If only this was a simple Hollywood relationship that occasionally had its dramatic ups-and-downs based on insecurities, jealousy and side-ways assumptions.
But when you’ve got the Clippers involved as a partner and you can’t moonwalk quick enough when they drag you onto the dance floor, you aren’t realistically prepared for what can come next.
Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket still has not responded to reports that surfaced Monday in that its NBA broadcast partner, so unhappy with Bruce Bowen as the team’s game analyst after just one season, “withheld approval” of a contract extension based on critical things he said in a late-June Siriux XM radio interview about former San Antonio teammate Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers contended that Bowen’s comments could compromise the team’s possible signing of him as a free agent next summer.
The quoted words appeared in a story first reported by the ever-reliable ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. But that story quickly morphed into a narrative that became: The Clippers had fired Bowen.
The media jumped on it with responses and analysis that seemed to sidestep one thing: Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket, which vetted and hired Bowen last summer after his run at ESPN, and paid his 2017-18 contract, ultimately are the ones to fire him, if that’s what was needed.
But you know how the modern family media deals work now, right? Dysfunctionally irrational can be one way to put it.
Thursday morning, Bowen confirmed on the Dan Patrick syndicated radio show what FSW/PT has not: He’s gone, because the Clippers decided it was time.
Bowen said “an individual within their organization who signed off on me being on board” told him the Leonard comments were the reason why they didn’t endorse his re-hiring after one season. It gave Bowen a media platform to push back against the Clippers – not against FSW/PT – and get his side out.
“Unfortunately, if you’re going to run your organization based on hopes, maybe, and getting rid of others…. Again, if I tore him down and if I was disrespectful to him, that’s one thing. But that’s not the case. As an analyst, I’m supposed to talk about what I see and what I feel for this game that I love…. If you can’t do that, what does that say about your organization?
“I don’t think I’m powerful where I would be the reason someone would not want to go to a team. … I don’t think I’m big enough that someone will say ‘you know what? I’m not going there because Bruce Bowen is there and he’s on the mic.’
“There are listeners out there who want to see what I’m saying. Is he just a homer or is someone telling the truth about the game that he loves?”
Patrick replied: “I think the difference is and, you found this out the hard way: You can be critical, do your job as an analyst on ESPN (where Bowen once worked) but you can’t do that in a local market.”
And that reinforces about how today’s media world can make or break a career, right or wrong.
Someone like ESPN’s Jalen Rose can now respond on the show “Get Up!” in saying the Clippers have “always found ways to botch big decisions.”
Cris Carter, the co-host of FS1’s “First Things First,” can also come out and say about Bowen: “If he’s working for the team, he ain’t paid to give honest commentary … If they do a real good cleaning, they might find a thumbprint of (Clippers consultant) Jerry West in this one.”
But Bowen must bow out, bowtie and all.
Whether or not what Bowen said is deserving of no contract renewal — there are enough Clippers’ insiders who contend that things he said about their play during the regular season in actual broadcasts were enough to often rub them wrong rub them wrong, and the fact he missed some games because of a personal commitment to his family, negotiated before the season – the former Spurs guard has been receiving media support in his favor the last few days, should he decide to stay in the business.
Since those Bowen comments, the Spurs traded Leonard to Toronto. And since Leonard can be a free agent in 2019, it’s been said that the Clippers believe they have as good a chance as any to lure him back to his native Los Angeles.
“If you can’t get free agents in Los Angeles, that has nothing to do with Bruce Bowen,” Bowen said on Patrick’s show.
A day earlier, Patrick was among many in the media who were more critical of the Clippers’ publicly singling out Bowen, saying it “sounds like a desperate move … I think Bruce Bowen was just telling the truth there. So you don’t want that guy? So it’s a homer, that’s what you want?”
Meanwhile, without any public response, FSW/PT has said enough. It internally could have pushed back on this story. FSW/PT were the ones who sold the Clippers on Bowen last summer. They brought longtime play-by-play man Ralph Lawler down from his off-season home in Bend, Ore., got him into a TV studio with Bowen, and after doing just one quarter of one game off a monitor, they were sold.
“It went so well we could hardly believe it,” said Lawler a year ago. “It felt as if we’d been working together for 20 years. He’s an absolute natural.”
Naturally, the Clippers have mucked things up.
“When we put together some names, and were looking for someone who could make a difference on the broadcast, had a great personality and could add to the pre- and postgame conversation, and Bruce checked every box,” said Nick Davis, the FSW/Prime Ticket/FSSD executive producer who knew Bowen at ESPN when Davis was a producer on MLB studio shows.
“That 1,000-megawatt personality really came though.”
So now the plug gets pulled?
Even when, after the 2016-17 season, FSW/PT took responsibility for firing Mike Smith as the team analyst after his run of nearly 20 years with the organization as broadcaster, when most will point to the Clippers as the one who wanted that transition executed.
Again, the notoriously neurotic Clippers have threatened to launch their own start-up media platform under newish owner Steve Ballmer. And this isn’t the first time they’ve painted Fox Sports West/Prime Ticket into a corner.
Back in Sept., 2016, FSW/PT sweated out a decision by the team about whether they were even going to re-up their own partnership.
Just weeks before the 2016-17 season started, the Clippers finally decided to do a six-year extension that would give them about $50 million per season, double the $25 million from the previous deal. But this agreement also came with an out clause — both sides had the option to drop the relationship after two seasons.
