Bruce Hooley
Bruce Hooley

Bruce Hooley was sports editor of the Troy Daily News from 1983-86 and has covered Ohio State athletics for more than 25 years. Bruce was the OSU beat reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland from 1987-2005.  From 2005-2011 he hosted the afternoon show on  ESPN radio 1460 AM,  in Columbus, and recently took another ESPN talk position on WKNR, 850 AM, in Cleveland.  In addition to his contribution to Press Pros Magazine, Hooley is a regular columnist for FoxSportsOhio.com.

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If anyone questions the relevance of the NBA and the championship Finals, just listen to the people the network(s) pay to talk about it.

Cleveland - I’m having shoulder replacement surgery in November, and I only wish the gang from Kia NBA Countdown could favor me with their on-site, pre-operative analysis.

I figure, with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, Magic Johnson and Chris Broussard in the room, chattering incessantly, I’ll be sleeping so soundly I can skip the anesthesia and save a little money.

The confluence of a 24-hour sports network with the contract to broadcast the NBA finals on a sister network, ABC, has turned the Miami Heat-Oklahoma City Thunder matchup in the NBA finals into a blathering bore-fest.

As with all things ESPN, nothing is ever just about the game and the strategic nuances therein, it’s about the personalities and the wild generalizations that sprout from the obsession with those personalities.

Johnson – who should know better, given his career in NBA—said before Game 4 that “Kevin Durant has to stay on the floor for 48 minutes for Oklahoma City to win this game.”

Sure, grinding your star into the dust by playing him every second and deviating from a season-long substitution pattern that got you to the finals would definitely be the way to go.

Barry, who’s less offensive than Johnson or the clownish, self-important Wilbon, said the Heat’s advantage in the series traces to “LeBron James and the attitude he’s brought to this team.”

Yep, that choking-in-big-moments, preening-for-every-call-when-breathed-upon attitude, if only we could bottle that and sell it.

Broussard actually brings an informative nugget from time to time, but he’s so marginalized by the other three mouthpieces that he might as well be wearing a muzzle.

Broussard accurately noted Tuesday that James and Dwyane Wade took the same number of shots in the playoffs last year, and that Wade deferring to LeBron has helped the Heat become a better team.

That was the only element of substance in a 30-minute pre-game show filled with the obligatory bow to Miami’s glitz, glitter and all things King James.

Wilbon puffed up and said, “I’d like to find some fresh new angle, but that’ not the answer. The answer is LeBron James.”

Really? The answer isn’t how to get James Harden involved for Oklahoma City, or why OKC coach Scott Brooks hasn’t found the defensive solution that he located in the Western Conference finals against San Antonio? It’ isn’t about Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier hitting shots they didn’t hit throughout most of the Eastern Conference playoffs, or Chris Bosh giving Miami a huge force inside that was absent in the Indiana series?

Riiiiight, it’s all James and not at all about Russell Westbrook shooting so much Kevin Durant gets too few field goal attempts.

Instead, it’s Wilbon’s contention that James will win a title and Durant won’t because he “hasn’t suffered like Dirk Nowitzki did last season.”

Can someone cite the NBA bylaw that requires suffering before winning a first title? I doubt Magic can, since he won the crown as a rookie in 1980.

Ultimately, I wonder why I should listen to Wilbon, Barry or Johnson when they clearly aren’t listening to themselves. After Game 4, everything the three of them said pre-game was sucked out of their brains and never addressed post-game.

Instead, Wilbon and Johnson raged about Westbrook’s 43 points representing one of the finest performances in NBA playoff history.

Neither re-visited their pre-game comments about the need for Westbrook to sublimate his own offense to get Durant or Harden involved.

Here is what Wilbon said pre-game:

“I don’t want to see Kevin Durant having 18 or 19 shots in this game. You have to ride your star player . I don’t think 25 or 26 shots is too many.”

Durant took 19 shots.

And Wilbon afterward?

Not a peep about it.

Former Buckeye beat writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Bruce Hooley is a regular contributor to Press Pros Magazine and the afternoon host for ESPN radio on 850 AM, WKNR, in Cleveland.

Likewise, neither Wilbon nor Johnson acknowledged Westbrook’s defensive gaffes in the final minutes, when he allowed both Wade and Chalmers to drive for crucial layups, Westbrook dribbling the ball off his foot out of bounds with the Thunder in front, 94-92, or his brain cramp in fouling Chalmers after a jump ball when the shot clock ticked toward expiration.

Those failures get to the root of the problem with the over-analysis that permeates ESPN’s coverage of the NBA playoffs. Now that TNT’s crew of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal have gone fishin’, they’ve taken the No. 1 characteristic that distinguishes them as the best studio show in the business with them.

The TNT guys don’t tell you what happened; they tell you why it happened.

On ESPN, they prattle endlessly about, “what,” but never about, “why.”

And the, “why,” is presumably why these guys have their jobs in the first place.

Either that or to put me sleep.

Bruce Hooley is a former sports editor of the Troy Daily News and the author of “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”
Bruce hosts The Hooligans from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR in Cleveland. Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

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