With Bill Walton and Dave Pasch, This ESPN College Hoops Illusion Becomes Reality

January 15th, 2015
From:Los Angeles Daily News
Tom Hoffarth
We’re going with a Penn and Teller analogy here, so try to follow along.

“I have no idea who they are,” Bill Walton admitted late Wednesday afternoon, awaiting the tipoff of ESPN2’s UCLA-USC college basketball telecast at the Galen Center.

With that, Walton clearly fits the role of hyperbolical Penn Jillette, dispersing what appears to be an unhinged, tangential assortment of references that occasionally connects to what is playing out before them.

For the audience, it adds to the confusion of an illusion that Walton could be hallucinating.

Next to him is Dave Pasch, looking the part of the impish but forever silent mastermind Teller. Yet, the telling sign here is that Pasch actually has to speak up, and often, or else those watching this ESPN game may simply vanish.

Together, Pasch and Walton create some kind of magnetic magic, where opposites attract and distract. No matter what Walton keeps pulling out of a hat, Pasch figures out how to not only frame it as the quintessential straight man, but encourage more of it.

The thaumaturgic telecast becomes endearing and mystifying.

And here’s what many may find most unbelievable: This classically trained, Syracuse-certified sportscaster Pasch enjoys the challenge of Walton’s company. The more who think Pasch is squirming in his chair plays in their favor.

“There was some sticker shock when we started two years ago — I definitely had to adjust more than Bill did, because Bill’s going to be Bill,” Pasch explained. “It probably took me a few games to loosen up a little bit, to do some soul searching.

“I think there are mixed perceptions of people wondering how I view Bill. Some think it’s part of the show, it’s entertainment. Some think I don’t like him. I do like Bill. I’ve always said that.
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“In fact, there was one instance early on where I said something (that could have been interpreted as scolding Walton) and I apologized to Bill during a break, and he said, ‘Don’t ever apologize again — keep coming, keep coming.’ So it was a ticket to jab him whenever I felt necessary.

“Sometimes I’ll look over and he is laughing about it. At least one of us is laughing usually.”

Walton calls this arranged broadcast marriage that includes producer Tim Sullivan “a great team, I’m so lucky.” Walton says he and Pasch purposely don’t talk too much off camera, trying to save as much spontaneity as possible for the game. Walton confided he learned that trick working for years on Clippers games with Ralph Lawler, a master at rolling with the dialogue still today.

So then for Pasch, calling a game with Walton means he’s forced to listen even more intently to Walton’s reactions. Then the decision comes: Do we really want take this detour?

Deadspin.com has referred to Pasch as “the border collie of ESPN broadcasters” because of his ability to lead a game back on its path when Walton wanders off rubbing two sticks together.

“You can’t respond to everything he says, but you can’t ignore him either, so it’s a fine balance,” said Pasch, also the voice of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and an ESPN NBA and college football play-by-play man.

“I find myself counting in my head: This is the third reference to something other than basketball that he’s said, so now maybe it’s time to get back on track. And sometimes he just doesn’t want to get back on track, so you have to maybe work harder.”

Jay Levy, the senior coordinating producer for ESPN’s men’s college basketball games, said he thought pairing Pasch with Walton when ESPN got the long-term rights deal with the Pac-12 in 2013 was more of something that made sense because they had done some NBA games together in 2006-07 and lived in the region.

Walton took an extended hiatus from his broadcasting career to focus on restoring his health before he felt fit enough to return a few years ago.

“With hindsight being 20-20, I’d like to claim we knew from Day One that they’d have the chemistry everyone sees now,” Levy said, “but we didn’t know they’d be this entertaining. They have developed a really good mix of on-the-court commentary and ‘off-the-court’ discussion that creates crazy, unique, special and fun telecasts.”

Perhaps hoping to dispel any theories that this odd couple may not actually mesh off the air, Pasch took a moment during last week’s UCLA-Stanford telecast from Pauley Pavilion to present Walton with a CD of the 1987 Grateful Dead-Bob Dylan tour – a show Walton said he saw many times.

When the two were in Berkeley for a Wisconsin-Cal telecast near Christmas, Walton gave the Madison, Wisc., native a hunk of cheese to remind him of home.

“This plate of cheese was opened, by the way, so either he ate some, or his dog, Cortez, got a hold of it,” said Pasch. “But I don’t do dairy during a broadcast anyway.”

From the Pasch-Walton dynamic on Wednesday’s telecast: After UCLA’s Tony Parker was called for traveling in the first half, Walton blurted out: “Goodness gracious, sakes alive, that’s one of the three worst calls in the history of Pac-12 basketball.”

“What are the other two?” Pasch asked.

“Take your pick!” Walton exclaimed.

A few minutes later, Pasch prodded Walton for referring to UCLA 6-10 freshman Gyory “G.G.” Goloman as the “Hungarian maestro.”

“That’s the ninth-worst nickname you’ve come up with,” Pasch said.

“What were the other eight?” Walton responded.

“Give me a minute, I’ll come up with them,” Pasch said.

“You’ve got to be quicker than that, Dave,” Walton said.

“It is Dave, right?”

As it works out, the two will be paired up some 20 times between January and the Pac-12 tournament in March. They jetted off to Tucson, Ariz., to call Thursday’s Colorado-Arizona game (with Jay Bilas added to the circus) and have the USC-UCLA game at Pauley Pavilion on March 4.

Walton also fills in on Pac-12 Network telecasts with Ted Robinson, giving him as many as four games a week to call.

“You may not know this,” Walton said on Wednesday’s game, “but I’m always sick. I’m always sick of something or somebody.”

“Then you’re going to be really sick of me by March,” Pasch deadpanned.

Or as the Grateful Dead once sang:

“Oh baby, whatcha gonna do, I’m sick and tired of foolin’ around with you.”

Or not, in this case.