PACK YOUR BAGS

Thankfully, Houston Rockets not headed the Portland route

This is good news for Rockets fans. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

That was short. Last week the Portland Trail Blazers announced that its TV and radio broadcasters would cover the team’s road games remotely this season.

The decision was met with such fierce backlash by fans and local media that Trail Blazers president Dewayne Hankins went on the team’s flagship radio station only days later to announce that its broadcasters would be back on the road, live and in person, in 2022-23.

“I wanted to just kind of set the record straight on the broadcast piece,” Hankins said. “And just say we’ve heard you guys in the media, we’ve heard all the fans. We’re always trying to improve, we’re always trying to be that next-generation broadcast.”

I've never heard penny pinching and short-changing fans described as a "next-generation broadcast" before.

It got me thinking, is this league-wide strategy? Are the Rockets considering keeping their announcers in a Houston TV studio during road trips this season?

Not to worry. Here’s the deal from the Rockets TV play-by-play man Craig Ackerman.

SportsMap: When you heard of Portland's original plan to cover road games remotely, were you concerned that it may catch on with other teams, including the Rockets? Have you been assured that you're traveling to road games?

Craig Ackerman: I wasn't necessarily concerned it would catch-on league wide, but it was worrisome because we need to be on-site for every game and my hope is that remote broadcasting is behind us. Yes, we will be traveling to road games.

SM: Have you started preparing for the upcoming season, learning the roster, talking to staff, buying a season's worth of underwear for the road?

CA: I have started preparing for the season, updating my spotting boards, etc. But, I haven't purchased any new underwear … yet.

SM: You've had experience calling road games off TV because of Covid travel restrictions. Exactly what were the drawbacks? Can you give specific examples? Did you ever miss a critical play because TV didn't show it?

CA: For me, the biggest drawback is not feeling the atmosphere of the game. Being in a studio is a bit antiseptic and even though you have natural sounds in your headphones, it's impossible to truly replicate the energy of a building. Next, you are at the mercy of what's on your screen. We are basically seeing whatever the viewer is seeing and anything that happens off that screen is missed. For example, substitutions, coaches and players reactions. You also have to rely on your stats monitor for referee calls and it's a bit delayed when you aren't in the building and don't have the benefit of being able to get some of the info from the PA announcer. Last season there was a game (I believe it was in L.A.), where a foul or violation was called, but since it occurred a bit off camera and with the officials’ backs to us we weren't able to figure out what happened until one minute later. The stats monitor didn't provide that information and we and subsequently the viewers were very confused.

SM: When you're on the road, how much access to the players and coaches do you have?

CA: As much as we'd like. There are no restrictions. But I keep those interactions primarily within the practices and game times. I consider everything else the players/coaches personal time.

SM: Do you travel on the same plane with the coaches and players? Do you socialize with them on the plane? Do you stay in the same hotel as the team?:

CA: Yes, we travel with the team on the charter and stay at the same hotels. And yes, we do socialize from time to time on the plane.

SM: Do you get a per diem for expenses on the road like players get?

CA: I do get per diem, but it's not the same amount as the players receive.

SM: How long have you been calling Rockets games? Do you still get jet lag?

CA: The only time I've had any jet lag that I can remember was a trip to/from China in 2010. I've been calling games full-time since 2008 which began with radio. Then in 2015/16 I split calling home games on the radio and road games on TV. Last season was my first full season on TV after Bill Worrell's retirement.

SM: Who's the best interview on the current Rockets?

CA: Jae'Sean Tate.

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