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Monday, June 9, 2008

The 10 Worst Broadcasters in Sports

Sportscasters have gone from trusted experts to pompous, blathering idiots. We put the biggest offenders on notice.

By: Will Leitch

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Before cable TV ushered in an era of 24-hour sports coverage and snarky, personality-driven commentary, professional play callers were endowed with a unique talent for actually enhancing the experience of watching a game. They offered valuable insight, knew how to play up a big moment, and knew when to shut the hell up.

Over the past two decades, however, too many play-by-play guys–even some of the biggest names–have become motormouthed hacks whose egos are perpetually on display. They pepper their commentary with a constant flow of inane banter and irrelevant pop culture references—anything to get more air time. It’s enough to make any fan watch a whole game on mute. In the name of taking back televised sports, we hereby call out these 10 broadcasters as the worst of the worst—and beg TV execs to muzzle them before viewers revolt.

10. John Madden
worstBroadcasters_johnMadden.jpgHe’s as much a part of American football as pylons and jock itch, but Madden became a parody of himself long ago. The beloved Hall of Fame coach once lent easy-to-understand insight to a game that can be hard for the casual fan to decipher. But that was before he handed out six-legged turkeys on Thanksgiving and scored a slew of endorsement deals. Sadly, he’s all but stopped analyzing these days, instead bellowing catch phrases while scribbling on the Telestrator like an epileptic kindergartner. Then again, if our name was on a video game that has grossed over a billion dollars, maybe we’d start phoning it in, too.

He said it:
“Not only do you get a first down but you get a whole new set of downs!”

9. Walt Frazier
worstBroadcasters_waltFrazier.jpgYes, the Knicks’ MSG Network color man is a legendary guard and a pretty smooth dude. We’ve got a few tips for him anyway: Tone down the pimp wear; criticize your sorry-ass team every once in a while; and, please, put down the thesaurus. Word combos like “bounding and astounding,” and “precocious neophyte” are enough to make any man hurl a whiskey bottle at his flat-screen. (Or is that just us?) Most ridiculous of all, the Knicks can be losing by 50 to the Hornets, and Frazier will, without irony, praise the low-post defense of David Lee.

He said it:
“A maestro is Nate Robinson, his virtuosity overwhelming the Blazers now. The grandeur, the splendor, the majesty of the little man, slicing between a couple of Blazers.”

8. Mike Patrick
worstBroadcasters_mikePatrick.jpgA forgettable play-by-play man for ESPN’s College Football Primetime, Patrick earns his place here largely thanks to his work during the September 22, 2007 Georgia-Alabama game. With the two rivals engaged in a fierce overtime battle, Patrick started badgering analyst Todd Blackledge with questions about...Britney Spears. Nationwide bewilderment ensued.

He said it:
Patrick: “I’ve got an important question.” Blackledge: “Go ahead.” Patrick: “What’s Britney doing with her life?” Blackledge: “Who?” Patrick: “Britney.” Blackledge: “Britney who?” Patrick: “Spears. What’s she doing with her career?” Blackledge: “Why do we care at this point? Is she here?” She wasn’t. But that didn’t stop Patrick from baring his weird soul.

7. Billy Packer
worstBroadcasters_billyPacker.jpgThe Dick Cheney of college basketball broadcasting, Packer is a crotchety antagonist who brings the joy of a diaper change to every gig—along with doses of racism and sexism! Packer called Allen Iverson a “tough monkey,” and when a female security guard asked for press credentials before a Duke game, Packer replied, “Since when do we let women control who gets into a men’s basketball game?” Karma struck when he blasted the inclusion of so many mid-majors in the 2006 NCAA tournament—and then George Mason reached the Final Four.

He said it:
When Charlie Rose asked if Packer wanted help with the 2007 finals: “You always fag out on that one for me. You always say you’ll be the runner, then you never show up.”

