If TNT broadcast every Lakers game against Western Conference opponents, chances are I would never see the team in the first six minutes of a game. I'd never get to see Kobe Bryant's first mid-range jumper or Derek Fisher's first missed layup and I'd certainly never see the gangly, graceful, bearded Pau Gasol jumping center on the opening tip. That's because anytime the Lakers play the late game on a TNT doubleheader, the early game always, inevitably, runs late. This bothered me when I watched Lakers games at Saint John's in 1997 and it bothers me today. Literally, today.
Tonight the Celtics defeated the Heat - again - in the opening game of TNT's Thursday doubleheader. The Lakers, unless they're on an East Coast road trip or playing in the Midwest, almost always play the second game. It's the overexposure of the Lakers. So be it. Yet tonight, like always, the first game went later than 10:30. And then past the 10:45 mark. Finally, at 11:04, the game mercifully ended and Kevin Harlan sent it to the "voice of the NBA" Marv Albert and to the Lakers game in Denver.
The game finally appeared on the screen with 4:56 left in the first quarter. Damn it. Denver led 13-12 at the time. Who cares, right? Forty-one minutes remain. Nothing happens in the NBA until the fourth quarter anyway. The NBA's boring, etc., etc., etc., etc. I care. Laker fans draped in Bob McAdoo throwback jerseys care. Laker bandwagon fans who think Earvin Johnson was a journeyman center who once played for the Timberwolves care. And TNT executives should care, because it's now been like this for decades and still no one has figured out what seems to be a rather simple solution for these situations: schedule the games for 11 EST. TNT does give a grace period. A 10:30 game usually doesn't start until 10:50 or so. But it often doesn't help, as, like tonight, the early game drags on through a series of LeBron James free throws and timeouts. Meanwhile, Ernie Johnson provides helpful updates about the happenings halfway across the country, but will they give us a split screen? No.
At least tonight's early game was sort of close. The worst is when the early game is a blowout, yet it somehow drags out longer than a Yankees-Red Sox game. As the 20-point contest concludes, they show the score of the late game on the bottom: Lakers 8, Thunder 4. Then it cuts to a commercial before finally popping in on the late game. Show us the game that now matters! Well, that's not actually the worst. There's always overtime.
It doesn't take until 10:30 for me to realize I don't have a chance of seeing the opening of the Lakers game. If halftime of the first game isn't over by 9:40, there's no hope. I'll listen to Charles and Kenny crack their jokes and know that TNT will again lie when they say it's a doubleheader. We're not getting a complete doubleheader. We're being robbed. By 10 p.m., when there are still 8 minutes left in the third quarter, I'll start loudly sighing to myself, a pleasant personal trait. I curse the East Coast, and its basketball teams. I curse the invention of the 20-second timeout.
The same thing happens on ESPN. But at least if they carry a doubleheader, they'll switch it over to one of their other 14 networks, usually ESPN Classic, so instead of seeing the 2002 World Series of Poker, we actually get to watch the first six minutes of a live NBA game.
It's always been like this, of course, and it's not like TNT invented this problem.
As I wrote about before, CBS missed the first four-and-a-half minutes of Game 1 of the 1983 NBA Finals. The Finals! For a golf tournament not named The Masters.
At least during basketball games fans get to see all of the on-court action. Directors don't cut away as Carmelo Anthony rises up for a jump shot to show an overweight, bespectacled man chewing his fingernails in the upper deck, only to return just as the ball's being released from his hands. Yet that's what fans witness on pretty much every baseball telecast, but especially during playoff games. My friends have heard me complain about this a dozen times. I sound like a bitter old man talking about the good ol' days. But still...
The overuse of crowd shots during a game has done more damage to baseball than steroids.*
* I'm sort of in a Skip Bayless-type mood tonight so hyperbole, moralizing and overreaction will fill this post.
Can TV producers and directors please stop showing the crowd and dugout after every single pitch. Stop with the reaction shots. Stop zooming in on the pitcher's face between every pitch, followed by a close-up of the hitter, followed by a shot of a nervous fan in an ill-fitting jersey stained with mustard holding a sign that reads "FOX AND THE RANGERS RULE!" Then a quick shot of the do-nothing manager sitting motionless in the dugout, doing his best impersonation of a human statue in a Times Square subway station. What has a manager ever done on the bench that needed to be shown live? At best we see him touching his cap, at worst we see him picking his nose. Occasionally, though not always, and only when really emotional, he blinks.
By the time the cameras scan back to the center field view, the pitcher's already in motion and they've missed the start of his windup. Stay with the center field camera, I implore you. Stop showing the crowd in the third inning. No one is nervous, no one is that excited. No one is doing something so outrageous that we have to see them. They're sitting, taking their left hand and slamming it into their right in a clapping motion. Show the game. Of course, when a fan actually does do something that is newsworthy - like, say, run on the field nude - the stations refuse to show it. I wish networks would take the same policy to every crowd shot. Show the masses at the end of the game or in the final inning when the home heroes are down to their final shot.
I get anxious, waiting for the cameras to get back in time. I'm convinced they'll actually miss the pitch, and occasionally they do miss the ball coming out of the guy's hand. If Luis Tiant pitched today, no one who watched him only on television would ever know about his bizarre deliveries, but they would know that Red Sox fans like to wear Wade Boggs jerseys and backward baseball caps.
I know, nothing on a baseball broadcast outside of a 20-minute lecture by Tim McCarver on the beauty of the infield fly rule should bother someone this much.
And I know it will never change, so I should resign myself to this TV reality. Each year brings more crowd shots, more dugout shots, more up-close shots that force viewers to miss the big picture. So what's more maddening: Not being able to see any of the game you want to watch because the network refuses to air it, or not being able to see any of the action you want to watch even when the network is airing it? I suppose most fans would say the latter. But since it's the Lakers, I'll have to say the former.