Friday, April 17 (12:55 p.m.)
Season-Ending Interview With Nellie
Prior to the Warriors' season finale in Phoenix, I had the chance to sit down with Warriors Head Coach Don Nelson. During the interview, the second-winningest coach in NBA history talked about a variety of subjects related to the 2008-09 season, as well as what lies ahead for the organization and for himself. Check out Parts 1 and 2 of the interview below:
Friday, January 23 (11:08 a.m.)
What To Do When Leading By Three Late In The Game
do you think is the correct way to handle your defensive
assignment when holding a three-point lead with less
than 10 seconds remaining?
Sometimes in sports, strategy exists for so long that it remains unquestioned. "By the book" logic doesn't adjust for changes in the way the game is played. We see this all the time in various sports, i.e. bunting in baseball.
In 1968, the average runs per game in a baseball game was barely five (they eventually lowered the mound because pitchers were too dominant). Since runs scored were at such a premium, giving up an out for a base (provided you could execute the bunt properly) was a strategy that had some merit.
By 1998, the average runs per game had doubled to 10 and giving up an out for a single base is questionable strategy unless the batter hits under .200, like most pitchers in the National League. Yet managers still bunt runners over and fans think this is some type of genius move. In fact, it's been proven that giving up an out for one base actually DECREASES a team's chance of scoring in an inning. But that's baseball.
This leads me to a situation that occurs time and again in the NBA, a team leading by three points with 10 seconds or less left in a game. The trailing team has possession and the leading team has three scenarios which could occur. Yet most NBA (and almost all college teams) make a choice that gives them LESS of a chance of winning.
1. Play defense and hope the trailing team doesn't make a three-point shot to tie the game.
2. Foul immediately on the inbounds pass and put a player on the foul line.
3. Try to foul on the inbounds, but actually foul a player in the act of shooting, giving him three free throws.
But what are the percentages involved in these decisions? Let's go through all three and examine the outcomes.
1. Play defense and hope you don't give up a three-point shot.
First of all, the trailing team is going to take a three. And their best shooters are going to be taking that shot. In today's NBA, there are 60 players who shoot 38 percent or better on three-point shots (essentially two per team).
For the sake of even numbers, let's say a three-pointer is made 40 percent of the time in this situation. Tie game. Huge momentum swing. Giving up this shot means you almost always lose in overtime. Bad strategy. Also, you will notice that most teams have defensive players INSIDE the three-point line. This is even more questionable. You want to dare the trailing team to shoot a two-pointer, even if it's a dunk. That still gives you a one point lead and the ball under 10 seconds. Yet most NBA teams don't foul and keep their fingers crossed that a three isn't made … which it is, 40 percent of the time.
2. Foul on the inbounds, sending a player to the line.
Jamal Crawford has shown how important it is to foul a shooter before he gets a shot off. (photo: Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty)
Let's assume it's a good free-throw shooter. He makes the first free throw 80 percent of the time. But now he must miss the second free throw AND his team has to grab a rebound AND they have to make the putback shot.
The offensive team gets the rebound on a missed free throw only 10 percent of the time in the NBA. This is because the defensive team has inside position on the foul shots. And let's assume putback shots in this scenario are made at an 80 percent clip, probably high but it serves the purpose of the argument.
The probability of this scenario hurting the leading team is the likelihood of the three actions by percentage multiplied:
Made free throw 80% X Offensive Rebound of missed free throw 10% X Made putback shot 80%
This equals 6.4 percent. Less than a 1 in 10 chance.
Do you want a team to tie the game 40 percent of the time or 6 percent of the time?
3. Try to foul on the inbounds, get there late, get a bad call, whatever, foul a guy in the act of shooting, three free throws are awarded.
Well, what are the odds that player is going to make all three free throws?
Let's skew really high and say it's an 80 percent foul shooter.
Free throw one 80% X Free throw two 80% X Free throw three 80%
This equals 51 percent of the time that the player will make all three free throws.
playing defense with a three-point lead in the game's
closing moments, it's best to foul before the offensive
team can get a shot off. (photo: Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty)
This would be a disaster scenario made very unlikely if
all the defenders were OUTSIDE the three-point
line on the inbounds play, all trained to foul on the catch,
with five defenders guarding four offensive players as the
inbounder need not be guarded.
So to recap: With a three-point lead, under 10 seconds, there are three scenarios-
1. Play defense and hope not to give up a three-pointer - 40 percent of the time, you get a tie game.
2. Foul on the catch scenario - 6.4 percent of the time, you get a tie game.
3. Disaster scenario - Mistakenly foul on a three-point shot - 51 percent of the time, you get a tie game.
You could go further and say the foul on the catch strategy should be combined with the disaster scenario but even then, the foul on the catch strategy burns you less than 10 percent of the time.
