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Dumb and Dumber

December 13, 2002 Columns No Comments

Dumb and Dumber

by David Mosse

As if the event itself wasn’t enough of a folly, both Dick Vitale and Bill Walton added new chapters to their legendary broadcasting careers. During Thursday night’s LeBron James infomercial, disguised as a basketball game, the duo combined for one of the most excruciating nights in television history.

It should have been painfully evident to anyone remotely familiar with the pair that this was a marriage made in hell– Vitale, the glorified cheerleader, and Walton, the village idiot, attempting to lend credibility to the national broadcast of a high school basketball game.

Naturally, their commentary centered exclusively on the exploits of James, the boy wonder who has already graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine in the past year. Such an approach is difficult to argue since the entire motivation behind the broadcast was to unveil this much-ballyhooed youngster to the nation.

Given the circumstances, one can excuse the entire evening’s preoccupation with James, and even tolerate the outlandish comparisons such as Vitale calling the St. Vincent- St. Mary’s senior a cross between Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, or Walton equating his competitive drive to that of Tiger Woods. After all, announcers have long fallen in love with the art of hyperbole.

Yet, it was the incessant nature of their analysis that made the broadcast almost unbearable. Not one trip down the floor could be spared without Dickey V launching into some soliloquy about what a special player we were privileged to watch. Even on occasions when James threw the ball away or bricked outside shots, which incidentally he did early and often, the pair saw fit to extol his virtues.

The result at times was downright comical. In the first half, following one of James’ several misses, Walton exalted him on the way he positioned his elbows when launching up a shot. Later, after James executed a simple behind the back pass during a 2 on 1 fast break, Vitale went into delirium screaming, “Are you Kidding Me!” at least three times before posing the question, “what player in the NBA could make that play?”

In the second half, when St. Vincent- St. Mary’s took control of the game en route to a 65-45 victory over Oak Hill Academy, the duo elevated their gushing to another level. At one point Walton actually uttered the phrase “Look at the way he stands!” For his part, Vitale claimed St. Vincent-St. Mary’s should give James the ball every time down the floor. And you wonder how Dickey V ever failed as a coach?

As expected, one of the evening’s recurring themes was the issue of high school players bypassing college for the NBA. For those concerned that James might not be mentally ready for such a drastic leap, Vitale offered his reassurance by explaining that James was fond of his mother and any player who likes his mother is extremely mature.

On this subject, Walton claimed he valued education too much and all the money in the world couldn’t make him forego his college experience. While several of Walton’s comments make you wonder exactly what education he is referring to, at least he adopted some sort of stance, which is more than we can say for his partner. As usual, Vitale waffled back and forth throughout the game, often arguing with himself.

At one point, the rambunctious one claimed college was not for everybody and if a player felt the pressure to take care of his family financially, he should have every right to bypass school. Conversely, Vitale expressed his desire for a rule similar to baseball that prohibits players from turning pro until after their junior season. He also lamented the plight of kids such as Omar Cook and Marcus Taylor who according to Vitale, “listened to the wrong people”, in opting to leave school prematurely.

The Cook reference was interesting since it was Dickey V himself who showered the former St. John’s guard with LeBron James-like praise during his first two games with the Red Storm. At the 2000 Pre-season NIT, Vitale screamed and yelled about the incredible talent Cook possessed and how he was destined for stardom at the next level.

No single person strokes these youngsters’ egos as much as Dick Vitale. By making them believe they are heroes before they’ve seen their first NCAA Tournament, he contributes to the unrealistic notions they have about themselves. Unfortunately, ESPN’s unconscionable decision to televise a high school basketball game afforded Vitale the opportunity to get a head start with James.

As the broadcast drew to a close, Vitale condemned the many characters he feels are out to exploit the young phenom, and encouraged James to surround himself with the right people. He couldn’t be more right.

One can only hope that LeBron James is smart enough to distance himself from the likes of Dick Vitale.


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