6. Bill Walton
worstBroadcasters_billWalton.jpgA dynamic center at UCLA in the ’70s and a self-professed former hippie, “the Big Redhead” is all about peace, love…and turning even the most boring Bucks-Nets game into an epic battle between good and evil. The undisputed king of hyperbole, Walton once described a misguided pass from Tony Parker as “the worst pass in the history of Western civilization” and called Greg Ostertag “one of the top centers on the planet.” Walton deserves credit for overcoming a debilitating stutter, but he still sounds like he’s spraying the booth every time he opens his mouth. Terrible! Just terrible!

He said it:
“When I look at Boris Diaw, I think of Beethoven and the age of Romantics.”

5. Bryant Gumbel
worstBroadcasters_bryantGumbel.jpgOne assumes the NFL Network wanted Gumbel because the newsman added gravitas to a fledgling outlet. Gravitas, however, only matters if you don’t suck. Though adept as the host of HBO’s Real Sports, Gumbel was out of his element as a play caller. He routinely misdiagnosed plays, spotted the ball at the wrong yard line, and once referred to the game’s quarters as “periods.” He called Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo “Rick Romo” and 49ers running back Frank Gore “Al Gore.” Mercifully, the network and Gumbel parted ways last April so he could return to Teleprompter reading.

He said it:
“The Patriots...come back on the field for the first time this evening.”

4. Dick Vitale
worstBroadcasters_dickVitale.jpgOnce upon a time, Dickie V was an exciting, spontaneous announcer. Now he’s a mugging cartoon whose catch phrases—“dipsy-doo dunk­aroo,” “slam-jam-bam, baby!”—send fans scrambling for a dull razor. Vitale’s obsession with Duke and Coach K borders on a disorder, and his tireless defense of even the most unethical college coaches is laughable. Last year when Florida coach Billy Donovan accepted the Orlando Magic job, then quit a day later, Vitale noted, “Those things happen.” He’d make a helluva used car salesman, though.

He said it:
“Go to my Web site, Dick Vitale dot com! You can get my bobblehead and my books and also an alarm clock to wake you up!”

3. Joe Morgan
worstBroadcasters_joeMorgan.jpgESPN’s lead baseball color commentator relishes any chance to remind non–Hall of Fame second basemen that he, Joe Morgan, Hall of Fame second baseman, is a Hall of Fame second baseman. He’s also the most condescending broadcaster in sports—so despised he’s inspired a Web site: When not making Barry Bonds out to be Mother Teresa, he’s bashing execs who use stats rather than scouts to evaluate players—the science of sabermetrics detailed in the 2003 book Moneyball.

He said it:
“Anytime you’re trying to make statistics tell you who’s gonna win the game, that’s a bunch of geeks trying to play video games.” News flash: Those geeks are your audience.

Joe also made our list of worst baseball announcers.

2. Chip Caray
worstBroadcasters_chipCaray.jpgHe’s the grandson of legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray and the son of TBS’s Braves play-by-play guy, Skip Caray. So Chip may have benefited from a little nepotism when, two years out of college, he scored a job behind the mike at Orlando Magic games. Today the MLB announcer is a fountain of inaccuracies. During last year’s ALDS, he was actually forced to apologize to Cleveland Indians fans for botching so many facts about their team.

He said it:
Of the Andy Pettitte, Fausto Car­mona duel in the 2007 ALDS: “You can’t get better postseason pitching than we’ve seen tonight.” Oh, yeah? How about Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Chip?

Chip also made our list of worst baseball announcers.

1. Chris Berman
worstBroadcasters_chrisBerman.jpgOne of ESPN’s original broadcasters, Berman is the godfather of taking a spectacular athletic moment and butchering it with bullshit. Whether he’s creating “wacky” nicknames for players—Mike “Enough” Aldretti, Esteban “Bats in the” Beltre—or bellowing, “Back-back-back-back-back!” whenever someone hits a home run, Boomer never fails to shoehorn his trademark nonsense into a game.

He said it:
Caught on-camera in 2000 just before Monday Night Football returned from com­mercial: “Why does everybody all of a sudden have to move? You’ve got two fucking hours to move around. Wait 10 minutes. Jesus!...It’s like no one has worked on TV here before! Jesus!”

