I profiled Chris Webber in last week's Sports Illustrated -- he's become one of the more interesting NBA voices as a studio and game analyst for NBA TV and TNT -- and during our conversation he told me that he's been working on a documentary about his life for the past six years. Webber said he plans to release both the documentary and an autobiography at some point next year and the working (but unlikely final) title is The Black Forrest Gump.
"Writing has been very therapeutic and it's really helped me," Webber said. "I'd suggest everyone in the world write their own book. It's probably one of the most liberating things I've ever done."
Given Webber, now 39, has lived a fascinating sports life, I naturally wondered how much he planned to reveal in his autobiography. Our back-and-forth is as follows:
Me: Will you hit on everything in your life, from your time at Michigan to the NBA to controversial and non-controversial topics? Will it all be in there?
Webber: Yeah. So let me ask you off-the-cuff and you can't offend me. What do you think should be in there?
SI.com: Honestly, I would expect everything from your time with the Fab Five to [booster] Ed Martin to how you felt about leaving Sacramento. Listen, you've lived a pretty fascinating life, from dating Tyra Banks to being a broadcaster. If it's a real, honest memoir, I would expect all that stuff to be in there.
Webber: That's cool. Thank you for that. From a guy perspective, you want to know. But that last thing you said is right. If you are going to write a book, you have to write the book. ... So I would have to say all of them should [be in the book]. They should, right? They should, yeah.
So we'll see. As a broadcaster, Webber continues to improve every year. He's opinionated and communicates ideas and concepts in a digestible manner for viewers. While he dreams of one day working in an NBA front office, he thinks he could be broadcasting for decades. Along with his usual studio gig every Tuesday night on NBA TV's Fan Night, he's been assigned more games this year with partner Dick Stockton. He's also filling in for Charles Barkley on Inside the NBA this Thursday.
"This is a job that's nowhere near as taxing on your time and body as playing," Webber said. "It gives me time to focus on charity and businesses. It's been a blessing. The only thing I could see taking me away from broadcasting are my charities or me going back to work with a team. I get to talk about basketball and stay close to the game. Even if you can't do things physically anymore, mentally I'm still in the game and I love that."
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the weekend)
1. Eric Mangini is enjoying his second act as a broadcaster with ESPN, and the truth is he should. He brings intellect and thoughtfulness to his analysis, and while he's never going to replace Rex Ryan in the personality department, he's much more open on television than the tight-lipped coach we saw all too often in Cleveland and New York with the Jets.
"One of the reasons I am enjoying this job is you get a chance to look at the league in a much bigger scope," Mangini told SI.com on Sunday. "When you are coaching, you look at things from your team, the team you are playing, and you also pay attention to your division. In this job, you look at all the teams and you get to see all the different decisions. You get to see how teams are built, how teams evolve and how strategies evolve.
"From an analysis perspective, I like the ability to explain what happened. I think a lot of times, instead of saying this is who you should be mad at or this is the person at fault, I can say this is what the decision was, and whether you agree with it or not is your decision to make. I want to give you that information to allow you to make that decision."
Like many of the studio analysts at ESPN, Mangini appears on multiple platforms. He gets his schedule at the beginning of each month and stays in Bristol, Conn., on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. He'll appear on some combination of NFL Live, SportsCenter, SportsNation and First Take, depending on the news of the day, as well as do spots on ESPN Radio. He'll then fly to his home in Cleveland on Wednesday and spend time watching film, analyzing future storylines and attending to his three young sons with his wife, Julie.
"I think Eric Mangini has been one of the biggest surprises in my 20 years at ESPN," said Seth Markman, who oversees ESPN's NFL studio shows. "When we hired him, it was a project. We were like, 'Let's just take a chance on him.' He was a head coach and it was a small deal and [if] we get tight-lipped Eric Mangini like we saw as a coach, then we move on. But I think he has been great on TV and I have had many viewers come to me and say, 'I didn't really want to like him but I do.' "
Mangini has a multiple-year contract with ESPN, so if he stays out of coaching in 2013, he'll be back with the network. But he's a young man in the coaching profession (he's just 41) and it's reasonable to assume he'll one day want to get back on the sidelines. Mangini said he's unsure how long he wants to remain in broadcasting, but he noted that it has given him an opportunity to do things with his children that he could never do as a coach.
