Because I was obliged to videotape Seattle's game against the Utah Jazz last Friday (which the Sonics sadly lost, 96-84), I was able to transcribe a rather unbelievable bit of dialogue between Sonics television announcers Kevin Calabro and James Donaldson as they chimed in after a commercial break.Calabro: "69-67 count, the Utah Jazz leading the Sonics with 8:46 left to play in the fourth quarter. One of the keys we talked about before the game was the inside matchup between [Vinnie] Baker and Malone, and it's never materialized because Vinnie has been unable to stay in the game. He has had a contusion to the left hand! It's the off hand!"

Donaldson: "You know, Kevin, I can't understand this. I mean, it is his off hand [non-shooting hand], but that shouldn't be any reason why he still can't use his legs and get the position underneath and be a presence using that big body of his. Hey, look at my hand! I dislocated both fingers--"

Calabro: "--Boy, I dug it!"

Donaldson: "--at one time, and still played. You gotta want to play in this game, you have to have the heart to get out there and give it to your team. You've got plenty of time to rest up on the flight out to Boston, and get yourself fixed up and ready for the next game."

Calabro: "And you have to go to the coach and make a case: 'Look, I'm all right! See that? I can flex it. See that? I can move it. I need to play. I gotta play! Look at this!'"

Donaldson: "You have to show that you really wanna be out there. Otherwise, you give the coach an excuse to sit you down if you're not playing well."

I've always been a big Calabro fan, and I think Donaldson's done a decent job this year as color commentator--but something about this exchange deeply sickens me. It has nothing to do with whether the opinions expressed are in any way accurate or representative of Vin Baker's approach to the game; they may very well be. What I find reprehensible is the pandering and paternalistic manner in which those opinions were expressed: Pandering because they partake of an easy judgment that does no more than grease the wheels of popular opinion, like kicking a dog that no one likes anyhow; such sensationalistic nastiness seems, to me, to offend some basic sense of propriety. It amounts to a verdict delivered in a vacuum and masqueraded as fact. And paternalistic because it evinces the spontaneous armchair arrogance so typical of knuckleheaded sports fans, as well as an unseemly assumption that Baker is a hunk of meat that could surely stand more pulverizing (i.e., could stand to throw around "that big body of his" a little more). These are the kinds of attitudes one might expect to hear expressed on a bus; in the format of commentary, I think they stink. Too easy. Too high-school football coachish.

Judge not, and if you're going to call someone a coward, dammit, make sure you do it to his face! And that's exactly what was accomplished in Calabro and Donaldson's exchange: an implicit accusation of cowardice. This has nothing whatsoever to do with Baker's talent, or his particular performance in this or that game. It's a dig on his integrity and his desire to play. It might indeed be true that he possesses neither one of these qualities. He might be a complete bum. If, however, you're going to say so, you better make your case in full, because you're now entering the realm of character, where things get a bit complicated. Such things sure as hell deserve more elaboration than a sound bite during time-out.