HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority

Matt Bullard (left) will join legendary broadcaster Bill Worrell. NBA.com

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How do you introduce Houston sports legends?

With the city’s legendary broadcasters, of course.

Call it a two-fer. Not only will the inaugural  Houston Sports Awards bring together a Who’s Who of the city’s greatest sports legends Feb. 8 at the Hilton Americas, but they’ll be introduced by another Who’s Who list -- The Voices of Houston.

Houston native Bill Worrell tops the list of a dozen iconic Voices involved on the night and he will be up first to kick off the show.

In his 35th year as the Rockets’ play-by-play man, Worrell has been a part of the Houston sports scene for more than five decades, dating back to the 1960s when he graduated from Lamar High School. He played baseball at the University of Houston, then spent a decade at KPRC Ch. 2 as a reporter and sports director.

Worrell will be joined by his Rockets’ broadcast teammates Clyde Drexler, another Houston native, and Matt Bullard.

Drexler, nicknamed Clyde the Glide for his high-flying effortless swoops down the lane, is another Houston legend. He graduated from Sterling High School, played for UH during the Phi Slama Jama years, became a 10-time NBA All-Star and played on the Rockets 1995 NBA Championship team. Drexler, who played a dozen seasons with Portland before coming to Houston, was also named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History along with his UH/Rockets teammate and Houston Sports Awards honoree Hakeem Olajuwon.

Bullard played on the Rockets’ 1993-94 NBA Championship team and played two stints with the Rockets – first from 1990–94, then again from 1996–200.

Texans broadcasters Marc Vandermeer and Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware will also be on hand. Vandermeer just finished his 16th season as the Texans’ play-by-play announcer, while Ware, the Dickinson native who starred at UH and is in both the Texas and College Football Halls of Fame, handles color analysis.

The Astros broadcaster team of Todd Kalas and Geoff Blum, who teamed up at the start of the 2017 season and finished off their first year covering an amazing seven-game World Series and the World Champions, are also among the Voices.

The Houston Sports Awards has drawn a longtime Astros broadcast team out of retirement. Legendary Bill Brown, who retired in 2016 after 30 seasons as the Astros’ play-by-play voice will be joined by his long-time broadcast partner Jim Deshaies. Deshaies, the former Astros lefthander, spent 16 seasons as color analyst with Brown before retiring.

Soccer player-turned-broadcaster Glenn Davis is also on the list of hosts. Davis has covered Houston soccer since the early '90s.

Former Texans defensive tackle and current Sports Radio 610 host Seth Payne will handle duties as a roving reporter during the televised broadcast, while AT&T SportsNet’s Kevin Eschenfelder will host the on-site, pre-broadcast ceremonies.

In addition, there are still a few more iconic faces to be announced who will on hand to honor awards winners.

Stay tuned.

There are still tables and tickets available for the Houston Sports Awards, which kicks off at 4:30 p.m., with a dual red and blue carpet event. Dinner is at 6 p.m. and the awards program starts at 7 p.m.

In addition, there are still Golden Tickets available. The $100 ticket enters you in the Houston Sports Awards Golden Ticket Raffle and gives you a chance to win a pair of season tickets to all Houston Astros, Houston Rockets, Houston Dynamo, Rodeo Houston & Houston Open home games/events during the 2018-19 season. In addition, the winner receives tickets for two Houston Texans home games, the 2018 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff and the 2018 Texas Bowl.

Information on all tickets, tables and the Golden Ticket are available at www.houstonsportsawards.com

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Everyone should be talking about the Cougars! Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images.

You’re burying the lead!

Lately I’ve been watching our local news … “and now here’s (fill in the blank) with sports.”

“Over at Toyota Center, the Rockets came up short and dropped another one to the Jazz or maybe it was the Pelicans or … does it really matter?”

It doesn’t matter. The Rockets have lost 10 games in a row, 15 of their last 16, and they’re in last place in the Western Conference with the NBA’s worst record. They’re on track to finish with an even worse record than last year, when they also had the worst record in the league. Their last three losses were all blowouts, dropping each game by 20-plus points. They’re terrible and getting terrible-er.

Meanwhile in the shadow of downtown there’s another basketball team with “Houston” on the front of their jerseys. That team is a different story, and it should be the lead story.

The University of Houston is 17-1, undefeated in the American Athletic Conference, riding an eight-game win streak, ranked No. 1 in the country and the betting favorite (+550 at Fanduel) to make the Final Four and win the whole March Madness tournament. That’s No. 1 ahead of Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and all the other traditional college powerhouses. The NCAA title clash essentially could be a home game for the Cougars on April 3 at NRG Stadium in Houston.

It all ties into a neat little bow for coach Kelvin Sampson and the red-hot Coogs.

And here’s another reason why the Cougars deserve our support and the sports section headline: every player on the UH team came here because they wanted to play for Houston. Rockets players are in Houston because that’s where they were drafted or traded, or in some cases because they couldn’t get a better deal with any other team.

UH players fell in love with Houston. Rockets players are in arranged marriages.

So why are the UH Cougars relegated to a mere mention before the sports anchor hands it off to the weatherman for a final update on tomorrow’s forecast?

It’s would be understandable why the Rockets hold the media’s attention ahead of the Cougars if this were a typical big market. The pros are bigger, faster and better than college players. But this is Houston, where the local college team is No. 1 in the country and the pro team is dead last in the NBA.

Even if all things were equal, which they’re not, the UH story is more compelling than the Rockets’ tale of woe. UH has a personable, inspirational coach, Kelvin Sampson, one of the most successful figures in the college game. The Rockets coach, Stephen Silas, has a low-key personality and, not entirely his fault, one of the most futile won-loss records in NBA history.

UH has a legit superstar, Marcus Sasser, a first-team All-American pick, a team leader who’s playing in his final season for the Cougars. The Rockets’ top veteran is Eric Gordon, a sourpuss who wants off the team in the worst way and the Rockets are trying their best to accommodate him.

UH is on track to make a lot of noise on the road to the Final Four, like they’ve done six times, the most recent in 2021. UH holds the frustrating record for most Final Four appearances without a championship trophy. Another good storyline. This could be their year, and what better place than their own backyard at NRG Stadium?

It’s not like the Rockets have a serious shot at the NBA Finals, but apples to apples, the NCAA tournament is a bigger deal than the NBA playoffs.

March Madness charges more for TV commercials than any sports event in the U.S. with the exception of the NFL playoffs. March Madness brought in $1 billion in ad revenue in 2021, more than the NBA playoffs and double MLB’s postseason.

Last year’s March Madness championship game had 18.1 million viewers. Last year’s championship game of the NBA Finals drew just under 14 million viewers.

It’s estimated that some 35 million Americans will fill out a bracket for March Madness contests. I’ve never worked in an office where everybody puts down $5 to buy a square in a pool for the NBA Finals. I know a guy who scheduled his vasectomy for the start of March Madness figuring he was due some serious couch time.

March Madness is a national passion. The NBA Finals are a sports event.

Bottom line: the Cougars are the No. 1 team in college hoops, and they’re taking aim at the biggest, most celebrated prize in basketball. They are the pride of our city. So let’s give the UH Cougars the respect they deserve. Give ‘em the top story.

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