Greg Gumbel is a Rolling Stones fan. Bill Walton loves the Grateful Dead. Now, they’re traveling between Houston and San Antonio in a motor home they call the “Van Morrison.” It was a rock ‘n’ roll compromise.
“I couldn’t figure out a Rolling Stones name to give it, and I figured I’d get into an argument with Bill anyway because he’s such a Dead Head. So Steve Jones mediated,” Gumbel said, laughing.
Gumbel, Walton and Jones comprise the main part of NBC’s broadcast team on the NBA Western Conference playoffs, and they’re making the 200-mile trip between the two cities in their RV with reporter Hannah Storm, director John Gonzalez and others, totalling eight people, plus driver.
“Walton keeps asking to drive,” Gumbel said, “but before the driver can even answer, we all yell, ‘Nooooooo!’ Bill’s excuse is, ‘Well, I have an RV at home.’ We say, ‘Really?’ But he never uses it. His kids play in it, and he thinks this qualifies him to drive.”
If ever a bunch needed a designated driver.
Walton and Jones, who played together one year in the NBA at Portland, have developed a sort of Bugs Bunny-Daffy Duck relationship that carries over from TV to RV. It seems Walton likes to be waited on during these bus rides, claiming his 7-foot frame just doesn’t maneuver well in 35 feet of motor home.
“Waiting on Walton is a way of life,” Jones said. “Being tall is just an excuse. That’s a pretty big RV. The guy just loves to be catered to. He’ll find any exucse. There is a method to the Walton madness. If you’re not around it all the time, you’d think the poor lad is being tortured to death.”
Ratings get vertical
Talking about basketball, TV ratings are up across the board.
NBC’s playoff ratings are up 12 percent over last year’s after a drawing a whopping 11.3 and 20 share for Game 5 of the Western Conference series. That was the highest-rated Tuesday night NBA playoff game ever.
Through 17 playoff telecasts, NBC is averaging a 7.4 rating and 20 share, compared with 6.6-19 last year.
Turner Sports’ final numbers also are huge. Splitting a record 45 regular-season games between TNT and TBS, Turner did a 4.0 Nielsen cable rating, up a full point from the year before.
For five playoff games, Turner averaged 6.3, up 62 percent from last year. That’s 2.5 million households per game, another Turner record.
“A lot of people said they were concerned about what would happen when the Bulls lost and Michael Jordan was out of the playoffs,” Turner Sports president Harvey Schiller said. “But people forget that the game when he returned against the Knicks got a 5.1, and last week we were doing 6.3s and 6.4s without the Bulls.”
Now back to dad in the booth
Tom McNeely is sitting in the ESPN production truck outside some hockey arena when he gets the call from his boss. He’s won an Emmy Award as a producer on last year’s Stanley Cup coverage.
“The next day, the headline in the paper is, ‘McNeely to be Tyson’s First Opponent,”’ the producer said. “I win an Emmy, and my little brother steals my thunder.”
Peter McNeely, 26, who will fight Mike Tyson on Aug. 19, is 33-year-old Tom McNeely’s kid brother. Their father, Tom Sr., fought Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship, and grandpa was an Olympic boxer who fought on opening night at Boston Garden.
It goes on. First cousin Jeff Norton is a defenseman for the San Jose Sharks, and Norton’s little brother, Brad, an 18-yearold freshman at UMass-Amherst, has been drafted by the Edmonton Oilers.
Tom Jr., who will be producing the Eastern Conference series between New Jersey and Philadelphia, joined ESPN in 1989 as an associate producer after five years with New England Sports Network, where he produced several of his brother’s fights for television.
“I was quite fortunate to have my dad as color analyst,” McNeely said. “It was kind of fun hollering into the headset, ‘Hey, Dad, we’re going to run that replay now.’ So my brother’s in the ring, my dad’s at ringside, and I’m in the truck. It’s emotional, too. I got caught up in it. My brother’s slugging some guy, and I’m trying to call for the replays.”