NBC's 'scoop' on Hill's firing part of Magic's sleight of hand?

Media Watch

February 18, 1997|By Milton Kent

Let's understand right up front that Orlando Magic coach Brian Hill's troubles with his team were well in place long before NBC analyst Peter Vecsey reported Sunday night that Hill was going to be fired. The team had lost four straight, and his players had apparently stopped listening to him, two bad signs for any coach.

But Vecsey's breathless but technically incorrect report -- that an unidentified source told him that "this [Sunday] was Brian Hill's last day as Magic coach" -- probably greased the floor beneath the Orlando leader and made it easier for the Magic organization to slide him right out.

Hill, who coached the team last night in Charlotte, has been fTC placed in a rather untenable situation, where, unless the Magic wins the championship, his job status will be examined after almost every loss.

Is there a coach or manager anywhere who would choose to work under that kind of scrutiny? Of course not, and it seems just as likely that Hill would resign, which, in effect, would achieve the same purpose.

The journalistic waters surrounding this are murky. It seemsthat someone in the Magic organization didn't want Hill to continue as coach, but didn't have the -- shall we say -- intestinal fortitude to make the case publicly, so that person leaked a story, hoping to force the issue.

Goodness knows it wouldn't be the first time someone used the media -- print, radio or television -- to achieve a goal or make a point. Most of the "insider reporting" you hear on baseball, basketball and football pre-game shows is built on this kind of "throw it up on the wall, see what sticks and hope we don't get caught" approach.

Vecsey, a veteran NBA columnist with the New York Post, is no babe in the woods. He knows the landscape, and probably, in hindsight, shouldn't have put himself so far out on a ledge with his definitive declaration that got him some headlines, but made him wrong.

And yet, had NBC had a story like this and sat on it, it would have been pilloried and rightfully so. Once the network had what it believed to be a story, it had to run with it, and to its credit, NBC did aggressively attack the matter, seeking out Orlando general manager John Gabriel for a rather spineless quote, and with analysis. And the issue came at the end of the day, not at the beginning or middle, so the network couldn't even hype it.

That said, the feeling on this is similar to when you open a refrigerator and smell something sour. You know something's not quite right, but you just can't figure out what it is.

The big showdown

CBS is expected to announce today that it has secured the rights to the big match race between Olympic world-record holders Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson.

Bailey, who captured the 100-meter gold medal in last summer's Olympics, and Johnson, the 200- and 400-meter champion, have quarreled since last August over who is actually the fastest man. They'll race at Toronto's SkyDome on June 1 in a 150-meter race to resolve the matter.

Vroom, vroom

Sunday's telecast of the Daytona 500 showed a slight ratings improvement from last year, according to the Nielsen national overnights. CBS reports that the 1997 telecast got a 6.8 rating and 17 share of the audience in the overnight ratings, which samples the top 34 markets. That's 5 percent higher than last year's 6.5/16.

The national rating, which will be released Friday, should be substantially higher, because it takes into account a number of southern and rural markets, where stock car racing is more popular than it is in the larger centers where the overnights are taken.

Sharing the load

Home Team Sports officials apparently have settled on Dave Johnson and Steve Buckhantz to split play-by-play duties for the final 18 games of the Washington Bullets' television schedule.

Buckhantz is the weeknight sports anchor at Washington's Channel 5. Johnson is an award-winning morning sports anchor on WTOP (1500 AM) who also is host of Washington Capitals telecasts on HTS and calls soccer and women's basketball.

The services of Johnson and Buckhantz are required because Bullets announcer Mel Proctor will be leaving next month to call San Diego Padres games. Remarkably, Proctor's Orioles post still hasn't been filled.

Pub Date: 2/18/97

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