For the record, Warriors Head
Coach Don Nelson is a proponent of fouling in this situation, despite the fact that the Warriors have given up late, game-tying threes on more than one occasion this year. In one of these games, January 11 versus Indiana, the Warriors gave up a game-tying three-pointer to Danny Granger with under five seconds remaining. The Warriors went on to win the game in overtime, but Nelson had this so say following the victory.
"We were lucky because we were in a foul situation with a three-point lead and five seconds to go. That’s an automatic foul."
I couldn't agree more with the NBA's second all-time winningest coach.
Keep this in mind the next time you watch a team choose
not to foul when holding a three-point lead with less than
10 seconds remaining. And ask why a coach would pursue a
strategy that fails four times as much as one that doesn't.
Sometimes, it's better to not go "By the Book" but throw the "Book" away when it gets outdated.
Tuesday, November 25 (9:37 a.m.)
Looking Into The Future
Stephen Jackson and Andris Biedrins are among the players who figure to bring the Warriors to the next level. (Rocky Widner/Getty Images)
It's understandable that during an NBA season people can't stop and take a look into the future. There is the immediate evaluation of a given game and then it's onto the next one.
But I see the Warriors future developing right before my eyes every night, little glimpses of the finished puzzle that is going to result in one very talented basketball team. A team that should be a factor in the Western Conference for years to come.
First, let's understand a few immutable laws about the NBA. If your top player is injured, your team will struggle. I don't care if it's Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Gilbert Arenas, Tracy McGrady or Deron Williams. Deeper teams can best withstand injuries for a little while but with only five players on the court, a key injury usually has a dramatic impact on a team's season.
The Warriors' most dynamic player is Monta Ellis. He keys their fast break, had the best field goal percentage of ANY guard in the league last year (53%), provides points in bunches, rebounds better than you would think and gives this team boundless energy. Any look at the Warriors without acknowledging the absence of Ellis is without merit.
So while crediting the current Warrior squad with showing character, being very competitive and battling in every game, it's pretty foolish to try and draw any long-term conclusions about this team currently.
Let's fast forward to mid-January (hopefully) and assess what the Warriors could look like going forward. There is a depth of talent, incredible versatility, amazing youth and length, with every player under contract beyond this year. Not too many teams in the NBA are in this situation.
The Warriors will surely get a lift when Monta Ellis returns to action. (Allen Einstein/Getty Images)
As an aside, I find it really funny to listen to chatter about "positions" with any Don Nelson team. Who is the point guard? What about a big man? Power forward? Please. When the Bulls were winning six titles, John Paxson and Steve Kerr were their "point guards." Did you ever see them dominate the ball, drive and dish? No. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen "initated" the offense. And they didn't have a true post up player in the frontcourt. They often put Jordan and Pippen on the block in the triangle offense. I also don't seem to remember last year's Celtics running isolation plays for Kendrick Perkins in the middle either.
It's more important to look at skill sets for players. Who can get to spots on the floor dribbling the ball? Who is a shooter? Who can make plays for himself or his teammates? Who runs the floor, defends or blocks shots? The incessant attempt to pigeon hole players by position with Don Nelson just indicates that you might not be watching the Warriors enough.
This is what is possible looking ahead for the Ws …
Guards - Monta Ellis, Jamal Crawford, C.J. Watson
All three can get to spots on the floor, all have the ability to pass but it's their threat as scorers that make the defense move, creating space and opportunity for their teammates. Crawford is a serious long-distance shooter, Watson a quick defender and Ellis a finisher like few others with the best mid-range game on the team. There is a reason I call Monta the "one-man fast break."
Wings - Stephen Jackson, Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Morrow, Anthony Randolph, Corey Maggette
There isn't a team in the league with this type of depth at these spots. Jackson is the team leader, a prideful defender, a surprisingly good passer for a forward (currently having to handle the ball far too much), a clutch shooter and has the ability to get to the foul line. Morrow is the best shooter on the team and can stretch a defense. Azubuike is a good slasher, tough rebounder, solid defender. Maggette is an excellent driver, a willing rebounder, a decent standstill shooter and gives his best as an undersized "power" forward when the Warriors go small. Randolph is an incredibly unique player. He can handle the ball, block shots, rebound and run like few players in the league his size. He is only 19. His post game, decision making and "young" mistakes will be a work in progress.
