By SHARON GINN
© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 19, 2001
Bill Walton has been No. 1 before, but reaching the top has never made him happier than it did this week.
It seems odd, but Walton -- seemingly with all sincerity -- calls his promotion Wednesday to NBC's lead NBA broadcast team "without question the greatest accomplishment in my life." Greater than his NCAA Tournament records, his college player of the year awards, his selection as one of the NBA's 50 all-time best players.
Because everyone expected him to be a great player. But "when you're 6-11, have red hair, a big nose, a speech impediment and you're a Dead head," Walton said, nobody expects much of you on-camera.
But 11 years ago, when an ankle injury took him out of the game, he needed to do something. So he decided to try broadcasting. One problem: he stuttered.
In stepped Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Glickman. "He took me aside at a social gathering," Walton said. "In a five-minute discussion he (advised) me ... "To develop speech and communication as a skill. To take these tips, Bill, and implement them with the learning and training methods that you take from these great coaches.' I worked really hard at it. I still work hard to this very day. I will always have problems with (stuttering)."
After honing his craft in all kinds of places -- Walton even served as an NBC sideline reporter for Olympic volleyball last year -- he and partner Steve "Snapper" Jones were named NBC's top NBA analysts.
The sometimes cantankerous pair replace Doug Collins (now Wizards coach), working alongside announcer Marv Albert.
"I've been hoping and praying for this day for 11 years," Walton said. "(This) will go down as one of the most special days of my life. ... I am ecstatic."
BASEBALL OR THAT '70s SHOW?: The first three games of the AL and NL championship series drew ratings 21 percent lower than in 2000.
Game 1 of the ALCS between New York and Seattle, and Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS between Atlanta and Arizona -- all on Fox -- have averaged a 5.7 national rating. That's down from the 7.2 averaged last year by Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS between the same teams on NBC, and Game 1 of the NLCS between New York and St. Louis on Fox. One ratings point equals just over 1-million homes.
A reason for the decline could be the start of the games. Two of the three LCS games started in the afternoon.
CROSSING THE LINE: It's one thing for Sportvision, the company that invented the first-and-10 yellow line, to protest Fox's decision to stop using the technology for the rest of the NFL regular season. It's quite another for Sportvision to pretend its concern rests squarely with the fans.
The company has launched a Web site, www.lovetheline.com, that gives information about the line and gives fans the chance to voice their grievances about Fox. Nowhere is it mentioned that Sportvision might be a tiny bit unhappy/worried/freaked out that it could lose about $800,000 or more because of the network's decision. (Fox was expected to use the technology 30 more times during the regular season at an estimated $25,000 per game.)
Yes, fans love the technology. And if Fox broke an ironclad contract, Sportvision officials have every reason to go after the network. But they shouldn't recruit fans to do it for them.
WALTRIP ON HANS: Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip, an avid supporter of head and -neck restraint systems, cheered NASCAR's decision to make them mandatory.
"Someday we'll look back and realize that we lost some of NASCAR's finest talent before we had the HANS device," he said. "It's the perfect solution. Don't borrow trouble by saying, "What happens if the car catches on fire' or "What happens if I can't get out.' We know what this device does. It's nearly foolproof."
-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.