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Nadal Dominates Federer in French Open

Christophe Ena/Associated Press

Rafael Nadal became the second man to win four consecutive French Open titles. Bjorn Borg did it in 1978-81.

PARIS — So what was Roger Federer to do with the elusive French Open trophy once again in sight and Rafael Nadal still looming so very large on the other side of the net?

Stay back and rally? Definitely not. Nadal was too quick and too steady, with unforced errors surfacing as rarely as sunshine in Paris during this tournament.

Why not attack the net? More sensible indeed, yet Nadal’s dipping passing shots were so precise, so forceful that they kept forcing the swooping Federer to dig balls out of the dirt or twist his neck — elegantly of course — to watch a winner land on the sideline or even the baseline.

No, the answer for all the millions of Federer fans worldwide who would like nothing better than for their man to win the only Grand Slam title he lacks is that there was no solution available to Federer in his current state of form and Nadal’s current state of grace.

In a final that only rarely resembled anything other than one-way traffic, Nadal was at his suffocating finest as he won his fourth straight French Open by beating up on his erratic, increasingly dispirited Swiss opponent. The final score — 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 — was the most lopsided result in their rivalry that now spans 17 matches, and it was the finishing touch on one of the most dominant performances in Grand Slam history.

Nadal, a Spaniard whose record at Roland Garros is now an astonishing 28-0, did not come close to dropping a set in this tournament. And his fourth straight victory in Paris matched the run of the Swedish champion Bjorn Borg, who was in the front row of the president’s box for the entirety of this one-hour and 48-minute rout and who later awarded Nadal the Coupe des Mousquetaires, which is beginning to seem like a formality at Roland Garros.

“I would have hoped, of course, to get more today than four games,” Federer said in French in a quiet, slightly sheepish voice as he addressed the crowd. “But Rafa is really very, very strong this year. He dominated this tournament like perhaps never before. Like Bjorn. He deserves this title.”

It was Federer’s most lopsided defeat in any significant match, and it was the latest disappointment in a season in which his pre-eminence in men’s tennis has been consistently usurped.

Losing to Nadal on clay in Paris was no surprise. Federer lost to him in the semifinals in 2005 and the final in 2006 and 2007. But Federer managed to win at least one set in those matches before Nadal wore him down. This time, Nadal was on a higher plane, controlling rallies with his wicked spin and swashbuckling athleticism and ripping big holes in Federer’s plan of attack.

He broke the top-seeded Federer’s serve in the opening game, then held his own serve with difficulty in the next. But after Federer held to 2-1, Nadal took command, reeling off 22 of the next 25 points. Federer then briefly stopped his momentum, breaking the Spaniard in the third game of the second set to get back on serve. But with Federer serving at 3-4, he was broken again when Nadal nailed a backhand passing shot down the line for a winner.

Federer would not win another game, and as his errors and Nadal’s winners piled up down the stretch, there were boos and whistles from the crowd.

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Ivanovic, the New No. 1, Is Also Tops in Paris

Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Ana Ivanovic won her first Grand Slam championship by defeating Dinara Safina 6-4, 6-3.

PARIS — It was time for another French Open women’s final, and although the four-time winner Justine Henin was still on the grounds, she was no longer on the clay.

With Henin retired and watching from the front row, it was time for a new Grand Slam champion, and it turned out to be Ana Ivanovic, the same young, elegant Serb who had let her nerves get the best of her against Henin in last year’s flop of a final.

Ivanovic is a better, fitter, more composed contender now, and on Saturday, she filled the void at the top of the clay-court game in style by defeating 13th-seeded Dinara Safina of Russia, 6-4, 6-3.

“Obviously, the nerves were still there, but that’s normal,” Ivanovic said. “Last year’s final was a great learning experience for me.”

Ivanovic, 20, was already guaranteed to become No. 1 in the women’s rankings Monday after beating her Serbian compatriot Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals. Now, she has her first Grand Slam singles title along with the top spot, and Serbia, once an international pariah, has its latest reason to organize a celebration in Belgrade.

In January, Novak Djokovic became the first Serbian man to win a major singles title, at the Australian Open. “Going into today’s final, I thought of it,” Ivanovic said. “I said: ‘Come on. He could do it. I could do it, too.’ So it’s something that for sure motivates, and I hope also many young kids will get inspired from us.”

Ivanovic is a towering fast talker with a trump card of a forehand. Although she has a friendly, upbeat disposition — unlike some of the harder-edged women’s stars over the years — she had to overcome major adversity to become a major champion.

Ivanovic was part of the remarkable Serbian tennis generation that developed despite the internal conflicts linked to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. At 13, she was reduced to training on a makeshift court in Belgrade that was in the bottom of an empty swimming pool.

Later, like Jankovic and Djokovic, Ivanovic became an expatriate as a teenager to take her game to the next level. Ivanovic, not considered a can’t-miss junior, based herself in Roger Federer’s home city, Basel, Switzerland, after Dan Holzmann, an Israeli-born Swiss businessman, agreed to finance her career at a time when money and opportunity were drying up.

“I met the family, and 24 hours later, I made the decision to help,” said Holzmann, who added, “I have a lot of people working with me and colleagues and offices, but to hear it from a 15-year-old girl, so committed and so clear, that she wants to be No. 1, I was really impressed.”

With Holzmann’s support, about $10,000 to $20,000 a month in the early years, the family hired the veteran coach Eric Van Harpen, who had worked with the Spanish stars Conchita Martínez and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario.

Ivanovic made her first major impression at 17, when she upset the French star Amélie Mauresmo here and reached the 2005 quarterfinals. But questionable fitness and a tendency to become tight under big-match pressure held her back until last year, when she rolled to the final before winning just three games against Henin.

She failed to control her emotions again in this year’s Australian Open final against Maria Sharapova.

“I had a few sleepless nights after that, honestly,” Ivanovic said. “Part of me was already thinking about possibly holding the trophy, you know. So this time, I really tried to change that and don’t think about that at all and just focus on my game. There were some moments where this thought would still come up, but I managed to control it much better.”

This time, the Russian on the other side of the net was not an established winner accustomed to the pomp and circumstance of a Grand Slam final. Safina, the 22-year-old sister of the former men’s No. 1 Marat Safin, had never been past the quarterfinals of a major tournament.

The differences Saturday were Ivanovic’s forehand, slightly better court coverage and ability to attack Safina’s second serve. Safina still kept it interesting, however, rallying from a 1-4 deficit to 4-4 in the opening set before Ivanovic closed it out. In the second, after losing her serve again early, Safina stayed close by holding serve in a marathon seventh game. But the effort seemed to leave her drained, and she ended up winning just one point in the final two games.

Ivanovic was soon climbing into the stands to hug friends and her parents, Dragana and Miroslava. Back on the clay, she received the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen from Henin, who won it the last three years before retiring unexpectedly last month, citing a loss of motivation.

“I really wanted to try and face her again here and hopefully be better,” Ivanovic said. “But still it was great to see her there and, at the end, when she handed me the trophy, she was really nice, and she said, ‘You know you deserve it, so now it’s yours.’ ”

Holzmann, his investment long since repaid, was among those tearing up in the stands. “Normally, I’m not a very emotional guy,” he said. “But I know what they went through. It’s tough to have a daughter, no money, traveling.”

He added, “I don’t know if I would do that with my kid, but they did it and were committed, so of course I was emotional about them being emotional.”

It was the first French Open singles title for a Serb since the Serbian-born Monica Seles won here in 1992 while representing Yugoslavia.

Seles was Ivanovic’s idol, the big-hitting reason she took up the game.

“I had a chance to meet her and have dinner with her last year in New York, and it was very nice,” Ivanovic said. “I was sitting there with her and I kind of didn’t know what to say. I was like: How can I ask her? I mean she’s such a great champion, and who am I?”

The internal dialogue will presumably be different the next time they meet. Ivanovic is, after all, a Grand Slam champion herself now.

