The Next Voice You Hear…

I’ve given it a lot of thought, and as much as I love the sport of basketball and the Phoenix Suns, I’m not sure I’d actually want to play for the team, as was my most cherished dream when I was a child. I like the ACLs I was born with… And who wants to visit Sacramento that many times a year?

But there’s one job with the team I definitely would love to have. Since the very first time I stepped into the old “Madhouse on McDowell,” the Suns’ original home of Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and heard the late, great Stan Richards boom out, “And now, the starting line-up for YOUR! PHOENIX! SUNS!” I’ve been fascinated with the notion of being an arena public address announcer.

I’ve sat pretty high up at some games and the action, as we all know, moves pretty fast – particularly in recent years with the Suns. It isn’t always easy to spot the uniform numbers after a quick hoop or keep up with mass substitutions to know who’s in the game. The game announcer is key to helping fans know just what’s going on at any given moment. And the way they speak, the tone of their voice, the enthusiasm they lend to certain moments or phrases… They go a long way to shaping the experience of the fan – and even toward making a casual observer a fan at all.

So I’ve cleverly wrangled my position as a Suns.com blogger into an opportunity to interview Suns arena announcer Jeff Scott, so I can ask him absolutely everything I’ve ever wanted to know about his job.�

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AB: Okay, most important question first: What’s the hardest name to pronounce in the NBA?

JS: There are several, but Sarunas Jasikevicius (Sha-roo-nuss Yassa-kevih-chiss) of the Warriors comes to mind, just because of all the syllables. (Suns TV voice) Gary Bender and I have gone over that one a thousand times.

AB: Do you stay up all hours praying the Suns won’t acquire Eastern Europeans? I imagine you wanted to strangle someone when the Suns picked up Nikolosz Tskitishvili.

JS: Oddly, I don’t get that concerned with difficult names on the Suns roster, because once you figure out how to pronounce them properly, you’re used to them. It’s the opponents tricky names. Players who aren’t stars, and therefore don’t have familiar names, that can pose the biggest challenge. More than likely, most people won’t notice your mistake as long as you’re consistent. As Miles Davis once said, “If you make a mistake, make it twice”.

AB: Okay, let’s back up and talk about how you got to the position you’re in. What’s your background and how did you land your gig as the Suns’ game announcer? Did you come from radio? Theater? Voice-over?

JS: My backround is in radio news. I spent twelve years as a news anchor/reporter at KTAR in Phoenix (from 1983 to ’95, the last five as News Director), where I also had the chance to cover the Suns and the other local sports teams on occasion. When Jeff Munn was hired to replace Stan Richards in 1991, I was hired to replace Jeff as the PA voice for ASU men’s basketball, a position I continue in along my position with the Suns. Jeff often had conflicts, and through the years, largely because of our professional and personal friendship, I’d served as his “backup” for the Suns, Diamondbacks and ASU football. As Jeff� became more involved in radio play-by-play, he gave up his public address gigs. I took over as the stadium voice of ASU football in 2001, and replaced Jon Dupree as Suns PA man in 2005.

My “day job” has me working at Skyview (radio) Networks, where I run two state radio news networks (Arizona and California News Radio). In addition to my role as News Director, I anchor the morning newscasts on both networks, which are heard on more than 60 radio stations throughout Arizona and California.

AB: What was your first NBA game like? Obviously, you’d been on the air a lot before then in other venues, but just how big were the butterflies?

JS: My first regular season NBA game was when I filled in for Jeff in 1994. I couldn’t sleep all week, and I stayed up late watching videotapes of games to make sure I was familiar with the NBA rules. It was back in the Barkley era and I was a wreck. It went pretty well, though I have a tape of my starting lineup intros and you can hear my voice trembling, as if I was on a treadmill.

AB: Now that you’ve been there for a while, do you have any kind of pre-game ritual to prepare yourself or get yourself psyched up to perform?

JS: A light pre-game meal in the press lounge, and a cup of hot decaff coffee to warm up the vocal chords. Seeing the seats fill up to capacity is plenty to get me psyched…

AB: In a big way, you set the tone for the fan experience of the game. In some stadiums, announcers are very demonstrative and have catch-phrases (“Deee-troit bas-ket-ball!!!”). Are you into that, or does it drive you crazy? What do you feel is your role?

