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From the couch: In-game interviews stink
Everyone has different work habits, but I suspect most people in the middle of a big career project don’t want to be grilled regarding how it's going a quarter, half or even three-quarters of the way through.
Yet that's the inane position players and coaches are now put in, as sideline reporters conduct interviews during every major break in the action, as evidenced during the current NBA and NHL playoffs.
Granted, hockey has been doing this forever, but that always struck me as more tolerable because of the way the periods are structured. Besides, I'm not a big puck fan, so maybe the whole practice is just kind of ... Canadian.
In the last few years, though, viewers have been exposed to a steady diet of such exchanges during basketball and football as well. The problem is that everyone involved — particularly the coaches, who almost invariably toss off the worst possible cliches while looking miserable and annoyed — seems to hate them.
At first, the impression is the practice represents a boon to sideline reporters, not just creating jobs but giving them a more active role in the telecasts. The more I watch, however, the more I begin feeling sorry for them, too. Because no matter what they ask — and the questions are never exactly SAT-test material — coaches view them as an irritant, and players sweat on them. Or maybe just seeing them repeatedly getting brushed off evokes too many memories of my high-school dating experiences.
Doris Burke's in-game chats don't add to the game. Garrett Ellwood/NBAE
In the NBA's Eastern Conference finals, backup guard Nate Robinson was asked how he could come off the bench and play so well. He immediately thanked everyone's favorite point guard, Jesus Christ, who apparently roots against the Orlando Magic.
"Contrary to what Jeff Van Gundy says, God does not hate the Boston Celtics," sideline reporter Doris Burke said in an awkward no-look pass, TV-style, back to ABC/ESPN’s main trio.
Not all coaches have readily gone along with this intrusion — perhaps, for some, because it publicly exposes how little substance they dispense to their players during timeouts.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson objected to allowing microphones into the huddle as a cheap reality-TV gimmick when it was first introduced in 2007.
"I’m very disappointed in my comrades for rolling over on this so easily," Jackson said of fellow coaches, calling mic’d up huddles "very Big Brother-ish." (Jackson’s a literate guy, so let’s assume he meant the Orwell book, not the CBS TV show.)
Jackson isn’t alone in approaching this outbreak of sideline pests with at best benign contempt. Maybe it’s an L.A. thing, since Pete Carroll — who recently left USC’s football program for Seattle — is a true master at conveying when questions are stupid and his desire to be elsewhere while still managing to sound cordial.
Jackson even chided Burke in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, when she began interviewing comic Chris Rock — strategically positioned next to the Lakers bench to promote his new movie — during the fourth quarter. ABC’s crew laughed it off by implying Jackson was miffed at Rock, not Burke for distracting his team.
To her credit Burke isn’t one of the prom-queen types who tend to overpopulate sidelines, but I’ll be damned if her brief chats have added anything to the coverage — eliciting nothing but the customary empty answers through two games.
At least her NHL counterparts serve a pragmatic function, providing a sponsorship opportunity as the telecast’s "Geico insiders."
Of course, this complaint isn’t entirely new. The Dallas Stars hockey blog, for one, rightly advocated abolishing timeout interviews, opining about the stilted exchanges, "It’s not the players’ fault. They get paid to play hockey, not to be deep and loquacious on camera when all they really want to do is just sit in the dressing room."
So blame the leagues for thinking such window dressing offers an enticement to casual fans, and pity everyone else involved as they appear to quietly cry out, "Gee, thanks for asking, but can we talk after the game?"