The NBA on CBS logo
Mid-to-late 1980s title card
Genre Sports
Created by CBS Sports
Directed by Sandy Grossman
Mike Arnold
Larry Cavolina
Robert A. Fishman
Vin DeVito, Roy L. Hamilton and Richard Zyontz (associate directors)
Stephen Gorsuch and Steve Cunningham (technical directors)
Cathy Barreto and Scott Johnson (halftime directors)
Alam Brum, Artie Kempner, Colleen Kolibas, Elliott Mendelson and Suzanne Smith (associate directors)
Starring See the broadcasters section below
Country of origin  United States
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 17
Executive producer(s) Ted Shaker
Producer(s) Michael Burks
Bob Dekas
Bob Mansbach
Robert D. Stenner
Cinematography Carmen Abhold
Scott Carlson
Al Cialino
Terry Clark
Keith Dabney
Dan Flaherty
Mike Glenn
George Graffeo
Mike Harvey
Tim Maher
Michael Marks
Tom McCarthy
Jeffrey Pollack
George Rothweiler
Paul T. Sherwood
Fred Shimizu
Running time 150 minutes+
Original channel CBS (1973–1990)
Original run October 20, 1973 – June 14, 1990
External links

The NBA on CBS was a weekly presentation of National Basketball Association games on CBS Sports. The NBA on CBS ran from the 1973-1974 NBA season (when CBS succeeded ABC Sports as the national broadcaster of the NBA) until the 1989-90 NBA season (when CBS was succeeded by NBC Sports).



Early presentation

During CBS' first few years at covering the NBA, CBS was accused of mishandling their NBA telecasts[1][2]. Among the criticisms included CBS playing too much loud music, the lack of stability with the announcers,[3] regionalizing telecasts (thus fragmenting the ratings even further), billing games as being between star players[4] instead of teams, and devoting too much attention to the slam dunk in instant replays. Regular features included a pregame show that consisted of mini-teams of celebrities and active and former NBA players competing against each other, and a halftime show called Horse.

The NBA eventually took notice of the criticisms and managed to persuade CBS to eliminate its original halftime show. In its place, came human-interest shows about the players (similar to the ones seen on the NFL Today program on CBS). There also was a possibility that CBS would start televising a single national game on Sunday afternoons.

Other adjustments that CBS made in hopes of improving their coverage included hiring reporter Sonny Hill to cover the league on a full-time basis. CBS also put microphones and cameras on team huddles to allow viewers to see and hear coaches at work. Finally, CBS introduced a halftime segment called Red Auerbach on Roundball, featuring the Hall of Fame Boston Celtics coach. The segment intended to not only educate CBS' viewers about the complexities of the pro game, but also to teach young players how to improve their skills. They also subtly introduced audiences to an all-star team based on Auerbach's criteria such as screening and passing.

Slam dunk contest

During the 1976-77 season, the NBA's first after the ABA-NBA merger brought the American Basketball Association into the league, CBS held a slam dunk contest that ran during halftime of the Game of the Week telecasts. Don Criqui was the host of this particular competition. The final, which pitted Larry McNeill of the Golden State Warriors against eventual winner Darnell "Dr. Dunk" Hillman of the Indiana Pacers, took place during the 1977 NBA Finals. CBS, anxious for star power, gave big names of that era (Julius Erving, George Gervin, and David Thompson) the opportunity to be eliminated three times.[5][6]

Tape delay and playoff scheduling

From 1975-1979 CBS aired all NBA Finals games live (usually during the afternoon). Starting in 1982, CBS resumed live coverage of all NBA Finals games. During this era, CBS aired weeknight playoff games from earlier rounds on tape delay at 11:30 p.m. Eastern Time (airing games live when the game site was in the Pacific Time Zone). CBS continued this practice until at least the mid-1980s.

CBS didn't want sportscasters to give the final score on the 11 p.m./10 p.m. newscasts. They preferred the games to not be over by that time if they were going to be aired on tape later that night. Most CBS games were either 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. local starts. For instance, CBS aired Games 1-3 of the 1981 Western Conference Finals (between the Houston Rockets and Kansas City Kings). Ironically, CBS featured both Western teams finished the regular season with a record 40-42 instead of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers (both teams finished with a 60-22 record).

1986 was the last year that CBS ever aired an NBA playoff game on tape delay. It was Game 3 (on Friday, May 16) of the playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. The game aired at 11:30 p.m. after having a 9:30 p.m. tip.

