A Good Sports Weekend for Dads on Tap
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Sunday is shaping up to be a day of marathon and possibly record-setting sports watching. You've got the fourth round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship and that's followed by the fifth game of the NBA Finals.
Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us as he does most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. And Stefan, the marathon part of this equation I understand, but tell me why it might be record-setting.
Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Wall Street Journal): Well, because the U.S. Open Golf Tournament is being played in California. Now, the organizers pushed back tee times on Saturday and Sunday so that NBC could air the tournament well into prime time on the East Coast. The great part is that Tiger Woods is prime time material. So if he's in or near the lead, viewership is going to climb. Now, the biggest U.S. Open audience in the last 20-plus years was the last time Tiger won it, in 2002. You've got to go back to the early 1970s and Jack Nicklaus for larger audiences, and maybe it will.
NORRIS: Now, for those who've been counting, Tiger Woods is going for his 14th major championship, which would put him just four behind the record now held by Jack Nicklaus. As if he doesn't get enough attention, he was also paired with his clear rival, Phil Mickelson, in the first two rounds yesterday and then again today.
Mr. FATSIS: Same ideas as the prime time thing; draw more fans on TV, in this case for the first two days of the tournament, which aired on ESPN. Purists may see this as selling out to the interests of television. You could say it puts extra pressure on Woods and Mickelson they don't deserve. But pairing them meant possible drama and huge fairway crowds for their group, which looks great on TV.
NORRIS: Speaking of drama, let's go to basketball. The Boston Celtics broke a record last night. They trailed by 24 points. They overcame the greatest deficit in NBA Final's history since they began keeping track of such things and they beat the Los Angeles Lakers 97-91. Now, speaking of prime time, the game didn't start till 9:00 p.m. on the East Coast. Did you manage to stay up and watch the whole thing?
Mr. FATSIS: I did. And so apparently did a lot of other people. The quickie overnight ratings and certain markets were up 37 percent over the same game in the Finals last year, which is great. Now, I bet a lot of sets clicked off when the Lakers built their huge lead and then clicked back on when someone called or e-mailed to say, are you watching this? It was really a great game.
NORRIS: The win puts the Celtics up three games to one, one victory from a 17th NBA championship. Game five also starts at 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, so it might overlap with golf.
Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, Tiger and then Kobe. No team has ever comeback from a 3-1 deficit in an NBA Finals. Boston fans shouldn't start lighting up victory cigars in memory of Red Auerbach just yet. But if the Celtics do win, Boston will hold championships in baseball and basketball and only a miraculous completion by the New York Giants in the Super Bowl kept the city from being football's champions too.
NORRIS: Now, the Finals have, of course, been a dream match up for the NBA with the historic Celtics-Lakers rivalry. But the back story here has been the allegations by this disgraced NBA referee, Tim Donaghy, that the league wanted to extend playoff series in order to get better TV ratings.
Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, Donaghy is the former NBA ref convicted for his role in a betting scandal. He's facing sentencing. He's been cooperating with federal investigators, and now he's alleged that the league essentially has used its refs in the past to achieve preferable outcomes for games, and he's named particular games and other refs, including Dick Bavetta, a legend who's refereed more than 2,000 NBA games. The NBA's commissioner, David Stern, noted Donaghy's canny timing and his effort to get a sentence reduction, and he defended Bavetta and his other refs completely. No, a thousands times no, Stern said yesterday about whether the league ever manipulated games.
NORRIS: Yeah, but fans do love conspiracy theories.
Mr. FATSIS: Especially in the NBA, more than any other sport. Basketball is prone to them because of the nature of the game. More fouls are called; fouls can be called for varying levels of contact. There's a lot of discretion for referees. And home court always does seem to deliver a huge advantage, so there's a lot of inconsistency. There were even complaints in Games Two and Three of the current series about the refereeing. Now, Stern has said that the NBA has cooperated with authorities, conducted its own investigation, and will now go back and investigate some more. But this perception is going to linger, and the NBA, which is enjoying very good business times, can't afford to let it worsen.
NORRIS: Thanks, Stefan. Have a good weekend and Happy Father's Day.
Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.
NORRIS: That's Stefan Fatsis. He covers sports and the business of sports for the Wall Street Journal.