For a few years now, TNT has had the exclusive broadcast rights to the Western Conference Finals. Now, I don't know the ins and outs of the negotiation. But it's pretty clear that TNT is a relatively junior partner in the ESPN, ABC, TNT triumvirate that broadcasts NBA games. ABC and ESPN are, after all, one entity, and they don't call ESPN the 'Worldwide Leader' for nothing. So did TNT have to pay a premium to get the rights to the 'good' conference? I don't know. But rest assured, no one had any idea that the equivalent of the NBA Finals would be played out on TNT year after year after year when they first inked this deal.
So the pre-game show for game one is a big deal for TNT. I'd guess it would rank second only to a Conference Final game seven in the TNT universe. Set up courtside at Staples Center, Ernie, Reggie, Kenny and Charles would surely bring their A game, right? It's Lakers versus Spurs, the marquee matchup of the past decade. There's so much to talk about, so much to analyze. It's a studio analyst smorgasbord.
Ernie kicked it to Charles for his one, big observation about the series.
EJ: What's the one thing that jumps out at you Charles, that you're looking for in this series?
CB: Kobe Bryant [defending] against Manu Ginobili.
WHAT DID HE JUST SAY?
Charles Barkley, who is supposed to somehow help us understand and enjoy what we are about to see, has determined that the single most important thing he can tell us about this series is something that will not happen.
Does he even watch the games? Kobe Bryant defends Bruce Bowen. Kobe Bryant defends Ime Udoka. He doesn't defend Manu Ginobili. Not if Kobe and Phil can help it.
Charles goes so far as to throw LeBron James under the bus for not shutting down Paul Pierce in the Cavs-Celtics series. His conclusion - LeBron will never be as good as Jordan or Kobe until he becomes the defensive stopper for his team. Apparently, Charles thinks Kobe is that defensive stopper - the guy assigned to defend the opposition's best perimeter player. Problem is, he isn't assigned to defend the opposition's best perimeter player. Ever. In the case of the Spurs, who have two great perimeter players, Kobe is assigned to neither of them. He's assigned to Bruce Bowen - perhaps the worst offensive perimeter starter in the NBA.
Of course, this all feeds into the ongoing myth of Kobe Bryant, first team All Defense. No one actually watches the defenders. Someone told Charles that Kobe is a great defender. He can't be bothered to actually watch what's happening. Now Charles is telling a national TV audience something that isn't remotely true. Good defense is highly subjective and therefore a matter of opinion, even moreso than most things in basketball. But whether or not Kobe is assigned to Manu Ginobili isn't subjective. It's objective. And he wasn't. Not once in game 1. And although I haven't gone back to look, I guarantee you he was not assigned to Manu once during the regular season either.
But no doubt, a big part of the audience, who never actually watched what was happening on defense, no doubt thinks that Kobe shut down Ginobili last night. The Lakers won. Charles said that Kobe's defense on Ginobili would be key. Ginobili had a bad game (3 for 13, 10 points). Ergo, Kobe is a great defender.
Look, Kobe has the ability to be a great defender. And he may, in another game in this series, get a tough assignment for a couple of important fourth quarter possessions. Or he may not. But Phil Jackson doesn't want Kobe Bryant expending that sort of energy on defense. It's not Kobe's fault that he's not asked to play 48 minutes of top level defense. It's by design.
But let's not invent a parallel universe here. Can we at least stick to analysis that has some bearing on reality? Is that too much too ask?