By Matt Yoder, Awful Announcing
Earlier today, Tim Burke shared video at Deadspin of CBS and New Jersey Nets play-by-play man Ian Eagle incredibly ranting against broadcast partner Mike Fratello on the air. Eagle called Fratello "patronizing" towards him and referred to his analysis as "gobbledygook" in one of the more painfully uncomfortable pieces of commentary in the history of human beings announcing basketball games. But before we get to Ian Eagle's pipebomb detonating all over the YES Network, let's take a look into how it came to be.
What exactly caused this kerfuffle? Here's the original exchange from the end of the third quarter. Greg Stiemsma fails to set a screen for Paul Pierce, leading to a travel on Pierce. The initial exchange between Bird and Czar is rather lengthy and lumbering, but there's nothing from Fratello that seems unintelligible, condescending, or patronizing here as Czar explains setting vs slipping a screen. In fact, it's Eagle that carries on the conversation initially...
Eagle and Fratello can have a dry sense of humor and sarcasm on the air, so maybe they weren't on the same page. It is strange for Fratello to carry on the analysis for so long though. You don't have to be Dr. Jack Ramsay to understand a slip screen. However, there doesn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary until Eagle comes back at Czar with his strange comments after Garnett's jumper.
To add to the quagmire, we also caught this exchange midway through the 4th quarter following a segment highlighting Fratello's time with the Nets. According to Deadspin, this is Fratello's last year on his contract with YES and the Nets. Again, the two seem to be joking... albeit very, very dryly. Eagle even says, "on a serious note, it's been great working alongside you. A lot of fun and I've learned a lot about slip cuts." Oohh boy...
That was slightly coarse, and while the two appear to be using their dry senses of humor, you can feel a dash of tension in the broadcast booth.
For whatever reason, Eagle then decided to let loose on Fratello during two Nets free throws several minutes later in the 4th quarter. I know there are times we tend to hyperbolize and exaggerate a little bit, but honestly, THIS IS THE MOST UNCOMFORTABLE MINUTE EVER AIRED ON A SPORTSCAST. I've seen examples of opposing players fighting each other, even teammates... but broadcasters??? Here's the footage...
Wow, awkward! Thank God the game hit a timeout or the two may have come to blows. I have never heard anything like this before in a broadcast. It's flabbergasting to have this occur on a professional broadcast, let alone with someone widely considered to be one of the top pros in the industry in Eagle. You would never think he would do something so outrageous as verbally attack his partner on the air. I realize there were probably 16 people watching the game on YES at this point, but as a broadcaster you just can't take away from the game with a personal vendetta, especially when it's the person sitting next to you.
Could this final exchange actually be extreme sarcasm from Eagle? There's a slim chance, but I'd say no. Fratello seems totally caught off guard by the comment and tries to laugh it off to little luck. My guess is the two talked about the original SlipScreenGate off the air in between the third and fourth quarter and didn't see eye to eye. Clearly, that ill will carried over to the 4th quarter where Eagle ironically included slip screens in the Fratello tribute. Finally, with the game winding down, Eagle had enough and figured "what the hell, let me drop the bomb on this broadcast."
After the timeout, Eagle comes back to read a YES promo and introduces it as "My good note for you." The amateur sleuth in me thinks the producer or director encouraged the two to end the broadcast on a good note and Eagle slyly worked it in to the promo as his own subtle middle finger to that idea. After all, who starts a promo by saying "My good note for you?"
In the end, it's one of the more incredible pieces of footage you can see on a broadcast. We talk about teams imploding down the stretch, but this is the first time I can remember it happening to an announcing team. It must take a lot to endure a full season of Nets basketball, but did Ian Eagle hit a breaking point here, or what?