Brandan Wright's length, athleticism and continued improvement will make him a force to be reckoned with in the near future. (Rocky Widner/Getty Images)
Bigs - Andris Biedrins, Brandan Wright, Ronny Turiaf
Big is a relative term for this Warriors squad. They can field a lineup with scary length with Randolph, Wright and Biedrins or mix in Turiaf for pure energy, some bulk and a mindset to defend the basket. The Warriors have some scary shot-blocking ability (top three in the league). But this team is built to run so all its taller players have to be able to rebound, run the floor and move without the ball. They may get overpowered on a given night but with the ages in question (Biedrins 22, Wright 21, Randolph 19), their physiques will continue to develop. They will never be bulky, but Kevin Garnett is a perfect example that strength, length and agility work pretty well against sheer mass.
Now, that is a list of 11 players and most NBA teams play eight, maybe nine, in their regular rotation. That is why Don Nelson looks at every game individually, assesses matchup possibilities at every position and decides which players give the Warriors the best chance to win on a given night. On most nights, two of these core 11 will not see much playing time depending on the team's needs.
Moving forward, Jackson, Crawford and Maggette are the only three players over the age of 25 on this team. There will be growing pains, opportunities missed, mistakes made and roles better defined as the younger players feel the pressure of crunch time NBA play.
But the Warriors' future is just on the horizon. Even in its scattered state (due to the Ellis injury and just acquiring Crawford), you will be able to see rays of sunshine most every game.
Sunday, August 24 (11:25 p.m.)
Memories From Beijing
the extraordinary athletic performances to the elaborate
celebrations of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies,
the Olympics provided an infinite amount of memories.
(Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
There is some silver lining for both the American men's and women's water polo teams as they wrapped things up in Beijing. Two very different stories: The U.S. women came in ranked No. 1 in the world, already with a silver and bronze in the last two Olympics. They had the pressure of expectations and their gold medal hopes perished in the final 26 seconds of the championship match.
For the men, they finished 11th in the 2005 World Championships, 9th in the 2007 World Championships and yet won silver in Beijing. It was just an amazing run with such a collection of incredible stories that a Hollywood writer wouldn't even try to green light the script.
Memories of people and Beijing in general:
Terry Schroeder: Coach of the U.S. men's water polo team. Gentleman, leader, class and conviction. Maybe THE reason Team USA overachieved. Just a pleasure to cover his team.
Ryan Bailey: The monster center for Team USA, playing only nine months after his father had passed away unexpectedly. Unreal heart.
Three-time Olympian Tony Azevedo helped carry the U.S. men's water polo team to its first Olympic medal in 20 years. (Greg Wood/Getty Images)
Tony Azevedo: Every team needs a star. Three-time Olympian, captain and leading scorer with four goals in the final match against Hungary.
Wolf Wigo: My broadcast partner. Three-time Olympian, team Captain in 2004. A competitor, super human athlete, a scholar, a fun guy. A gold medalist as a person.
The Chinese people: Work ethic, sense of family, community, national pride. Organized beyond belief. There is much to be learned from China in many ways. Still need more creative thinkers and occasionally a sense of humor, but they put on a spectacular Olympic Games.
Olympic athletes: I don't know how they do it. Train for four years for that one shot at immortality. To be the best in the world. The dedication, the sacrifice, the pressure, the triumph, the failure and the ultimate world stage. Three Olympic assignments for me and I never get over the joy of the winners and the realization that there are no losers. Just imagine being in the top 10 of ANY skill on the planet.
I'll remember the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Bird's Nest, 35 Water Polo broadcasts in 14 days, men's volleyball, courtside Seats for the Redeem Team, shopping at the silk market, taxi hieroglyphics, the air, the blue sky days and our favorite, the Bellagio restaurant.
It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of NBC's coverage of the Beijing Olympics. It's just amazing where this business takes you sometimes.
Thursday, August 21 (11:12 a.m.)
Olympic Dreams And Nightmares
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh earned the gold medal after posting their 108th-consecutive victory. (Thomas Coex/Getty Images)
Rain, rain and more rain in Beijing. And when it rains, it pours - particularly in the misery department for several team members of the U.S. Olympic team.
I finally made it out to beach volleyball during the downpour that reminded me of the Bishop's round of golf in "Caddyshack." Apparently, they play beach volleyball in monsoons. I was curious to see Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh go for their 108th-consecutive victory and another gold medal. They faced an excellent Chinese team and the match was very tight with the Americans holding on for the title.
The toughest thing to do in sports is to accomplish what's expected of you. The pressure to perform, particularly as the favorite, can be overwhelming. I think that is what made Michael Phelps' going 8-for-8 so amazing. But even he needed to out-touch someone by .01 seconds and also Jason Lezak's amazing final leg in the relay.
