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Orlando Gives Crew Earache

Perhaps you had to cup your ears or jack up the volume on your TV set over the last few nights to hear Marv Albert’s trademark “Yesss” during NBC’s coverage of the NBA championship series.

Part of that is because the Marvelous One is suffering the effects of a sore throat. The other part is that Albert and his two analyst partners, Matt Guokas and Bill Walton, have had to scream to the top of their lungs to be heard over the relentless din of the Orlando Arena.

“I used to think that Cleveland, when the Cavaliers played at the old Coliseum, or Chicago Stadium were the loudest, but I’ve never heard it as loud as it is here,” Albert said Thursday from Orlando. “At times, I’ve been tempted to introduce the P.A. announcer as part of our crew.”

Said Walton: “Anything that prevents coaches from yelling at players, I’m in favor of, but I don’t think you should play the P.A. (music) during play. It sounds like you’re in a bass drum.”

Walton, whose star appears to be on the ascent with NBC executives, worked the Western Conference series with Greg Gumbel and Steve Jones, and has been plugged into the format for this round, forcing Albert and Guokas to make an adjustment.

“We all have to pull back. It’s more conversational, more opinionated with Matt and Bill,” said Albert. “It’s more of a succinct call on my part, but I’ve done it so many times over the years. When Mike Fratello was with us, Magic Johnson joined us, and it worked well. I like it. It’s a matter of Matt and Bill being unselfish and splitting replays.”

Wednesday’s series opener did a 16.3 rating and 27 share of the national audience in the 33-market overnight survey, meaning nearly 1.5 million more homes watched this year’s first game than last year’s opener between the Houston Rockets and the New York Knicks.

Vote for all-stars on-line or by phone

If you don’t cast your ballot for this year’s baseball All-Star Game, it won’t be because you didn’t have enough voting options.

For instance, ABC, the telecasting network of this year’s midsummer classic, has opened a baseball area in its on-line space on the America Online service, where fans can cast votes for All-Star starters through June 26.

ESPN’s SportsZone, available through the World Wide Web (address: http:/ /, the Internet or Prodigy, will provide on-line balloting opportunities. The operators pledge that provisions have been taken to make sure that ballots are not stuffed in cyberspace.

In addition, for the first time, fans will be able to vote by phone, as the Baseball Network, Texaco, MCI and USA Today will make available a toll-free number, 1-800-978-VOTE.

Austin’s analysis of Seles

Among those who can’t wait for Monica Seles to return to the women’s tennis tour is former player and current USA Network analyst Tracy Austin. Seles, who hasn’t played since she was stabbed April 30, 1993, during a changeover at a match in Hamburg, Germany, announced this week that she’ll play Martina Navratilova in an exhibition next month.

“She could be ready by the time the U.S. Open rolls around. She could be in great shape right now,” said Austin during Wednesday’s French Open telecast. “But if she decides to play in the Open, it would be in her best interest to play in a few smaller tournaments first. The pressure on her at any tournament will be enormous, but to start off with the Open would be a mistake.”

Austin said she believes the odds of Seles returning for the Open are “50-50,” and that she’s heard that Seles is playing well in practice sessions. The best part of her return, Austin believes, would be a renewal of her rivalry with Steffi Graf.

“It would mean the world to the women’s tour to have Monica back. Before the incident in Germany, a great rivalry was developing between her and Steffi. It would be great to see that blossom again,” said Austin.

Hockey ratings up

ESPN has announced that its ratings for the first four games of the NHL conference championship series are up 58 percent from last year’s numbers, from a 1.2 in 1994 to a 1.9 this year. You can attribute the boost to the fact that the network has the entire hockey audience, even in the home markets, rather than sharing it as it did last year.

Sunday’s Orioles-Oakland “Sunday Night Baseball” clunker did well for ESPN, getting a 1.9 cable rating, a slight increase from the 1.8 average for the first five games of the Sunday package this year.

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