NCAA Football

Hoffarth on the media: How Clippers, Bowen came to tie the knot on TV deal

September 30, 2017

To hear it from those most involved in the decision-making process, Bruce Bowen quickly emerged as the top candidate to land the role as the new Clippers TV analyst that opened up this past offseason. One simple audition, one quarter of calling a game off a monitor, and there was no tie-breaking procedure needed.

But had there been, Bowen’s commitment to his trademark bow tie during the telecasts could have put a ribbon on the package deal.

Although the 13-season NBA pro out of Cal State Fullerton has limited live game experience as an analyst – he did some of it on occasion during his run primarily as a studio analyst at ESPN – Bowen’s brief run-through with Ralph Lawler less than a month ago more than impressed the team and execs at Fox Sports West, Prime Ticket and Fox Sports San Diego.

Still, the 46-year-old Bowen wasn’t so sure of how it was going to be received.

“If you do your best – and I felt I did – you don’t know which way it will go, and I wasn’t going to try to guesstimate,” Bowen said this week from the Clippers’ training camp in Honolulu, where he and Lawler will debut together live when the Clippers face Toronto twice on Prime Ticket, Sunday night (7:30 p.m.) and then Tuesday night (10 p.m.).

“Some may have liked it, some may have thought it was corny. It was out of my control.”

Well, not really.

“It went so well we could hardly believe it,” said Lawler, about to start his 39th season as the Clippers’ play-by-play man. “It felt as if we’d been working together for 20 years. He’s an absolute natural.”

AS ONE DOOR OPENS …

Naturally, the job didn’t just come open by accident.

Prime Ticket, with the Clippers’ input, decided not to renew the contract of longtime Lawler sidekick Michael Smith. They had been paired the past 14 seasons, and Smith logged 19 seasons overall going back to radio.  The former Los Altos High of Hacienda Heights star football, basketball and volleyball player who became a two-time WAC player of the year at BYU spent the last of his three-year run in the NBA as a Clippers backup forward in 1994-95.

Smith had something of an uninhibited, sidetracked style that played to mixed reviews off Lawler’s straight-man call. It once got them in a bit of trouble for insensitive remarks, leading to an awkward  suspension in 2009. Off the court, Smith also went through the accusation of grand theft in a real estate case, which a jury acquitted him of in 2010.

“The Clippers are a dynamic team and made a lot of moves in the off season, and this one just one of them,” said Nick Davis, the FSW/Prime Ticket/FSSD executive producer. “I loved working with him and we want to thank him for his contributions.”

Lawler, whose previous game analyst partners have included Stu Lantz, Hubie Brown, Mike Fratello, Junior Bridgeman and Bill Walton, said that “Mike had the longest run, and he’s a very bright guy who I know will find a new interesting chapter in his life. It may be hard to see that right away but I think things will work out fine for him.”

Davis said Bowen’s name came up through a search of the Fox’s national talent office, understanding his ESPN contract had just expired. On Sept. 8, Bowen flew in from his home in San Antonio, and Lawler flew in from his offseason home in Bend, Ore., to call a quarter of a Clippers-Jazz game from mid-March last regular season, one that  had an impact on the team’s playoff seeding.

“We put together some names, and were looking for someone who could make a difference on the broadcast, had a great personality and could add to the pre- and postgame conversation, and Bruce checked every box,” said Davis, who knew Bowen at ESPN when Davis was a producer on MLB studio shows.

“That 1,000-megawatt personality really came though.”

HOW IT ALL FITS

Bowen may have aced the test, but he also had to decide if he could commit to a full season of broadcasts from October through April. He coaches both the basketball teams of his grade-school sons, Ojani (12) and Ozmel (10), in San Antonio. If not, the Clippers were prepared to reach out to others – TNT’s Reggie Miller, who lives nearby in Malibu, as well as longtime studio analyst Don MacLean – to help fill some gaps. Bowen says he’ll have to take some strange red-eye flights, but he’s all in.

When Bowen went back to Fullerton finish a degree in communications in 2004, during a run where he was to be part of three NBA championships with the Spurs in a eight-year stretch, he didn’t know how it would work out for his post playing career. He was some 12 units short of graduation when his basketball eligibility expired in 1993, and then went undrafted in the NBA.

Based on how some in the media had sized him up as a “dirty player” because of his tenacious defensive-minded playing style, it’s interesting that he has gravitated toward a media gig, one that he makes sure he doesn’t fall into any wrong characterization of players that he’s talking about.

“I don’t blame the media for anything, even with that ‘dirty player’ stuff, but I just wish they paid attention to more things,” Bowen said. “I’ll stand by what I say, but you don’t have to tear down players to get your point across. I’m always looking to every opportunity to delve into the game on a different level and give people something different to see, a new experience. I’m happy to have this great opportunity to continue the process of having an impact with the game.”

And with that, comes his bow tie collection, which he estimates to number in the 70 range at last count.

“Why wouldn’t I? It’s my staple, man,” Bowen said of the ties that tie in to the spelling of his name. “I have plenty in my stash that accommodate Clippers colors.”

More Q&A with Bowen at www.insidesocal.com/tomhoffarth.

MEASURING MEDIA MAYHEM

WHAT SMOKES

== ESPN’s promotion of Doris Burke to a full-time NBA game analyst comes within a time frame when the Washington Wizards hired Kara Lawson and the Brooklyn Nets brought in Sarah Kustok as part of the main broadcast team for their season-long cable packages. Upon Lawson’s hiring, CSN Mid-Atlantic president Rebecca Schulte said: “There was a time when people would expect female announcers to sound like their male counterparts. When they hear Kara, they are going to hear a smart, knowledgeable analyst talking about their team.” Burke, who never set out to be a broadcaster but has become one of the network’s most versatile talents, agrees with that assessment. “I absolutely feel we’re past the point of a women’s voice in the analyst chair as being foreign to viewers,” said Burke, who will do the Lakers-Sacramento exhibition game from Las Vegas on Oct. 8. “I would say I felt a significant change in that regard for the last five years. I’ve also noticed that if I see or hear criticism, it has less to do with a women’s gender than it does with her style, and we know that in this industry, it can be very subjective.”

WHAT CHOKES

== The immediate blowback Sports Illustrated received this week for its decision to Photoshop together an array of sports figures linking arms in protest under the headline “A nation divided; sports united” – and fail to include Colin Kaepernick — was predictable. SI executive editor Stephen Cannella tried to explain in an SI.com video post, saying that “in some ways, even though his picture’s not there, Kaepernick is there …” Credit Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry, one of the 10 shown on the cover, for speaking up: “I thought that was terrible. It’s kind of capitalizing on the hoopla, the media and all that nonsense … If you don’t have Kaepernick front and center on that, something’s wrong. It’s kind of hard to see how certain narratives take place, being prisoners of the moment.”

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