If you have stayed up late to watch ESPN broadcasts on the West coast of PAC 12 basketball, chances are you've tuned in on one of Bill Walton's rant on how the Grateful Dead are the best music artists of all time. If you haven't tuned in on one of these games, you may wonder what rock music has to do with college basketball. Nevertheless, the calling of Dave Pasch and Bill Walton of PAC 12 basketball has become intriguing, comical, and ultimately wildly entertaining television.
Bill Walton, the long-retired Portland Trailblazer and former UCLA Bruins all-time great never took the time to care about other's opinions of him. He still doesn't. In his new job, he'll say the damnedest things on air, go off on wild tangents, comment on how wonderful each PAC 12 city is, only to connect the knots in some loose way to basketball. I'll admit, the first time I tuned in to a game which he broadcasted, I thought he was an absolute idiot who doesn't know what he's talking about. I still think that. However, he has become quite entertaining. Like Dick Vitale, he's a commentator who goes off on certain, repetitive tangents in a recognizable voice and fashion. Many people don't appreciate this style of calling a game, but ultimately, it keeps the fan glued to his television. Both Walton and Vitale are respected men who don't take themselves seriously. In other words, they can take the jokes made about them because they realize they are jokes themselves. Do you think Dickie V was yelling, "Oh baby! What a diaper dandy! He's the three 'S' man! Super! Scintillating! Sensational!" when he was a coach? No. He has learned to have a good time (with Duke cheerleaders) by learning to make fun of himself.
While Walton has already mastered this art, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, there needs to be that solid partner who makes sure nothing gets out of hand. Dickie V's significant other is Dan Shulman, a Canadian with a silky-smooth baritone voice by way of Western Ontario University. Shulman has been calling baseball and basketball for ESPN for quite some time now, becoming their primary play-by-play announcer for the biggest of games. With so many broadcasts alongside Vitale, the two have perfect chemistry, elevating the quality of some of the best college basketball games. Walton's partner is Dave Pasch. Pasch, whom I've known for quite some time since he is the Arizona Cardinals' play-by-play radio announcer, has experience with some of the more wild commentators around as he calls the Cards' games with Ron Wolfley, the husky-voiced former pro-football player who uses the most creative analogies in all of football.
I'm not saying that I've gotten the impression that Pasch likes Walton. The two still have yet to click as Pasch oftentimes needs to bring Walton back to the game when he's talking about something off topic. However, the little verbal fights and arguments that they have are amusing. It's almost like listening in on two fans who are talking and arguing about a basketball game that everyone else is watching. That is what commentating should be. That is entertainment. That is television.
Understandably, calling a game with Vitale, Wolfley, or Walton is no easy task; however, familiarity is key. Walton, still rough around the edges, is only in his second year calling games. Pasch is one of the more-experienced younger voices in sports broadcasting. Putting the two together is excellent for the long term run of ESPN. As games grow larger and larger in coverage, the entertainment quality of the broadcasters becomes more and more important. If Pasch and Walton work together for the long run, the two will develop chemistry. If the two split up, Pasch can go off for bigger and better things while the Walton project doesn't pan out. All in all, starting out on the relatively small-scale broadcasts of West coast basketball is a calculated and intelligent decision by ESPN since they can experiment their next big thing. While the rest of America, especially the East coast, has yet to listen in on this dynamic duo, us PAC 12 fans are enjoying the Pasch and Walton's bickering.