"There have been times this year where I thought broadcasting is something I could do longterm and there have been times I thought 'God, I'd love to be coaching right now,' " Mangini said. "I wish I could give you specifics, but I don't think I have totally answered that question myself. I would be interested in going back to coaching if it was the right spot, the right people and a place that I believed in. But it's not an easy decision. It's a massive commitment."
If he stays in broadcasting, Mangini has a chance to be good. He's already performed the not-so-small miracle of not coming off as annoying while appearing on First Take.
2. Markman says Bart Scott's frosty relationship with the Jets' press corps would not prevent ESPN from hiring the linebacker for a post-playing career in broadcasting. "The New York media seems to have a little bit of an adversarial relationship with Bart Scott," Markman said. "I've met Bart Scott several times. I think he's great. Really outspoken. A fun guy. I understand he is making it harder for those guys and I don't like that. I'm a part of the media and if I were advising him, I would advise him to do differently. But I think if he came in my office after he retired and I asked the 10 to 12 questions I usually ask guys [who want to be analysts] and his answers were unbelievable, I would ultimately hire him."
2a. Speaking of dealing with the New York media, I asked Mangini for the advice he'd give an NFL coach working in such a big market.
"The biggest mistake that I made in going to New York was I did not speak enough in my own voice," Mangini said. "I had very strong figures in my coaching life between Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, and I thought it was a little egotistical for me to say, 'Well, they did it this way and won multiple Super Bowls and I am going to do it my way and it's better?' What I learned was you can take all the things you like but still make sure you do things in your own voice. That was a tough lesson to learn.
"There is no manual for being a head coach. When I went to New York, I had done one press conference in my career. I was a defensive coordinator in New England and it came in August with six people in the room. That was my media exposure outside of controlled one-on-one. Then I went to New York and there were hundreds of people there, 25 cameras, and you default back to what you learned and what you watched. But you can't do that.
"But here's what I like about Rex Ryan. Rex is Rex. In a lot of ways when he took over for me, people celebrated that. I don't agree with people who are now mad at him for being who he is. He is who is he is. It's authentic and I respect that. When you agree or disagree with it, you should not be mad at him for being who he is."
3.Sports Business Journal's ace ratings editor Austin Karp noted last week that many of the Sunday NFL pregame shows are down from last year. Fox NFL Sunday is averaging 4.5 million viewers (down 15 percent) and ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown is averaging 2.1 million viewers (down from 2.3 million in 2011). CBS's The NFL Today had averaged 3.3 million viewers through the week of Nov. 11. That's down from its final four-million-viewer average at the end of last year. But there's a caveat for Fox and CBS: Nielsen no longer counts the studio time after the conclusion of the first afternoon window as part of the rating for the Fox NFL Sunday and The NFL Today. That explains some of the drop.
An NFL Network spokesperson told SI.com on Sunday that its NFL Game Day Mornings was averaging 470,000 viewers, up five percent (447,000) over last year. (Worth noting is that the network is in six million more homes this year than 2011.)
Has the NFL Network cut into the old-school pregame ratings shows? Definitely. Social media? I'm not sure people are opting for Twitter over the pregame show, given most sports fans are multiple-screen watchers. But I'd argue there's a staleness to many of the segments the old-school shows use, whether it's the hackneyed pick segments to the over-the-top, guys-will-be-guys laughter for every half-baked joke. No one is saying eliminate fun, but let's stop pretending Shannon Sharpe and Jimmie Johnson are Louis C.K. That's why ESPN2's Fantasy Football Now has found an audience. It's service-oriented and smart.
Karp reports that NBC's Football Night in America, a pregame show that airs after Sunday-afternoon competition, is averaging 7.6 million viewers, down 15 percent from last year. This decline is an easy one to dissect: The late-window national games are running later than in recent years on CBS and Fox.
