SPOILER ALERT! NBA TV now run by spoilers
The league’s cable channel is giving away the outcome of many vintage games at the opening tip
(This is an essay I penned several weeks ago for which I could not find an outlet.)
By Dennis Hans
The NBA’s 2008 decision to relocate its cable channel, NBA TV, from New Jersey to Atlanta and turn the operation over to the TNT crowd at Turner Sports has, in one respect, been a disaster.
My favorite program on the channel is “Hardwood Classics” — rebroadcasts of great games dating all the way back to the 1963 Finals, when Bill Russell and Bob Cousy squared off against Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Most are two-hour productions that trim away the fat of pre-game and half-time chatter so that most if not all of the action can be squeezed into the allotted time. Viewers are transported back in time to experience the game “as it happened,” in the words of the voiceover intro on many of the Classics assembled at the old studio in New Jersey.
Some of the Jersey productions add nothing to the original broadcast; others, at the start of each segment, flash in the upper right-hand corner for about 10 seconds the names of the opponents, the game number and playoff round, and the date it was played. The graphic is usually gone by the time the action resumes, and it doesn’t provide a clue as to who won or lost.
Tune in and you’re likely to be swept away by the grace and skill of these lanky, limber gazelles in the pre-bulked-up era of the ’60s, ’70s and much of the ’80s — and amused by their quaint habit of dribbling the top of the basketball. (Everyone knows that the proper way to dribble is to cradle the ball, keeping your cupped hand underneath or on the side of the ball for an eternity or two.) And unless you’re a history nut or a geezer with a good memory, you — and perhaps your kids or grandkids who are just developing their passion for basketball — won’t know the outcome and thus can get caught up in the unfolding on-court drama.
Well, no more. The geniuses at Turner have decided to display — right from the opening tip — an info graphic on most (not all) of their new Hardwood Classics productions that tells viewers who won. This despite having produced new on-screen intros by staff announcers such as Matt Winer and Rick Kamla drawing the audience in by dramatically setting the stage for what is to follow. Here, by Winer, is a typical one:
“In Game 3 of the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, the Chicago Bulls were looking to advance to the NBA Finals for the very first time. Standing in their path: the nemesis Detroit Pistons, who won the last two NBA championships. Can Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and company take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series, and push Isiah Thomas, Dennis Rodman and the Bad Boys to the brink of extinction?”
Let’s overlook the error in logic in the opening sentence: You can’t sew up a seven-game series and thus “advance” by winning the third game. At least someone had the good sense to clear up the confusion with a correct concluding sentence. Alas, that was the last bit of good sense that the Turner people displayed in this production, for here is what viewers saw 25 seconds after Winer’s presentation: BULLS BREAK THROUGH IN MOTOR CITY
If you had happened to run to the kitchen and missed this important news when it first appeared, you did not get lucky. The helpful Turner people made this bulletin a semi-permanent on-screen fixture — a big, black rectangular block with white lettering in the lower left-center of the screen, often blotting out the bouncing of the ball and parts of a player or two. The info-block fades out only when the original broadcast flashes the score or some other helpful fact; once that fades out the 2011 info-block reappears.
An apparently newly discovered tape of the second half of Game 4 of the 1966 Eastern Conference Semifinals, between the Boston Celtics and the Cincinnati Royals, has been turned into a one-hour Hardwood Classic with a fine introduction by Kamla informing viewers that the Royals can eliminate the Celtics with a win. “Do they succeed at the Cincinnati Gardens?” asks Kamla. “Let’s find out.” Barely a second later, we did: CELTICS AVOID ELIMINATION, TIE SERIES 2-2
Believe it or not, these rectangular info-blocks are an improvement on another Turner innovation: a big blue info-blob, taking up a chunk of the lower-left portion of the screen, which ruined the new NBA TV editions of the 1972 and 1977 All-Star Game. (The only thing dumber is ESPN’s baseball telecasts, which superimpose the strike zone on the screen on every pitch, thus obstructing the view of the all-important pitcher-batter confrontation.) Fortunately for fans, the 1972 game airs occasionally on the ESPN Classic channel, minus the blue blob.
Here are three more playoff-game giveaways I’ve encountered in new Hardwood Classics productions from a great NBA decade:
Introducing the start of the 1983 Knicks-Nets series, Winer asked, “Who will take control in Game 1 in Brendan Byrne Arena?” The answer arrived instantaneously: BERNARD KING LEADS KNICKS TO WIN
Winer, setting the scene for the hard-fought 1986 Milwaukee-Philadelphia series, asked “Who will seize control in Game 1 at The Mecca?” Two seconds later his colleagues spilled the beans: BARKLEY LEADS 4th QUARTER COMEBACK
For Game 6 of the 1986 Finals, Team Turner opted to skip a 2011 intro and go right to the original CBS broadcast. Another change: the info-block was raised to the less obtrusive upper left corner, which is where the outcome was immediately revealed: CELTICS WIN 16th NBA TITLE
See if you can discern the winner of the following playoff matchups, using only the subtle clue of NBA TV’s on-screen, ALL-CAPS perma-script:
BARKLEY POWERS SUNS WITH BIG DOUBLE-DOUBLE
BARKLEY’S TRIPLE DOUBLE LEADS SUNS TO WIN
JOHN STOCKTON COMES UP CLUTCH
LAKERS SURVIVE & ADVANCE TO NBA FINALS
MICHAEL JORDAN’S 1ST CAREER PLAYOFF SERIES WIN
SUPERSTAR PERFORMANCE BY KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR
M. JORDAN’S SCORING SPREE LEADS BULLS PAST SUNS
K. JOHNSON LEADS SUNS TO WIN & EXTEND SERIES
BULLS REPEAT AS CHAMPIONS
I don’t know if Ted Turner is still running his media empire, but whoever is in charge I implore thee: keep the NBA TV braintrust as far away as humanly possible from Turner Classic Movies. I don’t want Robert Osborne’s fascinating, non-spoiler set-ups to be followed by a permanent on-screen spoiler caption as the film rolls.
[SPOILER ALERT!!! If you’re new to classic movies and plan on becoming a fan, stop reading now or avert your eyes as you skip ahead to the final paragraph.]
In short, I don’t want to see this:
“Detective Robert Thorn discovers that Soylent Green, a popular processed food, is made from PEOPLE!”
“Shy oddball Norman Bates, who years ago murdered his mother without getting caught and now impersonates her, stabs to death Marion Crane in the shower.”
“Norma Desmond will soon be ready for her close-up — down at the police station, for the murder of struggling screenwriter and reluctant gigolo Joe Gillis. The butler DIDN’T do it, though he did write all of Norma’s ‘fan mail’ and was once her director AND husband!”
Please, NBA TV. The on-screen clutter is annoying and unnecessary even when it’s innocuous (e.g., JORDAN & MAGIC DUEL IN THE FINALS). It’s unacceptable when it announces the result. Let Winer and Kamla dramatically set the stage, but don’t undercut their efforts and sabotage the viewing experience by allowing the production geniuses to mark their territory with info-block spoilers. Just show the darn game as it was originally broadcast, and let fans of all ages who are discovering these rare treats for the first time enjoy the suspense as well as the artistry of vintage NBA basketball.