By Gary Sussman
Assets… or assists.
Portfolio…or points in the paint.
Fully vested…or full court pressure.
Talkin’ about the Benjamins…or Benoit Benjamin
And thus the dueling brain teases of Jim Spanarkel, who has his day job as a highly successful executive and financial planner at Merrill Lynch in Paramus…and then his telegenic gig as the highly regarded hoops analyst for both YES and CBS. A man who deals in millions…and talks to millions.
He fills up his resume like he would fill up the stat sheet. Hudson Catholic, All-American at Duke, 5-year NBA career (led Mavs at 14.4 ppg in 80-81), finance, broadcasting. (Years back, I held a NY/NJ free throw contest at halftime of a Knicks visit to the CAA. I figured it was a lock for Jersey, because I had an All-American former NBA player shooting one free throw. He came late, no sneaks, missed his shot, and Breen sealed it for NY. Another debacle in The Swamp. But I digress.)
“ The two lives do intersect. When the producer formats the broadcast, you know who is doing what when, so I know precisely when the play-by-play man is going to talk, when he is going to hand it off to me and when we will deal with other components. It’s the same way when I make a presentation before a group of investors. I format the entire presentation, so I know when my partner is supposed to talk and when he will hand it off to me. Totally orchestrated. Just like the broadcast.”
But the orchestra is only as good as its musicians, and over the years, the chords that Jim has struck have resonated with the public and the critics, whether in the media, or my own living room.
With all due respect, my wife would not know Zaza Pachulia from Zsa Zsa Gabor. But when she was watching a lot of local hoops (let that one germinate for just 30 seconds, stir and pour), this was the common refrain. “ I really like that guy who does the game with Ian…what’s his name, John?”
The identification may have been just shy of perfect, but the observation was spectacular. Because the beauty of Sparky’s analysis is he can speak to the hoop junkie…or the unwashed masses. Just like during the day. Ingratiate yourself with the privileged one percent…but still be able to relate to the common investor.
“ Jim has a tremendous feel for the game, “ said Ian Eagle, his longtime broadcast partner in the pros and college, until CBS split the pair up for the NCAA’s two years ago. “ Viewers always learn something when he’s on the broadcast. He teaches in a way that is straightforward and understandable. NBA or college. Jim has the ability to break down what’s happening on the floor with strong information and an entertaining style. He’s the kind of guy you’d love to grab a beer with after the game and talk hoops, and that comes across when he’s on the air.”
“ I try to be analytical,” said the man Ian has dubbed The Senator. ( There’s no doubt that Jim could mirror the career of the late Fred Thompson, who was a lawyer, Senator from Tennessee, and TV (Law and Order) and movie actor (Cape Fear, The Hunt for Red October). If Jim dyes his hair, he has the physical attributes for the Jim Comey story…but I digress.) “ I want to tell the viewer why something happened, not just repeat what the play-by-play man just said. I prepare to anticipate what might happen with specific players, and then refer to my homework during the course of the broadcast. I never say anything unless I’m 100% sure of its accuracy.”
Jim’s stature has risen over the years, especially during the NCAA Tourney, where he was paired with Ian for 17 years, and now the legendary Verne Lundquist. A broadcast assignment that demands attention to detail, preparation and delivery. The same as his investor presentations.
And just like investors trust Jim to handle their money (think ‘Billions’) so does Jim handle his broadcast with extreme care. “ My fear is that I will say something about a player that’s not true, and you always have to assume the junkie fans are watching who know more than you do. And I always stay away from religion, politics, the double entendre, etc.”
And so if he was in the analyst seat for the NBA Finals, and if, as it appears again, it will be the Currys vs. the Lebrons, what does he anticipate?
“I think that for the most part, the top three on each team will nullify each other. Which group from the 4-7 category that plays the most consistent will probably determine the outcome.”
I’ll have him send my wife an autographed picture.
Vinnie Viola, one of the owners of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, was once a minority owner of the Nets. After a rousing playoff win at the CAA, he saw me in the bowels of the arena, commented on the game and press conference, and patted me on the cheek. A Meadowlands Tale.
Damian Lewis…first Nicholas Brody, and now Bobby Axelrod…may be the best back- to- back years we’ve seen since Maris in ’60 and ‘61!
It’s hard to think that the Yankees can slo-pitch softball their way to the playoffs…but it sure is entertaining!
Photos: E.H. Wallop/YES Network