Anendra Singh: For God's sake get it right

By Anendra Singh

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Well before this year's basketball play-offs tip off in Wellington this weekend you can safely say Sky TV has slam-dunked the HBS Bank Hawks before the hooter goes off to signal the start of the grand final.

Put another way, it's Commercial Moghuls 2, Religion 0.

The National Basketball League (NBL) board, after declining to disclose when the semifinals and grand final of the Bartercard-sponsored national men's competition would be held, quietly revealed they will be played this Saturday and Sunday at the TSB Bank Arena at the Queen's Wharf.

It was nothing short of a classic Paora Winitana-type steal from the Hawks' defensive end of the court.

The funny thing is - although none of the Hawke's Bay franchise wallahs are actually rolling on the floor in stitches of laughter - Winitana will not score a fast-break basket at the other end of the court for the second consecutive season in the grand final on Sunday.

That, of course, depends on whether the Paul Henare-coached Hawks beat Wellington Saints in the second semifinals at 8.30pm after the Auckland Pirates and Manawatu Jets tip off at 6pm.

Why? All because the NBL board elected to cower to the demands of Sky TV.

That means, a Sunday grand final will rob basketball lovers of a thrilling clash minus the Hawks captain who chooses not to play because of his religious beliefs.

A Mormon bishop, Winitana didn't take the court last year in the grand final against the Saints, who went on to claim their second consecutive NBL crown with Pero Cameron at the helm.

Having treated the NBL matches like an unwelcome relative of the New Zealand Breakers for a few years, last year the pay TV giant decided to cover matches only in Auckland to save costs in lugging gear to peripheral areas such as Hawke's Bay.

The upshot of that was mediocrity - whoever versus a Pirates outfit that stuttered to five wins from 16 matches to sit above woodenspooners Otago Nuggets.

This season Sky TV showed total contempt, ignoring the NBL round-robin games but offering to cover the grand final on their terms.

This, people, coming from a provider that takes the cream of the TV series and rolls it into a package called Soho and demands another payment from current subscribers.

Now, don't get me started about the $1.15 increase in basic subsription fees and another $1.05 for sport channels that'll go into effect next month.

"It's for getting rights for non-New Zealand sports events such as the extra eight Olympic channels," a phone call last night to SkyTV's 0800 help line revealed.

And no, they won't revert to the old fees after the Olympics because they will try to get more overseas motorsports on ESPN.

Hey, how about home-grown stuff that'll cost a pittance.

The movie channels have turned into the state-run TVNZ re-runs. They do throw in a "premiere" or two but have found a stop-gap measure in some D grade move series called True Justice, starring an overweight protagonist, Steven Segal, who viewers are expected to stomach as a martial arts expert flooring baddies three times younger and fitter than him.

The phone helpline drew a blank on whether any NBL games would be televised live.

"If we haven't got it advertised on the Skywatch magazine then we won't be, dear," another woman with an angelic voice declared.

A check on Sky electronic programming reveals the grand final is actually on live from 6pm on Skysport 1.

Therein lies the problem when television shies from covering NBL basketball because of "poor ratings". It begs the question:

"Where on earth is the advertising and promotion to say the game is on?"

It's a vicious cycle that the NBL board rides every season while flirting with the mighty moolah to promote its code.

For the record, NBL announced after the pre-season tournament in Porirua in February the grand final would be played on a Sunday and, again, in Wellington.

Three months on and Skywatch doesn't have it in the 6pm slot on Sunday. That's disgraceful.

In Draconian measures, the board also retained the play-offs at Wellington when the initial plan was for North Island and South Island venues to alternate hosting rights.

It's a given that it'll be commercial suicide to host it at a South Island venue when the four qualifiers are from the north.

Consequently every other franchise should be awarded the right to stage the play-offs and Hawks boss Rod Earnshaw should have as much traction as anyone to bring the big games here.

As Henare pointed out earlier in the season, who cares about getting TV coverage for one game in the season.

If Sky TV wants to cover basketball then it should lug its gear to where the action is. It seems to do it perfectly well for netball never mind how much it is a mismatch.

A dejected fan sent a text last season questioning Wintana's commitment.

Mate, God or Sky TV?

I know who I'm going to worship and I'm not religious.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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