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Tait to celebrate 2,500th game

Posted: Monday November 25, 2002 5:12 PM
Updated: Monday November 25, 2002 5:35 PM

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Joe Tait's distinct voice has been about the only thing Cleveland Cavaliers fans have been able to count on for 31 years.

Calling play-by-play with a signature style that blends humor with brutal honesty, Tait has witnessed some Cavalier teams that rank among the NBA's worst.

"Remember, I also did the Cleveland Indians for years (1973-1987)," Tait said. "I have probably seen more losses than any other human being on the planet."

The 65-year-old Tait started calling Cavs' games in 1970. He will broadcast No. 2,500 with the team Tuesday night when Cleveland -- losers of 10 straight -- hosts Sacramento.

Only Al McCoy of Phoenix (2,662 and counting) has called more among current NBA broadcasters.

The Cavs will give away 5,000 Joe Tait Bobble-belly Dolls to fans as they enter Gund Arena on Tuesday.

"I'm not sure I would say that's an honor," said Tait, whose strong voice is matched by a stout waistline. "Let's just say I don't quite have Chick Hearn's physique. But if the promotion brings down two or three more people, I'm all for it."

Tait has been caught off guard by the attention leading to what he says is "just another game".

"I had no idea how many games I had done until somebody told me earlier this year," he said. "I honestly didn't know it was 2,500. I think the best statistic I've heard is that I've done games in some 85 different arenas."

Listening to one of Tait's broadcasts can be as educational as it is exciting.

His trademark lines, "Wham, with the right (or left) hand!" for a dunk or "3-ball ... got it!" for a 3-pointer are part of any Clevelander's sports vernacular.

Tait also calls it like it is.

During his 2,499th broadcast Saturday, New Orleans made six 3-pointers, several uncontested, in Cleveland's 97-84 loss. After Hornets guard Baron Davis hit his third 3-pointer, Tait muttered, "You'd think they (the Cavs) would have learned by now."

His candor is atypical these days, with so many broadcasters openly rooting for the home team.

Tait is one of a handful of basketball announcers left that work without a color commentator.

"Joe's unique," said Dave Dombrowski, the Cavs' senior director of broadcast services. "What makes him so good is that he does the play-by-play and color at once."

Tait grew up on a farm in Amboy, Ill., that for much of his youth didn't have a TV. He listened on radio to AAU games pitting the Peoria Caterpillars against the Akron Winged Foots. He remembers legendary announcer Ernie Harwell calling games for the Atlanta Crackers.

Tait got the Cavs' job by accident. He was managing a radio station in Terre Haute, Ind., when Cleveland coach Bill Fitch, a longtime friend, recommended him to former owner Nick Mileti.

"Bill said he remembered that I made the worst football team he ever saw sound exciting," Tait said. "The Cavs knew they might need some help making their team sound fun."

The expansion Cavs started the 1970-71 season 1-27, and finished 15-67. Better days were ahead, and Cleveland put itself on the NBA map in 1976 by beating Washington in a seven-game playoff.

Tait, who plans to retire when he's 70, gets approached every day by fans who have grown up listening to him. They want to share their stories of the night Craig Ehlo's jumper beat the Utah Jazz or the time Cleveland defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 154-153 in four overtimes.

"Usually, they'll say, 'My dad told me this or my uncle said that,"' Tait said. "When it's, 'My grandfather said ...,' then I know it's time for me to move on."

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