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Sports Media

In lockout, NBA TV on lookout

Old programming can go only so far

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / August 19, 2011

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The time a basketball fan spends watching NBA TV these days depends largely upon his or her taste for nostalgia.

For the old-schoolers who fondly remember what the sport was like before narcissistic superstars conspired to form so-called dream teams, the network currently offers a lineup of enjoyable retro programming.

Highlights with a Boston spin this week have included replays of Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals featuring the legendary shootout between Larry Bird and the Hawks’ Dominique Wilkins, half-hour documentaries on Bob Cousy and Red Auerbach, a Hall of Fame special including 2011 inductee Thomas “Satch’’ Sanders, and even a few of airings of the 1979 cult film “The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh,’’ which features a cameo by Cedric Maxwell and proves beyond any doubt that Julius Erving was far better at playing basketball than playing a basketball player.

“One of NBA TV’s goals is to give fans the opportunity to experience the deep history of the game, allowing our fan base to relive great moments in history,’’ said Christina Miller, senior vice president and general manager of NBA Digital, which includes NBA TV.

The catch, however, is that NBA TV’s current version of league history has a glaring gap: Because of the ongoing lockout, active players are not shown on the network. That also applies to NBA.com and team websites, which removed all highlights and head shots of current players when the lockout was implemented July 1.

The classic games that are such a heavy part of the current programming have a cutoff date of the early ’90s. Apparently, no games dating from the since-retired Shaquille O’Neal’s rookie season (1992-93) or later will be shown.

NBA TV could find itself in a quandary when it comes time to put away the time machine and tip off the new season, if the lockout is still in place. The season is scheduled to begin Nov. 1 with a Mavericks-Bulls and Lakers-Thunder doubleheader on TNT, and NBA TV did announce its 96-game schedule July 19. Yet no negotiations between the players and owners are expected until early September.

The NBA and its television network do not measure up well when compared with how the NFL Network dealt with that league’s 4 1/2-month lockout. In part because of the treasure trove of quality programming provided by NFL Films - as well as some more disposable recent shows such as “NFL Top 10’’ - the NFL Network never struggled to fill air time during the offseason. But even during the lockout’s most contentious hours, the NFL never severed ties with current players. Several appeared for interviews during the network’s coverage of the labor battle.

Though part of that may have had to do with the decertification of the NFL players’ union, it appeared to be a much more amiable approach than the NBA is taking.

“Both NBA TV and NBA.com present balanced coverage of the lockout,’’ said Miller. “Our coverage has been reflective of that - reporting of the facts from both sides of the discussion.’’

For now, NBA TV chugs along. It will continue to search for a replacement for analyst-turned-Rockets coach Kevin McHale, broadcast its studio shows and biographies, and air up to 75 live WNBA games on weekends. And there are all of those retro goodies.

But should the lockout continue into the season, the programming could become repetitive in a hurry. Maybe it’s already happening. As enjoyable as that Bird-Nique shootout remains 23 years after the Celtics’ victory, it will air for the fifth time this week at 2 p.m. today. Any suggestion to set your DVR is probably unnecessary. If the lockout drags into the season, chances are it will be on again and again.

Portnoy complaints Can’t blame WEEI for cutting ties with David Portnoy, the Barstool Sports founder who caused a firestorm when he posted pictures (since removed) of Tom Brady’s naked son and commented on the boy’s genitalia. Portnoy had been contributing to the “Dennis and Callahan’’ show in a transparent attempt to help the program appeal to a younger demographic. WEEI vice president of programming Jason Wolfe acted swiftly in dismissing Portnoy, tweeting Friday: “No we will not have Portnoy on again. What he did was completely irresponsible. It’s not about whether he was allowed to do it or not. It’s about common decency. And he showed none.’’ Wolfe did not respond to inquiries about whether the decision was also motivated by the fact that hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan’s weekly “Patriots Monday’’ interview with Brady is an extremely popular segment. But there was also a hint of disingenuousness in WEEI’s approach to the situation, for Wolfe’s condemnation of Portnoy did not prevent some hosts, particularly Glenn Ordway, from talking about the topic at great length.

Eyes on the Tiger Former Hopkinton High star Keegan Bradley’s playoff victory in the PGA Championship earned a 4.3 overnight Nielsen rating for Sunday’s final round. The rating was down from last year’s 5.0 final-round rating for Martin Kaymer’s victory, and was a 43 percent drop from Tiger Woods’s win in 2009, which earned a 7.5 rating on Sunday. Woods remains a ratings monster, with numbers typically dropping in the 40 percent range when he’s not in contention on Sunday. Just a hunch, but we’ll presume Bradley much prefers beating Woods on the course to beating him in the Nielsens . . . Any lingering debate about whether mixed martial arts is a mainstream sport was settled in the affirmative yesterday when Ultimate Fighting Championship and Fox Sports Media Group announced a seven-year multimedia rights agreement that, according to Sports Business Daily, reaches an average of $100 million a year. Four live UFC events will air on Fox in prime time or late night, and 32 live fights will air each year on FX.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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