Broadcaster of the Week: Ralph Lawler, L.A. Clippers
Posted Nov 15 2006 4:09PM
I’ve been at this for a long time. This is my 28th year with the Clippers and there were a couple of seasons before that with the 76ers in Philadelphia and a season in the old American Basketball Association with the short-lived San Diego Sails.
The game and the acceptance of pro basketball has changed dramatically in the past 30 years, but then, haven’t we all?
As far as the sport is concerned, just about everything has changed except the ball. Oh wait...I guess everything has changed. Back in the ABA., the players used to wear so much jewelry that the courtside Brink’s guard was almost named league MVP. It was Afros and gaudy neckwear that characterized the colorful association as much as its red, white and blue basketball. The game changed enormously with the merger of the ABA and the NBA in 1976. The focus on the established league was more sharp and the best players in the world were now unquestionably in the re-shaped 22-team National Basketball Association. Another big change came when the ABA’s 3-point field goal was adopted by the NBA in 1979. In the NBA’s first season with the 3-point shot, Brian Taylor of the San Diego Clippers led the League with 90 3-pointers made. Last season, there were 58 NBA players who made more than 90 3-pointers.
The League changed the game most significantly with its penchant for marketing its star players. The merger helped by bringing Julius Erving into the league. “Dr. J” was no more than a mysterious legend to most basketball fans until he began playing on the big NBA stage with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1976. He immediately became the league’s most marketable player. Before Erving, the league was best-known for its great teams: the Minneapolis Lakers of the '50s, Boston Celtics of the '60s and the New York Knicks of the early '70s. With the debut of Dr. J in Philadelphia, the NBA became a star league. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson came along at the right time in 1979. Michael Jordan followed and then came Shaquille O’Neal. Today’s game is symbolized by the new-breed stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The NBA marketing machine has turned these young players into international celebrities.
Most of the remaining credit goes to television, a medium that knows a good thing when it sees one. Back when the Clippers moved West to California in 1978, the NBA game was still an afterthought to traditionalists who followed Major League Baseball, the NFL or major college sports. The national television schedule consisted of games tape-delayed to 11:30 at night. Now, between ABC, ESPN, TNT, NBA TV and NBA League Pass, live NBA games are available nationwide and live every night of the season. Not only is this great for the fans, but it has worked out pretty well for the players and coaches. The mushrooming TV rights fees have allowed salaries to soar to unimagined heights. Dozens of players today earn more money in a single season than the typical NBA team was worth in the 1970s. The players have truly achieved rock star status.
The League has worked tirelessly to polish and protect the image of the game and its players. Some of the rules and codes of conduct are accepted grudgingly at first, but in the end result, the game looks better and is imroved with each passing season.
It has been my great joy and privilege to watch the game evolve. In my youth, it was just a bunch of nearly anonymous white guys named Pettit and Arizin and Yardley who we might see in their short shorts once a week on a Saturday afternoon on black and white TV. Now, in living color and often in High Def, we get the greatest athletes from all races and all corners of the world competing in these magnificent new NBA arenas. I can’t wait for the next game.
Known almost as much for his catchphrases of "Bingo!," "Fasten Your Seatbelts" and "Oh me, Oh my," as for his extensive body of work behind the microphone, Ralph Lawler is synonymous with Clippers basketball. Entering his 28th season, the "Voice of the Clippers" will handle play-by-play duties for all televised games on KTLA the CW and FSN Prime Ticket and on the Clippers' flagship radio station, 710 ESPN, for all non-televised contests.