© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2003
Kobe Bryant is lighting up NBA scoreboards these days, but TNT's Charles Barkley, bless his heart, is one of the few television announcers not ready to anoint him the greatest ever.
While others gush about Bryant, Barkley again has shown why he is the most enjoyable broadcaster to listen to on the NBA scene, offering a fresh and harder look at today's basketball superstars.
After Bryant scored 52 against Houston on Tuesday night, taking as many shots as the rest of the starters combined (38), Barkley viewed it with a skeptical eye.
"Anybody can shoot 35 to 40 times and finish with 35 or 40 points," he said. "Kobe, and I love him, is a great player, but he doesn't make his teammates better."
Bryant is not alone with his shoot-first mentality. Barkley seems to think that mind-set is becoming pervasive in the league.
"I think he's (Kobe) gotten more offensive-minded," he said. "I think Tracy McGrady has gotten more offensive-minded. Those guys look to take a lot of shots. The key to the game is to make other players better."
Barkley found it admirable that San Antonio's Tim Duncan shot only four times that same night in a win over Denver. Barkley said Duncan finds other ways to help his team win, on defense and by drawing double-teams on offense.
When co-host Ernie Johnson tried to ratchet up the drama for Bryant's big night -- saying "Kobe Bryant, playing on a painful knee, grimacing a lot of the night" -- Barkley was having none of it.
"Yeah, but it only hurts on defense."
GIVING THEM A CHANCE: One of the joys of watching NCAA Championship Week on ESPN is the opportunity to check out little-known schools grabbing the automatic berths in anticipation of them then wreaking havoc on NCAA Tournament pools.
ESPN calls such teams Bracket Busters, and Saturday the network gives them their own day.
Beginning with a noon start (Fresno State-Creighton) and ending with an 11:59 p.m. start (Tulsa-Gonzaga), ESPN2 (and ESPN) will carry nine games featuring teams from mid-level conferences that are on the bubble.
The idea for "Bracket Buster Saturday" is to give these teams a chance to play a big nonconference game in an effort to improve their chances of an at-large bid come Selection Sunday.
"These guys can play with anyone," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. "But for attention from media, fans and people who vote in polls, they have to do something spectacular. That is why these games are so important. This is a showcase; on Bracket Buster Saturday these guys are going to be playing tournament championship-caliber games. These mid-major programs are going to give us a "championship week' in February."
WEEK OF JOE ENDS: Devil Rays analyst Joe Magrane wraps up his duties as a co-host on the Best Damn Sports Show Period tonight.
While filling in for a week as the show looks for a replacement for the departed John Kruk, Magrane took time to comment on Mike Tyson's fans ("The people who watch Mike Tyson are the same people who watch NASCAR for the wrecks.") and the use of illegal substances in sports:
"Ephedra is the tip of the iceberg," he said. "As far as the testing that is involved in steroids, in most situations like Olympic athletes, the people that get caught using steroids are the dumb ones really."
OVERDOSE: There will be 21 NCAA men's basketball games on TV Saturday, 22 if you include the taped Florida-Vanderbilt game.
NICE DEBUT: Fox Sports Net was pleased with its first NASCAR This Morning, which got a rating of 1.97 in the Tampa/St. Petersburg market, equal to 31,915 homes.