‘Meanwhile, the game is tied’

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That’s what ESPN play by play commentator Dave Pasch actually said near the end of the February 17 UCLA-Oregon basketball game after he and fellow commentator Bill Walton had totally ignored the game to talk about extraneous things for two hours.

Bill Walton was the best basketball player I’ve ever seen in college. But as a basketball commentator, Walton is to basketball as water is to fire. He talks nonstop, apparently thinking he’s the reincarnation of Robin Williams, throwing one-liners here and there. He talks about everything but the game, and that is eminently annoying. The game is the thing. It’s horribly distracting to be watching a game and listening to an alleged “analyst” babbling nonstop about other things.

During the second half of a close, see-saw game between UCLA and USC on Super Bowl Saturday, Walton said that SC won 29 consecutive games on UCLA’s home court in the “’30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s,” told stories about Reggie and Cheryl Miller, and ribbed his announcer, Dave Pasch, rarely mentioning the game. That’s bad enough, but his statistics are dead wrong. USC actually won 39 consecutive games against UCLA, but that was between 1932 and 1943. He would have known that had he read my book, UCLA Basketball: The Real Story because this information is on page 3.

ESPN showed how little it cares about the games it televises…

But Walton really hit the low point in the history of televised sports when he was the commentator on ESPN’s telecast of the UCLA-Oregon game. He never stopped talking. Even though the game was another seesaw affair that went to overtime, and an important game for the Bruins, Walton went on stream of consciousness monologues snubbing the game upon which he was supposed to be commenting. Just a few of the topics covered by Walton while the players were running up and down the court included: the Hall of Fame, how much Kevin Durant loves his mother, players going to the John Wooden Camp, The Beach Boys, what was going on in the NBA, and former baseball announcer the late Bob Uecker. Even when it was a 3-point game with three minutes to go in regulation, he was instead expounding on Pete Maravich, who died in 1988.

With five minutes to go and a 4-point differential, the equally clueless Pasch asked Walton what he thought of “one and done,” forget the tight game. With Oregon leading 66-62 with 3:32 left, Walton said, “They were on the ropes here. What was their deficit?” Had he been watching the game instead mouthing off about nonsense, he would have known what the deficit had been. That’s what he’s there for!

At 2:46, with the score 66-64, an Oregon player missed the first foul shot of a 1 and 1 (which cost them the game since regulation ended in a tie) and neither announcer mentioned it! Instead, Walton thought it more important to mention how many NCAA titles UCLA has.

ESPN showed how little it cares about the games it televises in this broadcast, also. For 15 minutes, while the game was being played, they went to a split screen showing Walton and Pasch interviewing Kevin Love, totally disregarding the game that was shown on the other half of the split screen.

This should be a felony punishable by banning ESPN from ever televising another sporting event. If they want to interview Kevin Love, do it at halftime or after the game, not while the game is being played.

If Bill Walton wants to be a standup comedian, he should have his own show or go to a comedy club. But if he’s going to be a commentator on a basketball game, he should limit his comments to the game he’s broadcasting.

One of the reasons Hubie Brown and John McEnroe are so effective is that they comment on the game as it’s being played and eschew comments about superfluous matters. When I have heard Walton in the past analyze the game being played, he is quite intuitive.

Tony Medley is the author of three books including “UCLA Basketball: The Real Story,” the first book written on UCLA basketball. Visit TonyMedley.com.


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