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Top 10 moments in Celtics-Lakers postseason history

With 10 NBA Finals series under their belts, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have had plenty of historic moments. Below is a list compiled by ESPN research of the top 10 moments in Finals history between the Celtics and the Lakers.

Magic Johnson

Getty Images

Magic Johnson clutches his third Finals MVP award in 1987.

1. 1987 NBA Finals, Game 4 (June 9)
Trailing by one point, the Lakers put the ball and the game in the hands of Magic Johnson. Like he had so many times before, he delivered the game-winning blow, a running hook shot in the lane.

The 107-106 victory over the Celtics gave the Lakers a 3-1 edge in the series, which they would eventually win in six games. Magic's performance led him to winning his third NBA Finals MVP.

2. 1962 NBA Finals, Game 7 (April 18)
Frank Selvy had a chance to end the game for the Lakers in regulation, but his miss forced the game into overtime, when the Celtics, behind Bill Russell's 30 points and 40 rebounds, would go on to win 110-107 and win Boston's fifth NBA title.

3. 1962 NBA Finals, Game 5 (April 14)
Elgin Baylor scored a Finals-record 61 points for the Lakers, who were making their first title-game appearance. Baylor also added 22 rebounds in leading the Lakers to a 126-121 victory and a 3-2 series lead. However, Boston would go on to win the final two games and win the title.

Bill Russell

George Long/WireImage

Russell and Wilt had their battles but Russell's 11 rings do the final talking.

4. 1969 NBA Finals, Game 7 (May 5)
In what turned out to be Russell's final game, the Celtics saw a 17-point fourth-quarter lead almost disappear. Up only one point, Don Nelson put up a shot the bounded off the back of the rim and dropped into the net to keep the Celtics up for good.

Boston went on to win the game 108-106 and send Russell off with his unprecedented 11th title.

5. 1984 NBA Finals, Game 2 (May 31)
Trailing 1-0 after dropping Game 1 at home, the Celtics found themselves trailing Game 2 by two points with only 18 seconds left.

In jeopardy of losing the first two games of the series at home, Gerald Henderson intercepted a James Worthy pass and scored a game-tying layup. The Celtics won the game in overtime 124-121 and the series in seven games.

6. 1962 NBA Finals, Game 3 (April 10)
The logo made his presence felt in a tight Game 3 matchup. In a game tied at 115, Jerry West stole an inbounds pass intended for Bob Cousy with four seconds left in regulation and beat the clock for a game-winning layup.

Kareem Adul-Jabbar

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Kareem led the Lakers in 1985 over the Celtics for the first time in Finals history.

7. 1985 NBA Finals, Game 6 (June 9)
After receiving most of the blame for the Lakers' 148-114 loss in Game 1, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went on to carry the Lakers the rest of the series. His 29-point performance in the series-clinching 111-100 win at Boston in Game 6 helped him become the oldest Finals MVP in NBA history and give the Lakers their first Finals series win over Boston after eight previous failed attempts.

8. 1984 NBA Finals, Game 4 (June 6)
This game will always be remembered as the game in which Kevin McHale sent a message to the Lakers by clotheslining Kurt Rambis to the ground on a breakaway layup. The message seemed to have worked as the Lakers went on to make several key mistakes in blowing a five-point lead with less than a minute to go.

The Celtics won the game 129-125 in overtime thanks to a Larry Bird game-clinching shot over Magic Johnson.

9. 1969 NBA Finals, Game 4 (April 29)
This game's importance was signified by the real-life version of the Hoosiers "picket fence" play. Sam Jones hit the game-winning shot to give the Celtics an 89-88 victory. The win tied the series at two against the heavily favored Lakers and set up one of the greatest upsets in Finals history.

10. 1985 NBA Finals, Game 4 (June 5)
Dennis Johnson's 20-foot jumper with one second left gave the Celtics a two-point victory over the Lakers in the Forum. The 107-105 victory tied the series 2-2. However, it would be Boston's final celebration -- the Celtics dropped the next two to lose the series in six games.

Rankings by Peter Newmann of ESPN

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