There it was, Georgetown and St. John's, the biggest meaningless game of the college basketball season, between the nation's top two teams in the world's best-known arena, Madison Square Garden.
Out on the court, the principals would be Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin. And over in the WTTG-TV-5 broadcasting booth, Rich Chvotkin and Bernie Smilovitz.
Rich Chvotkin and Bernie Smilovitz?
Certainly one of broadcasting's most bizarre combos, if in name only. (Better they be broadcasters than partners in a law firm; can you imagine how many receptionists they'd go through before they found one who could answer the phone, "Chvotkin and Smilovitz," without stumbling?)
Chvotkin (pronounced Chvotkin) is sort of a poor man's Marv Albert. Like Albert, his hair sits piled up on top of his head, almost a self-sufficient entity. Like Albert, his play-by-play is punctuated with color and emotion. Unlike Albert, his language, at times, is incomprehensible to anyone other than close relatives and personal pets.
Chvotkin, who has long done the Hoyas' radio play-by-play announcing as a hobby when he's not working as a psychologist, apparently is bilingual. But few people speak his second language -- Chvotkinese. One might argue that Chvotkin's colorful cliches and inventive phrases add spice to a broadcast, but the bottom line is that his expressions often confuse and bewilder the listener.
Here is a sampler from the Rich Chvotkin Glossary, taken directly from the Georgetown game, with English translations provided for the uninitiated:
* "Bill Martin is whistled to the pine" (he has fouled out).
* "So it took the Redmen three minutes and eight seconds to finally clean the dust out of the nets" (St. John's scored its first points).
* "Wingate strips it away and shakes and bakes on the base line" (he takes the ball away from an opponent and scores on a flashy move).
* "Willie Glass to throw the strike" (he's about to take a foul shot).
* "Glass will toe the line" (he's about to take a foul shot).
* "He draws ream" (the foul shot is good). "Reggie Williams now with a double dozen" (he has 24 points).
* "So Wennington used the window to walk over Ewing" (he made a shot off the backboard over Ewing).
Once you get past Chvotkin's court clutter, you'll find he's pretty good on the essentials -- the score, the time left and who's doing what individually. But like many radio veterans, he occupies too much air time on TV.
There's one more Chvotkinism that's inexplicable, if perhaps insignificant. He almost exclusively refers to schools by their nicknames only. It's always the Hoyas and the Redmen. How can a broadcaster do play-by-play an entire half and use the word Georgetown only one time, as Chvotkin did in the second half of the Hoyas' 85-69 victory over the Redmen.
Smilovitz also was there Wednesday night, but he was really no more than an accessory to the crime. Smilovitz, WTTG-TV-5's sportscaster, seems out of place as an analyst; several times while providing color, he'd pick up the play-by-play as if that were his real calling.
Credit NBC's Marv Albert and Ferdie Pacheco for taking us through last weekend's Michael Spinks-David Sears light heavyweight title fight with a minimum of false hype. There was the usual prefight buildup, but once it began, they avoided misrepresenting a probable mismatch as a great duel.
When Albert spoke of the unbeaten Sears, he mentioned that Sears had built his record against club fighters. When Sears landed some punches in the first two rounds, Pacheco was unimpressed: "Remember, this is Spinks' style -- waiting, waiting until he figures you out . . . he's a great chess player is Michael Spinks."
Thus, when the champion scored a stunning third-round TKO, NBC viewers could not be surprised. Pacheco said Spinks "belongs, without question, with the great light heavyweights of the last 20 years." As for Sears (whoever heard of a boxer with a well-groomed mustache?), he probably did not belong in the title fight. And that's one area in which Pacheco, NBC's matchmaker, must be questioned.
Home Team Sports will broadcast the first half of Wednesday's Washington Bullets-Portland Trail Blazers game at Capital Centre without announcers. "We're just trying to have some fun with the broadcast by playing around with some noises and giving people a realistic feeling of being at the Capital Centre," said Jody Shapiro, HTS' programming director and executive producer.
HTS will go with its normal pregame, halftime and second-half coverage using broadcasters Jon Miller and Phil Chenier. But in the first half, HTS will use extra microphones to pick up public-address announcer Marv Brooks, the referees and crowd noises. Naturally, there will be added graphics to keep viewers up-to-date on scoring and other statistics.