By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) The act is this close to Jumping the Shark.
Stacey King’s TV analysis of Bulls games is zooming over the water toward the ramp, as onlookers crowd the beachfront. The delicate boundary that separates the plausible from the ridiculous is being threatened as something very good is quickly becoming just too much.
Thankfully, there’s still time to veer away.
More than a year ago, I used this space to describe my enjoyment of King’s descriptions of Derrick Rose’s powerful athleticism, as one kind of explosiveness complemented another. I did, however, include the following:
“Catch phrases all too quickly can become crutches, and cute can get cloying. He has to make sure his emotional level matches the moment, and he’s not overreaching to be the show. We all cringe, for example, when we hear Dick Vitale howling ‘Awesome with a capital A!!’ after a mundane alley-oop dunk by somebody you’ve never heard of in a Maui Classic game between New Mexico and NC State. Where do you go from there when something really merits it?”
Which brings us to where we are now, with a Bulls team that has settled into a front-runner’s role in a strange NBA season, resulting in a completely different backdrop for a broadcaster’s art. The lockout-compressed schedule has put multiple games in front of us each week, too many of which feature flaccid opposition and little natural drama. Rose has missed 36 percent of the games, and has played tentatively in others.
Where last year King’s effusive outbursts matched the moments — Rose’s bravura MVP performance, newly-signed players showing their capabilities, all buying into the rigid demands of a first-year coach – they now start to overwhelm.
The stinging playoff loss to Miami has focused our attention on bigger, more important goals than winning these desultory, unsatisfying games behind John Lucas III and a one-handed Luol Deng. There will be time soon, we hope, for on-court moments that seem truer.
Simply, King needs to be real. Not every nice play by Ronnie Brewer needs to be punctuated with “Chicago’s finest brew.” Ugh. Taj Gibson is valuable and unheralded, but “Hard hat, lunch pail” needs some room to breathe. Same with “Asik and destroy.”
And Kyle Korver was signed because he is a three-point shooting specialist. In fact, he’s one of the best ever in the NBA. When he makes one, he is doing his job: just like a plumber successfully unclogging a sink, a truck driver reaching his destination, or an accountant finalizing a tax return. If he nails a shot to give the Bulls the lead in the fourth quarter of a hard-fought game against real competition, it’s “hot sauce.” Otherwise, it’s what we expect him to do.
The online soundboard of King’s calls was fun last year. Same goes for the “talking” bobblehead distributed to fans this season. The problem comes when we start to wonder if either one could be a functioning replacement for the actual inspiration.
And the fact that King is now involved in selling catch-phrase-emblazoned merchandise sets off all kinds of alarms. Is he using the telecasts for free advertising, marketing his brand and selling t-shirts, or is he calling the game as it presents itself? Viewers’ trust matters, and it’s tough to get it back once you lose it.
Be a carnival-barking salesman, or be an analyst.
The good news is, King still can choose the latter, and be really good at it. He knows the game, and can describe it and teach it. And he can still have plenty of fun, picking the right spots.
What he does not want to become is Ken Harrelson, who is now merely a collection of prefabricated, push-button idioms bound together by umpire-baiting and hoary tales of a bygone era. Every long flyout was “just missed,” every liner into a thoughtfully-positioned defense a “hang wiff’em,” each grounder a “chopper two-hopper.” We know what’s coming.
Stacey King has talent, energy and ability, and he has some decisions to make as his promising career benefits from a compelling time in Bulls history. People are watching and listening.
He can avoid Jumping the Shark, if he keeps from Aping the Hawk.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s columns here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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