3a. On the subject of NFL pregame shows: ESPN's Countdown remains the best in class for feature profiles. It had an excellent opener on Sunday (produced by content associate Terrell Bouza) that featured the audio of Gregg Williams, then the Saints' defensive coordinator, making references to inflicting physical punishment upon several Niners in a postseason game the next day. (The feature was timed to the Saints-49ers meeting.) It was provocative and smart video, and brought viewers into the story before ESPN shifted to reporter Ed Werder, who was assigned to the game.
That story was in contrast to an overproduced interview by Fox's Terry Bradshaw with Saints quarterback Drew Brees. As readers know, I like Bradshaw a lot because of his honesty, but his interview with the Saints' quarterback produced nothing new about the team's revival and did little outside of informing viewers that Fox had interviewed Brees. He was also sold out by his own producers thanks to a musical overlay that bludgeoned the piece. A recent CBS News interview with Brees and his wife, Brittany, gave viewers significantly more insight on the quarterback.
4. Notre Dame's victory over USC on Saturday drew a 10.3 overnight rating, part of a huge Saturday of college football on ABC that included Ohio State's win over Michigan (6.3 overnight) and Florida's victory over Florida State (5.6). Notre Dame-USC produced the highest overnight rating for any college football game this season. For a look at how many viewers a Notre Dame-Alabama national championship might draw, click here.
4a. Great work from ABC game producer Bill Bonnell and director Derek Mobley during the Notre Dame-USC game. The ESPN duo showed a freeze frame of Irish redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson shuffling the football away from its laces, which is the opposite of most quarterbacks. Analyst Kirk Herbstreit explained to viewers why Golson did it over Bonnell's and Mobley's visuals, making for great television.
5. Highly recommend this fantastic piece on Falcons rookie linebacker Pat Schiller hanging on to the fragile hope of a professional football career, as told by his uncle, Charles Siebert.
6. A couple of weeks ago I wondered why CBS had ceded the conversation to ESPN around the Alabama-LSU game when CBS owned the broadcast rights to the SEC showdown. CBS had zero pregame presence on site and very little social chatter from its staffers. While talking with CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus on another story, I asked him why his network ceded the ground. His response:
"First of all, I would say it is great for us that ESPN was promoting our game. Certainly one day the CBS Sports Network will be in that position to do College GameDay-type programming. Remember, we are only a couple of years into the new strategy of making the CBS Sports Network a fully distributed, relevant live network. I am not so much concerned about ceding it to ESPN because ESPN right now is an incredibly powerful media force and they will be able to mount initiatives like that better than we can because of their scale and size. We will certainly get there at some point.
"What was pleasing to me was about that week was CBS had the No. 1 college football game in the nation on the CBS Television Network. So figuring out ways to take our big events and extending it to the CBS Sports Network is a huge priority. We have done it with the Masters. We did it with the U.S. Open [tennis]. We did it with the PGA Championship. We'll do much more with the Super Bowl. It is part of our strategy and at some point in certain areas we will obviously be competitive with ESPN, but I'm not going to say we will be equal with ESPN in the near future or distant future because we just won't be. And that's not a negative. ESPN is promoting our big event. That's just the way the media landscape is working.
"So when I see on any college football game that we are doing and GameDay is there, my first reaction is great. My next reaction is not that they are trying to piggyback on a game I have the rights to. My reaction is that if they are there, it makes the game bigger and it's an admission on their part that we have the best game of the weekend. That's great for ESPN, CBS Sports and for college football fans."
6b. Speaking of CBS, the network's Thanksgiving Day broadcast of Houston's win over Detroit earned an average overnight household rating of 15.2, the second-highest-rated Thanksgiving Day game for CBS since the network re-acquired NFL broadcast rights in 1998. (The highest was Miami-Dallas last year.)
