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Best of the Rest
Richard Deitsch fills us in on the top announcers from a variety of sports.
Go inside almost any NBA arena these days ... and hold your ears. What goes on -- the endless, ear-assaulting cheerleading by the hometown public address announcer -- mirrors what has happened to much of basketball announcing, particularly in the college game. Announcers have become "personalities," and think they're bigger than the game. They're not.
Though some of my guys below have become "personalities," they achieved that status purely because of their work. They love the game. They know the game. And they understand when to step back, and, in those old familiar coaching terms, "let the game come to them." Of course, most of my favorites wouldn't hesitate to identify that as a hopeless cliché.
MY TOP PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCERS
1. Marv Albert: His voice IS the game -- urban, honest, knowledgeable, and passionate without being overwrought, as is the case with too many announcers. I know Marv well, and I've never seen him suck up to a player or curry favor with a coach; everyone between the lines recognizes his greatness. A big game isn't really a BIG GAME unless Marv is calling it. Pity he's on the wrong network and can't work the Finals.
2. Dick Stockton: Dick is so good (at whatever sport he does) that he's often overlooked. A consumate professional, he is always prepared. His CBS play-by-play defined the golden era of the '80s, when it seemed that Bird was going against Magic, or Magic was going against Michael, every time you turned on the set.
3. Bob Costas: Though he's more associated with baseball, Costas got his start in hoops, as the play-by-play guy for the old ABA St. Louis Spirit, which featured, among other notables, Marvin Barnes. Costas is always prepared, always professional and never treats the game like high church.
4. Verne Lundquist: I compare him to Stockton. Verne never thinks he's bigger than the game and he works as hard now as he did two decades ago. I've sat next to him at many a college basketball regional, and he's as smooth as a sheet of Zambonied ice. All that, and he's a nice man, too.
5. Dave Zinkoff: Never heard of The Zink? Your loss. He was the long-time public address announcer in Philadelphia (for the Warriors, then the 76ers), and is recognized throughout the NBA for four decades as the best in the business. Zink was inventive and colorful without being a cheerleader or disrespectful.
MY TOP ANALYSTS
1. Doug Collins: A former player and coach doesn't necessarily make a great analyst, but having been inside the huddle can help. That was the secret to John Madden's success and that is the secret to Doug's, too. Though he was the top pick in the 1972 draft -- people often forget how good he was before injuries derailed his playing career -- he always saw the game from a deeper perspective. I've seen him prepare for a broadcast, and he works hard for his money.
2. Hubie Brown: Hubie got his gig with Memphis because of his tireless work as an analyst. "When Hubie came to town for a game," said Jerry West, who hired him to coach the Grizzlies, "I never saw anyone more prepared or knowledgeable." Hubie doesn't have the most mellifluous voice in the world. But, folks, hoops ain't supposed to be opera.
3. Al McGuire. There are certain guys who can get away with anything, such as Charles Barkley, who violates every rule of political correctness, and never gets called on it. Al was that rare analyst who could forget names and scores, and, for that matter, which two teams were playing. But his warmth, honesty and passion for the game always won the day.
4. Mike Fratello-Steve Kerr: Maybe I'm cheating here with including a team. But in just one year Fratello and Kerr have become a great combo, joined, of course, by Marv on play-by-play. Kerr fit right into the Albert-Fratello "Czar of the Telestrator" humor. Albert and Fratello also know how to tap into the fact that Kerr, who has three championship rings, was a player as recently as 2003. They use it, but don't overuse it.
5. Clark Kellogg: Sometimes overlooked in a college game that favors self-promoters, Kellogg is consistently excellent. I saw how hard he worked at making the transition from player to announcer; he was one of the first ex-athletes to really approach his new vocation with professionalism. Plus, if he had to come back to the NBA game, he could do it tomorrow.
MY TOP-FIVE CALLS/TRADEMARK LINES
1. "Havlicek Stole the Ball!" I was not a Johnny Most fan. I saw him as a pure homer without charm and with far too much bile. But you have to give the man his due on this one. His call in Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern finals, describing John Havelicek stealing an inbounds pass from Hal Greer that sealed Boston Celtics' 110-109 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, is an indelible part of hoops history.
2. "YESSS!" All right, what's so great about an announcer yelling the affirmative when a shot goes in, as Albert does? Well, it can't be explained, can it? The call is simple, direct and goes straight into the Hall of Fame archives in Springfield.
3. "Airball." Others have claimed ownership of this phrase. But Chick Hearn did play-by-play on 3,338 straight Los Angeles Lakers games from 1965 until midway through the 2001-02 season, so who is anyone to say he didn't invent it? He is also credited with "no harm, no foul," and "garbage time." I like his simple and enduring creations better than his cutsey phrases, such as "bunny hop in the pea patch," which described traveling.
4. "In again, out again, Finnegan." We are all creatures of our past, and I grew up listening to Les Keither broadcast Big 5 basketball games in the Philly area. I waited eagerly for a shot to go in and out, so I could hear Les's trademark call. By the way, Les never said, "And the score is ..." He said: "The arithmetic reads ..."
5. "No. 6 from the University of Massachusetts, Julius ....ERRRRRRR-VING!": That was Zinkoff's call during the glory years of the late '70s and early '80s in Philadelphia. It was the first truly great home-town lineup announcement that I ever heard. Zink also coined "Dipper Dunk" (a stuff shot by Wilt Chamberlain) and "Gola Goal" (a basket by Tom Gola).
FIVE GUYS I'D LIKE TO SEE IN THE BOOTH
1. Reggie Miller: Reggie is such a good guy that he has to stay around the game after his retirement -- going into the booth would be a great way. He has two decades of perspective, and throughout his career he's been candid. He has the confidence and the guts to continue that behind the mike.
2. Jalen Rose: Well, I always see J-Rose walking around with a microphone, reporting the feature angles at All-Star Games and playoffs for the entertainment channels. He's smart, quick on his feet and, as a prep, college and pro star, has seen it all.
3. Phil Jackson: How many different ways over the last five years has Big Chief Triangle found to deflect a question about how Shaq and Kobe were getting along? Also, I understand he's unemployed and available.
4. Sam Cassell: I'm not sure Sam would do much homework for the booth; he'd take the Al McGuire approach. He's known for his rapid-fire delivery and trash-talking, but you know what? A lot of times he makes sense. He would be a breath of fresh air.
5. Rebecca Lobo: She's not a guy? Well, excuuuuuu-se me! This Nutmeg State icon has been in the booth from time to time, and she has the personality and knowledge to make it a career. Plus, she could bounce her lines off of her husband, Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin.
React: Masters of the Mic -- NBA
Sports Illustrated senior writer Jack McCallum covers the NBA for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.