Four-star round-table discussion is thoughtful treat on King Day

Media Watch

January 14, 2000|By Milton Kent

WASHINGTON -- The forces instrumental in the creation of the Martin Luther King Day holiday intended for it to be a day of reflection and contemplation, more than of holiday sales.

In that vein, they will be pleased with an illuminating round-table discussion convened yesterday at Georgetown University by Turner Sports among four men who lived during the period in which the late civil rights leader fought for social change.

The freewheeling, often humorous exchange between moderator John Thompson, who formerly coached here and is now an NBA analyst for Turner, and former NBA greats Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson and Wayne Embry, yielded thoughtful recollections about the civil rights movement and its impact on the athletes who played in the context of the massive upheaval of the times.

For instance, Russell, considered by many to be the greatest center in NBA history, recalled how he was emotionally unable to attend King's funeral in 1968, because the death of the man he considered a personal friend was still too raw to cope with.

Robertson, still the only player to average a triple double for a season, remembered feeling that King's presence gave him a "glow, like there was a better day coming" but touched on his feeling that King's accomplishments are still largely unappreciated.

Embry, the Cleveland general manager, said that while he struck up deep friendships with whites while growing up in Springfield, Ohio, he also knew that he could not go into restaurants or movie theaters with his friends, because blacks weren't allowed in public facilities with whites at that time.

Thompson forcefully drove the more than two-hour conversation past what might have been dry recitations of fact into powerfully moving remembrances of painful times gone by.

The round-table discussion will air as an edited 45-minute "Inside the NBA" following the Indiana-Minnesota game at 8 p.m. Monday on TBS, which will carry the Detroit-Knicks game at 4 p.m. The discussion will be repeated after the Portland-Houston game at 8 p.m. Tuesday on TNT.

Reality check

Channel 11's Gerry Sandusky and Jeff Beauchamp, station manager of WBAL (1090 AM), are among the most forthright and honorable men in local media, and if both of them say Sandusky's departure from the nightly WBAL sports talk show was not orchestrated by the Orioles, you have to believe them.

At the same time, it would be naive to think that Orioles officials aren't privately happy at the circumstances that conspired to get Sandusky, a consistent but fair critic of team policy, out of the host chair of "SportsLine" as of Feb. 17.

Since the Angelos family took control of the franchise, an impressive collection of talented broadcasters, including John Lowenstein, Mel Proctor, Josh Lewin and, yes, Jon Miller, has left, as have three directors of production at Home Team Sports.

Local broadcasting sources say WBAL and HTS receive from members of the Orioles family repeated, critical phone calls about what is said on the air.

"They sometimes like the commentary to be more than fair," said a local broadcaster who asked not to be identified.

The Orioles organization's quest for announcers and production talent who will "bleed black and orange" has tarnished the reputations of some fine people, and one can only hope that Sandusky's successor, Steve Melew- ski, doesn't suffer the same fate.

The numbers game

The Ravens have distributed some facts and figures about their 1999 television ratings that are, not surprisingly, flattering.

For instance, the team notes that of the 20 most-watched sporting events for the last calendar year, Ravens games occupy six of those slots, and when the list is winnowed to the top 10 regular-season games of the year for local teams (meaning the Orioles), the Ravens hold nine of those spots.

The team also notes that in 12 of the season's 16 weeks, the games were among the 10 top-rated broadcasts of the week among all television programs in the area, and that Ravens games won their time slots each week.

"It's great to see that when fans are watching sporting events, they're watching the NFL and the Ravens," said Lisa Levine, the Ravens' director of broadcasting. "The numbers should grow as we win more, but we're very happy with the strong support."

Now, for a little perspective.

The fact that a local NFL team's game wins its time slot against infomercials or movies on their fifth or sixth run -- the usual Sunday afternoon counter-programming -- is on the order of dog bites man.

And to compare the ratings of a Ravens game, of which there are only 16, against those of the Orioles, of which there are 162, is like the proverbial apples vs. oranges showdown.

For the season, the team's games averaged a 13.6 rating and 30 share of the audience. The rating is down 1 percent from last year's 13.8 rating, but the audience share is up 3 percent from last year's 29. During the 1998 season, the league averages were a 24.1 rating and 47 share.

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