Monday, March 22, 2010

For people sick of eight-hour pregames...the 1983 NBA Finals

At some point in the near future, the Super Bowl pregame show will begin at noon on Saturday and run for 18 straight hours until the Sunday kickoff. A maniacal Terry Bradshaw will strangle Jimmy Johnson at the 13-hour mark, while Michael Strahan chuckles softly. They'll run features on every player in the game, including a heart-warming piece on the kicker, who was inspired to "boot the football" by a second-grade teacher who gave him a Super Toe on the final day of class. There will be live musical performances from anyone who's ever made it to the final 12 on American Idol, and right before kickoff, a very special coin flip will take place with a descendant of George Washington throwing a quarter into the air.

No matter the sport, today's pregame shows seem to last as long as the actual games, as dozens of talking heads clog the studio, laughing and yelling at each other while debating the eternal questions of the day, such as, who will the Yankees use as their sixth-inning reliever? Who, damn it?! Who!

Pregame shows weren't always like this. In 1983, CBS Sports decided - at least for the opening game of the NBA Finals - to ditch the pregame show completely. One of the legends of the 1980s is that Magic and Larry helped save the NBA. The league was in such trouble that CBS aired Game 6 of the 1980 finals - Magic's legendary 42-point performance - on tape delay. The NBA couldn't even put its product on live TV. That all changed in the 1980s as the NBA became the most popular sports league in the country.

But in 1983 it didn't quite rule the airwaves. Below is the introduction to Game 1. The series pitted the 65-win 76ers - who are now considered one of the best teams in NBA history - against the defending champion Lakers. This was the third meeting in four years between the teams. The series had superstars everywhere - Magic, Dr. J, Kareem, Moses Malone. The game starts with CBS's famous intro - the first year they used it - and Brent Musburger setting the stage with his superb narration.

But then it goes immediately to the game action as Musburger says, "The dream series is underway..." Underway? Yes, CBS joins Game 1 of a dream series with 7:37 left in the first quarter. Philly leads 10-8. Not only did CBS miss the first 18 points of the game, but it missed a collision between Norm Nixon and Andrew Toney. Nixon separated his shoulder on the play, and on a team already ravaged by injuries, it was a crucial blow. He played the rest of the game, but ultimately missed the final game.

According to a comment on youtube (always reliable), the game was played in the afternoon and CBS aired a golf tournament that went long, cutting into the beginning of the game. A golf tourney. The game was on May 22. That weekend, the PGA held something called the Georgia-Pacific Atlanta Golf Classic, which Calvin Peete won. Not a major, not even a sort-of major like The Players Championship. Instead viewers missed the first five minutes of the NBA Finals because of a golf tournament sponsored by a world leader in toilet paper.

I remember watching Game 4 of this series - Philly swept the Lakers - so I'm sure I watched the first game. I imagine my rage building as a 7-year-old, nervously waiting for the start of the finals. Instead, I was forced to watch Chip Beck and Jim Colbert battle Peete for the top prize and $72,000.

Magic and Larry saved the NBA, but not before CBS ruined the beginning of the 1983 finals.

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