Food Network Finds Sous-Chef in NBA


NEW YORK -The National Basketball Association and Food Network last week unveiled a two-year, multitiered strategic partnership that includes the development of food-themed programming and yet-to-be-determined marketing and promotional tie-ins.

Seven specials, to be produced by NBA Entertainment, will feature various NBA and Women's National Basketball Association players dwelling on their interests and skills in the kitchen rather than the basketball court, as well as the "training table" foods used throughout the league.

These hour-long food- and lifestyle-related specials-the first of which will bow in February-will be hosted by Bobby Flay, host of the series Hot Off the Grill with Bobby Flay.
The second show-in which players and their moms reminisce about the "home-cooked meals that turned them into the athletes they are today"-is due around Mother's Day, said Food senior vice president of programming and production Eileen Opatut. That installment will also depict moms' role in feeding both visiting players and their own offspring.

The third special-tied to the 2001-02 NBA season-will probably air next fall, she added.

The Los Angeles Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal is the only NBA star mentioned so far.

Flay's hosting stint on Food began just before the 1991 opening of his Mesa Grill in Manhattan. He has since opened a second Manhattan eatery, Bolo, and published several cookbooks. But there's more.

"Bobby is an avid basketball fan and player" who plays weekly games in a restaurant league, Opatut said.

Flay's biography on Food's Web site already mentions that New York Knicks great Dave DeBusschere was Flay's "childhood hero."

Segments on forthcoming specials will show players interacting at team dinners and while cooking their favorite dishes.

"This is another unique way.[of] giving a new audience a taste of the NBA," said NBA Entertainment executive vice president of programming Gregg Winik.

The quarterly programs will "show another side of the players," added Scott Weinstock, vice president and supervising producer of the NBA unit. "We're going after all our top NBA and WNBA stars."

Food Network has already produced some sports-related shows, which have ranged from last year's Ballpark Café
special on foods available at various Major League Baseball stadiums to features on tailgate parties at various National Football League venues.

The NBA idea grew from a recent meeting between Food Network president Judy Girard and NBA commissioner David Stern.