Courtly Coverage

February 21, 2000

Backstage at The Arena in Oakland during NBA All-Star weekend, a
turnabout took place: Athletes lined up to speak with a reporter.
As Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal and Rockets rookie point guard
Steve Francis conversed chummily with NBA.com TV's Carlos Diaz,
Suns guard Jason Kidd stood off-camera, patiently awaiting his
turn. Pistons guard Jerry Stackhouse strolled by, and soon he too
was in line for a Q and A with Diaz. Clippers rookie phenom Lamar
Odom had to leave to search for a friend but promised that he'd
be right back.

All this cooperation by the league's biggest studs was for a
network that is available in only 6.6 million households.
Somewhere NBC's Jim Gray is seething. TNT's Craig Sager is so
distraught he's considering donning a navy-blue suit. "I've gone
on the air live with more than 50 athletes today," Diaz had said
earlier. "[Timberwolves forward] Kevin Garnett put me in a bear
hug and said, 'I love you guys.'"

Why shouldn't he? While NBC and TNT may be in bed with the NBA,
NBA.com TV is wearing the league's pajamas. Garnett, O'Neal and
their peers can assume that queries from the likes of Diaz will
be nonconfrontational. "I've never felt limited," says Diaz, an
energetic, sharp 29-year-old who cut his network teeth at ESPN
from 1997 to '99. "If the facts are there, we are going to report
them."

Perhaps, but at last weekend's festivities, in-your-face
journalism was absent. Diaz jovially emceed events such as
Friday's Legends Shootout. Stylistically NBA.com TV had the feel
of The Blair Witch Project. Handheld cameras unabashedly peered
into locker rooms. Diaz and colleague Dei Lynam worked
principally without a script. Athletes were filmed and miked
almost without cease. Also like last summer's
guerrilla-filmmaking hit, NBA.com TV was promoted almost
exclusively on a Web site, in this case--you got it!--NBA.com.
"We're the convergence of television, the Internet and
basketball," said Diaz. "What we can do is give you more NBA
than anyone else in the world."

About that Diaz is correct. Last weekend if you wanted to see
the highlight of the Slam Dunk Contest--Raptors forward Vince
Carter's between-the-legs number--35 more times, you just had to
stay glued to NBA.com TV. If you wanted to hear what Tracy
McGrady thought of the slam, you needed only to remain tuned in.
Just remember that Blair Witch was a hoax and that NBA.com TV,
for all of its unparalleled access, less resembles the Fourth
Estate than it does Orwell's Ministry of Truth. --John Walters

GENIUS REWARDED
A sports game show premiering next month may be a lifeline for
the trivia-obsessed

If you're better-versed in the great plays of (former University
of Miami football player) Stanley Shakespeare than in those of
William Shakespeare, are less likely to know the names of the
five Great Lakes than of five great Lakers, and you think the
Maginot Line skated for the Canadiens, Fox Sports Net has the
game show for you.

Sports Geniuses, a daily program that began taping this month in
Los Angeles, will premiere on March 27. Hosted by Matt
Vasgersian, who does play-by-play for the Brewers, and Lisa
Guerrero, an erstwhile captain of the Rams' cheerleaders,
Geniuses may be the first of its genre to dispense with the idea
that a third-grade education is critical to a contestant's
success. "Of course, sports geniuses is oxymoronic," says the
show's creator and executive producer, Gregg Sherman. "That's the
whole point. We fill the programming void for unemployed adults
who live in their parents' basement. What were we going to call
it, Win Kevin Garnett's Money?"

The format of Sports Geniuses is a hybrid of Jeopardy and Win Ben
Stein's Money. Three contestants play two rounds, selecting from
punnily named categories such as "As You Hike It" and "Ripken's
Believe It or Not." Two contestants advance to a final-round
"Face-Off." Winners receive vacations and sports gear; runners-up
are consoled with a flat-screen TV. A telling fact about the
target viewership: In the early tapings, says Sherman, "the
consolation prize is more popular with our players." --J.W.

Upcoming

A day at spring training with Derek Jeter, offered by
ultimatebid.com

Be one of four high bidders (minimum: $3,500) and spend March 19
in Tampa with the Yankees' shortstop. The package includes
dinner with Derek and an "awesome half-hour hitting and skills
training session" (with the other three high bidders). A portion
of the proceeds will go to Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation. Deadline
for bids: Feb. 29.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH In Oakland, NBA.com TV's Diaz proved camera-friendly for such All-Stars as the Lakers' Kobe Bryant.

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