Sunday, March 04, 2007

Wow. How embarrassing for him and CBS

Last year on Selection Sunday Billy Packer's performance was horrible. His personal ties to power broker coaches in major conferences were on display for everyone to see, and a perfect case study for anyone wanting to discuss ethics and conflicts of interest for pundits in the media. His rants about how undeserved the at-large berth for George Mason proved to be an extremely poetic finish when the green and gold advanced to the final four. One would think that his performance last year couldn't be topped.

It was today.

With 14.5 seconds left in the UNC-Duke game, with a 12 point lead for the Tar Heels, Tyler Hansbrough took the ball to the rim, was fouled by two Blue Devils, had the ball knocked away after a foul, and was clearly, unambiguously clocked with a forearm to the face by Duke's Gerald Henderson. The foul was among the most vicious that I've ever seen. It could be considered a punch (though I'm not exactly sure - see update below). It could be considered an elbow. Henderson led with the forearm and the target was Hansbrough's face. The ball, long since cast aside, was nowhere near the direction of Henderson's thrust.

I don't typically like to presume to read the minds of others. I'll make an exception this time.

Gerald Henderson's forearm/elbow/punch to Hansbrough was 100% intentional. The facts and circumstances regarding the foul make this a clear inference. Henderson's left arm is by his side, not in the air, trying to block a shot. His right arm is cocked back and follows through after he strikes Hansbrough. His reaction after the strike is not one of "my bad, it was an accident."

Consider these facts: Duke-North Carolina is the most tense rivalry in college basketball, if not all of American sport. Duke was in the midst of suffering its worse loss of the season. The result of this game affected seeding in the ACC tournament (and NCAA seeding). Hansbrough dominated the game. 26 points, 18 rebounds.

Everything about the punch/elbow/forearm leads to one interpretation: that Henderson was frustrated with his team's performance and the result, and in order to protect whatever sense of self worth, he had to do something violent and outside the bounds of the rules of the game. This was a vicious, violent assault.

This was a more-violent attack than what began the brawl in the garden between the Knicks and Nuggets last December, but it came from the same thing. One team feels disrespected, gets mad that guys who punked him are still on the court, and they want to send a message physically. It's an embarrassment and not what basketball's about.

But this post isn't really about that. It's about Billy Packer.

Packer's coverage of this moment was so inappropriate and wrong that I cannot believe he is allowed to describe basketball.

For the first few minutes after the brutal, flagrant punch/elbow/forearm, Packer assured the viewers that it was clearly "an accident" and that Henderson was just "going for the ball". While Packer was narrating the replays, he disregarded the left hand of Henderson (at his side). He pretended not to notice how Henderson's arm was cocked back. He told us (at least three times) that Henderson was going for the ball even though the ball had been knocked away and wasn't even in the frame. Packer ignores that Henderson's eyes remained trained on one thing - the path his fist/arm/elbow would travel to strike Hansbrough.

He assured us again and again that Henderson didn't mean it and it was just bad luck that Hansbrough's face got in the way. Everything about the play and the circumstances regarding the finish of the game told us that this was a frustration/intimidation/classless foul. But in Packer's alternate universe, Henderson was blameless.

At one point Packer told us Henderson shouldn't even have been whistled for ANY foul, since Hansbrough had been fouled by other Devils already.

After Hansbrough had bled all over the floor, with definitely a broken nose and possibly lost teeth, Packer carried water for Henderson. A sad, small man does this.

But he then goes further!

For the next few minutes (it took a while for the officiating crew to sort it out), Packer spent his time telling us how it would be terrible for Henderson (a) to get whistled for a foul, (b) to get a flagrant foul, (c) to get ejected because of the effect on Duke in the upcoming ACC tournament. Direct quote: "This is a tough one for Duke".

Let's make this clear: Tyler Hansbrough, the best player on UNC and one of the best players in the conference, and clearly one of the most valuable players on ANY team in the nation gets clocked in the face, may have a broken nose, might have been hit in the eyes, might have been put out for the season (he didn't know anything about Hansbrough's status). But the victim of this sickeningly flagrant assault isn't the one getting discussed. No. It's a "tough one" because of the guy who did the assaulting might be punished appropriately!

How warped of a mind must you have to think this way?

When the officiating staff got the call correct and ejected Henderson, Packer grumbled about how bad a call it was. Mind-blowing.

Then he repeated the "this is a tough one for Duke" bit. Concern for the victim? None. Concern for the transgressor? Total.

Here's the only tough thing for Duke: Should they kick Henderson off the team permanently or just suspend him for the rest of the season. Because anything less is a complete sanction of the kind of cheap-shot that Henderson threw.

This was simply an embarrassing performance by CBS's #1 color commentator.

Here's the thing about Packer. Everyone around the country knows he's biased toward the ACC, and his personal conflicts are worn on his sleeve. This is only sort of true. Yes, Packer loves the ACC. But he really loves certain personalities in the sport. He's a water carrier for the coaches and programs he's closest too. He's close to certain personalities and his punditry is shaped by that. That's why he said such misinformed large-conference snobbery last year. And it has something to do with what he was talking about today. He was carrying water for Coach K. He knows the effect of today's loss and an early round ACC tourney loss would have on Duke's seeding in the NCAA tournament. He knows the effect of a (deserved) lengthy suspension for Henderson upon Duke.

He's shameless. He's a water carrier. He's a jabbering conflict of interest. He's not correct very often.

Billy Packer is an embarrassment. And when CBS lets him spout his slanted opinions, they share in his embarrassment.

Update: See comments for some clarification. I've edited the post a little bit to show that I'm a little wishy washy about terming Henderson's act as strictly a punch (though I think it can be interpreted in that way a little). I think there was intentional hard contact, and I've tried to state it as some form of elbow/forearm/punch or some generic term like "clocked". Main thing I think is about Packer's response, not the act itself - and his response was shameful regardless of how you describe the act because (a) Packer didn't know Henderson's intent but assumed the best (despite facts and circumstances) and (b) Packer's concern was all for Duke, rather than the guy who actually got hit.

Second Update: In regard to the foul itself, I think Pat Forde's article is pretty good, though I think he's a little too unequivocal about the foul being unintentional.

Yet another Update: Welcome Deadspin readers! If you got here from somewhere else, you can see the footage of Packer's comments at Deadspin here and at Loser With Socks (which I've been meaning to add to the blogroll for about a year it seems) here.


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