San Antonio, Indiana spur rooting claim

June 09, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

Indiana vs. San Antonio.

The prospect surely terrifies NBC, which is reason enough to root for it to happen. Only a ruthless television network could find the New York Knicks appealing.

NBC, already inconsolable over Michael Jordan's retirement, would take an enormous hit if the Finals pitted the two lowest-ranked TV markets since Syracuse beat Fort Wayne in 1954.

You know, back before color was widely available, much less cable.

Indianapolis is the nation's 25th-largest TV market. San Antonio is the 37th-largest. But who's counting, other than NBC president Dick Ebersol?

Put two former American Basketball Association teams in The Finals, and maybe they'll play like they did back in the good old days, with scores like 150-148 instead of 80-78.

Baltimore, of course, would stand firmly behind Our Spurs, one of three teams the city is talking with about playing in a new downtown arena.

Tim Duncan back in ACC country? Cool.

David Robinson back near Navy? Cooler.

Especially when one of the alternatives is the Sacra mento Kings, a team featuring none other than the Wizards' old friend, Chris Webber.

Seriously, if Baltimore is so anxious to steal another team, how about finding one to replace the Orioles?

The chances of the city landing an NBA franchise seem remote when new arenas in Tampa, Anaheim and St. Louis all could use teams.

But if the Cleveland Browns could play at Memorial Stadium for two years while awaiting construction of a new stadium, who's to say an NBA team couldn't call the pathetic Baltimore Arena home?

Quick, create another lottery!

The city that gave the nation "Homicide" is ready to be the subject of a new series, "Grand Theft Metropolis."

But back to Indiana vs. Baltimore -- er, Indiana vs. San Antonio.

The Brickyard vs. the Alamo.

Larry Bird vs. Our Coach, Gregg Popovich.

The Pacers are tied with the Knicks, two games each. And with home-court advantage, they can win the series by taking the two remaining games at Market Square Arena.

Much as it might kill TV ratings, what would be so horrible about seeing Bird coach in the Finals? Seeing Robinson, Reggie Miller and Chris Mullin pursue their first NBA titles? Seeing Duncan show the league's young punks how to play with dignity?

Yes, Jordan is gone. Yes, the majority of play is dreadful. But the conference finals already have produced two Jordan-esque finishes, courtesy of Sean Elliott and Larry Johnson.

Now if only the Pacers can eliminate the Knicks, justice will be done.

New Yorkers root for the Knicks for the same reason Baltimoreans root for the Orioles -- it's their team. But name one member of the Knicks organization who inspires the average fan to stand up and cheer.

The Lakers are out. The Bulls never were in.

Introducing NBC's last, best hopes:

Lyin' David Checketts. I didn't talk to Phil Jackson. I did talk to Phil Jackson. I might again talk to Phil Jackson. There still might be room for Checketts, the president of Madison Square Garden, in the Clinton administration.

Jeff Van Grumpy. The coach should be an object of sympathy, seeing as how Checketts is out to get him. But Van Grumpy didn't like the additions of Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby, and his rift with Ernie Grunfeld helped lead to the GM's firing. And who are two of Van Grumpy's best players now? Sprewell and Camby.

Patrick Ewing. The star-crossed center should be another object of sympathy, seeing as how he's out for the playoffs with an injured Achilles' tendon, and has never won a title. But who can ignore Ewing's selfishness as his career evolved? And the reality that the Knicks are better without him?

Sprewell. Choked former coach P. J. Carlesimo. Reportedly fathered five children by three different women. Fined $25,000 by Checketts when his agent said that he expected to start next season or be traded. By today's standards, all that baggage might be considered acceptable if Sprewell were a great player. But he's like Albert Belle, playing for himself, and no one else.

Johnson. Another member of the Knicks' all-paternity team -- he's supporting five children by four different women, according to Sports Illustrated. Johnson also was accused this season of exposing himself to Knicks director of media relations Lori Hamamoto, a charge that both he and Hamamoto denied.

Charlie Ward. The former Heisman Trophy winner created a stir when he said that he wanted female reporters banned from the locker room -- never mind the 1978 federal-court ruling that determined equal access to be the law. Ward is averaging 4.7 points in the playoffs. He can have all the privacy he wants.

Now, no team is perfect -- Bird, the original "Larry Legend," is an out-of-wedlock father who has not sought a close relationship with his 20-year-old daughter, according to SI. But the Knicks seem to have more than their share of despicable characters. It's not a team that NBC should be eager to promote.

Indeed, the network might actually have fun with Indiana-San Antonio, if only it could get over the elimination of a team from the nation's largest TV market.

Show highlights from the back-to-back ABA Western Division semifinals between the Pacers and Spurs in the early 1970s.

Show films of the Pacers' George McGinnis, Billy Knight and Mel Daniels and the Spurs' George Gervin, James Silas and Swen Nater.

Better yet, play the NBA Finals with a red, white and blue ball.

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