Friday, February 20, 2009

Game of the Knight

AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta

Thursday night’s ESPN college basketball doubleheader started off with a matchup between the Duke Blue Devils and the St. John’s Red Storm. Covering the game for ESPN was play-by-play man Brent Musburger, color commentator Bob Knight, and sideline reporter Holly Rowe. Musburger and Knight are two highly respected individuals in the world of college basketball so it made sense to have them cover a game with such a high profile program like Duke.

Before the tip-off Musburger and Knight explained why the game was important for both teams. This was a great way to start because it told the viewer what was at stake and why they should want to watch this game. They described that Duke was on a two-game losing streak and needed this game to snap out of their funk, and for St. John’s it was an opportunity for their young squad—all five starters were sophomores—to play in a primetime matchup for a national audience against one of the premier schools in the nation.

Knight was a great “X’s and O’s” guy as a coach and that has carried over into his career as an analyst. During the game he does a great job of identifying what the team is doing and why it works or doesn’t work, as well as what they need to do to get a better result. The viewer can come out of Knight’s broadcast with a better understanding of the intricacies of basketball, just like they were being coached by him at the University of Indiana.

Musburger does a good job of “driving the bus” and bringing up good discussion points for Knight to analyze. However, on this night, he seemed too low-key. It almost sounds like he was working through a cold. His voice was really low, soft, and delivered in monotone. You really had to pay close attention to understand what he was saying.

Knight, as informative as he was, was also a bit dull covering the game. Neither Knight nor Musburger had any excitement in their voice. As a sport fan, the viewer gets excited by a great play, and I think it’s OK if the announcer gets excited too. Part of the allure of sports is the entertainment value and watching someone do something incredible that the average person can’t do. Yet neither seems to be affected by any singular moment. Maybe it’s because they have both been around for so long and have seen so much that they are, in a way, desensitized. At one point in the game Duke forward Lance Thomas lunges for a defensive rebound, collects the ball, and as he is falling to the ground he throws a full court pass to teammate Elliot Williams, who scores a lay-up. Knight claims this play is at least one of the top five passes from the season, but there is no excitement in his voice. His tone describing the play is the same as when he was describing the type of offense Duke was running. As the game goes on, this becomes a much bigger problem.

Duke took control of the second half, dominating a young St. John’s team. The announcers aren’t exciting, and now the game isn’t exciting either. Without that excitement, the viewer starts to drift away from the game. I was no longer fully interested knowing that Duke was on their way to an easy victory, and the announcers didn’t do much to keep me interested. However, St. John’s didn’t quit, and with about three minutes left they made a comeback, closing a double-digit deficit to only eight points. The announcers were still delivering in their monotone voices though, without any inflection of excitement or amazement, and I didn’t even realize how close it was getting. What could have been an exciting comeback just passed me by because the announcers couldn’t draw me back in.

By excitement, I don’t mean that they had to be like Dick Vitale. Vitale seems to be excited about everything and as the game goes on it gets to be a little over the top and irritating. However, Knight and Musburger were too dull and in a game that wasn’t very close for most of the time, it really made me less interested in watching it, undoing all the good work they did earlier in the game.

That would be the one area that needs to be improved. Otherwise, the knowledge that Musburger and Knight brought to the telecast was excellent.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bring back Run DmB

AP Photo/Will Shilling

DaMarcus Beasley has struggled lately to see playing time in Europe, and his future as a starting contributor to the United States national team has been called into question. He is still a great attacking talent and his speed is still unmatched, but not playing hurts a player’s physical and mental sharpness as well as his confidence. Beasley needs to come back to America and rejuvenate his career.

In 2002, the United States shocked the world by reaching the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Beasley emerged from that tournament as one of the promising young stars that would lead the country for years to come. The next summer he was named to the Major League Soccer’s Best XI, and the following year he moved onto even bigger things, transferring to Dutch superpower PSV Eindhoven. He immediately earned the starting left midfield spot on the team and became the first American player to appear in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. He spent two seasons with the team and scored 10 goals in league play before being loaned to English Premier League side Manchester City. All this time he was a regular starter for the national team. He used his incredible speed to fly up and down the left flank and become one of the top attacking targets, scoring 12 goals to bring his national team tally total to 15. He earned a spot on his second World Cup team. Then in the summer of 2007 he signed with Rangers Football Club, one of the top teams in the Scottish Premier League. His career hasn’t been the same since then.

His tenure with Rangers started off well, playing consistently and productively. Four months into his stay, however, he was involved in a collision with a goalkeeper and needed surgery to repair damaged knee ligaments, forcing him to miss the majority of the season. Beasley fell out of favor, and this year he has appeared in only nine games total out of 30, not including friendlies. For a number of those matches he hasn’t even dressed as part of the first team, let alone sit as a sub.

This lack of playing time couldn’t come at a more crucial time. While Rangers may not consider him a priority, the United States national team couldn’t need him more. These next two years are the most critical in the nation’s history, culminating with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The United States are currently in the final stages of regional qualifying matches for the World Cup. The team is also participating in the Gold Cup, another regional tournament, as well as the FIFA Confederations Cup. In the Confederations Cup the U.S. is grouped with world superpowers Egypt, Italy, and Brazil.