Scheduling history overview

CBS scheduling tote boards[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18]
Game Day Date Status
1979 NBA Final
1 Sun. May 20 Live
2 Thu. May 24 Tape Delay
3 Sun. May 27 Live
4 Tue. May 29 Live to EDT/CDT, Tape Delay to MDT/PDT (11:30 p.m. EDT start)
5 Fri. June 1 Live (9 p.m. EDT start)
1980 Eastern Conference Final
1 Fri. April 18 No broadcast
2 Sun. April 20 Live
3 Wed. April 23 No broadcast
4 Thu. April 24 No broadcast
5 Sun. April 27 Live
1980 Western Conference Final
1 Tue. April 22 No broadcast
2 Wed. April 23 Live to EDT/CDT, Tape Delay elsewhere
3 Fri. April 25 Live to EDT/CDT, Tape Delay elsewhere
4 Sun. April 27 Live
5 Wed. April 30 Live to EDT/CDT, Tape Delay elsewhere
1980 NBA Final
1 Sun. May 4 Live
2 Wed. May 7 Live to EDT/CDT, Tape Delay elsewhere
3 Sat. May 10 Live
4 Sun. May 11 Live
5 Wed. May 14 Live to EDT/CDT, Tape Delay elsewhere
6 Fri. May 16 Affiliates had choice to show live or tape delay

The 1976 NBA Finals had three straight off days between Sunday afternoon opener and Thursday night second game due to CBS' concern with low ratings for professional basketball. The 1975-76 network television season (as well as May sweeps) ended after Wednesday, May 26 (with weekend afternoon games not factored into the prime-time ratings). Accordingly, CBS allowed Game 1 to be played on Sunday afternoon, since the ratings would not count, but would not permit Game 2 to be played live in prime time unless the NBA waited until Thursday evening.

For Game 3 of the Finals, CBS forced the NBA to start the game in Phoenix at 10:30 a.m. local time (1:30 p.m. EDT) on a Sunday morning. This was done in order to accommodate a golf telecast that afternoon. Many local clergymen were outraged, as attendance at Sunday church services was drastically reduced that day.


By 1977, CBS' NBA schedule was composed of six regionalized telecasts on Sundays. Not only that, CBS would run one national game if they felt that match-up itself warranted national coverage. CBS also could stage doubleheaders and switch from a one-sided game to a close one. During this period, CBS stopped doing any pre-NBA Finals prime time games. They, instead started airing several West Coast games at 11:30 p.m. ET.

For most of the early years, the NBA tried to assist CBS by allowing the network to choose any game it wanted to broadcast. But too often, it was small market teams like the Portland Trail Blazers that were in the playoffs or won the championship.

CBS wanted the NBA to start Game 6 of the Finals at 10:30 local time on Sunday morning to accommodate a golf telecast of the Kemper Open (similar to 1976). This time, the NBA refused and CBS agreed to a noon start in Portland. Despite the fact that this was the Finals' clinching game, CBS cut away from their NBA coverage very quickly after the game ended, skipping the trophy presentation in the Portland locker room to instead televise the golf tournament.


By 1978, NBC aired Saturday afternoon college basketball games, CBS aired NBA doubleheaders on Sunday afternoons, and most independent stations aired local professional and college games. CBS started to fear that their ratings suffered as a result of too much basketball being on television at once. So as an experiment of sorts, CBS aired the first two games of the Conference Finals at 11:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.


In 1979, Games 2 and 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals were televised live, while Game 7 was broadcast on tape delay. Games 3 and 6 of the Western Conference Finals aired live, while Games 2, 5 and 7 were televised via tape delay. Games 6 and 7 of the 1979 NBA Finals would have been televised live (at 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday and then 9:00 p.m. on the following Tuesday), but were unnecessary.


By 1979-1980, CBS' NBA ratings had bottomed. In 1980, CBS' regular season rating was a 6.4. By this time, they had eliminated their regional coverage and only used two play-by-play men (Brent Musburger and Gary Bender) and three color commentators (Bill Russell and Rod Hundley, who teamed with Musburger and Rick Barry, who teamed with Bender) CBS felt that wasn't worth it to them to pre-empt their Friday night lineup (the smash hit Dallas in particular) during May sweeps to show an NBA Finals game. The consensus was that a basketball game in prime time would have drawn fewer viewers. As a result, CBS used to regularly run NBA games in the 11:30 p.m. time slot (then occupied by The CBS Late Movie). For the 1980 and 1981 NBA Finals, CBS scheduled Games 3 and 4 on back-to-back days (Saturday and Sunday) to avoid an extra tape delay game.