But the dreariness of Beijing typified a women's softball dynasty losing, the American relay teams (men and women) both dropping the batons in track, Lolo Jones hitting the second-to-last hurdle when she was so obviously in the lead, and last, but certainly not least, the Team USA women's water polo squad losing in the gold medal game, 9-8, against the Netherlands.
Achieving what was expected of them proved to be too difficult of a task for the U.S. women's water polo team. (Adam pretty/Getty Images)
Now, to put this in perspective, the Dutch came into the game ranked ninth in the world and had gone 3-2 in the Olympic tourney going into the final against an undefeated American squad ranked No. 1 in the world. Somehow, the Dutch got off to a 4-0 lead in the first four minutes of the game. Maybe the heavily favored U.S. squad wasn't ready to play, but to their credit, they rallied back and had things tied at 5 at the half. Still, the U.S. couldn't find an answer for Danielle De Bruijn, who scored seven of the Netherlands' nine goals. Put it this way, she was 7-for-8 on her shot attempts and the rest of the Dutch squad was 2-for-23. Not guarding her tightly enough was a mistake that will haunt the U.S. team. De Bruijn scored the game-winning goal with 26 seconds left, virtually unguarded in the slot on a power play.
Team USA has now won a bronze and two silvers in the last 8 years, plus a gold in the 2007 World Championships. They have medaled in 11 of 14 international tournaments. It was an incredibly talented and dedicated squad that could have and probably should have won the gold medal in Beijing.
But doing what is expected is so difficult at times in sports, and this rainy day in Beijing just confirmed it again. It will be a long four-year wait for many of these athletes before they can make their bid for redemption.
Monday, August 18 (8:58 p.m.)
Having A Blast In Beijing
The U.S. women's water polo team has a legitimate shot at winning gold. (Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)
Water Polo has gone very well on the men's and women's front for Team USA, so the work part of being in Beijing is excellent.
Outside of work, I've been trying to make the most out of my free time while here in Beijing. We had dinner last night at our favorite Chinese restaurant (I guess here they just call them restaurants), Bellagio. We have eaten there so many times that they know the water polo crew and the dishes just start flying out. Amazing that you can eat everything you would ever want and it works out to about $15 per person. Thumbs up for Beijing.
Most of the track and field events are at night, so we hiked over to the Bird's Nest and on the way we found a volunteer with a golf cart. We got the royal treatment with the drive all the way to the athlete's entrance below the stadium.
Since Atlanta (1996), I have never been to a track and field event anywhere. Seeing that stadium packed with 91,000 people was just awe inspiring. Long jump, the women's pole vault, steeplechase, hurdles and 800 meters were all on the docket and everything seemed to be going on simultaneously.
Team USA swept gold, silver and bronze in the men's 400-meter hurdles. It's incredible to watch those guys run that distance and be so fluid over the hurdles. Steeplechase is apparently human equestrian. They run something like 1,500 meters while jumping over huge crossbars and then even have a jump with water in the landing area. Needless to say, the Kenyans dominate all the distance running.
Yelena Isinbayeva provided the highlight of the night by setting a world record in the women's pole vault. (photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)
The highlight of the night was the women's pole vault. An American won silver but the Russian vaulter, Yelena Isinbayeva, was able to best her for gold. With the Olympic victory secured, Isinbayeva had three tries at the Olympic record height. With all the other events done, the focus was completely on her. On the third try, she made it, and then she took a shot at the world record. The 91,000 in attendance were all fixated just on her as she missed the first two tries. Rhythmic clapping got her going for the third and final try, and she got over the bar for the new world record - 5.05 meters. Now, that was just fun to experience.
From the Bird's Nest, we made the short walk back to the hotel and had some time for some water polo prep. The American men's team continues to be the story in the pool, having advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 1992. Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle wrote a great piece today about just how far the men's team has come. The women also have a shot at a gold medal, so Beijing just keeps getting better and better.
Monday, August 18 (9:02 a.m.)
U.S Water Polo Teams Thriving In Beijing
The U.S. men's water polo team's win over Croatia on Saturday had a 'We Believe' feeling surrounding it. (photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Finally, two great days of weather in Beijing. While China has many incredible sights and its capital is really a remarkable city, two main qualifications for a great day are often lacking: quality air and drinking water. China still needs to work on those, but when it's sunny and what they call a "Blue Sky" day, life is pretty good.
Saturday was an amazing day in water polo as the American men's team had their best international win in 20 years, beating No. 1 ranked Croatia. The game had the feel of the Warriors' "We Believe" run of the 2007 NBA Playoffs. Team USA came up with another big win on Monday, beating Germany 8-7 and earning an automatic berth in the semifinals. The U.S. team is the surprise story of the men's tourney, as they came into the Olympics ranked ninth in the world. They have a shot at a medal, which is basically unthinkable.
The U.S. women's water polo team is on track to be involved in the gold medal hunt. They won their group and have a bye to the semifinals. One team the Americans won't have to worry about is China. The host country shocked nearly everyone with its play and even had a shot at a medal before falling earlier today to Australia in a 12-11 nail-biter to Australia. The 13th ranked team in the world, China's success is difficult to explain.
As for my travels, I finally found a great Italian restaurant called the Urban Courtyard. Real pasta and pizza. Now it was a bit odd getting there because you always have someone write the name of the place you are going in Chinese characters and give that card to the taxi driver. It never ceases to amaze me how in a city of 17 million, most drivers know where everything is located. Unfortunately, our guy had no idea. But to his credit, he kept calling the restaurant and somehow found it.
We were led up three flights of stairs, through some back alley, past a big screen TV and then magically to this really nice, upscale Italian restaurant. We had four people to serve us, we pantomimed the order - "Hey, I want this," and point to the menu. But then it took hours for the drinks and food to come. I'm not sure on the service end of things, particularly with all the manpower, but the food was quite delicious.
Then it was off to see Team USA take on Spain in Men's hoops, and I wish the story was as simple as that. I was able to direct my cab driver to the National Gymnasium, but apparently, he had been driving all day. We were on a major freeway going 25 mph with cars flying by us in both directions. Initially, I thought something was wrong with the car, but then I noticed in the rear view mirror that my driver was FALLING ASLEEP! Talk about panic. I was trying to think of how scary it would be to be involved in a major auto crash on a freeway in a foreign country with my driver passed out at the wheel and me trapped in the back seat.
I was able to wake him up and pointedly tell him to get me to see Yao Ming. That is the universal name that works here in Beijing. I have never been so relieved to get out of a cab and I realize the Big Rebounder in the sky must be watching out for me.
Monday's 106-57 rout of Germany was a laugher from the beginning. (photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Much to my good fortune, I ended up at center court, row 1, right on the floor, again. My colleagues cannot believe the treatment I get at the basketball venue. I caught the second half of China vs. Germany - Yao and Yi vs. Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. Just great stuff with Yi hitting the biggest jumper of his life and Nowitzki missing a game-tying three. It was the most animated I had ever seen Yao and I know this win meant everything to him. My old friend Donnie Nelson (yes, Don's son) is an assistant on the Chinese team, so it was fun watching him on the sideline, the GM of Dallas, trying to stop his best player on the Mavs, to help the Chinese get into the medal round.
Team USA rolled past Spain with Kobe knocking over Pau Gasol on a screen 30 seconds into the game. Teammates? Not internationally. Spain has several NBA players and a new kid, Ricky Rubio that is going to be really good. But the American hoopsters are on a roll right now and I don't see how anyone can stop them. Today's blowout of Germany served as further proof to that.
After Saturday's contest, I enjoyed a much less harrowing cab ride home from the Gymnasium. Note to self: non-sleeping cab drivers from now on.
Wednesday, August 13 (3:41 a.m.)
Witnessing Olympic History
Michael Phelps earned his 10th-career Olympic gold medal by setting a world record in the 200-meter butterfly.
There is no doubt that even with the amazing Opening Ceremonies and the Chinese goal of besting the United States in the medal total, that the Beijing Olympics right now belong to Michael Phelps. He is Elvis and the Beatles all rolled into one.
With our water polo telecasts beginning at 1 p.m., the timing was perfect for me to check out some history being made. Phelps was slated to swim the 200-meter butterfly and the 4 X 200 relay in the same morning session, giving him the chance for his 10th and 11th career gold medals that would break the previous record of nine. This was THE day to be at the Water Cube.
Normally, all the broadcast credentials get you into most events, but the Beijing operations people have figured out that a ton of media members with no work responsibilities were going in just to see Michael Phelps. In fact, there are 16,000 media members here from all over the world and only 15,000 athletes.
So even NBC people had to get tickets or organizing committee passes just to get in to see Phelps try and make history. Being somewhat resourceful, I was able to get into the venue with our water polo group. Next decision, where to watch?
In the endzone of the swimming pool, there is a special stage for Bob Costas and his anchoring of NBC's prime time show. And yet, it was empty for some reason. So my partner Wolf Wigo, our stat man Russ Haffercamp, Ted Robinson and I set up shop. Eventually, we were joined by Chris Collinsworth and several other NBC personnel, but I assure you, there was no better place to be watching swimming today in Beijing.
Kobe Bryant sat poolside to watch Phelps make Olympic history on Wednesday morning.
OK, maybe one better spot. That was poolside with Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Carlos Boozer and other members of Team USA. It was great to see the basketball guys taking in the Olympic experience and there was definitely a sense of anticipation in the building.
I don't need to tell you that Phelps dominated. Two more gold medals, his 10th and 11th of his Olympic career, and two more world records. And my favorite moment of any Olympic games, the medal ceremony with the Stars and Stripes being raised to the rafters with "The Star-Spangled Banner" being played. Few moments in sports are better.
Sure, we have plenty of differences in our country and plenty of problems to overcome. But thousands of miles from home, you appreciate living in the greatest country in the world and you unite with U.S. citizens everywhere.
Michael Phelps now has more gold medals than anyone in the history of the Olympic Games, and he's far from done. I was glad I was there to see it. I'll apologize to Mr. Costas later for sitting in his seat.
Tuesday, August 12 (6:10 a.m.)
Living The Dream
Bob's broadcasting marathon opened with him calling 10 water polo games in three days.
You become a broadcaster because you like to talk - a lot. You get used to the sound of your own voice, and it becomes odd when you don't use it extensively for a day. Day after day, month after month, always preparing for some game, some event, some show, somewhere. Talking. For a living. It doesn't get much better.
I have been so fortunate to realize all of my childhood dreams. Talking about basketball, the NBA and college. Talking about football, the NFL and college. Hosting a talk show for 12 years on KNBR and counting, being with the Warriors for 15 years and counting. Hundreds of NFL, Arena and college football games. Now, my third Olympics: Atlanta (swimming), Athens (basketball) and Beijing (water polo). Lots of talking, lots of games, lots of places, lots of names - from Monta Ellis to Veljko Uskokovic.
Fortunately, I am not jaded by this business. I still get a kick out of seeing Matt Lauer at breakfast, or spending time with Doug Collins, bumping into Bob Costas on an elevator or listening to Tom Brokaw opine about China. They are the best in my business and I am so lucky to be here in Beijing, one of the privileged 50 or so broadcasters to work these 2008 Olympic Games. Paid to be here, to talk.
Now, the last three days has been my own mini-Olympic event. Ten water polo games in three days. Three men's games Monday, four women's games Tuesday and three men's games Wednesday - a marathon beginning a two-week tournament. Twelve men's teams, eight women's teams, 13 athletes per team, plus a coach. Add it all up and there are 280 names, personal backgrounds, histories and story lines. And there are still 11 more days to go. Lots of studying, with the goal to sound like water polo is a sport you have been around your whole life. So you can speak with authority. To honor these competitors who have trained their whole lives to be here with the type of telecast that their commitment and their excellence deserves. And to share this sport with so many that may never have seen it while explaining just how difficult it is to be this good at any one thing.
Broadcasters constantly want to be at their best because an athlete's defining moment can happen at any time.
When you are a play-by-play broadcaster, all the studying in the world is not going to help you identify players, pick up on strategy, set up your analyst and describe the action. It can't be taught. You can either do it or you can't. Calling games over two decades, it becomes like breathing. The NBA, the NFL, Arena Football, college hoops, college football, Olympic broadcasts; you want to be at your best at every moment because you never know when THE moment will come. The split second when some athlete does something incredible. A convergence of skill, surrounding, event and timing that can never be repeated. The Olympics are full of these moments. And while some become etched in sports history, every athlete that ever began training in any discipline dreams of their Olympic moment, just getting here separates them from almost all of the world's population. Thankfully, they need people to broadcast these events.
While most of us will never have a medal, I can tell you that having a microphone can sometimes be the next best thing.
Friday, August 8 (11:08 a.m.)
Seeing The Forbidden City And Opening Ceremonies
After spending the day at the Forbidden City, Bob attended Friday's opening cermonies.
8/8/08 at 8pm and 8 seconds, the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympic Games in Beijing got underway. 8 is the luckiest number in Chinese culture as the pronunciation is very similar to the sound of the word for “prosperous” or “success.”
Earlier on Friday, I went to the “Forbidden City,” the home of the Emperor of China from 1400 until 1924. With 9,999 rooms, this sprawling complex was absolutely fascinating. After Chairman Mao took over, he had an apartment right next to the Forbidden City and rather than tear it down, he expanded next to it with the largest public square in the world, Tiananmen Square.
Given the special day, all workers were given the day off and the crowds were incredible. I learned about the final Chinese Emperor, Puyi, who is featured in the movie the “Last Emperor”. After he was overthrown, he was sent to prison for “re-education” for 15 years to learn how to become a regular citizen, and then became a gardener in the Botanical Gardens. As he had no children, the Royal bloodline is gone and there will never be another Emperor of China.
