The balance in the NBA has shifted and it is evident with NBC's decision to send its top announcing team west for the first time since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson entered the league.
NBC's top draw for the past decade has been Michael Jordan and the Bulls. But now, with the marquee teams coming from west of the Mississippi, the network has decided to send Bob Costas and Doug Collins to cover the Lakers in the first round -- after a quick stop in Miami.
Before the Bulls, the Detroit Pistons were the attraction just prior to NBC obtaining the NBA rights in 1990. The combination of the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers got the nod over the Lakers throughout the '80's.
With the NBA playoff picture a mess until the final night of the regular season Wednesday, NBC was scrambling well into Thursday morning to determine where their broadcasters were headed for a pair of weekend tripleheaders.
About the only sure thing over the past few weeks was that the No. 1 team of Costas and Collins would be in Los Angeles at some point during the weekend.
It's no surprise they'll call the Lakers-Rockets game Sunday at 5:30 p.m. EDT after working the Knicks-Heat telecast Saturday -- not after working an overwhelming 10 Lakers games this season.
The real shock is that neither Dick Stockton, in his tenure as the top play-by-play man at CBS, nor Marv Albert, who held the same position for NBC until last year when Costas took over, ever called a first-round Western Conference game.
"We never started with the Western Conference while I was at CBS," said Turner's Stockton, who was CBS' top guy from 1982-90. "But I think they are doing that because the Lakers are a big draw -- even though you don't know how long they'll last."
NBC executive producer Tom Roy had little choice but to place Costas and Collins with Los Angeles after investing so much in the team this year.
"There are a lot of compelling stories in the west this season and viewer interest has shown that, based on ratings, Western Conference teams are more likable," Roy said.
Also, the late Sunday game traditionally earns the highest ratings, and the network usually has its top tandem working the highest-rated game of the weekend.
Collins, who has been extremely critical of the Lakers this season, thinks the network will get more than one series out of the team in which they have invested so much.
"Nobody had a more up-close-and-personal view of what went on with LA, but they are playing better than they have in a long time," Collins said. "They played with more passion and emotion last week against Portland and if they play well, they can still beat anybody."
Although NBA ratings have been solid despite the lockout, Collins knows the true test comes now -- when even the most casual fans would tune in to watch Jordan.
"I think the league is prepared for the ratings to be down and they are hoping to bounce back next year," he said. "But a lot depends on who gets there. If you have Utah or San Antonio, I think you'll have pretty good ratings."
Notice how Collins omitted the Lakers. And he knows them better than just about anyone.
LEANING TOWARDS TWO: As John Elway waits, so does ABC.
Elway has been contacted by ABC about becoming the third member of the "Monday Night Football" team and is mulling it over.
ABC will likely stick with Al Michaels and Boomer Esiason if Elway declines.
"It's safe to assume that at this point we are going to stay with two people in the booth," said ABC spokesman Mark Mandel.
ESPN analyst Paul Maguire, rumored to be a candidate for the third spot with ABC, enjoys doing Sunday night games but said it would be tough to turn down "MNF."
"Why wouldn't anyone want it?," Maguire said. "But it hasn't been presented to me and I don't think it will be."
MOLLING AROUND: Paul Molitor is a rookie again. But now he is already talking retirement.
Molitor broadcasts Twins games for Fox Sports Net, and also was a baserunning-hitting instructor for Minnesota this past spring training.
"My goal was not necessarily to have a future in broadcasting, but was to stay current on the players in an interim year," said the Minnesota native. "Ideally, I'd like to take on a full-time baseball position."
Molitor is just waiting to see if the future of the Twins is in the Twin Cities. If they remain, he'll almost certainly be a batting coach somewhere in the organization.
TUBE BITS: The Kentucky Derby posted a 6.3 national rating, up three percent from last year. ... NBC has NBA tripleheaders Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 12:30 p.m. ... ESPN baseball analyst Ray Knight, coaching his 12-year-old daughter's softball team, was charged with disorderly conduct last week after striking a spectator during an argument. ... CNN/SI's Trev Alberts had his NFL career cut short after three seasons due to three major injuries. He was the college football studio analyst for the past two seasons, and will see double-duty this year after replacing James Lofton on the NFL show. He turned down offers from ABC, ESPN and CBS ... ESPN's NHL playoff ratings are up 11 percent as are ESPN2's, but Fox's tumbled 37 percent.
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