When it came time for CBS to broadcast Game 6 (on Friday, May 16) of the 1980 Finals, they gave their affiliates (in fact, WAGA-TV[19] in Atlanta didn't carry the NBA on CBS for numerous years) the option of either airing the game live or on tape delay. If the affiliate choice to air the game later that night, then prime time viewing would consist of reruns of The Incredible Hulk, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Dallas. Game 6 (the clincher) of the 1980 Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers was most notably, aired live in the Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle markets; the latter three could air the game live and still show most of the CBS prime time schedule since the game tipped at 6 p.m. Pacific Time. Otherwise, most CBS affiliates chose to air Game 6 on tape delay.

The reason for this scheduling dilemma was the fact that the NBA had opted to start the regular season earlier. Starting in the mid-1970s, the NBA had pushed back the start of the regular season, resulting the regular season ending later and later (e.g., April 6 in 1975, April 11 in 1976). Prior to that, the regular seasons had always ended in late March. For 1979-1980 and 1980–1981, the NBA reverted to the earlier practice, with the season ending on Sunday, March 30, 1980 and Sunday, March 29, 1981, respectively. That meant that the Finals in those years began in the first week of May rather than the end of May, and thus the weeknight games were played during May ratings sweeps. Consequently, West Coast weeknight games started at 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time, which was 11:30 p.m. in the East. Those games could be shown live. But non-West Coast weeknight games required tape-delay, to be shown at 11:30 p.m.


The 1980-1981 season was arguably the rock bottom point of the tape delay era for CBS. CBS aired four of the six Finals games on tape delay and six of nine during the Conference Finals. Just like the previous year, CBS scheduled Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals without an off day to avoid yet another tape delay game. CBS wanted the Pacific teams to advance in the playoffs so that they could show live games at 11:30 p.m. on the East Coast; however, the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers were upset in Round 1, while the Phoenix Suns were upset in Round 2. This left two teams playing in the Central Time Zone—the Houston Rockets and Kansas City Kings in the Western Conference Finals.

Later years
CBS' time/score graphic[20] during a late-eighties regular season game between the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls.

The NBA responded to CBS' actions by returning to a schedule that started later --- usually the last weekend in October --- and ended in mid- to late-April, resulting in the NBA Finals ending after sweeps. The NBA had experimented in 1979-1980 and 1980-1981 with ending the regular season at the end of March, thereby ensuring that the Finals were played in early to mid-May; starting in 1981-1982, a late April regular season finale was held, resulting in the finals starting in late May and stretching into June. For example, while the 1980 Finals were slated for May 4–18 if they went seven games, and the 1981 Finals for May 5–17, the 1982 Finals were scheduled for May 27-June 10.

While CBS would stop using tape delay after the 1981 NBA Finals, many first round playoff games were not nationally televised (a practice that didn't begin until 1995). During this era, CBS typically provided regional coverage of two games in a late Sunday afternoon time slot during the first three weekends of the playoffs. In 1986, CBS provided regional coverage of the Eastern Conferences Finals and Western Conference Finals games on May 18. This would be the last time that any NBA Conference Finals game was not nationally televised.

During the 1980s, CBS showed a mixture of NBA and college basketball during the regular season. Each March, CBS would essentially put their NBA coverage on hold during the NCAA Tournament. CBS typically showed a few regular season NBA games in the weeks after the NFL season ended, before March Madness, and several weekends leading into the playoffs.


In the 1982-83 season, CBS greatly reduced the number of regular season broadcasts from 18 to four. The rationale was that cable television (namely, the USA Network and ESPN) was carrying a large number of regular season games (at least 40 each). In return, CBS executives believed that the public was being oversaturated with NBA coverage.


For the 1983-84 season, CBS would televise just ten (out of 170 nationally) regular season games. Meanwhile, CBS televised about 16 playoff games.

In 1984, CBS Sports' Lesley Visser (wife of lead NBA on CBS play-by-play man Dick Stockton) became the first woman to cover an NBA Finals.


