Live by the dagger, die by the dagger

Normally, a mid-season NBA game between the Detroit Pistons and the Washington Wizards would be unworthy of comment, even by my offbeat approach to what’s interesting in sports. But there’s a lesson, albeit an unsurprising one, in last night’s game between these two lowly teams.

With the Pistons leading 96-95 and time just about expired, the Wiz’s Trevor Ariza took a potentially game-winning shot from the corner. The shot tickled the net, but neglected the cylinder. As one commentator later put it, Ariza’s effort gave a new meaning to the basketball cliche “nothing but nylon.”

Unfortunately, long-time Wizards television play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz proclaimed the shot good, using his trademark “dagger” call to emphasize that the Wizards had won the game on a buzzer beater. Detroit’s play-by-play guy also announced that the shot was made but, seeing no indication to that effect from the players or the refs, suggested that time had run out before Ariza launched it.

Buckhantz has taken a fair amount of ridicule for his call, but it is undeserved. The error almost certainly occurred because he no longer announces from court side. Wizards management, under owner Ted Leonsis, banished Buckhantz and color commentator Phil Chenier to a higher elevation and, I am told, to a bad angle to boot. Had Buckhantz been in the seat he occupied for 15 years or so, he would presumably have seen that Ariza’s shot was an air-ball, as the players and refs did. So too with the Detroit announcer.

I hardly need explain the reason for Buckhantz’s exile. Leonsis wanted to install additional court side seats to sell for many hundreds of dollars ($800 is the price I’ve heard).

I have nothing against trying to make a buck. But one might have hoped for an owner prepared to forgo a small slice of revenue in the name of providing fans with reliable descriptions of game action. Even in this day and age, such a hope is not unreasonable. So far, anyway, Washington and Philadelphia have banished their announcers from court side.

Calling a missed shot good is embarrassing but correctable. It’s the small things Buckhantz and Chenier inevitably will miss from their inferior vantage point that bother me more.

At least Buckhantz seems to reacting to what he calls his “retracted dagger” with reasonably good cheer. Today he quipped “you live by the dagger and you die by it.”


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