For one night only, Billy Crystal is moving from comedy to color commentary. The actor, comedian and nine-time Oscars host is also a long-time fan of the Los Angeles Clippers who’s regularly sat courtside there since 1985. As part of famed announcer Ralph Lawler’s 40th and final season calling Clipper games, Crystal’s going to join him as the analyst for the entire TV broadcast (on Fox Sports Prime Ticket) of January 31’s Clippers-Lakers clash.
The “Analyze This” star tells Variety that he approached the Clippers with the idea as a tribute to Lawler, whose 40 years as the voice of team he deemed “Hall of Fame worthy.” But Crystal also warned he may have trouble matching Lawler’s knack for trademark catchphrases.
“Mine are all in Yiddish, which may be difficult,” he joked to Variety.
Crystal isn’t a stranger to major league action — he had a one-day contract with the New York Yankees to celebrate his 60th birthday in 2008 — but says he’s “not totally ready” when it comes to announcing for his favorite team. He’s been preparing by taping himself offering commentary while watching games on TV. He plans to be funny, but doesn’t want to be a distraction to the action.
…For Crystal, the new gig is all about saluting Lawler.
“It’s going to be a real honor to sit with him and do this game,” he said. “And hopefully it goes well. Who knows? I may have a new career.”
The Clippers are bringing in plenty of guest commentators for Lawler’s final season, including Mike Fratello (January 23) and Hubie Brown (March 24). But the broadcast with Crystal could be particularly interesting, given that he’s far from your typical basketball analyst. Crystal’s countless Oscar-hosting gigs have given him lots of live-broadcast experience, though, and he’s certainly passionate about basketball and the Clippers, so this isn’t a complete parachute; it’s also promising that he’s already been practicing for this with game broadcasts, as the flow of live sports commentary is a lot different than just about anything (as some, like Jason Witten, have found out).
He also has some experience talking about basketball on TV, including an appearance on TNT’s Inside The NBA last year:
But this is still going to be challenging for Crystal, and there’s a chance that it won’t work out all that well. And with this game likely having some playoff implications (the Lakers are currently fourth in the Western Conference, while the Clippers are sixth), some viewers might get mad if this turns into a Crystal comedy hour instead of an actual discussion of the game. So there are certainly some potential pitfalls ahead.
On the other hand, though, it’s interesting to see a network try something really outside the box like this, and we’re certainly fans of Bill Walton’s comedic digressions. Maybe Crystal will be able to pull off something similar, being entertaining while also still offering some insight. And at least it sounds like he’s putting in the time to prepare for this. After all, if you rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.