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Trail Blazers Television Broadcast Review

The Trail Blazers revamped their in-studio television broadcast crew this year, and Blazer’s Edge contributor Jelani Greenidge is here to rate the entire production from a fan’s perspective.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: Longtime Blazer’s Edge reader and current contributor Jelani Greenidge will bring us the occasional feature piece this year. Today, he focuses on the Trail Blazers’ first telecast of the season against the Utah Jazz, and offers a review of the entire package — the production, commercials, and of course, the new broadcasting duo of Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd.

Hey y’all… I decided to dip my toes into the Blazer’s Edge waters with a feature that I haven’t seen much of, if at all. There is so much conversation about how to watch the Blazers, and of course, plenty of discussion around the team and its play, but very little talk about the broadcast. I thought I would step in to fill that void with this piece.

Bear in mind, though I have some audio production experience and I took a few video production classes in high school and college, I am not at all coming at this as a professional. This is not like a former official coming on TV to tell you what the officials might be thinking. My aim is not to give you an insider’s view of the telecast, but rather to examine it in the same manner that I examine most of the entertainment that I consume – as an educated fan of the experience.

Pretty much all of these aspects are designed to highlight the main product, which is NBA basketball. However, given the incredible reach of the sport, and the way that TV rights money (especially over this last offseason) has made an indelible mark on the economic machinations of the league and its member ballclubs, far more people experience Trail Blazers basketball as a TV experience than an in-person experience. Thus, I think it’s only natural that we, in classic internet fan style, turn the spotlight on the packaging.

Call it an “NBA game unboxing,” if you like.

I’ll be doing these a few times throughout the year, because even though my intuitive sense is that the game broadcast doesn’t change all that much from one game to the next, I think it’ll be interesting to examine it and see if/how it has evolved, particularly with the new voices on board.

Broadcast elements are ranked on a scale of one to five pinwheel logos, in honor of Dame’s epic plush doll endorsement. Also, this was a review of the KGW broadcast, which might contain a few different elements than the typical CSNNW broadcast.

Production Sizzle

This is my term for the graphics, the music, camera angles, and whatever other interesting TV gimmicks serve to spice up the proceedings.

And let me say, the opening video for the telecast was on-point. It was a sort of augmented reality-style rendering of various Trail Blazers players with Minority Report-style digital effects, giving the impression that they’re all highly-engineered basketball androids set with a prime directive to go out there and get buckets. Not a particularly original concept, but well executed. The music that went along with this was also fun, a sort of turbo-charged anthem with copious amounts of horns and overdriven guitars, with the appropriate nod to the classic 70s fanfare that Blazers fans have come to know and love.

The rest of the music was okay, although I think at one point they used the new Bruno Mars song as a bumper. C’mon y’all… the magic of “Uptown Funk” cannot be replicated. His new single is alright, but its selection here was unimaginative.

Also, I love that the Blazers are continuing to experiment with animating the pinwheel logo, but the NBA 2K series has been doing this for years, and they’re a lot further ahead.

When the Mikes got the heave-ho during the offseason, I thought that meant the Trail Blazers were really looking to revamp the whole telecast experience. After one regular season game, it seems to me they took the opposite tack, opting instead to keep everything else as familiar as possible. That’s probably a better business decision, albeit a little anti-climactic.

Grade: 3.5/5 pinwheels

Commercial tie-ins

Corporate sponsorships are the engine that makes the NBA go, and the broadcast is full of them, although some tend to work better than others. Like back when the Mikes used to do the whole Miller paint schtick about painting the visiting locker room? Very corny. I mean, the Mikes did have a bit of goofy charm about them, but I always thought it was a reach.

In this broadcast, the corporate tie-ins I noticed were the Subway Fresh Take, the Ford Keys to the Game (a mainstay of Trail Blazers broadcasts), and of course the ubiquitous McDonald’s 100-point promotion. I thought all those worked okay, although at one point, seeing the camera slow-zoom into a McDonald’s meal box next to a Blazers-themed box was a little over-the-top.

Also, what happened to the MondoPad?