The competitions are numerous and high in intensity and importance. It is imperative that the U.S. fields its best team possible. Beasley used to be a part of the country’s top lineup, but Head Coach Bob Bradley stresses that his players need to get consistent first team action with their respective clubs. Beasley may still be the most talented left winger the country has, but there are certainly other options available. Robbie Rogers and JosĂ© Francisco Torres are two young, up and coming athletic left wingers who continue to develop because of the playing time they get with their clubs. Another option for Bradley is to move breakout performer Sacha Kljestan to the left side, and free up a spot for Bradley's personal center midfield favorites Ricardo Clark or Pablo Mastroeni. Of those five players named, four of them are starters in MLS, excluding Torres. Rather than getting stale on the bench for Rangers, Beasley should join his fellow midfielders and come back to the league where his stardom began. While any team would welcome Beasley’s services, a few standout as great fits.

The Chicago Fire was the team Beasley spent his entire MLS career with. He had great successes with them, and the fans loved him. Currently, the team has very few experienced midfielders. By obtaining Beasley and sticking him into the lineup alongside Brian McBride, Chris Rolfe, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Justin Mapp, and John Thorrington, the Fire would be an absolute offensive juggernaut.

Another team that would be a popular destination for Beasley is the Los Angeles Galaxy. A move to L.A. would reunite Beasley with Head Coach Bruce Arena, the man that served as head coach for both of Beasley’s World Cups. The team has radically changed and improved its lineup in the offseason and Beasley would provide attacking insurance in case another national team star, Landon Donovan, decides to stay in Germany. Playmaking midfielder David Beckham would certainly free up a lot of space for Beasley to run around in and get the ball to in order to make Beasley successful.

Another intriguing move would be to Red Bull New York. The runners-up of last year’s MLS Cup have finally created an identity for themselves over the offseason. The team philosophy now focuses on speed, with such players as Dane Richards, Dominic Oduro, and Macoumba Kandji. However they traded last year’s team MVP Dave van den Bergh, which opened up a huge hole on the left side of the midfield. Beasley would fit in great with the track team that New York has assembled and would fill a huge need. They also have a second designated player spot available to sign him with that would make the transfer financially worthwhile.

A move to MLS doesn’t have to be permanent, either. A successful season or two in America along with productive performances in international play, especially in the World Cup, would make Beasley prominent in the world of soccer again. After the 2010 World Cup he would still only be 28-years-old, young enough to make another successful move to Europe.

So for the sake of Beasley’s career, as well as the future of the national team, it would be in his best interest to make a triumphant return home.

Nike Soccer profiles DaMarcus Beasley in the following clip. Video from Youtube.

Friday, February 6, 2009

One game, three stories

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Two nights after Kobe Bryant scorched the Knicks at Madison Square Garden for 61 points it was LeBron James’ turn to put on a show on Broadway. He didn’t disappoint. In a 107-102 victory on Feb. 4, James recorded a double-double, scoring 52 points and dishing out 11 assists. He also grabbed nine rebounds and even swatted away two shots.

Anytime a marquee player takes the court in New York the stage is set for a lot of media coverage. Take the double-double and combine it with Bryant’s performance the previous game, James’ bid for league most valuable player, and the ongoing speculation that he will bolt Cleveland for the bright lights of New York, and you have a slew of storylines to choose from.

I read three separate pieces concerning the Cavaliers game against the Knicks: an Associated Press story from, Brian Windhorst’s piece for The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Howard Beck’s story for The New York Times. Each included the basics of the game, but they differed in style and theme.

The ESPN piece provided the essentials of the game story, but also wrote mainly about comparing James’ night to Bryant’s. The first sentence of the article is, “Not quite Kobe Bryant.” This immediately sets the tone that this story is going to compare the two high scoring nights. A number of the quotes from James and D’Antoni answered questions comparing the two nights. The story also noted that unlike Bryant, James was not cheered loudly by the visiting crowd. I liked that, although the theme was set, they still had a sufficient rundown of the game, including key moments. One thing that I think they should have done, seeing as it was more of a “hard news” style from a national wire service, would be to have included at least one quote from a Knicks player, mentioning what it was like to guard James while he was so hot.

Beck’s story for The New York Times had a little more of the hometown flavor to it. The piece did have some of the same quotes as the AP recap on ESPN and also included a comparison of James’ and Bryant’s performances, but it also contained the successes and failures of the paper’s home team. There were more quotes from D’Antoni, as well as from Knicks forward David Lee. The story was written in more of a feature style, putting in anecdotes about how James enjoyed himself at the Garden and was playful with the arena throughout the game, even though it was a tight contest. Those insights were foreshadowing to the mention of every New York media member’s seemingly favorite story line concerning James: the idea that he could sign with the Knicks as a free agent in the summer of 2010. The story ended with the sentence, “That moment might not come until 2010 — coinciding, the Knicks hope, with a jersey change by James.”

Windhorst’s article for The Cleveland Plain Dealer was strictly done in a “hard news” style. The story stuck to game play-by-play. There was only one mention of Kobe Bryant. Staying true to the form of a hometown paper there was a quote from Cleveland head coach Mike Brown to go along with those from James, the only story of the three to include his voice. Also there was absolutely no mention of the possibility of James bolting to the Big Apple. I liked this particular aspect of the article. Windhorst really played to his audience by not writing anything about the city’s star potentialy leaving them. The Cavs’ faithful have been hearing this story for over a year now and it has to be driving them crazy. While all the other news outlets use this theme to some extent in their coverage of the game, the hometown paper made sure not to further distress its readers.

Comparing and contrasting these three published articles provides a great lesson to all journalists. Although the game is the same for everybody, there are a number of stories and themes that can be brought out from it. They key is to play to your audience. If you are a city paper, you are going to include more information about the hometown team instead of a general overview. If you are writing for a broader market, you write to the biggest storyline that the game has to offer. It is up to you to decide who your audience is and what they want.

Here are the links to the three stories.
AP recap on
Beck's article for The New York Times:
Windhorst's story for The Cleveland Plain Dealer: