SBD/March 15, 2011/Media

CBS' Gus Johnson Draws Praise And Criticism For His NCAA Tourney Gig

Johnson also calls NFL, college football and boxing for CBS
Gus Johnson is "not CBS's top college basketball play-by-play announcer,” but the games he calls “feel like the most riveting events around,” according to Greg Bishop of the N.Y. TIMES. This has “gained Johnson a loyal following” as he prepares for the start of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament today. Syracuse Univ. Center for Television & Popular Culture Dir Robert Thompson said, “He seems better at responding emotionally to a sporting event than anybody I’ve heard. If he read ‘Hamlet,’ we’d all be into Shakespeare. It’s like when we sent a man to the moon and Walter Cronkite said, ‘Hot diggity dog.’” But Bishop notes Johnson’s delivery “also opens him to criticism: too much of a fan, tries too hard, does not prepare enough for broadcasts” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/15). In Pittsburgh, Bob Cohn noted Johnson “lends his voice to the NFL, college football, boxing and just about anything where there are winners and losers, including video games,” but “this is his time, March Madness.” Johnson's fans “embrace and reflect his enthusiasm, hanging on every chord change and decibel elevation.” Johnson, “loud and proud, offers no apologies.” Johnson: "I just want to have fun. I love basketball. It's so passionate. I love sports. I'm a fan.” Cohn wrote Len Elmore, Johnson's partner on CBS, is “more subdued,” an analyst and “self-described ‘second banana’ to Johnson” since ’03. Elmore acknowledged he has "never had a partner like Gus." He said that they “have a splendid chemistry, their contrasting styles working in harmony” (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 3/13).

RISE AND FIRE: Johnson called Saturday's Washington-Arizona Pac-10 tournament championship game, during which Washington G Isaiah Thomas hit a game-winning shot in overtime. In Seattle, Percy Allen wrote, "What a great call by CBS announcer Gus Johnson. The narration was nearly as good as Isaiah Thomas' brilliant playmaking. Loved it when Johnson said: 'Cold blooded'" (SEATTLETIMES.com, 3/12). Syndicated radio host Jim Rome said, “Every play-by-play guy develops his signature over time when a big shot goes in. … Gus Johnson goes with, ‘Aaaahhhh!’ The guy’s gotta file a trademark or a patent for that thing.” Rome: "You know how sometimes commentators are so bad or so annoying you have to watch the game with the sound off? Gus Johnson makes me want to watch the game with the visual off. … It’s like a symphony” ("The Jim Rome Show," 3/14). But in St. Petersburg, Tom Jones wrote he is “dreading listening” to Johnson and his “guttural screams every time someone makes a basket.” Jones: “Let’s hope he saves his inaudible yelling for the truly thrilling moments” (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/14).

HIS BARK BIGGER THAN HIS BITE? SI.com’s Richard Deitsch wrote fans should count on Charles Barkley to “criticize the NCAA during the tournament.” Barkley: “When we sat down before I took this job, I said, You know what, I love working for Turner, but this thing can't just be about the money. I need some reassurances that y'all are going to let me talk about the education thing privately and on the air. I'm concerned about them (the NCAA) not graduating these players. I met with the NCAA. I said, Let's have a dialogue about you guys graduating these players. We just gave these damn people $11 billion (officially $10.8 billion). I'm not going to go on a rant about where the money goes but we have an obligation to graduate these players.” Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy said of Barkley, “I will tell you this, as long as he is educated on what the situation is, where the money goes, where the athletes go next, when he is educated, I think he is very effective. We have done a lot of working with Charles about the sport and what is happening with college sports and where the money goes.” CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus said that “the rules for Barkley are the same as the rules for the other analysts.” McManus: "We don't put a muzzle on (our analysts)" (SI.com, 3/14).

BASKETBALL IS BASKETBALL: Barkley appeared on CBS' "The Late Show" last night, and host David Letterman discussed Barkley's role in the tournament coverage. Letterman asked, "Do you know anything about college basketball?" Barkley: "Basketball is basketball. I mean it's no different. It's all basketball. The toughest thing is trying to learn all the players, which I don't think I'm going to be able to do that anyway. It's 68 teams. Some of these guys think that because they know the players' name, they know something about basketball. They don't know anything about basketball, they just know the players' names" ("The Late Show," CBS, 3/14). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes the "influx of TNT announcers accustomed to the NBA raises a significant question: can they adapt quickly, intuitively and knowledgeably, to the college games at a crucial time of year?" Barkley "showed several gaps in his college basketball acuity on Sunday during the tournament selection show" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/15). In Sacramento, Scott Lebar wrote Barkley "may not know truTV, Joe Lunardi (ESPN bracketologist), or Noah Dahlman (Wofford forward), but he does know how to entertain all of them” (SACRAMENTO BEE, 3/14). But in N.Y., Bob Raissman writes unless Barkley "was sick" on Sunday during CBS’ coverage of the A-10 and Big Ten conference finals, “some brainiac likely instructed him to tone down his act." He was “subdued and deferential -- a colossal bore” (N. Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/15).
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