On May 12, 1985, during halftime of the Boston Celtics/Philadelphia 76ers playoff game, CBS televised the first ever NBA Draft Lottery.


1986 was the last time CBS ever aired an NBA playoff game on tape delay. It was on May 16, 1986, Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. The game aired on 11:30 p.m. following a 9:30 p.m. tip. Also in 1986, CBS provided regional coverage of the Eastern Conference and Western Conference Finals games on May 18. As previously mentioned, this was the last time that any NBA Conference Finals game was not nationally televised.


In 1987, CBS provided prime time coverage for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. This marked CBS' first pre-Finals prime time playoff telecast since 1975. CBS was able to do this because the NBA decided to push the Finals back from late May until early June. With the Finals starting a week later, the awkward long pauses between Games 1 and 2 were no longer required. Thus instead of Game 2 of the Finals being shown on the first night after sweeps ended, CBS could show Game 6 of the Conference Finals.


By the late 1980s, CBS was telecasting 15-16 regular season games a year. In 1989 alone, only 13 of the 24 playoff games (Games 1-3 to be exact) in Round 1 appeared on TBS or CBS. For example, none of the four games from the Seattle-Houston first round series appeared on national television.

Another interesting fact is that Game 5 of the 1989 playoff series between Chicago and Cleveland (featuring Michael Jordan's now famous game winning, last second shot over Craig Ehlo) wasn't nationally televised. For instance, CBS affiliates in Virginia elected to show the first game of a second round series between Seattle and the Lakers.

Meanwhile, many CBS affiliates on the West Coast such as Los Angeles and San Francisco got a chance to see at least a portion of the Chicago-Cleveland game. In Los Angeles, the hometown Lakers finished their game (started at the same time as the Chicago-Cleveland game) just in time for CBS to switch to Chicago-Cleveland, where, as it happened, Jordan made his game winner. The Portland Oregonian criticized CBS for its decision to show the Game 1 of the second round Seattle-Lakers series in Portland rather than that game. Further, CBS only broadcast the fifth game of the first round series between Atlanta and Milwaukee nationally. The nationally televised Atlanta-Milwaukee game went on the air at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time while the regionally televised Chicago-Cleveland and Seattle/L.A. Lakers games went on the air at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

Perhaps even more confusing, both Game 5 sites (Chicago at Cleveland and Milwaukee at Atlanta) were in the Eastern Time Zone, so differing local start times were not a factor. Previously, CBS aired Game 2 of the Chicago-Cleveland series nationally while relegating Game 2 of the Atlanta-Milwaukee series to TBS. CBS used its number one announcing team, Dick Stockton and Hubie Brown to call the latter game.

Resurgence of the NBA

Popular belief holds that the peak era of the NBA on CBS occurred from 1984 to 1987. During this period, CBS' NBA coverage was the beneficiary of a new era in the league that would forever link two of the game's greatest players, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Bird and Johnson entered the NBA (coming off of playing against each other in the highest rated NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship of all time), playing for the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively. The Lakers and Celtics, two iconic teams in large television markets, rose to prominence during the period; many credit the theatrics of Bird and Johnson to boosting the overall popularity of the NBA (especially during the tape delay era of NBA telecasts). Within three years of Johnson and Bird entering the league, the NBA had a weekly Game of the Week on CBS, and ratings for Finals games approached World Series levels.

Prior to the Bird/Magic era, CBS used to televise approximately five to seven games regionally per week in a doubleheader format (1:45 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET) on Sundays. ratings for regional were far outdrawn by NBC's college basketball coverage and ABC's Superstars program. After ratings bottomed out in 1980 and 1981, coinciding with CBS airing tape delayed coverage, the network decided to scrap the regional telecasts. In its place CBS sold the marquee players and teams (i.e. Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers, Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, etc.) for a "Game of the Week" broadcast.

Memorable moments

During its tenure as NBA network partner, CBS aired notable Finals series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, as well as both championships won by the "Bad Boy" era Detroit Pistons.


Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals was highest rated game in the history of the NBA on CBS.

In 1976, CBS' regular season ratings earned an abysmal 26 share on Sunday afternoons. In 1978, the deciding game of the NBA Finals ranked 442nd out of 730 shows from September 1, 1977 to August 31, 1978. The next highest rated playoff game in prime time only ranked 619th.