7. Strong work from the NFL Network's Kurt Warner on 49ers quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith.
Said Warner: "Week 12 of a season is not the time that you start playing with potential. Potential is for training camp, preseason, for figuring out during that period of time, 'Does he allow us the opportunity to win?' Alex Smith, what he's done over the last two years for this football team, this is a mistake in not starting him. He needs to be the guy and it's going to be tough if Kaepernick doesn't play well today and now you're coming back saying, 'Alex, we're going to put you back in there.' "
7a. On the same topic, ESPN's Cris Carter has already declared Kaepernick a future star: "One thing you don't have to worry about is [Niners coach Jim] Harbaugh losing the team because [Kaepernick] is a future star in the league. The wide receiver room, I think they're pretty happy."
7b.FoxNFL Sunday analyst Jimmy Johnson is also on the Kaepernick bandwagon. "Without question, Kaepernick is the guy to be the starter," Johnson said. " You can be safe and good or take a chance and maybe be great. Kaepernick won't be as consistent, but he gives you a chance to throw the ball down the field. If he's going to be ready for the playoffs, you've got to play him now."
7c. His colleague Terry Bradshaw stuck up for Smith: "I'm steamed if I'm Alex Smith," Bradshaw said. "I've done nothing to hurt our football team. He has no reason to bench him, absolutely none."
7d. NBC's Tony Dungy ( "I'm playing Colin Kaepernick") and Rodney Harrison ("San Francisco has found their starting quarterback, and they're the most physical team in the league.") are clearly on Team Kaepernick.
7e. If you can stomach Sterling Sharpe's nonsense, the NFL Network's Michael Lombardi has an excellent breakdown of the coaches and GMs on the hot seat here.
7f. Fox Sports analyst Charles Davis showed again this weekend that he is a talented broadcaster. He worked Stanford's win over UCLA with Gus Johnson on Saturday, and less than 24 hours later Davis called the Falcons-Bucs game alongside Thom Brennaman because Brian Billick was out with a bad back.
8. So no apologies for Craig James, no apologies for "The Decision," no apologies for the carnival barking on First Take every morning, but ESPN college football analyst Jesse Palmer is forced to apologize for turning down the University of Texas' hook 'em horns hand signal upside down on the air? The Bachelor took one here for the business interests of Bristol.
9. ESPN's Countdown opened Sunday by referring to analyst Mike Ditka's return after his mild stroke last weekend. Said Ditka: "I'm glad to see myself back, believe me." Very honest TV.
9a. Readers of this column know my feelings on Chris Berman, and my issues with his enabling the NFL power structure over the years and his lack of journalistic bona fides for events (such as the NFL draft) that demand more edit chops than entertaining. He certainly has his defenders in Bristol, and I've heard from plenty of them over the past couple of weeks. On Sunday, Markman emailed me about Berman's preparation and I told him I'd be happy to pass it along.
"I just sat with the guy and he showed me his notebook from this week," Markman wrote. "He talked to like 10 coaches, seven GMs and an owner to prepare himself for today's show. No one else can do that. No one."
9b. ESPN's Rachel Nichols fronted a terrific feature on Giants coach Tom Coughlin and his relationship with the parents of Boston College safety Jay McGillis, who played for Coughlin as a collegian and died in 1992, seven months after doctors diagnosed him with leukemia. Coughlin calls McGillis' parents four times each year to keep their son's memory alive. The producer on the piece was Mike O'Connor. Terrific work, and worth watching here.
10. MLB Network president Tony Pettiti declined comment when SI.com inquired about Keith Olbermann's stint last week on the network's Hot Stove show. Olbermann's passion for baseball is well known -- he writes a blog for MLB.com -- and I liked what I saw from his interaction with co-host Brian Kenny. Olbermann was self-deprecating and knowledgeable. This would be a good fit for Olbermann and MLB Net (no matter how long it lasted). If I can reach Olbermann this week, I'll update.
10a. CBS Sports Radio announced on Monday thatBrandon Tierney, Tiki Barber and Dana Jacobson will host the network's new morning show weekdays from 6-9 a.m. ET. Good to see former ESPN-er Jacobson land another national gig. The show will launch on Jan. 2, 2013.
10b. The daughter of ESPN NFL insider Ed Werder has had a rough year battling a brain tumor that damaged her speech, eyesight and movement on her right side. But things appear to be getting better for Christie Bomer. Her story.