NBC Sports announced a changing of the guard last Thursday as Whitestone native and Bayside High alum Mike Tirico was named the anchor of the Peacock Network’s 2018 Winter Olympics coverage in South Korea and for all foreseeable Olympics for which NBC has broadcast rights. Tirico succeeds Bob Costas and during the NBC Sports teleconference he made it a point to say that both he and Costas are Queens natives.
Tirico mentioned that one of his biggest thrills was sitting next to the late Jim McKay on a flight in 2002. McKay was the gold standard of sports anchors regardless of the event in question. Baby boomers will recall how he conveyed the tension of the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics and the tragedy that befell the Israeli team as eleven of its members were kidnaped and murdered by a Palestinian terrorist organization. Black September. It was as difficult a broadcasting assignment that anyone could ever find themselves in and McKay was able to show that a sports reporter was still a newsman.
Bob Costas has never been shy to discuss the politics of sports and other issues that dwarf what is happening on the playing field in a thoughtful manner that I’ve never found to be gratuitous grandstanding just to create attention. It will be interesting to see how comfortable Mike Tirico will be to emulate Costas in this very important regard.
Queensbridge’s own, the inimitable Metta World Peace (the man formerly known as Ron Artest), is in his sixteenth year in the NBA and he returned to New York last Monday as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers who were taking on the Knicks. The Lakers ran the Knicks out of the Garden that night which understandably infuriated both head coach Jeff Hornacek and most of the paying customers. It also set off arguably the worst week in Knicks history.
“I still have family living in Queensbridge. My dad is coming to the game tonight,” he told me before the game. He was surprised to learn that Knicks center Kyle O’Quinn, many years his junior, was from our borough. I told him that Kyle grew up in South Jamaica and Metta said that he would try to make an introduction after the game.
Metta offered a driving tip to anyone planning on making a visit to Los Angeles. “I live in Westwood which is midway between downtown and the beaches. I’ve learned to stay off I-10 when I have to go to the Staples Center and to take Pico Boulevard instead. You hit lights but it’s better than taking Sunset, Olympic or Wilshire Boulevards.”
I gave Metta a copy of the Queens Chronicle before making my farewell. “I remember this paper!” he said with a smile.
You can take the man out of Queens but you can’t take Queens out of the man.
The Charles Oakley-James Dolan fiasco was embarrassing for the Knicks organization but there were some beneficiaries from it.
Knicks president Phil Jackson who for some reason decided to call upon his inner Trump and use Twitter to bash his star player, Carmelo Anthony, happily found himself off of the backpages.
The Brooklyn Nets, one of the worst teams in NBA history and suffering through yet another endless losing streak, were at least failing in anonymity thanks at least in some part to the Dolan-Oakley kerfuffle.
Oakley, the sunglasses and sports apparel manufacturer that coincidentally shares a name and with the popular former Knicks forward, was an indirect recipient of free publicity.
The biggest winner however was undoubtedly ESPN Radio afternoon host Michael Kay whose show has always placed a distant second to WFAN’s Mike Francesa in the area of radio ratings. Dolan, the notoriously press-shy Madison Square Garden CEO, chose Kay’s show as a medium for addressing his side of the story. Kay, and his co-host Don LaGreca, did a fine job asking JD tough questions but always remained respectful. This is the most publicity that Michael Kay’s ESPN show has ever received.
There was a glimmer of good news last week for the Knicks. ESPN Magazine’s current issue features “Saturday Night Live” cast member and uber-Knicks fan Leslie Jones and Kristaps Porzingis on its cover.
The 37th annual Thurman Munson Dinner that benefits AHRC, a nonprofit that helps improve the lives of both adults and children with cognitive disabilities, was held last Tuesday.
Two of the late Yankee captain’s teammates, Graig Nettles and Bucky Dent, attended. Dent is best remembered of course for his three-run home run that gave a the Yankees a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over the Red Sox in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park that clinched the 1978 AL East title for the Bronx Bombers.
For years Red Sox fans referred to Dent as Bucky “Bleeping” Dent. I asked Dent if Bostonians have mellowed and even laugh about that game now that their team has won a few World Series in recent years. “Nah! That generation will always be bitter!” he said with a hearty laugh.
Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz was an honoree at the dinner along with Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez and Mets infielder Wilmer Flores.
Victor acknowledged that there is a good chance that the Giants will release him because of team salary cap restraints and if that were to happen then he would be a free agent.
The personable Cruz admitted to me at last spring’s Sports Emmy Awards ceremony that playing in New York was a key to his ability to garner endorsement deals with a number of national brands. I asked him on Tuesday if market size would play a part in his decision of where to play and he candidly said that would be a very important factor. It is refreshing to hear an athlete shy away from that hoary cliche about how getting a championship ring is the most important consideration.
Cruz was one of several Giants players who made that one-day trip to Miami the week before they were slated to play the Packers in a first-round playoff game in Green Bay. I asked him if the fact that the Giants would be playing in the NFL’s answer to the North Pole the first week of January was a factor in going to South Florida; a gift of warmth to even things out so to speak. “That’s a good theory but it wasn’t the reason we went there,” Victor answered with a smile.
Longtime Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira who retired at the end of last season will serve as a baseball analyst for ESPN. Tex was always accessible to the media as a player and he was a frequent guest on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike Show” morning show where he showed an unexpected sharp sense of humor.
Another first baseman who hung up his spikes last year, Prince Fielder, is entering the media through a different venue. He will be hosting a cooking show that will smartly be called “Fielder’s Choice” that will stream over both Netflix and Hulu.
Former Knicks guard and current NBA analyst Jalen Rose has gotten the green light from ABC Television to film a trial episode, better known in the TV biz as a pilot, about his life as both a former player and a single parent. We’ll learn if it has been picked up by ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey at the network’s Upfront presentation in May.
Veteran play-by-play broadcaster and Forest Hills High School alum Dick Stockton has started a weekly series of interviews with sports luminaries such as Alex Rodriguez that can be heard on the Internet. Log onto stocktonpodcast.com
Sports, business, and politics can often have awkward collisions and nowhere was that more evident than with the fallout last week between Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and his company’s most important endorser, Golden State Warriors superstar guard Stephon Curry.
Plank has gone out of his way to praise President Trump and called him an asset to our nation. When asked about Plank’s statement, Curry coolly replied, “That’s true if you drop the “e” and the “t” from that word.”
When Donald Trump was running in the early Republican presidential Republican primaries a year ago, CBS chief Les Moonves said that Trump would be great for the media business particularly networks’ news divisions. As is generally the case, Les was 100 per cent right.
Ratings are up across the board for CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. The Tiffany Network’s Internet news streaming service, CBSN, has attracted far more viewers than expected.
Entertainment shows have also benefited from the first month of the Trump presidency. It’s not surprising that the always topical “Saturday Night Live” has gotten a lot of buzz thanks in large part to Alec Baldwin’s much talked about take on the 45th president, Kate McKinnon’s spot-on Kellyanne Conway, and for the past two weeks Melissa McCarthy’s caricature of his irascible press secretary, Sean Spicer.
The biggest beneficiary in the entertainment industry of the nascent Trump administration however has to be Stephen Colbert. Since taking over the hosting duties of “The Late Show” from David Letterman in 2015, Colbert had been a distant third to both Jimmys, Fallon and Kimmel, at 11:30. Things had gotten so bad that there was open whispering that Colbert would be bumped to 12:30 with James “Carpool Karaoke” Corden taking over the better 11:30 slot.
Les Moonves knew that the cerebral Colbert, who likes having eclectic guests, would in all likelihood get out of the gate slowly. He saw Colbert has a modern day Dick Cavett who was always a distant second to Johnny Carson in the late night talk show wars. However there was only one Carson and as good as both Jimmys are neither is close to being Johnny. Les and other CBS executives were hopeful that late night viewers would want a host who could crack a one-liner joke like Jay Leno but who could also be a political satirist a la Mort Sahl, or more currently, HBO “Real Time” host Bill Maher. Colbert has delivered and now the ratings are bearing fruit for him. Last week, for the first time, Colbert finished in first place at 11:30.