Portland Trail Blazers fans generally remember television broadcasters Mike Barrett and Mike Rice with fondness. They worked the microphones together for a decade. Rice’s tenure with the Blazers extended back longer than that, to 1991. When they were fired in the summer of 2016, it blindsided them and caused ripples across the Portland landscape.
The “Mike & Mike” skeletons were resurrected briefly yesterday as Leo Sepkowitz of Bleacher Report penned an extensive article on the perils of NBA broadcasting. The thesis was clear: local broadcasters are expected to make their teams look good. Deviation from that norm results in career peril.
Sepkowitz detailed the journeys of several broadcasters, including former star players Bruce Bowen and Phil Chenier. He suggested that constraints have become more rigid in recent years, citing a contract from an unnamed regional sports network for their broadcasters:
According to one regional sports network contract obtained by B/R, broadcasters for the network agree to “not make repeated references to” any member of their local sports team—players, management personnel, etc.—”that may be reasonably expected to bring any of them into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule.”
But the juiciest quotes of the piece came from Rice, who started as a national commentator for ESPN before coming to the Trail Blazers.
“You almost have to throw out any training that you have,” Rice says of regional broadcasting jobs. “You could criticize the other team and the refs, and that made you a great announcer. In Portland, the bigger the homer, the better. A lot of times you’d sit back and think, Jeez, maybe I’m going overboard. But, no, it was, ‘What a great broadcast!’”
As was typical of their on-screen personalities, Barrett demurred potential controversy, but Rice doubled down on the claim of favoritism and its enforcement:
“If someone’s having a great night [against Portland], you’ve got to say it, you’ve got to do the game. But at the same time if you start being too critical, or—” Rice pauses for a moment. “In the modern NBA, the star player has the power.” He adds, “If he’s unhappy, then management is unhappy, and in the old days it wasn’t to that point. You could say something about Clyde Drexler, and Clyde might say something to you, but you’d have lunch with him the next day. But now if a star says something to the VP of sales or something, then the VP of sales goes to the president, who goes to the owner, and we go, Ooh, we gotta keep this guy happy.”
There’s plenty more to the article, which is a must-read for those who want to understand the broadcasting and media landscape in local environs.