CBS' NBA ratings were also extremely low during the early part of the eighties. In 1980, the 26 share from 1976 had fallen to 18 percent. Ratings fell to a level where, as mentioned before, CBS began airing games in tape delay. The 1981 NBA Finals set the standard for futility, with a 6.7 average rating. The mark was the lowest in NBA history, until the 2003 NBA Finals averaged a 6.5 on ABC.

With the rebirth of the Lakers–Celtics rivalry, ratings improved, especially in the three NBA Finals the two teams played in. In-between 1981-1983 CBS' ratings rose 12 percent. CBS' highest rated NBA game (and the only NBA game that scored a 20 plus rating for the network) was Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Detroit Pistons. By the end of its coverage, CBS' NBA ratings had been mostly respectable, with the lowest rated Final after 1982 scoring a 12.3 (three times). That mark is higher than any NBA Final since 1998.

The end of The NBA on CBS

On November 9, 1989[21], the NBA and NBC reached an agreement on a four-year, $600 million contract[22] (beginning in the 1990-1991 season). From 1986 to its final year in 1990, CBS paid about $47 million per year for their NBA coverage. The final NBA game that CBS televised to date occurred on June 14, 1990. It was Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers. The Pistons won the game 92-90 to clinch their second consecutive World Championship. As the soundtrack for their goodbye montage, CBS used "The Last Waltz" by The Band and Marvin Gaye's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" from the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. So after 17 years, an era at CBS Sports as well as the National Basketball Association had come to an end. While the network broadcast all five NBA Finals involving Larry Bird, all four NBA Finals involving Julius Erving, nine of the ten NBA Finals involving Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and eight of the nine NBA Finals involving Magic Johnson (with the exception of 1991, which was Magic Johnson's last and the first to be broadcast by NBC), it never broadcast a Final involving Michael Jordan.

Well, I guess now the time has come. This is our last game as many of you may know. And it's really the end of a 17 year love affair between CBS and the NBA. For every member of our broadcast team and I mean technicians, and camera people, production people, the terrifically talented folks in the truck, where it all happens, and of course...the commentators, this has been an extraordinary experience. We've witnessed the careers of Julius Erving and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. We've seen Michael Jordan take flight. All the players actually...fired the imagination not only for an entire generation of NBA fans but for all of us at CBS. We know we leave the NBA in good hands. But to Isiah and Akeem and Patrick and David Robinson, to all the players and coaches...and you the viewers, we're going to miss all of you. So long!
Dick Stockton signing off for the final time on June 14, 1990 (CBS' last NBA telecast to date)


In May 2007, the NBA renewed its television contract with ESPN, making ABC the broadcast home of the NBA through 2016.

It remains possible that CBS could land some sort of NBA coverage in the future, even co-existing with ABC as an over-the-air partner (but likely airing games on different days from each other if such happens). Since CBS Sports now co-produces its NCAA March Madness coverage with Turner Sports, which is the other current broadcast partner of the NBA, CBS and Turner might also join together for any future NBA coverage on the former, even using TNT's current NBA theme (March Madness games on CBS and Turner networks also share the longtime CBS college basketball theme).


Brent Musburger

Musburger was involved in every NBA Final (either as a play-by-play man or as a host) from 1975 to 1989, and was the lead voice for NBA games on CBS for much of that period. From 1975 to 1980, Musburger worked with a variety of analysts for regular season games (including Billy Cunningham, Mendy Rudolph, Rod Hundley, Oscar Robertson, Steve Jones, Tom Heinsohn, and Rick Barry). Musburger called Game 5 of the 1976 NBA Finals, with Rick Barry and sideline reporters Mendy Rudolph and Sonny Hill. In 1989, he and Bill Raftery were the number two team on playoff games, working the Western Conference Final games that were broadcast on CBS. In 2004, Musburger and Raftery worked NBA playoff games on ESPN.

Dick Stockton

Dick Stockton[23] was the lead voice of the NBA on CBS from 1981 to 1990. After CBS failed in an attempt to compete with the NBC college basketball announcing team of Dick Enberg, Billy Packer and Al McGuire with Gary Bender (who was subsequently "promoted" to a play-by-play position on CBS' newly acquired college basketball package), Rick Barry and Bill Russell, Stockton became the voice of the NBA. Working with Tom Heinsohn (who was criticized[24] by the media and viewers for being too biased to the Boston Celtics, a team he once played for and later coached) from 1983 to 1987, Stockton called some of the most memorable NBA Finals in league history. In 1984, 1985 and 1987, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics played each other in the NBA Finals, and Stockton's broadcasts became the then-highest rated in NBA history. Stockton would call the NBA Finals through the rest of the 1980s and in 1990 as well, working the 1988 NBA Finals with Billy Cunningham and the 1989 and 1990 NBA Finals with Hubie Brown (after Cunningham left CBS Sports to accept a management job with the new Miami Heat).

