PTI airs from Welsh-Ryan as Wilbon, Kornheiser broadcast men’s basketball game


Alison Albelda/Daily Senior Staffer

Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser banter in front of a group of Northwestern students. “Pardon the Interruption” aired their Friday show from Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Peter Warren, Sports Editor

The lights in Welsh-Ryan Arena were dimmed and the crowd was buzzing. The main event was starting soon and Northwestern’s star was about to make his grand entrance.

As the public address announcer boomed the Wildcat’s name, NU’s band began to play the fight song and fans throughout the arena burst with excitement.

But it was not basketball stars Vic Law or Lindsey Pulliam running onto the court. Instead, it was Michael Wilbon (Medill ’80) jogging onto the hardwood.

Before Friday’s men’s basketball game between Northwestern and Binghamton, ESPN’s afternoon talk show “Pardon the Interruption,” which Wilbon co-hosts, broadcasted from Welsh-Ryan.

The Sports Emmy Awards-winning show aired from Welsh-Ryan because of the relationships of the two hosts to the teams playing later that night. In addition to Wilbon’s connection to Northwestern — where he now sits on the Board of Trustees — Tony Kornheiser, Wilbon’s co-host, is a Binghamton graduate.

“It was fun. It was unbelievably fun,” Wilbon said to The Daily. “Seriously.”

With a studio set up just south of center court and facing toward the south entrance of the arena, students stood behind the hosts while non-student attendees filled the stands in front of the stage.

The event was a first in 17-plus year history of “Pardon the Interruption.” The show had broadcasted from the road before, but had done so only a couple of times in front of a live audience — and never in front of a crowd with clear biases.

The broadcast was not without its hiccups. The taping started later than usual and getting through the opening segment took multiple run-throughs. In the first few runs of the opener, Kornheiser made a comment about Welsh-Ryan being a “dump,” but later dropped the joke.

But after that, the two found their groove and went through all three main segments of the show — Headlines, Toss Up and Happy Time — without much falter. During Toss-Up, the two debated Binghamton and Northwestern centered topics, while former “Pardon the Interruption” guest host J.A. Adande, the director of Sports Journalism at Medill, made an appearance from the second deck for the “Errors and Omissions” segment.

Wilbon said he has no idea how the show went and does not plan on assessing it.

Erik Rydholm, an executive producer of “Pardon The Interruption” who has been a part of the program since its conception in 2001, said the dynamic between the two felt different from their usual rapport.

“They were a little more subdued in a weird way than they are normally in the studio,” Rydholm said. “And I think that part of that is it is so unusual for them — everything is so usual for them — and then part of it is that you can start feeling, when you are in front of an audience, a pressure of expectations.”

After hosting “Pardon the Interruption,” Wilbon and Kornheiser had about an hour and a half to prepare for their next endeavor — providing commentary for the game. Kornheiser spent a few seasons calling “Monday Night Football” and Wilbon has done a few football games in the past — but basketball game commentary was totally new territory for both.

Alongside them at courtside was experienced play-by-play broadcaster Will Flemming, who likened his role during the broadcast to a traffic cop.

“Tonight’s game was just about letting them run,” Flemming said. “They are freakishly talented at ab-lidding and maybe they are not classically trained basketball analysts, but that’s not what this show was about at all. It’s just about bringing them to an arena with their alma maters playing and letting them be them and be the show.”

Flemming first found out he would be doing the game with Wilbon and Kornheiser about a week before Friday and said the broadcast itself was different than anything he had done before — but different in “wonderful ways.”

The event was not just a homecoming for Wilbon. Rydholm grew up in Chicago and his parents had season tickets for Northwestern football. He said watching Northwestern sports in the 1970s and 1980s — a low-point in Wildcats athletics — taught him humility and made him look for the humor in sports.

“There are no stronger memories in my life than the ones of the first 11 years,” Rydholm said. “The last 40 have been a blur. But the first 11 were all formative and Northwestern was a key part of it.”

After the game, which Northwestern won easily by 28 points, Kornheiser and Wilbon took photos and talked with fans. While Kornheiser left after a few minutes of interaction, Wilbon stayed in Welsh-Ryan well after the crowd cleared. The Medill graduate talked to everyone who came up to him after the game and interacted with NU players and coaches.

Wilbon then settled in the Wilson Club box for a postgame soda and birthday dessert. At the end of what is in all likelihood a once-in-a-lifetime event, Wilbon said he was not sure if he’d taken in the whole day yet. But one moment hit close to home for him.

“The Medill people standing behind me, that was important to me. Very important to me,” Wilbon said. “I care about the whole university. I care even more about my school… That was great for me and I’m sure it was great for Tony too. We are journalists. We care.”

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