . Ratings for college basketball games on ESPN and ESPN2 have improved this season but still aren't overwhelming. ESPN has televised 93 games, and ratings are up 25 percent - to 1.2. ESPN2 has aired 43 games, and its ratings are up 27 percent - to .38 . . . ESPN2 celebrates Black History Month with a feature tonight on Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion. The feature is part of "Friday Night Fights" at 9.

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