Other personalities

CBS employed many NBA greats during its seventeen years as the lead network carrier; Bill Russell was an analyst for several years, mainly in the 1970s and early 1980s. Elgin Baylor was an analyst during CBS' inaugural year in 1973-1974, and was fired during that year's playoffs due to what CBS considered a lackluster performance. He was replaced by another NBA great, Rick Barry[25], who held a fairly consistent role with CBS through the 1970s and early 1980s, including calling several NBA Finals. Steve "Snapper" Jones, best known from the NBA on NBC, was part of CBS' broadcast teams, partnering with Don Criqui in 1975-1976 and 1976-1977.

During Game 5 of the 1981 NBA Finals, CBS analyst Rick Barry made this comment when CBS posted an old photo of colleague Bill Russell's on the 1956 Olympic team:

Who’s the guy in the back row with the big watermelon smile?[26][27]

Barry's comments were considered to be racially insensitive and CBS did not renew Barry for the subsequent season. Russell stayed on with new play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton for two seasons before giving way to former Celtics teammate Tom Heinsohn for the 1983-84 season.

CBS often used the same analysts for both the NBA Playoffs and NCAA Tournament. Tom Heinsohn, Billy Cunningham[28], and Hubie Brown all worked NCAA Regionals during years when also serving as the lead NBA analyst for CBS. Billy Packer worked NBA playoff games in 1987 and 1988 while he was the CBS' lead college basketball analyst.

During the 1984 NBA Finals, Lesley Visser (wife of lead NBA on CBS play-by-play man Dick Stockton) became the first woman to cover an NBA Finals. She joined CBS Sports part-time in 1984 before joining full-time in 1987. When she was part-time with CBS, she still worked for the Boston Globe, as she had many diverse assignments with the Globe. Visser became the first female NBA beat writer in 1976, when she was assigned to cover the Boston Celtics. Visser resigned from the Globe in late 1988.

While Brent Musburger did host most of CBS' NBA Finals pregame and halftime programs, Pat O'Brien hosted a pregame show during the earlier rounds of the playoffs called The Basketball Show. O'Brien, working with analyst Bill Raftery, also hosted the The Prudential At The Half. When Musburger left CBS Sports in April 1990, O'Brien took over the NBA Finals (the last that CBS did) hosting duties full-time. In 1988 and 1989, Pat O'Brien filled-in for Brent Musburger (who was busy covering the College World Series for CBS) as the NBA Finals anchor for Game 2.

List of broadcasters

Brent Musburger, prior to Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals between the Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers.

Announcing teams


  1. Dick Stockton and Tom Heinsohn
  2. Brent Musburger and Kevin Loughery
  3. Gary Bender and Doug Collins
  4. Frank Glieber and James Brown


  1. Dick Stockton and Tom Heinsohn
  2. Brent Musburger and Hubie Brown
  3. Gary Bender and Doug Collins
  4. Frank Glieber and James Brown[29]


  1. Dick Stockton and Tom Heinsohn
  2. Brent Musburger and Billy Cunningham
  3. Gary Bender and Hubie Brown
  4. Jim Nantz and Doug Collins


  1. Dick Stockton and Tom Heinsohn
  2. Brent Musburger and Billy Cunningham
  3. Verne Lundquist and Hubie Brown
  4. Tim Brant and Billy Packer


  1. Dick Stockton and Billy Cunningham
  2. Brent Musburger and Tom Heinsohn
  3. Verne Lundquist and Hubie Brown
  4. Tim Brant and Billy Packer


  1. Dick Stockton and Hubie Brown
  2. Brent Musburger and Bill Raftery
  3. Verne Lundquist and Tom Heinsohn
  4. Greg Gumbel and Quinn Buckner


