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James-Durant in NBA Finals May Even Excite Buffalo


I was rooting for LeBron James and the Miami Heat in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics.

Jeff Van Gundy

Jeff Van Gundy: Even Better Analyst Than Coach

There I said it.

I don’t think I was alone. But in many parts of the basketball world, LBJ has remained a villain because he left his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for the Heat two seasons ago and foolishly did it on an hour TV show called “The Decision.”

I was rooting for him to make it to the finals against Oklahoma City for a few reasons. First, he’s a fantastic basketball player who I love to watch. Second, I can’t think of a better finals TV matchup than the one that begins at 9 tonight on ABC (Channel 7 here) against OKC and its   humble superstar Kevin Durant.

Third – and perhaps most importantly – I just got tired of WGR’s Mike Schopp and all the people beating up on James for something many people think he essentially has apologized for doing — declaring his Cleveland exit on “The Decision.”

Give the guy a break.

In a way, he’s gotten one in the finals against Durant and OKC, which should even get a hockey town like Buffalo excited.

Actually, the Heat-Celtics series – which had the highest NBA overnight rating in cable history with a 9.1 — even got Buffalo excited. The Heat’s game 7 win Saturday had an impressive 6.5 rating locally on ESPN despite being played opposite New Jersey’s game 5 win over Los Angeles in the Stanley Cup finals. The hockey game barely won that head-to-head decision in this hockey town despite having the advantage of being on a broadcast network (NBC). The local rating for the Cup game on Channel 2 received a 7.2 rating.

Looking at those ratings, it is easy to conclude that the local media is underplaying the NBA in this town. That includes the Buffalo News, which is so heavily focused on hockey and local sports coverage that it has carried its wire service game coverage of classic NBA games on the inside pages of its sports section. James’ incredible 45-point explosion in the Heat’s game 6 win over the Celtics was one of the greatest performances ever and deserved much bigger play. Thank heaven for Buffalo News columnst Jerry Sullivan, the one big NBA fan in the local media.

There is an extra reason to root for James in the NBA Finals. It’s the reason I think he’s been given a break. He’s an underdog, along with the Heat. That was clear if you listened to the NBA analysts on TNT and ESPN during the conference finals. Almost everyone had OKC as the heavy favorite because they supposedly are younger, faster and deeper than the Heat.

The underdog role the Heat is in got me thinking. Will the heat finally be off James and will it make it easier for him to relax in his second straight NBA finals?

So I asked Jeff Van Gundy, the ESPN and ABC analyst who is working the series alongside the vastly under-rated play-by-play man Mike Breen. 

Van Gundy, who is a better analyst than he was a coach (and that’s saying something), didn’t exactly answer during the conference call but at least wasn’t at a loss for words.

“We always look at those psychological things,” said Van Gundy. “I have no idea. I don’t think anyone else does… The thing is that’s what he’s really had to deal with. It’s unfortunate.”

Then Van Gundy went on to praise James and note that people unfortunately forget all that he has achieved since joining the NBA out of high school. That includes winning three MVP awards and making it to the finals three times.

He added that the two previous losses in the finals that James and his teams (he lost once with Cleveland) suffered came against high quality opponents. The Cavs lost to the San Antonio Spurs and the Heat lost last year to an incredible performance by Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.

Van Gundy believes that James’ performance in the final two games of the Celtics series was defining. “It showed what a great leader he is as well as a great player,” said Van Gundy.

Van Gundy, who grew up in Brockport, isn’t among those who view the winner of the James-Durant head-to-head matchup as the winner of the series.

“It is certainly interesting,” said Van Gundy of the matchup. “But one could out-play the other and still lose.”

That’s because basketball is a team game and on paper OKC has the better team. I’m still rooting for LeBron. But I wouldn’t be unhappy if the extremely likable Durant (who is a much better outside shooter than James) and OKC won as expected. This is one series in which a NBA fan can’t lose.

ABC’s studio team includes former NBA referee Steve Javie, who had to retire after 25 years because of knee problems. ABC brought him in because of all the controversy surrounding officiating during the season and playoffs. It’s a good move. Van Gundy likes it, too, since he considers Javie such an exceptional ref that he believes the league would be better off if he was allowed to referee “on a segue” to spar his knees.

Channel 4 and sports director John Murphy made it official today. His last day at the station is July 25 and he’ll start working for the Buffalo Bills with a new nightly WGR radio show on July 26, which just so happens to be the start of the Bills training camp. He’ll also do features for the team’s website.

Finally, the move to the Bills has a date

“I’m really excited going back to radio,” said Murphy, who began his broadcast career in local radio. “This (his job with the Bills) is  a dream job dealing with the National Football League and the Bills.”

“I’m grateful to the people I worked with at Channel 4 for four and a half years and I enjoyed my experiences a great deal.”

WGR and the Bills are expected to officially announce the radio show at about 4:30 p.m. this afternoon..

I was at Shea’s seeing “Memphis” Sunday again so I missed the first few hours of the Tony Awards on CBS. There is a big theater crowd here so I don’t get why it doesn’t attract a larger audience in Buffalo. The broadcast only had a 4.6 rating on Channel 4. BTW, I thought the touring version of “Memphis” was every bit as good as the version I saw on Broadway months earlier.

Good line by NBC play-by-play man Mike Emrick after The Kings clinched the Stanley Cup Monday night: “The Kings are the Kings!”


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