“Once in Germany someone said nein / 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9” — Wilco, “I’m a Wheel”
Going into it, I was decently excited for NBA Week on “Wheel of Fortune.” I figured it’d be fun to see these current and former NBA players going against one another at the Wheel, getting to see who took it super-seriously with their strategy and mind games — could Chris Paul solve a five-word Before & After puzzle as well as he can solve a zone defense? — and who blew their budget buying vowels and trying to solve three letters too early. Hey, it worked for “Family Feud” a couple times already.
Regrettably, I was misled about the actual involvement of the players during NBA Week. Rather than playing in the game show proper, they either showed up at the end of the episode for brief, awkward discussions with Pat Sajak as the credits rolled, or appeared in even briefer pre-filmed bumper segments advertising what was coming up next on the show. Meanwhile, there were NBA-themed puzzles, an NBA-themed background and (arguably) NBA-themed contestants that helped add a little hoops flair to the proceedings.
Ultimately, the week will not go down in NBA lore for anyone who wasn’t watching it with the idea in mind that they were gonna try to get enough material out of it for a column. But I did do that, dammit, so here is the sum total of noteworthy or quasi-noteworthy observations I made about the show during the four NBA Week episodes aired thusfar, with the fifth and final airing tonight.
1. Clearly, the best thing about NBA Week on “Wheel of Fortune” is the blue background with all the team logos scattered throughout. Very NBA Jam. Could do without the “BIG” though. That’s not a basketball team.
2. The really weird thing about NBA Week is that there’s never really an attempt made to explain what connection, if any, there is between the NBA and the show. So you just get all these players wishing the show a happy 30th anniversary as if they’re paying their respects to a cultural institution that has been heavily associated with the league for many years, though to my knowledge, no such association exists. Maybe Pat’s a Staples regular or Jerry Buss is a big ABC game show guy, I dunno.
3. Pat Sajak isn’t often listed among the great game show hosts, but I’d say he’s up there. He just keeps things moving — doesn’t make it about himself, but always hits his marks, provides the necessary mix of humor and eye-rolling without being overbearing. He’d be a great role player in the NBA for sure, probably a good energy guy off the bench.
4. Meanwhile, Vanna White’s role on the show has diminished to a part where it’s hard to believe she was ever like, a celebrity. Was she just super-hot back in the ’80s, or was there just a shortage of hot chicks on TV in general back then? It’s hard to imagine her becoming so iconic in the 2010s without a reality show or a sex scandal or something.
5. The show does an admirable job of trying to make the contestants seem like real NBA fans, though a couple are fairly unconvincing: Pratiksha responds to Pat’s claims of her being a Lakers fan by saying “Yes, I love Lakers!,” while in a later episode, Biaze’s guess for a puzzle that reads “Fa__away Jum_er” is “Faraway Jumper.” The screening process was likely none too strenuous on the necessary super-fandom.
6. Speaking of Pratiksha, her guess of the letter “D” on a puzzle reading “_i__ a ____ in a china shop” absolutely blew my mind, either because it meant that she had no grasp of English-language idioms whatsoever, or that her grasp was so overwhelming that the inclusion of the phrase “in a china shop” in an answer still left too many possibilities to narrow it down in the allotted time.
7. Each night, VIP tickets to one NBA home game were given away. The Knicks and Heat were impressive draws, but my sympathies to the dude who won the Wizards VIP package, which probably has a retail value of about 20 bucks at this point. The Wiz did beat the Knicks and Heat at home this year, though, so perhaps it’s not a totally unreasonable prize.
8. Oh, and the fourth home game VIP package given away was for the Philadelphia 76ers, for whom esteemed representative Andrew Bynum was trotted out to tease “Visit my home court and see the Philadelphia 76ers in action!” Uh, your home court, Andrew? Play like a minute, ever, and then maybe we can talk about your ownership stake in the Wells Fargo Center.
9. Poor DeAndre Jordan. He does get the honor of being referred to, rather generously, as “One of the rising stars of the NBA,” but then he has to hang out with a couple relative midgets who can’t think to ask him about anything but Under Armour. Chris Paul gets to talk about the work he does with his charitable foundation, while DeAndre has to discuss a mutual sponsor. To be fair, I’m not sure exactly what more relevant topics DeAndre is authority enough to converse on for 30 seconds, but I feel like there has to be at least one.
10. During the week, all the Toss-Up puzzles and a handful of the regular puzzles were NBA-themed. How hard would it have been to make the entire thing NBA-themed, though? It got so confusing because the early toss-ups would put you in the NBA puzzle mindset, and then you’d be racking your brain like “Well, this puzzle looks like the answer is Tasty Coconut Chicken, but how is that NBA related? Was that an early nickname for Detlef Schrempf or something?” Not helpful.
11. Andre Iguodala and Kevin Garnett read the same bumper tease in separate episodes: “‘Wheel of Fortune’: All vowels, no fouls.” Rhyming and satisfying, but totally inaccurate. Wouldn’t be a lot of money to be made on an all-vowel episode of Wheel, regardless of foul level.
12. Are there more special wedges on the wheel than there used to be? Growing up, I feel like there was just a Bankrupt, a Lose a Turn and maybe one Wild Card wedge per round, but now it’s like 40 percent of the wedges have something wacky going on with them. Kinda cheapens the specialness of landing on them after a while, doesn’t it?
13. One thing you have to say for Wheel, which Trey alluded to on last week’s Overdose — they just love giving away money. Pat was more than happy to remind viewers of this over the course of the week, bragging “We’re about to give away 3,000 dollars in the next few seconds. There are cable game shows that don’t give that away in a season” (Take that, “Bunk!”) and “I love shows where the third-place winner gets over eight thousand dollars. That’s pretty good.” If there are three things that are recession-proof, it’s prostitution, Jessa’s soon-to-be-ex-husband on “Girls,” and “Wheel of Fortune.”
14. Contestant Jim’s guessing of “The Dream Team” with only the “____m” from “Dream” to work with was easily the most inspirational moment of the week, and that also made it the most tragic moment of the week when at the end of the episode, he got a rare gettable final puzzle (“T_e ___ect __ t_e game”) and just couldn’t pull the word “object.” Like the man himself says, “Hey, you see ‘em or you don’t see ‘em.”
15. “Come Sail Away Come Sail Away” does not count as “Song Lyrics.” Rather, it is a song title repeated twice.