It is unlikely that sport has ever been presented so dismally in prime time as it was in this year's coverage of the NBA championships on ABC. It was a shoddy effort in all respects, from thought to execution. The choice of Chris Schenkel as play-by-play man on several of the telecasts was most unfortunate. He has become a source of despair to basketball fans for his failure to appreciate the sport's nuances and his obvious unwillingness to do the necessary homework to overcome this deficiency. Keith Jackson, who worked two of the final games, succeeded mostly in comparison.
The only real competence exhibited on the telecasts came from Jack Twyman. In his role of analyst during color coverage of the series, he was his usual crisp, candid self. Unhappily, ABC also saddled him with the chore of conducting interviews, never one of Twyman's strong suits, during the drawn-out halftime periods. Since ABC offered nothing innovative or imaginative to fill these voids, the result was a series of dreary courtside exchanges, many in the form of congratulations and compliments for people like the NBA commissioner and various club owners. Premeditated tedium of the worst kind.
(ABC must be in something of a daze by now. On the heels of the atrocious NBA coverage came word that Jackson, perhaps the best play-by-play man on any of the networks, is being dropped from next fall's Monday night NFL games for another pretty face, Frank Gifford, the recent transferee from CBS. It is easy to tell which one is Gifford. He's the one who isn't Kyle Rote.)
The essential fault with ABC's coverage of the playoffs was that it approached a basketball game exactly as it does a football game—when, in fact, the problems involved are quite different. Football is a well-constructed drama, with neat scenes and acts (plays and drives). Basketball is more like a ballet, fluid and cumulative. Thus, quoting football-type statistics as clues to the ultimate outcome, as ABC did, was patently misleading. And much of what decides a basketball game takes place away from the ball, particularly—in a contest featuring Lew Alcindor—under the basket. Yet neither ABC's cameras nor its announcers isolated this phase of the action, a failure that misrepresented the whole series by ignoring its dominant force. Replays were used mainly to second-guess officials instead of to capture the grace and precision of the performers.
CBS's technique for the ABA finals was just as insipid, but the insight and wit of Bones McKinney, the color man, made it more tolerable.
Basketball deserves better.