  1. Dick Stockton and Hubie Brown
  2. Verne Lundquist and Len Elmore[30]
  3. James Brown and Tom Heinsohn
  4. Greg Gumbel and Quinn Buckner
CBS NBA Final announcers
Year Play-by-Play Color
1990 Dick Stockton Hubie Brown
1989 Dick Stockton Hubie Brown
1988 Dick Stockton Billy Cunningham
1987 Dick Stockton Tom Heinsohn
1986 Dick Stockton Tom Heinsohn
1985 Dick Stockton Tom Heinsohn
1984 Dick Stockton Tom Heinsohn
1983 Dick Stockton Bill Russell and Kevin Loughery
1982 Dick Stockton Bill Russell
1981 Gary Bender Bill Russell and Rick Barry
1980 Brent Musburger Rod Hundley and Bill Russell
1979 Brent Musburger Rick Barry and Rod Hundley
1978 Brent Musburger Rick Barry and John Havlicek
1977 Brent Musburger Rick Barry and Steve Jones
1976 Brent Musburger Mendy Rudolph and Rick Barry
1975 Brent Musburger Oscar Robertson
1974 Pat Summerall Rick Barry and Rod Hundley

Christmas Day broadcasters

CBS broadcast a Christmas Day game each year from 1975–76-1989–90 with the exception of 1982–83.

Year Teams Play-by-play Color commentator(s)
1975 Kansas City @ Phoenix Don Criqui Mendy Rudolph
1976 Chicago @ Kansas City Don Criqui Billy Cunningham
1977 Washington @ Philadelphia Don Criqui Steve Jones
1978 Philadelphia @ New York Brent Musburger Keith Erickson
1979 Philadelphia @ Washington Gary Bender Rod Hundley
1980 Boston @ New York Gary Bender Bill Russell and Rick Barry
1981 Los Angeles Lakers @ Phoenix Dick Stockton Bill Russell
1983 New Jersey @ New York Dick Stockton Tom Heinsohn
1984 Philadelphia @ Detroit Dick Stockton Tom Heinsohn
1985 Boston @ New York Dick Stockton Tom Heinsohn
1986 Chicago @ New York Dick Stockton Tom Heinsohn
1987 Detroit @ New York Dick Stockton Billy Cunningham
1988 Los Angeles Lakers @ Utah Dick Stockton Hubie Brown
1989 Cleveland @ Atlanta Dick Stockton Hubie Brown

Theme music

Through the 1973-1976 seasons, the theme music for the NBA on CBS actually had lyrics. "Last Night" by the Mar-Keys was used roughly around 1975-76 as the play-by-play announcer would give a preview to the game featured.

Starting in 1977, CBS used an alternate opening showing a montage of still pictures of current NBA star athletes with music (similar to the music used by the network for its CBS' NFL coverage at that time) accompanying it. In 1980, CBS used rotoscoped animation in silhouette of one player shooting a jumpshot and the ball in mid air rolling all the NBA teams as it spun in the air, with disco-pop-moog music behind it. During the 1978-79 season, the music for the highlights was "Chase", the theme by Giorgio Moroder for the movie Midnight Express. The opening guitar and horn riff of the Chicago hit "Alive Again" were used for the highlights prior to the opening animation during the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons.

By the 1983 NBA Finals, the opening sequence was set in a primitive computer-generated montage of basketball action inside a virtual arena that looked similar to the Boston Garden. This opening sequence (which was usually intertwined by a montage of live basketball action complete with narration) was created by Bill Feigenbaum, who also created a similar open for The NFL Today used around the same time[31]. This opening melody (mostly consisting of an uptempo series of four notes and three bars each) from 1983-1988 is generally considered to be the most familiar theme music that The NBA on CBS used.

For the 1989 NBA Finals[32], CBS completely revamped the opening montage. The computer-generated imagery (once again set in and around a virtual arena) was made to look more realistic (live-action footage was incorporated in the backdrops). Also, the familiar theme music was rearranged to sound more intricate and to have a more emotional impact, along the lines of the network's later World Series coverage. Between the 1989 NBA Finals and the 1990 NBA Finals' intros, there is a slight theme tune revision. The 1989 Finals intro had a lot more of a guitar riff to it. Meanwhile, the 1990 Finals intro carried a little more usage of a trumpet sound.


