The annual NBA All-Star Game was held last Sunday, bringing to mind my experiences with the event.
I was honored to cover nine of these games, and as we know, All-Star games are meant to simply bring together the outstanding performers of a sport in a salute to their performances in that current season.
There is a game that is played, but anyone who has seen All-Star games recently know full well they are mere exhibitions and not taken seriously.
Major league baseball, which I felt at one time, was the easily the most meaningful, has deteriorated, like the others.
Now, the starters selected to play in July, are basically removed after one appearance, and those who are in the game toward the finish, bear no resemblance to those who the fans voted to earn starting berths.
The NFL seems to try to find ways of inventing novel ways of presenting the Pro Bowl virtually every year.
The NHL All-Star affair has changed it’s format to hopefully add excitement, and the NBA for awhile now, has turned into a non-competitive “contest” where the players are given full reign to score at will with no resistance whatsoever.
All-Star games are strictly a “show”.
It wasn’t always that way. I remember the highly-competitive battles between the East and West in the years I broadcast them for CBS.
From 1982 through 1990, the games reached dramatic heights with not-so-subtle behind the scenes incidents.
I recall how Michael Jordan told our crew he was aware how Isaiah Thomas was behind a strategy to freeze him out, not passing him the ball to show-off his skills.
Jordan was new on the NBA scene, and despite being teammates on the East squad, felt Thomas was envious of his talents, punctuated by the fact Jordan’s Bulls and Thomas’s Pistons were a growing rivalry in the league.
There was never any definite proof of this activity, but it added considerable spice to the NBA’s All-Star weekend.
There is one spectacular moment I recall in those nine years and it had nothing to do with basketball.
In 1983, at the Forum in Inglewood, California, the national anthem was performed by the great Marvin Gaye.
I’ll never forget standing at our broadcast table down on the floor at mid-court, and Gaye was right next to me, awaiting his introduction and walk to the center of the court to sing. He walked onto the court and proceeded to deliver what many people say who witnessed it, the most scintillating rendition ever heard.
The capacity crowd felt the drama of Gaye’s singing early in the delivery, and their reaction built to a crescendo all the way to the finish.
It is still part of the lore of the afternoon Marvin Gaye sang the National Anthem at the NBA All-Star Game. It was 1983, and you can see it yourself on U-Tube.
As February moves along, it is, for most sports followers, the time after the intense college and pro football campaigns, the advancing portion of the NBA, college basketball, and NHL seasons, and the approaching time of Spring Training in baseball.
For me, February was significant for career and life reasons.
It was during this month, that I began moving into the first of several major happenings which has marked my broadcasting life.
In 1967, I began a four-year term as Sports Director of KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh.
For the first time, I would anchor the 6:00pm, 7:00pm and 11:00pm sports segments on the evening newscasts. I was given between four and five minutes to report on local and national sports as I see fit.
The man who brought me to Pittsburgh, Win Baker, was now the station’s General Manager. He originally hired me as the weekend sports reporter in Philadelphia.
In essence, the man who gave me my first opportunity. I have no clue as to where the trail might have followed if it weren’t for Win Baker.
But now, I had far more responsibility.
One of the appealing aspects to my format in delivering the daily sports reports was the inclusion of an opinionated commentary which would
mark many, but not all, of my segments. It was appealing to my boss, since it was a tremendous ratings-booster. And it was something I enjoyed as well.
Being a 24-year old with plenty of opinions, it was right up my alley. I had no trouble expressing my thoughts on Penn State’s Joe Paterno deciding to avoid playing Texas in a Bowl Game, or my impression that the fabulous Pirates’ right-fielder Roberto Clemente failed to hustle in taking an extra-base on a ball hit to the outfield.
It was so easy to make judgments for such a seasoned veteran as myself (Ha!).
Viewers couldn’t wait to see what Dick Stockton was going to say on his next broadcast.
The ratings, always dominated by KDKA mostly because of it’s superior news personalities and presentation, were enhanced even more.
Everyone was happy, except for the victims of some of my commentaries.
Within a few years, I myself, came to realize this was hardly the route I wanted to follow.
We’ll deal with that in a future entry.
There was another February memory that has stuck with me. It had nothing to do with sports.
My first assignment after my release from my six-month tour of active duty in the U.S. Army Reserve was a spot at WINS, New York.
Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, known as Group W, owned many radio and television stations around the country.
They recruited me, in a management-training role, with hopes I would eventually work in station management, sales or other non-on-air duties.
My very first job was as an associate Producer for a talk show on WINS, a radio station.
On February 18, 1965, I was asked to welcome the show’s guests for that night. I would tend to their needs to make them comfortable before assuming my responsibility of screening callers who had questions for the guest on that particular night.
That evening, one of the guests was Malcolm X, a prominent Black nationalist, who had just broken with the Black Muslim movement.
I spoke with Malcolm X and members of his entourage prior to the actual four-hour program. Also on the show was a man named Gordon Hall, who was to engage the feature guest on what was obviously an extremely sensitive and, at the time, a raging topic of conversation.
I remember, distinctly, at the end of the program, Malcolm X invited Hall to come to the Audubon Auditorium that coming Sunday, February 21st, to continue their debate.
Hall declined, saying he had more important things to do.
That Sunday, Malcolm X was killed by a gunman.
The entire experience of meeting this man, a mere three days before his assassination was chilling to this 22-year old broadcasting hopeful.
It was moment I haven’t forgotten.
I guess, even if you’ve spent a lifetime covering sports, not all the memories are about the games that are played.
Marvin Gaye Singing the National Anthem [click here to view] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRvVzaQ6i8A
NBA All Star Game