GO AWAY, SUNS

We remember so little. The playoffs move too fast. Yet they never seem to end. It is as though we're all prisoners on a runaway train. There is no one who knows how to pull the emergency brake to stop this wild ride. Television only contributes to the confusion. Clearly, the local stations see the Phoenix Suns' success as a chance for more advertising.

Channel 12, the NBC affiliate, has been the biggest offender. This stems, no doubt, from the fact that NBC holds the national TV contract for NBA games.

Channel 12's attempts at local coverage are both foolish and farcical. There's no depth. No insight. "Stay tuned for more of our on-the-scene coverage," anchorperson Jineane Ford keeps pleading. "Live at 10," chimes in Bruce Kirk.

"What coverage?" you ask. "And what's live about it all?"
There are only the endless commercial messages as the cash register keeps ringing, ringing, ringing at Channel 12. For these playoffs, local television stations are sending camera crews everywhere. They were in Los Angeles for the Lakers series. They were in San Antonio for the Spurs series. They will no doubt be in Seattle, too. They are at America West Arena and at the airport for homecomings in the dead of night. They are even at the practice sessions and at Dan Majerle's bar. And, of course, they will go on to the finals, if that comes to pass.

It's all so predictable. Each station seems to have a woman anchorperson who knows absolutely nothing about basketball, but has plenty of enthusiasm for the home team.

Each station has a sports director who gives us 90 seconds of his "expertise." But there is never any real information. All this incessant coverage turns out to be nothing more than a continuous plea to keep tuned in to the same channel. The news readers have been in a constant state of preening excitement since the start of the Los Angeles series. How long can they keep it up? How long can we continue to watch?

When do we realize that all of the local television coverage has been nothing more than a smile and a shoeshine?

When the Suns move to network coverage on the weekends, the ineptitude of the local stations is exposed for what it is.

Then you get high-priced insight provided by Bob Costas and a panel of knowledgeable basketball people. The bubbly anchorwomen exhorting you to cheer for "our Suns" are replaced by the likes of a commentator like Bill Walton, one of the smartest players in the game's history.

Local television's embarrassing performance makes the success of local radio stand out.

Jude LaCava's work both as a reporter and a talk-show host has been very good. First of all, you must know where LaCava's coming from. He is a member of the Suns team. Expect him to live and die with Jerry Colangelo. But if you listen closely to LaCava, you'll get some real information. Here's an example:

Shortly before the fifth game with San Antonio here in Phoenix, LaCava was interviewing Dan Majerle, who had been in a prolonged shooting slump.

LaCava and Majerle were taking calls from the fans, most of them adoring in nature. But then one of those rare moments of truth occurred.

A man called and told Majerle: "I think you're wearing too many hats. You've got a restaurant that you're working at all the time, and now you also have this radio show. It's less than an hour before the game, and you should be out on the court practicing your shot, which has been missing in action."

Majerle sputtered in anger. He told the caller that no one had to worry about his practice ethic. Then Majerle went out and scored 13 points in the very first quarter against the Spurs.

There is one thing more about LaCava which puts him head and shoulders above his television rivals. Unlike the television personalities, he actually understands the game.

@rule:
@body:The local newspapers have all allowed the Suns' story to overpower them. You can see how it happens. The advertising people tell the editors what a great story the Suns are. There is a chance to sell a lot of advertising and this is, of course, the papers' lifeblood.

The editors have a news conference. They want to keep their jobs. They decide the best way to beat the opposition and please the front office is to throw more reporters at the Suns' story.

As a logical intensification, they bring the Suns out on page one and give the story a real ride.

The fans see Charles Barkley on page one with his arms over his head and the editors get a few calls telling them they love seeing all those great stories about "our Phoenix Suns."

And so now the Suns are on page one every day. The writers become so excited that the stories run long and jump inside. This starts to knock real news out of the papers. This creates a problem for the 80 percent of the readers who really don't care all that much about pro basketball.

The readers begin to wonder what happened to their newspaper. They pick it up every morning and see Suns pictures and stories splattered all over the front page.

They puzzle over what's happening in Bosnia or whether it's time for President Clinton to get another $200 haircut.

So they begin looking even more to television to find out about the real news of the day.

But, of course, all they see is somebody like Jineane Ford smiling out at them and rooting for "our Phoenix Suns." And Bill Denney is ready with a live update which isn't an update at all.

The situation is beyond repair. Only the elimination of the Suns from the playoffs can save the media from itself. Even USA Today, which is a technicolor bulletin board, realizes that it must keep sports stories as short as possible. But by this time, local newspaper writers seem to be vying with each other to determine who can write the longest stories and gather the most self-congratulatory quotes from Kevin Johnson.

Too much writing drives out the good writing that is being done. There are too many stories and so the really good ones are hidden from view.

Perhaps it is time for the same editors who set this phenomenon loose to conduct a survey to see how many people are actually reading all these elongated Suns stories.

Readers do not sit enthralled each day so they can read, yet again, about Barkley's hamstring muscles and KJ's announcement that he is the "best point guard in the NBA."

There is an old rule about sports stories that never changes. The readers who like expanded sports coverage best do not or cannot read. Perhaps the advertisers don't realize that.

By now there are hundreds of buildings around town bearing signs that read "Go Suns." The same exhortation is on the walls of private homes and on cars and trucks.

Everyone has gotten the message about the Suns. They have it so deeply ingrained that all they have to do now is watch the games for themselves on TV or listen to them on the radio.

The messengers have strangled the message. All it takes now to communicate the story is a telephone call to a friend the following morning and a quick question:

"Did you see what Charles Barkley did last night?"
Enough said.

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