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Original Issue

Bombarded by Bouncing Balls

OLD ATHLETES never die and they certainly don't fade away, but instead do the opposite, becoming more magnificently tanned by the hour. These days, former NBA guard Dan Majerle—who aptly played for the Suns and the Heat—isn't just doing color but also becoming one: what Crayola calls burnt sienna.

On cold December nights, it's Majerle's tan, not Marley's ghost, that is truly haunting, stirring envy in all of us snowbound subscribers to NBA League Pass, which brings into our living rooms, for $179 a season, the local telecasts of every NBA game. This includes the Phoenix Suns' broadcasts, on which Majerle appears both as an analyst and in commercials for Leslie's Swimming Pools. "Retirement suits me just fine!" says Thunder Dan, recumbent on his floating chaise. "Thanks, Leslie's!"

No, thank you, League Pass, for including every local ad, many of which strain credulity, as when Joel Przybilla casually browses for sporting goods at G.I. Joe's in Portland while dressed in his Blazers uniform.

"One of the reasons I loved watching sports as a kid is you could imagine yourself, for an hour or two, living in Phoenix or L.A. or New York," says Mike McCollow, who is both on League Pass (as an analyst on the Timberwolves' halftime show) and addicted to it. A former Raptors assistant, he absorbed every bit of local color while poring over other teams' telecasts, right down to the Spurs' Whataburger ads, so exotic to a Midwesterner, his arteries untouched by an A-1 Thick 'N' Hearty Burger.

Indeed, it's not possible to watch League Pass without wanting to live in San Antonio (and play the Basketball Bingo scratch card game in Sunday's Express-News) or Milwaukee (and stop by Foxy's Bar in Port Washington for a chance to win a Bucks VIP package) or Denver (and get a Nuggets Holiday Pack with Carmelo Anthony wall cling).

If you've ever gone to Sam's Club to buy bulk items you'll never need—mayonnaise by the gallon, cashews by the cubic yard—you'll understand the appeal of having 1,215 NBA games in your home. Sheer volume is the entire point, proving Mae West's notion that too much of a good thing can be wonderful. And too much of a bad thing? Even better.

And so I savor every contrived sponsorship tie-in (the personal-injury firm of Phillips & Associates delivers the Suns' injury reports) and the literally sobering public-service announcements: In Seattle, "Drive hammered, get nailed."

And when the Magic tease me throughout their telecast to stay tuned for the Florida high school football state final between Ponte Vedra Nease and Tampa Plant, I'm forlorn, knowing that I won't get to see it. Nor will I ever open a Grizzlies checking account at First Tennessee or receive an oversized novelty payout check from Mr. Winbig, cartoon mascot of the Washington State Lottery.

Most of these regional productions recall—even as they rebuke—that time when a single national network televised almost all the basketball in America. The announcers on League Pass reflect a CBS diaspora: Hot Rod Hundley in Utah, Gary Bender in Phoenix, Quinn Buckner in Indiana, Lenny Wilkens in Seattle and Tommy Heinsohn in Boston, where he awards Tommy Points to hustling Celtics.

Loyal League Pass viewers eagerly anticipate such shtick. On the Jack in the Box Lakers halftime report, the flying, flaming head of analyst Jack Haley always introduces "Haley's Comment." McCollow's play of the game on T-Wolves telecasts is branded, in a nod to Life cereal, "Hey Mikey, He Likes It." There is one glorious channel on League Pass that shows up to eight concurrent games on one screen. The viewer, happily dozing, feels as if he's monitoring half the league on a night watchman's security console.

In fact, there are so many games that even the players can't follow their own, much less each other's. One night recently, Suns forward Shawn Marion high-fived fans along the baseline and ran toward the locker room after hitting a fallaway J to beat the buzzer. Unfortunately, that buzzer signaled the end of the first quarter. After an exceedingly uncomfortable pause, the Matrix warily reemerged from his tunnel—in front of 38,000 expectant eyes—like Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day.

When the Raptors played the Hawks in Atlanta, nobody—not the scorekeeper, neither team, none of the fans, nobody—noticed that Toronto was never awarded two points for a T.J. Ford layup in the closing minutes of a four-point game that the Raptors ended up losing.

And that may be the greatest revelation of League Pass: While it's a pleasure to watch 10 minutes of every regular-season NBA game, watching just one of those games all the way through is hard labor.

If you have a comment for Steve Rushin, send it to rushin@siletters.com.

If you've ever gone to Sam's Club to buy bulk items you'll never need, you'll understand the appeal of NBA League Pass. Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.