Plans for NBA draft coverage can carry TNT only so far


June 29, 1999|By Milton Kent

The production staff that will telecast tomorrow night's NBA draft from Washington's MCI Center for TNT has been preparing for four months and we are assured that they have a game plan for how to cover the two-round extravaganza.

But producer Jeff Behnke isn't expecting the script to last for very long.

"About three minutes into the telecast, we'll have the ceremonial burning of the format," Behnke said yesterday. "Maybe it will make it to 7: 52."

"If it lasts that long," chimed in host Ernie Johnson.

The draft's rather fluid nature makes it nearly impossible to come up with a plan that will hold up through a telecast that could take four hours or more.

For example, the Atlanta Hawks have four picks in the 29-player first round. Common sense dictates that the Hawks won't keep all of those selections, but what if they do? Johnson, Behnke and their crew have to be ready for any eventuality.

"When we go on the air, all that planning goes out the window. Our job is to react to what the commissioner says from the podium. We have to stay flexible," Behnke said.

Said Johnson: "We have that five minutes in between picks [in the first round], but that five minutes goes so fast. You prepare as best you can, knowing as much as you can, hoping you can provide some tidbit they [the audience] can take to the water cooler the next day."

Behnke will have, at his disposal, a digital instant access machine, a kind of video jukebox, if you will, loaded with clips of 120 American and European players who have a reasonable chance to be drafted. In addition, TNT has prepared 25 or so warm-and-fuzzy player profiles to help viewers get acquainted with the new selections.

This year's draft pool -- said to be one of the weakest in recent years -- is believed not to contain a consensus top pick. For that reason, University of Utah coach Rick Majerus, one of TNT's analysts for tomorrow night, can't even project with certainty where his point guard, Andre Miller, will end up, guessing at a spot between five and 15.

Majerus said the Chicago Bulls, who have the first selection, will take Duke forward Elton Brand or Maryland guard Steve Francis with their choice, leaving Vancouver to take the other with the second pick.

Majerus will be joined by former Georgetown coach John Thompson, TNT's Hubie Brown and rumormonger Peter Vecsey on the set, with Craig Sager roving the "Phone Booth" as a reporter. In the field, Kenny Smith will report from Chicago and Scott Hastings will man the Los Angeles post, with Norma Wick in Toronto, Bob Lorenz in Cleveland and Dei Lynam in Salt Lake City.

The fun begins at 7 p.m.

By the numbers

So, you and your buddy Stinky are in the throes of a knockdown, drag-out argument over which American Leaguer has hit the most home runs this season against left-handers. Where do you go to resolve the issue?

Perhaps the best place to do that on the World Wide Web is CNN/SI's new spot "Statitudes," just posted last week. With a couple mouse clicks off the main address (, you're plunked right at the relevant place, where you and Stinky would discover that, as of yesterday, the leaders in that category included Tampa Bay's Jose Canseco, Anaheim's Mo Vaughn, Detroit's Dean Palmer and the Orioles' own Albert Belle with seven each.

With the addition of "Statitudes," CNN/SI's site, already the best in the sports industry, just got better.

Around the park

A tip of the cap to Fox producer Michael Weisman for putting a microphone on one of the finest gentlemen associated with Orioles baseball, umpire's attendant Ernie Tyler, who has manned his post without interruption since 1960.

Booth announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver chatted amiably with Tyler during the sixth inning of Saturday's Orioles-New York Yankees game on a number of topics, including whether the baseballs are juiced and how Tyler goes about his duties. It was a lively and amusing segment, and Weisman is to be commended for lining it up.

Meanwhile, it was a little discomfiting Sunday to hear cheerleading from both the Orioles radio and television booths for B. J. Surhoff to be named to the American League All-Star team.

One radio announcer was said to have been filling out a ballot for Surhoff on the air, and a television commentator was recounting a conversation he had had with Yankees manager Joe Torre before the game, talking up Surhoff's chance.

Surhoff may very well belong on the AL squad, but it just feels a little, well, squirrelly to hear professional announcers pulling the bandwagon for it.

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