After Tiananmen and the Forbidden City, it was time for the bargaining of the Silk Market. Once an outdoor market with all types of clothing and jewelry, it has now been moved into a huge five-story building. The back and forth of negotiating prices in China is only to be outdone with the physical contact. The vendors actually block your way and prohibit you from leaving their store. I definitely could have used Andris Biedrins or Ronny Turiaf for boxing out and rebounding position.
I was able to get a family “chop” stamp with the Chinese characters for my last name and did very well on several silk ties that will be featured on the Warriors telecasts this year.
While hustling back for the Opening Ceremonies, I ran into Carol Lewis, an Olympian in her own right, who will be doing Track and Field commentary for NBC. She beckoned me to the top of the stairs on the second floor to introduce me to her brother - one of the most famous Olympians ever, Carl Lewis (at our hotel for a Nike function).
Carl is one of only four people with nine gold medals, the Olympic record. And he still looks like he could compete today. Lewis will be in the news in the next few days, as Michael Phelps is very likely going to bypass Lewis and Mark Spitz and set the new individual gold medal mark.
The tourism portion of Beijing is basically done for me. It’s now time to broadcast these games for NBC. After the incredible spectacle of the Opening Ceremonies, I am now anxious to see which country wins the medal battle. The rivalry between China and the U.S. on the medal stand for the top spot in gold and overall medals has just begun.
Thursday, August 7 (10:12 a.m.)
Getting Prepared And Seeing Some Familiar Faces
On Thursday, Bob attended Team USA Water Polo practice and ran into the USA Men's Basketball Team.
There were lots of familiar faces in different places today in Beijing. I’ve been getting ready for our three telecasts on Sunday, and over 35 throughout the Olympic Games (check out NBCOlympics.com for listings). Thursday gave me a chance to attend Team USA practice.
The men’s team is set up at Beijing Normal University (no idea if there is an “abnormal” university, stupid comment but it was there). Fortunately, Team USA coaches and players have made themselves very accessible to our NBC personnel, so going behind the scenes was pretty easy.
Then, a huge commotion occurred as we were entering the complex as the Team USA men’s basketball team arrived at the same time. It was fun to see Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade (fellow White Sox fan), Carlos Boozer, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul and so many of the NBA support group that travel with the team.
After the obligatory, “What are you doing here?”, it was a chance to talk informally about Beijing and about how they see this Olympic tournament playing out. The NBA is a pretty tight-knit fraternity, and it’s special to be a small part of it.
But what impressed me the most after the water polo practice is that the NBA guys took the time to take photos and make small talk with our men’s water polo team. Previous “Dream Team” squads were rightly critiqued on many areas of their Olympic etiquette, but the members of the “Redeem Team” have their heads and hearts in the right place.
They want the gold medal, but they appreciate representing our country and also seem to acknowledge what it means to other athletes to wear the USA logo, too. For the water polo guys, I know it meant a great deal. It will be a highlight they talk about for a long time.
Bob's broadcasting partner, Wolf Wigo, was the Team USA Captain at the 2004 Olympics.
Side note - my color commentator, Wolf Wigo (three-time Olympian, Captain in 2004, Stanford grad), was at practice with me. After doing our background information interviews, his former teammates started asking if he would join practice. See, they have 13 guys on an Olympic team, but usually divide the pool into seven-man drills. Being a man short, grabbing their former captain seemed like the right thing to do. So Wolf put on the Speedo, jumped in and practiced.
Before you ask, no that does not happen with Jim Barnett. Don’t get me wrong, Jim can still shoot with anyone, but he isn’t going full court with our Warriors anytime soon.
After that odd but fascinating detour, it was time for the women’s scrimmage of Team USA/ Australia at the Ying Dong Natatorium. The venue is ready to roll, and we watched a lot of the scrimmage from our broadcast position and then spent time with Guy Baker, the women’s head coach.
It was a busy day but a great one, all leading up to what should be a fascinating next couple of weeks. But being far away from home, you cherish the familiar, and today was also a subtle reminder that another NBA season really isn’t that far away.
Tuesday, August 5 (3:50 p.m.)
Climbing The Great Wall
In China to cover the 2008 Summer Olympics, Bob Fitzgerald took a field trip on Tuesday to the Great Wall.
It's always a good day when you visit one of the "Wonders of the World," and the
Great Wall certainly qualifies as one of those.
Built over a 2,000-year period, the Wall's original purpose
was to unite the country and protect them from marauding
Mongolians. Most people have heard of Genghis Khan, but
it was his grandson Kublai Khan that actually founded Beijing.
Called Dadu at the time, the birth of Beijing ushered in
a Mongolian dynasty that subjugated the Chinese. Once the
Mongolian emperors had been removed, the Chinese dynasties,
starting with the Ting, wanted to protect its northern border
and thus, the beginning of the building of the Wall several
hundred years B.C.