Games televised / television contracts per season (CBS)
Season 1973-74 1974-75 1975-76 1976-77 1977-78 1978-79 1979-80 1980-81 1981-82 1982-83 1983-84 1984-85 1985-86 1986-87 1987-88 1988-89 1989-90
Games 40 37 40 40 40 38 36 40 40 26 32 32 33 38 42 36 45
Contracts $27 million/3 years $21 million/2 years $74 million/4 years $91.9 million/4 years $173 million/4 years


  1. ^ "Slam-Dunked By the Ratings" in Sports Illustrated
  2. ^ John Papanek also criticized CBS' coverage of the NBA in a Sports Illustrated article called, "There's An Ill Wind Blowing for the NBA." Papanek indicted CBS for "treating its telecasts as little more than a bridge between a refrigerator race and a golf tournament"
  3. ^ Even NBA players such as Bob Lanier agreed that there should have been a continuity of announcers, so fans could relate to them.
  4. ^ He also wrote that CBS had erred by billing games as players against players rather than teams, such as "Dr. J vs. Rick Barry", and "David Thompson vs. Pistol Pete."
  5. ^ Dr. Dunk Rates His Competition
  6. ^ Enjoying 'Mile High' should be a slam dunk
  7. ^ 1979-'80 - 1982-1983
  8. ^ 1979-'80
  9. ^ 1980-'81
  10. ^ 1981-'82
  11. ^ 1982-'83
  12. ^ 1983-'84
  13. ^ 1984-'85
  14. ^ 1985-'86
  15. ^ 1986-'87
  16. ^ 1987-'88
  17. ^ 1988-'89
  18. ^ 1989-'90 (The Final Season)
  19. ^ Leggett also cited as an example of NBA problems the fact that the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, WAGA-TV, did not carry any NBA games and hadn't for the previous five years. This occurred despite the fact the city had an NBA franchise in the Atlanta Hawks.
  20. ^ The score graphic appeared at the bottom of the screen after each score for only a few seconds, and when the shot clock was running down CBS provided a small blue graphic in the left portion of the screen that showed the clock running out. Also, when the game clock ran inside of two minutes, CBS would display the clock in the lower right-hand portion of the screen.
  21. ^ November 9, 1989: The NBA signs a lucrative 4-year television deal with NBC.
  22. ^ The Ball's In A New Court: NBC took the NBA away from CBS for a cool $600 million
  23. ^ Stockton was often criticized for being too noncommittal in his analysis. It was suggested by more than one journalist that he reported innocuous statistics rather than take the time to levy important criticism or discuss game strategy.
  24. ^ Heinsohn was criticized by many because, as a former Celtic player, he was seen as a Celtic booster. On the other hand, Celtic fans believed Heinsohn was going out of his way on telecasts to criticize the Celtics and prove that he was not biased. Heinsohn also was criticized for his distinctive New Jersey accent and what some felt was his curious use of the English language.
  25. ^ In examining coverage of the NBA during the 1970s, the researcher found that the play-by-play announcer dominated the discussion during the games, with the color analyst speaking occasionally to comment on a replay or an important situation he had picked up. For example, during the 1976 Greatest Games telecast of the Celtics-Suns NBA Finals, color analyst Rick Barry noted that when a player had the ball and was running upcourt, he always had to be careful with an opposing player pursuing him. Barry made this point when Boston guard Jo Jo White knocked the ball away from a Phoenix player from behind as the player ran upcourt. Barry was another in the long line of player-analysts, though his career was not quite finished in 1976 when he joined CBS play-by-play man Brent Musburger for the Finals telecast. Barry, one of the greatest players in NBA history, was also one of the most disliked players in the league--by his own teammates as well. His reputation as a perfectionist and his sharp tongue were perfectly suited for analyzing NBA action. When a player made a mistake, Barry usually had a remark about it. For instance, during the same Celtics-Suns game, Barry remarked on a foul by Celtic Don Nelson on a jump-shooting Phoenix guard: "Why small forwards wanna be shot blockers is beyond me." Barry continued the tradition started by Russell for his honest analysis.
  26. ^ Kick Out the Sports!
  27. ^ Sportscasters Gone Wild
  28. ^ Billy Cunningham has made NBA telecasts smoother
  29. ^ Frank Glieber died of a heart attack after the second weekend of the playoffs and was replaced by Verne Lundquist.
  30. ^ Verne Lundquist and Len Elmore worked Game 7 of the Chicago Bulls-Detroit Pistons Eastern Conference Final.
  31. ^ Welcome to TV ARK The Television Museum
  32. ^ Introduction to Game 4 of the 1989 NBA Finals on YouTube

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