During a game where the Blazers were playing the San Antonio Spurs sometime last year, the Portland broadcast caught a glimpse of Becky Hammon, the Spurs' new assistant coach and the first woman thus far to work on the bench of an NBA squad. Mike Rice, I recall, offered gentle patronization—something along the lines of, "It really is nice to see. Someday, when she's coaching a WNBA team, that will have been a great experience for her."
Marginally informed, old-school sexism directed at an actual trailblazer, bleeding out of the TV on a random Wednesday night. I heard a small, bloody grind in my head, similar to the thousands I heard before. No one else seemed to mind. "The Wild One is old school," I guessed.
Yesterday, the Blazers announced that they were exiting Mike Rice, Mike Barrett and Antonio Harvey from their broadcast booth. I don't begrudge the people who object to this change. Mike and Mike were—are—prominent voices in their heads, part of their routine. Rice's homerist energy and comically old-school mentality was expansive to the point of camp. He was, and remains, the only NBA announcer to be ejected from a game.
Rice was the manifestation of the collective fan id: complaining about half the calls on the court; heaping gigantic shovelfuls of shade on opponents; caping for every player on the squad like a campaign operative appearing on CNN. No opponent was complete, no game was truly fair (to the Blazers), no maleficent Blazer player was beyond utility. Rice was so devoted to ragging on refs that he memorized the names of referees and called them out by name once a game or so. On a particularly bad night, the broadcast was less a vehicle for watching and discussing the game and more a shoddily engineered propaganda film for THE GLORY AND PERSISTENT POWER OF THE BLAZERS against TRASHY AND FRANKLY IMMORAL HOARDS OF REFS AND TEAMS CONSPIRING AGAINST THEIR VICTORY.
For a fanbase that lives and loves and learns in a knives-out state of mind, this shit was catnip. Irrationality is a way of life for Portland sports fans. And that's fine! Whatever makes you happy is fine by me!
But, in case you can't tell, I was not a fan. I don't relish being the dude to write this contrary-ass take to an audience of readers who are probably bummed out by this news. I get that Rice and Barrett did this for work and I'm not cackling in glee over their unemployment or anything like that. I hope they land somewhere nice, where the people who loved their campy sports-takes style can groove to their weird song I didn't like.
But I can't sit around here and act like I'm not looking forward to a world with different people calling Blazers games. I would watch replacement-level broadcasts on League Pass and yearn for their bland professionalism. An actual good broadcast, like Walt "Clyde" Frazier and Mike Breen in New York, would make me green with envy, even when their team was shitty beyond belief. Even Austin Carr, Cleveland's resident enthusiast, would give me pangs of jealousy just because his disposition had such a positive and optimistic bearing in contrast to Rice and Barrett's perma-stressed, Zapruder-film-ass analysis.
I don't know what's next for the broadcast. Unless Bill Walton is available—he's not, but my preferred form of bad announcing is the kind that sort of vaguely ignores the game, which I suspect Mike and Mike enthusiasts don't care for; whatever you could say about them, you can't deny that they were on-topic by nature—I suppose I would want a more subdued broadcast that really concentrated on Xs and Os and matchups and other boring shit. I love boring shit. My favorite thing about sports, truly, is how terribly boring they are. But that's just me! Those theoretical dudes could roll into town and disappoint everyone who just wants to cheer and celebrate and bleed everywhere and cry and die with the game.
Everything that stressed me out about Mike and Mike could be summed up in one moment. The Lillard shot. Here is the play as it rolled out on ESPN:
"OH MY GOD! LILLLAAAARRRRDDDD! AND THE BLAZERS WIN THE SERIES FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 15 YEARS!"
So elegant! So punchy! Such a universal feeling! Barrett and Rice, on the other hand (go to around 1:09)…
… go through a few cheers, a few "THE TRAIL BLAZERS ADVANCE!" and then Rice says "CALLAHAN, YOU CAN'T TAKE IT AWAY FROM US!" You may recall that a minute previous, NBA referee Mike Callahan made a dodgy out-of-bounds call on the last Rockets possession of the game. The first second-round berth in 14 years, maybe the biggest single shot in franchise history, and Rice took the opportunity to trash a referee. That level of vindictive spirit was appealing to some people. But it was not for me, man.