Enough history. We took a small tour bus with our whole
water polo broadcast crew and drove over an hour outside
of Beijing. Seeing the countryside you get a really good
idea of what rural China was really like before the construction
boom that has made Beijing a city of 17 million people.
Bikes, farms, lush forest, people relaxing on roadside corners
talking, laughing and selling produce. Very different from
the density and congestion of downtown.
There are several places to go up to the Great Wall. Badaling is sort of the Disney Land of Great Wall visits - very commercialized, easier hike, closer to the city. We went on the road less traveled to a place called Mutianyu. Now, they still have their souvenir shops, but it is much less crowded and you get quite the cardio workout to get to the Wall.
From Mutianyu, we took a ski lift-like gondola to the
base of the Wall and then it's time to climb. The Wall is
20 feet wide, three stories tall and stretches 3,000 miles
(right, the width of the entire United States). We chose
to go from tower 14 to tower 20, which is about a four-mile
hike. Problem is, the Wall is built up and down huge mountain
peaks (think Sierra Nevadas), and our climb was about 1,000
vertical feet. That's 100 stories, or a 10-story building
10 times, and that's just one way. Throw in temperatures
in the 90s and the humidity about the same and it's an amazing
challenge just to make the trek. Plus, stairs are built
at odd heights and widths and are centuries old, so the
footing is always a bit precarious.
I wouldn't mind if they
built the Great Guardrail because there is nothing to hold
onto as you climb. One fall would send you tumbling down
hundreds of feet. Needless to say, you welcome the flat
sections between turret climbs with a sense of relief.
Upon reaching the Wall, I tried to get a sense for the thousands of people it took to build this structure, but I could never get over the wonderment at how difficult the location and enormity of the project must have been. I spent time just gazing out of the guard turrets thinking that any Mongol army that even made it up into the mountains would have been so fatigued that the idea of fighting would have been laughable. Of course, staring at a 30-foot high wall that spanned miles in both directions would have ended any idea of invasion as well.
We have very few days in our lives that stand out and
leave a lasting memory forever, but I will always remember
the day I climbed the one and only Great Wall.
Monday, August 4 (9:19 a.m.)
Blogging From Beijing
While at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Bob Fitzgerald will be calling the water polo action from the Ying Tung Natatorium.
So what is an NBA basketball play-by-play broadcaster doing in Beijing doing water polo for NBC Sports as the network gets ready to put on the 2008 Summer Olympic Games?
Um, name some famous Water Polo broadcasters? Exactly. Fortunately for me, some people at NBC appreciate the Warriors telecasts and they have given me the opportunity to call the Men's and Women's Olympic tournament here in Beijing. This is my third Olympics - Atlanta (swimming), Athens (basketball) and now Beijing (water polo). Our broadcasts begin on August 10th (Check out NBCOlympics.com for all the details) but I am already here in Beijing.
What is amazing is that a huge amount of the NBA on-air talent is involved in the Olympics. I was on the same flight with TNT broadcaster Doug Collins and ABC and Knicks broadcaster Mike Breen is here as well. Toss in Chris Marlowe (Nuggets), Paul Sunderland (formerly of the Lakers) and various team producers and you can have a pretty good NBA conversation at the NBC hotel.
During one of my recent radio broadcasts on KNBR, I spoke to Mike Breen. To listen to the interview, click here.
While I won't presume anyone wants my breakdown of the water polo scene, I will be tossing out some random Olympic thoughts in the next few weeks and give you an idea of the city of Beijing and the country of China from one humble TV/radio guy's point of view.
I will say that in addition to my work, I am absolutely here to see Team USA win the gold medal in basketball. Having called all the basketball in Athens, I was more than a little disappointed that we didn't send a "team" of players in 2004 and became exasperated with some of the international press when they disparaged the NBA talent level when Team USA settled for the bronze.
Fortunately, Jerry Coangelo has put together a terrific Team USA this time, with real point guards, outside shooters, guys willing to play defense (Kobe has been unreal) and enough size to represent the best of U.S. basketball. Can't wait to see Chris Paul, Kobe, LeBron and Carmelo represent our country in the sport that we basically invented.
Anyway, lots of broadcast meetings and logistical stuff today, a tour of the Great Wall tomorrow. I'll jump on the laptop as much as I can as I have Warriors thoughts just about every day.
Bob in Beijing …
P.S. If anybody has any extra clean air lying around, please send it this way! The "Haze" in Beijing is indescribable.
For more coverage, view the
Fitz Files Archive
WARRIOR GIRL BLOG
2010 DRAFT BLOG
2010 SUMMER LEAGUE BLOG