The actual NBA Draft proved dramatic enough Thursday night with General Manager Chris Grant and the Cavaliers making a mockery of most mock drafts throughout the country with their selection of power forward Anthony Bennett out of UNLV, but there was another unscripted moment that has gained national attention.
It came as the draft was headed for the doldrums, but that changed quickly.
ESPN’s Shelley Smith interviewed new Los Angeles Clippers coach, Doc Rivers, who left the Boston Celtics earlier this week, to ask him about his new team’s draft choice.
Bill Simmons, an NBA television analyst, popular writer for the ESPN-affiliated site Grantland.com and unabashed Boston Celtics fan, was working as part of the channel’s draft team. He has been openly critical of Rivers in recent weeks, suggesting that the coach who led the Celtics to a championship, quit on the team. Topping it off, Simmons’ devotion to the Celtics took another hit when their GM, Danny Ainge, continued to dismantle the team by trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets.
It capped an unusually bad week in Boston sports given the Bruins’ loss in the Stanley Cup finals, the loss of Rivers and the arrest of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez for murder.
Wily journalist that Smith is, she also asked Rivers about the trade.
He promptly delivered this terse zinger: “I would like to call him [Simmons] an idiot, but I’m too classy for that.”
Simmons, noticeably unhappy, replied on the air: “The truth keeps changing. He’s giving different quotes about this. He did know, he didn’t know, he kind of knew. He wanted the trade to happen, he was coming back, he needed a year off. When he sticks to a story, I’ll believe the truth.”
It made for great, honest television on Rivers’ part. But I had to wonder if Simmons crossed an invisible line that few sports journalists cross.
Yes, we all have favorite teams in favorite sports, but for the most part, we don’t allow it to affect our jobs and observations. Simmons has written sonnets expressing his love for all things Boston Celtics and for a while he allowed his inner fan boy to come out after news of that trade broke.
Good television it was, but I suspect it might be a moment Simmons eventually regrets. But I could be wrong. More and more, it seems that sports fans love to engage in groupthink and appreciate talented writers such as Simmons who can put into words his attachment to the Celtics with sincerity normally reserved for loved ones.
There’s no doubt he possesses sharp wit, accounting for one of the show’s funniest moments. At one point during the draft, he referenced the blaxploitation film classic Cooley High, the TV show The White Shadow and former Indians outfielder Oscar Gamble in a 30-second span when talking about Celtics draft choice Lucas Nogueira and his life-of-its-own afro.
The dramatic effect
ESPN parlayed the drama of the draft into nice ratings, especially locally.
Many experts acknowledged the weakness of the draft making things unpredictable because there was no consensus No. 1 pick. Once the Cavs chose Bennett, that proved true.
Northeast Ohio ranked third, according to ESPN’s numbers, in markets that watched the NBA’s annual selection show coming in behind Louisville (really?) and Memphis.
Nationally, it was the highest rated since 2003, the year that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony were taken, grabbing an overnight rating which was up 13 percent over last year, according to the Nielsen Co.
The Cavs added WZOH (95.5 FM) to their radio network for the upcoming season. The station will carry games along with pre- and postgame programming. ... ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit won’t have to worry about a gig for a while. He signed a contract extension through 2022 this week. ... The NFL Network selected Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson the No. 1 player of the 2013 season. ... Fox Sports Ohio is looking for the next Fox Sports Ohio Girl to serve as a Fox fan ambassador. Check http://girls.foxsportsohio.com to submit an application. ... They’re smiling in Bristol, Conn. ComScore, a company that monitors Internet traffic, shows that ESPN Digital Media remains the most popular digital platform, accounting for a third of all traffic. Yahoo Sports-NBC Sports Network comes in a distant second.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the On Sports Media blog at https://ohio.com/blogs/sports-media. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.