Originally posted on Awful Announcing  |  Last updated 4/17/12

The video of New Jersey Nets play by play man Ian Eagle hammering broadcast partner Mike Fratello on the air during the 4th quarter of Saturday's New Jersey-Boston game became a viral smash Monday.  The unbelievable nature of the video with Eagle calling Fratello "patronizing" and the awkward, uncomfortable nature of it all quickly made its way through the interwebs.  In spite of the seemingly tense audio, a YES Network spokesman brushed the incident off to USA Today's Michael McCarthy as "all good-natured kidding."  But what about the announcer at the center of this story?  Eagle himself spoke on the matter to Bob Raissman of the NY Daily News and said it was all a joke.  Here's the word from the Bird...

“People believe this is real? That Mike and I would go off on each other on the air?” Eagle asked Monday over the telephone. “Who in a serious fight would ever use the term gobbledygook?”

Admittedly, gobbledygook is a peculiar choice of words in any circumstance.  The tone of the entire clip was rather serious, but Eagle claims it was nothing more than "busting each other's chops" and those outside the local Nets audience merely weren't in on the sarcastic humor...

“Every bit of that was a put-on. Not 40%. Not 70%. It was 100% busting each other’s chops,” Eagle said. “We do it every game. What happens sometimes is the local audience knows what we’re up to, but when something like this goes viral the unfortunate part is the familiarity goes out the window. There are people who just don’t get it, they’re not in on the joke. . . . Sarcasm is hard to comprehend, especially when you can’t see the broadcasters.”

“And that’s when you know you can go to that level of taking your relationship off the air onto the air and having fun with it,” Eagle said. “It’s unfortunate that in today’s world they can take a little snippet of a broadcast and make some grand opinions.”

So both Eagle and YES say that it was all a misunderstanding and a clever bit of deadpan humor that bloggers and other national media just didn't understand.  

While that's a good story, and it's nice that Eagle addressed what happened, I'm not buying it...

Do I believe Ian Eagle and Mike Fratello hate each other's guts or Eagle is a bad guy?  Of course not, he and Fratello are still two of the best basketball broadcasts in the business.  Do I believe Eagle reached a tipping point and let out his frustrations one night on the air?  Absolutely.  Anyone who listened to the video in question and heard friendly sarcasm is not listening to the actual conversation that takes place.  In spite of the video evidence, YES and Eagle and others can easily explain away the footage as much ado about nothing because it fits the pair's motif.  That sounds like sensible spin, but it's spin nonetheless.

The explanation doesn't make sense when looking at the actual footage.  The vital video is actually the one from the middle of the fourth quarter that shows Eagle and Fratello ribbing each other over the initial exchange.  That piece of footage can then be compared to the viral dustup to see if they really are similar in their dry humor.  Here they are once again...

First, the two talk about SlipScreenGate midway through the 4th quarter...


Then, later in the period, Eagle returns to the subject with a much different tone...


There's a clear difference in the two videos.  The first clip contains the dry, sarcastic humor and ribbing that Eagle and Fratello have made trademarks of their broadcasts with numerous partners (though I still detect a tinge of tension).  Conversely, the second clip has a different tone entirely.  Several questions arise if we're supposed to believe both clips are truly "good-natured kidding."  Why would Eagle revisit slip screens a second time after just bringing it up several minutes earlier?  Why interrupt the game to talk about a mundane discussion from nearly a quarter prior?

Eagle's tone is different as well.  The first clip sounds more relaxed, the second more serious and tense.  Eagle's words are more abrupt.  He's less smooth in his delivery.  He references the audience to back up his indignation and brings down the fourth wall.  (Gasp!)  In short, he sounds pissed.  In addition, if this was congenial banter, why is Fratello's first instinct to reply in a disbelieving way "I don't think so at all."  The spin doesn't make sense.

In the end, this story won't likely haunt Eagle for all eternity (in spite of this second Zapruderesque breakdown, which I promise is the last).  He and Fratello can laugh it off and move on just fine.  The viral video was an opportunity for fans to have a laugh at the horrifying awkwardness of it all and even share pity for what Nets basketball is capable of doing to professional basketball announcers.  

If Eagle is telling the truth though, this is the damndest, most convincing bit of sarcasm ever seen and he and Fratello are playing us all for fools.  In fact, it sounds SO sarcastic, it almost seems like he's legitimately upset.  About that...

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