Grade: 3/5 pinwheels

Actual commercials

It may be a bit silly to rate the commercials themselves, since none of the TV production staff has any direct control over the commercial content, but someone at the network accepts money from these companies and their ads become a part of the fan experience. After all, if someone ever tells me that they’re a true Trail Blazers fan, I just ask them where the first place is they think of to get tires. If they live in or around Portland and their answer is anything but Les Schwab, they’re full of it.

As it was, there weren’t any particularly notable commercials, although my friend Dave made an astute point that no matter how bad the commercials during a Trail Blazers broadcast might be, the commercials that air after the game are always much worse. The Jack in the Box mother-in-law made me chuckle a bit, but they’ve done better in the past. I’m wondering if getting rid of Secret Weapon was a mistake.

If I missed any good commercials, please leave them in the comments.

Grade: 2.5/5 pinwheels

Play-by-Play & Analysis

This is what you came here for, right? Because any time you add new faces to the television experience after audiences have become accustomed to the same old thing, it’s going to feel different.

I was impressed with Jordan Kent. Even though there wasn’t a ton of substantive analysis that he offered (because that wasn’t really his role) he seemed very relaxed and authoritative. I’m not sure how much of it was his background as an athlete and how much was his confident baritone, but to me he felt like a clear upgrade from Adam Bjaranson, who did his best to keep broadcasts professional but always sounded a touch too corporate and smarmy.

Anyway, Jordan Kent and Michael Holton did decent work during the halftime show and coming in and out of a few commercial breaks. At this point in his career, Michael Holton is a known commodity; his shtick felt fun and fresh at first, but now just seems … comfortable. He clearly has a wealth of basketball knowledge from his background in the game, and so his analysis is solid, even if it’s sometimes a little too overseasoned with 90s-ESPN-Sportscenter attitude.

As for the main two voices of the telecast, I think the vocal contrast works well; Calabro’s soothing baritone pairs well with Lamar Hurd’s jocular, excited tenor. Also, the fact that there’s a significant age difference between them feels like a nice contrast, albeit a bit too calculated to attract millennials. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more playful banter between them, and in time, I think this will get better and better.

However, Lamar Hurd could stand to take the advice of Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr: talk less.

(He might also need to smile more, but he’s mostly off-camera, so that doesn’t matter as much.)

There were several examples throughout the broadcast where Hurd was either taking too long to make his point, getting a little too overexcited, or relying too heavily on jokey references. Dropping a DJ Khaled “another one,” after several buckets by Noah Vonleh is one thing, but at one point Hurd said, “one thing you can count on here in Portland, rain outside the Moda Center, and rain inside the Moda Center; except the rain inside is 3-pointers.”

Seriously, dude? That’s unoriginal and poorly executed. Just say it’s raining threes and move on.

I know he’s new and he’s going to improve as the game goes along, but I think Lamar Hurd would be well-served to learn to observe the following rule of thumb: As a color commentator, your comment about the last play should end as the next play is developing. When the ball crosses half-court, wrap it up. In the broadcast of the game gainst Utah, there were several moments where Lamar Hurd was still talking about the previous play and the next play has already concluded. Seriously Lamar, stop talking so long.

Having said that, Kevin Calabro is such a professional, his voice continued to serve as a stabilizing influence on the broadcast. Annoyed as I was with Hurd, I still really liked what I was hearing overall. Calabro’s calls hit just the right notes, blending information, emotion and action into a likeable combination. Given the possibility of the Sonics returning to Seattle, having Calabro in the fold feels like a major coup, on par with signing Nate McMillan as coach.

Two quick asides: The local crew missed a golden opportunity to pick on Ron Sloy, a.k.a. Portland Ken, during his five seconds of fame. Thankfully, the pros at TNT did not throw away their shot.

Also, KC… I love you. The last paragraph attests to that. But either call it “Moda” or “The Moda Center.” I heard you call it “the Moda” several times, and I hate to be the one to tell you this, but… that’s not a thing.

Grade: 4/5 pinwheels

Jelani Greenidge | @jelanigreenidge