There’s probably no reason for Jim Nantz, the play-by-play voice on TBS’s coverage of the Final Four games Saturday as well as Monday’s national championship game on CBS, to amend his signature introduction: “Hello, friends.”
But there is a small irony worth acknowledging. While there are few broadcasters more familiar than Nantz, Turner Broadcasting is providing viewers this year with a chance to watch the semifinals with more relatable company. Not exactly friends, per se. But at the least, like-minded broadcasters who will feed your rooting interest.
In addition to the traditional national semifinal broadcasts, which will air on TBS for the first time and feature Nantz, analysts Greg Anthony and Steve Kerr, and sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson, an intriguing alternative is being offered, one tailored to the fan bases of each of the Final Four teams.
Called “teamcasts,’’ they will air simultaneously to the national broadcast on TNT and truTV. Turner touts the teamcasts with the slogan “Your Team, Your Way” and promises that they will provide “unprecedented local flavor, including comprehensive team and player story lines, custom music, graphics, and show packaging, additional cameras and team-specific replays, custom halftimes with school features, and more.”
In other words: Sure, there are two teams on the court, but we’re here to talk about the one you’re rooting for.
So, if you’re a Connecticut fan, and Nantz and the crew seem a little too intent on talking about the Florida Gators come tipoff at 6:09 p.m. Saturday, you’ll be able to switch over to the Huskies teamcast on truTV.
There you’ll find Comcast SportsNet New England’s Eric Frede — a familiar and respected broadcaster to be sure, but one with Connecticut roots — handling the play-by-play, with former UConn standout (and CSNNE alum) Donny Marshall handling the color. The sideline reporter? UConn women’s basketball legend Swin Cash.
It’s a quality crew. But it’s also one designed to make Shabazz Napier/Kemba Walker comparisons rather than elaborate on the Gators’ 30-game winning streak.
It will be fascinating when the Nielsen numbers become available, if only to see whether or not this is something viewers want to make worth Turner’s while.
Lyons joins NESN
In one sense, Steve Lyons is back with the Red Sox for a fifth time. The former Red Sox utilityman, who had four separate stints in Boston during his nine-year major league career, has joined NESN as a studio analyst.
While Lyons doesn’t have the Hall of Fame pedigree of NESN analysts Dennis Eckersley and Jim Rice, and he’s not the local baseball icon that Tim Wakefield is, he is an accomplished broadcaster. Should Jerry Remy not continue through the full season — and to be clear, there is no indication that his departure is at all a possibility right now — Lyons would be capable of working in the booth.
Beginning in 1996, Lyons spent 11 years working on Fox Sports’s national baseball broadcasts, serving as a color analyst, studio host, and studio analyst. He won an Emmy in 2001 for Outstanding Sports Personality/Studio Analyst.
But his off-the-cuff style has occasionally gotten him into trouble. Fox fired him during the 2006 postseason after he made an insensitive comment about colleague Lou Piniella’s ethnic heritage during a broadcast.
Lyons spent the last nine years as part of the Los Angeles Dodgers broadcast team, but his contract was not renewed after the season ended. The Dodgers hired Orel Hershiser and Nomar Garciaparra in the offseason as analysts for their new network, SportsNet LA.
As a Red Sox player, Lyons was popular — he was voted the 10th Player Award in ’85 — if erratic. Nicknamed “Psycho” by former teammate Marc Sullivan, he’s probably best-known nationally for dropping his pants during a game while playing for the White Sox in 1990.
Lyons will debut Friday during the network’s pregame coverage (beginning at 11:30 a.m.) of the Red Sox’ home opener against the Brewers.
Those of us in the media like to use the term “insider” to describe a colleague who has a knack for getting information. But the truth is, the only genuine insiders are those who are part of the team. That true insight ended up being the main appeal of Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo’s half-game stint as color analyst on Comcast SportsNet New England’s Celtics-Bulls broadcast last Monday. Once Rondo got comfortable — and kudos to play-by-play voice Mike Gorman for getting him to open up as the game went on — he offered compelling anecdotes, whether it was about rookie Chris Johnson’s tough-minded approach, his own truce with the Bulls’ Joakim Noah, or the leadership lessons he learned from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. I came away from the broadcast wishing Rondo — perceptive, articulate, and plugged in — had tried it sooner. Hearing him for one half of one game was fun, and not nearly enough.