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Ball Don't Lie

TNT will not assign a play-by-play man to Thursday’s game, which might work

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Chris Webber, Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller. Not pictured: Marv Albert (Getty Images)

TNT will not use a play-by-play man during Thursday’s telecast of the Oklahoma City Thunder/Golden State Warriors game, in an unprecedented move that is not without promise. As a one-off, and not a pattern, it seems like an interesting idea worth turning up for; though we hope it doesn’t turn into a template that affects the rest of TNT, along with other networks covering NBA telecasts.

Though ABC/ESPN has been roundly criticized for its lack studio host in its NBA coverage, the network has been able to skate without a host over the last two seasons because of the borderline irrelevancy of its studio shows. We often enjoy the work of Bill Simmons, Michael Wilbon, Jalen Rose and Magic Johnson in their individual forays away from the set … but I don’t know many NBA diehards that watch that show. At least not ones with an internet connection. Or television remote.

TNT’s attempt to build a crew out of Chris Webber, Steve Kerr, and (sigh) Reggie Miller is an interesting ploy to toss out in a regular season that will be six days away from extinction on Thursday. Again, though, we just hope that this is a late-season novelty, and not the look (and sound) of the future.

In literal, unfeeling terms, a play by play man in a televised basketball game is borderline superfluous. Not an anachronism, to be sure, the game hasn’t exactly evolved to a point where we don’t need someone calling the action that we’re seeing right in front of us. But even as someone who still doesn’t have HD receiver, and was working with a 20-inch TV up until a couple of years ago, you can still tell who is shooting the ball and who just missed their defensive assignment just by watch. And the exultation from a game-changing play or flashy dunk is probably overmatched by your own hoots or hollers in the seconds following.

In a telecast, really, sometimes they don’t have to be there.

But play by play announcers should be there. And you know why? Because these guys are gooooood.

It isn’t like it was a decade ago, when I first plugged into League Pass. Back then the NBA was filled with quite a few local play by play guys that seemed to be hoping to use that spot as a steppingstone to call a Saints/Rams game on FOX someday. By now, it’s hard to find a bad one in the bunch. And the advent of Twitter and the growing rise in League Pass subscriptions means not only are these play by play guys being held to higher standards, but they’re happily moving with the growth of the game as they interact with fans and adapt to a group of NBA followers that is getting smarter and smarter by the day.

Followers that are getting smarter often because of the dogged, engaged, and lively work of these local play by play announcers.

This is why I’d probably prefer to see TNT fly one of these League Pass stars out to California for Thursday’s game, instead of the three-analyst setup. Even if two of the analysts in question (Webber and Kerr) are two of my favorite in the game. And I’m not just talking about young some up and comer – there are scads of longtime announcers that follow this sport and their team and the ever-changing NBA tide as closely as your favorite NBA.com Stats Tool-obsessed blogger. Some that may have been old enough to have to decide on a vote between Humphrey and Nixon in 1968, even.

Luckily, TNT picked the right people. Or, at least, two out of three ain’t bad.

If Turner went for another triptych, you might get the sort of yuk-fests that have dominated NBA studio shows since Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Kenny Smith showed us how it was done all the way back in 2000 – including NBC’s last stab at the NBA, most ESPN and some NBA TV crews. All forced laughs and minor details, and cringes on the other side of the cathode tube ray.

Instead, Webber and Kerr are almost always on point. And while Miller can frustrate, in the company of two other former players he may find a groove that makes his presence palatable. That’s the hope, at least – because we were really, really looking forward to this Thunder/Warriors game well before news about the novelty hit.

Even with nationally televised cable games on nearly every night of the week, this is still an era that makes us wait until late April to see Dick Stockton on TNT, while pushing Kevin Calabro away from the cameras and behind a radio mic at ESPN. Have fun with the concept on Thursday night, TNT, but do understand that the local League Pass ranks are teeming with those that are worthy of a basic cable break.

(And Steve? Chris? It’s OK to freeze Reggie out, from time to time. Efficiency counts in broadcasting, too.)

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