CBS announed today that Billy Packer will not be back as the lead broadcaster for their NCAA basketball coverage throughout the upcoming 2008-09 season. Jim Nantz will regain his play-by-play role, but will be joined by Clark Kellogg as the color analyst, who is moving from the studio to the booth. The biggest implication of this move will be felt in March when the Final Four rolls around and the games will be broadcast without the voice of Billy Packer for the first time in 34 years. Yes, THIRTY-FOUR years.
In an era of opinions that change as the wind blows, and that old saying of “15 minutes of fame” becoming more and more literal, there is really something to be said for a guy who has broadcast the championship of a sport for three and a half decades. Packer is probably as good as it gets when it comes to in-game basketball analysis, and would probably make a better coach than most people who are currently paid to do so. So, it would be pretty safe to say that the ending of the career of a guy who is has been the best at what he does for the entire span of my lifetime would cause me some sadness and influence me to “pay my respects” to a great career. Or, at the very least, have my mind wax sentimentally about all the great Final Four games that Packer has called…all the memories.
Well, I have no desire to do any of that. I am glad to see Packer go, not because I am tired of him or feel that there needs to be a fresh voice in the Final Four. Nor is it because I am overly excited for Clark Kellogg to get his much-deserved shot at the #1 spot. I am glad to see Packer go because he possesses one of the most unattractive personalities in all of sports. He is (and always has been) obnoxious, condescending, irritating, and above all else, arroggantly inappropriate. He believes that because he is one of the most keenly insightful basketball analysts on the planet that he can say anything he wants about the game of basketball (and the people affiliated with it) whenever he wants with no repercussions.
Never was this more on display than by his comments after the UNC-Kansas semifinal this year. In the first half, Packer decided that “the game was over” because Kansas had jumped out to a 38-12 lead in the first half. Now, Kansas did end up winning the game, but it was a lot closer than Packer had anticipated. Now, calling a game in the first half does not irritate me all that much, and I actually think that some people may have gotten a bit too worked up about it. But, it is in Packer’s response to those people that showed his true colors. Instead of a somewhat contrite or even a laughing off of the comment, Packer stood up for himself, and in his own unique way, displayed his belief that no one ought to question anything he says about basketball: “My job is to say what I see, not have some kind of subconscious feelings about offending anybody…It probably annoyed some people, but I don’t concern myself with having some agenda that’s contrary to what I’m seeing.”
His condescending attitudes and statements are not relegated to in-game issues, though. In 2004, Packer admonished the selection committee for granting an Atlantic 10 team a #1 seed. He believed that the St. Joe’s Hawks, despite playing a very difficult schedule to the tune of 1 loss all season, would clearly finish in the bottom of the ACC. Well, St. Joe’s went to the Elite Eight (including a win over Packer’s alma mater and ACC school, Wake Forest), before losing a very close game to Oklahoma State, saving Packer the embarrassment (that I am sure he would not feel) of calling a Final Four game that included the Hawks.
In 2006, the Missouri Valley Conference was granted four bids–3 more than Packer thought warranted. Again, he brutally attacked the selection committee for their apparent “preference for the little guy at the expense of clearly better basketball teams.” And, once again, Packer’s comments proved anything but prophetic, as both Bradley and Wichita State reached the Sweet 16 of that tournament.
Now, all of the above incidents were basketball-related and can, therefore, be forgiven and chalked up to a man who just thinks he is infallible when it comes to his trade–not a positive quality, but far from exposing a serious personality flaw in the man. However, there are several incidents through Packer’s career that may give display to the fact that not only is Packer arrogant and condescending about basketball, but he is probably a cruel, possibly even bigoted individual.
In 1996, Packer referred to Georgetown guard Allen Iverson as a “tough, little monkey.” Now, Packer claims not to have meant it in a racist way, and even John Thompson, who is very outspoken when it comes to racial relations in the game of basketball believes Packer not to be a racist. I believe Thompson and do not think that Packer’s arrogance manifests itself in racism. Other forms of bigotry, however…maybe.
In 2000, Packer was broadcasting a game from Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke University. At the press entrance, he was stopped by two female Duke students and was asked to show credentials–like every other member of the press at the game. Packer responded with “Since when do we let women control who gets into a men‘s basketball game? Why don’t you go find a women’s game to let people into?”
Also, in 2000, Packer was forced to publicly defend his use of yet another derrogatory term on national television. While interviewing Packer before the 2000 Final Four, reporter Charlie Rose asked if Packer needed a runner for the Final Four game, offering his services. Packer responded with, “You always fag out on that one for me, you know. You always say, oh yeah, I’m gonna be the runner, then you never show up. But I’m sure they can find a place for ya. You’ve got all the connections in the world. You can go ahead and be a runner anyplace you want.” Yes, maybe Packer is not bigoted against homosexuals. Maybe he did not mean to be insensitive. Maybe he did mean the dictionary.com definition or “to tire or weary by labor, exhaust.”
Maybe. But the biggest problem is the same problem that Packer has had his entire career–he does not see his mistakes. He does not apologize for hurting anyone. He believes that because he played basketball for Wake Forest and is the only person to have provided color commentary of a Final Four game for three and a half decades that he is above anyone else when it comes to the game of basketball or anything that remotely has anything to do with it.
Billy Packer, your analysis may be missed, but you will most certainly not be.