Which brings us to 2018. Why doesn’t FSW/PT walk away from all this?
It has little choice, knowing it can’t really afford to have any other right-holders defect as the Dodgers and Lakers once did – along with the Sparks and Galaxy. The Dodger started their own SportsNet LA channel five years ago, leaving Prime Ticket. The Clippers must know how that distribution has gone and why it can’t replicate anything close to that, even with the Lakers basically having their own way with Spectrum SportsNet driving their local viewership.
The tricky business of media partnerships, where the media entity gets the burden of paying the talent but the team has the right of refusal, works well in some situations, but can get corrosive in others.
Local broadcasters have to answer to more than one master – unless you’re working for the Dodgers, and they’re OK with on-air talent crossing some personal lines of demarcation, because they’re not considered journalistic inclined any way even if the play one on TV.
Even if the Clippers are 100 percent wrong in forcing Bowen’s outster, it’s something they have to live with, and the rest of the league can see what Bowen is really about – saying what he believes to be true, even if it’s a former teammate, even if there is some heck to pay. He can sleep at night knowing that.
Now, it’s FSW/PT put again in the position to save face and find someone new before the season’s exhibition games begin in Hawaii in late September, with the regular season starting Oct. 17.
Is Michael Smith still around?
* Great read on how UCLA football and basketball radio play-by-play man Josh Lewin is involved in helping those with depression and anxiety issues – things he deals with on a constant basis. This piece by Ben Bolch of the L.A. Times, as well as a followup on the recent suicides of former Bruins basketball players Tyler Honeycutt and Billy Knight, help explain why Lewin wants to do something – anything – to be of assistance, raise awareness and let anyone else know there are outlets.
One of the things we’ve marveled about Lewin is his ability to juggle travel itinerates for his jobs – he’s also the New York Mets’ radio play-by-play man and, until last year, also did the San Diego Chargers radio calls.
Consider coming up soon: UCLA’s football opener is Sept. 1 at the Rose Bowl against Cincinnati, with a 4 p.m. kickoff. The Mets also have a game at 1 p.m. that day in San Francisco, which Lewin will miss. He can, of course, fly up for the 1 p.m. Sunday Mets-Giants game, but then turn right back around and be at Dodger Stadium for Mets-Dodgers games on Monday (5 p.m., Labor Day), Tuesday (7 p.m.) and Wednesday (4:30 p.m.) before catching up with the Bruins in Week 2 at Oklahoma, while the Mets are back home in New York for a three-game series against Philadelphia.
Talk about adding anxiety to your work week. Lewin keeps it together.
*Another L.A. Times media-related read from Thursday’s editions: Sam Farmer on how ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” crew plans to elevate new analyst Booger McFarland to new heights. Here is the story. Here are photos/screen shots from Thursday night’s Jets-Redskins telecast to show how McFarland looks on his 10-foot high platform above the line of scrimmage:
* Jaime Jarrin, a 1998 Ford C. Frick Award winner by the Baseball Hall of Fame for his career calling Dodgers games in Spanish since their move to L.A., will receive the Southern California Sports Broadcasters’ Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award at the group’s January, 2019 awards luncheon.
The award was created for Scully in the year he retired, and last year was given to retiring Kings play-by-play man Bob Miller. The 82-year-old Jarrin is working his 60th season with the team and has said he will likely retire soon or cut back to just do West Coast games.
A piece on Jarrin by the L.A. Times’ Bill Plaschke from March of this year is at this link.
*Prime Ticket marks its 22nd year of doing high school football with a Week 0 game featuring Centennial of Corona playing host to Chandler, Ariz., on Friday at 7:30 p.m., with Sam Farber (third season), John Jackson (22nd season) and Chris Rix. The Prep Zone video streaming games that night, as it enters its eighth season, will include St. John Bosco hosting Timpview (Utah), Westlake vs. Sierra Canyon, Antelope Valley vs. Grace Brethren and Upland vs. La Habra, all with 7 p.m. kickoffs. Play-by-play assignments on these games go to Dennis Ackerman, David Caldwell, David Gascon and Fred Salas, with analysts Ralph Brown, Tony Moskal, Jeff Tolcher and Brock Vereen.
*We note that Fox Sports will have Lisa Byington on play-by-play, Danielle Slaton as the analyst and Katie Witham as the sideline reporter on its coverage of the D.C. United-New England Revolution MLS game (Sunday, 4:30 p.m., FS1). If you’re connecting dots, yes, it’s the first time an all-female announce team for “an English-speaking broadcast of a men’s professional soccer match on a national sports network.” Because all that needs to be qualified. Aly Wagner just completed a nice run as a World Cup analyst for Fox during its coverage in and out of Russia, if that’s any sort of context. In addition, of course, to Beth Mowins calling more national NFL games, Doris Burke on NBA games, AJ Mleckzo doing analysis work on NHL games for NBC and, of course, Jessica Mendoza in the ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” booth. Byington has been doing college football for the Big Ten Network and will also have jobs on men’s and women’s basketball for FS1 this fall.
*As for the 257th episode of HBO’s “Real Sports” (first air, Tuesday, 11 p.m.), the piece that has jumped out at us is by reporter Jon Frankel called “More Than Decoration,” where he looks into the hypersexualization of cheerleaders at football and basketball games. Is it appropriate? The context is to compare how the U.S. views it versus how it is done in the U.K., where those jobs have been diminished. Maggie Burbank produces this piece.
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