JS: I think the public address announcer is like the crowd’s dance partner. There are many nights when you need to lead, and other nights, when the crowd is obviously into the game on it’s own, you just help them along and join in with them. The Suns style of play makes it easy to get excited throughout much of the game, and certainly, an important part of (Director of Game Operations) Kip Helt’s and my role is to keep the atmosphere upbeat and enthusiastic when game circumstances have quieted things down.

AB: All right, I have to ask: What’s the goofiest thing you’ve heard yourself say over the stadium address system?

JS: I once sneezed over the public address system at Sun Devil Stadium. There’s about a second and a half delay before your voice goes over the stadium sound system, so not only did I sneeze — I got to hear it in all it’s glory just like everyone else.

FYI, the most embarrassing moment came when, during a timeout routine in 2005, I was supposed to lead the crowd in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” to the Gorilla. I can’t sing. I figured I’ll sing/talk the first few words, everyone will join in and I’ll be off the hook. No one joined in. Kip kept pointing to me to continue singing and I just couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I just turned red instead. This past season, same routine. I sang this time and got a text message from my brother, who was at the game, saying “Don’t ever do that again.”

AB: Do you ever get any kidding from Suns players or coaches, or their opponents, for things you’ve said?

JS: A few years ago, I announced at the Suns pre-season scrimmage in Flagstaff. When it came time to announce the coaches, I drew a blank on (then Suns assistant) Frank Johnson and announced him to the crowd as Frank… Robinson. In unison, Frank, Scott Skiles, and virtually every player on the team turned and looked at me, and mouthed “Frank ROBINSON???” I spent the rest of the night searching for a hole to climb into.

AB: Do you consult with players on the pronunciation of their names, or what nicknames they’d like?

JS: Nicknames are pretty much left up to Kip and his staff, and the marketing department. We discuss names and sayings (Steeeve for threeee…etc.), and I work them in at, hopefully, the appropriate times. It was passed along to us that Amaré Stoudemire was not a fan of the “Stat-man” moniker we used early last season.

AB: Do you ever get recognized in public just from the sound of your voice? Like, when you tell the cashier at the grocery store, “You have two minutes — TWO MINUTES — to give me my change?”

JS: I do occasionally get comments about the sound of my voice, but I don’t think they place it with that of the voice they hear at the arena without all the noise to accompany it. Those who know me and know that I work the Suns games talk to me as if I’m a member of the coaching staff, rather than an announcer. I was recently on a Cub Scout camping trip with my son, the week after the Suns were eliminated by the Spurs. Non stop Suns talk for three days.

AB: During games, do you have a “spotter” who assists you, in case the action moves so fast you might not see who exactly scored a basket or who made an assist, or in case you might not hear or see a referee’s call?

JS: I don’t have a spotter, per se, but I do sit next to Jerry Heck, the longtime official scorer, so if I miss something, he usually picks me up (and likewise). Kip is on the other side of me, so he’s another set of eyes. I have an excellent vantage point (courtside, center court), so it’s hard to miss TOO much.

AB: How hard is it to keep yourself from cheering a great play by either team during a game?

JS: I don’t try to keep it to myself. To the contrary, I have the opportunity, via the sound of my voice, to convey my “cheer” via the way I announce that player’s name after they’ve made that great play. How cool is that?

AB: Finally, I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this, but I want to hear you say it: What’s the best part of your job? Being part of the organization, part of the total game experience, having a courtside seat for every game, or the whole package?

JS: The whole package. Great seats, great organization full of people who couldn’t be more professional and fun to work with, and just an enormous opportunity to play a role in the game-night experience during one of the most exciting times in this franchise’s history. I can’t believe how lucky I am, as a longtime fan, to have this particular job at this particular time. I try desperately to enjoy it as much as possible each night out, and not to screw it up!�

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See what I was talking about? Coolest job ever. Except when Sarunas Jasikevicius comes to town.

Worth More Than a Hill of Beans

A lot of Phoenix Suns fans – myself included – were rather disappointed with the way the 2006-2007 season ended. This past month, however, I think we’ve all gotten plenty or reminders as to just how lucky we truly are.

Hill’s first All-Star appearance was right here in Phoenix back in 1995

Hill’s first All-Star appearance was right here in Phoenix back in 1995.�� (NBAE Photos)

The biggest reminder came in the signing of six-time NBA All-Star Grant Hill. Hill, who was reportedly suited by more than 10 NBA teams, took a significant pay cut to play here in the Valley. The two largest reasons for Hill choosing the Suns – a shot at playing for an NBA Championship and an enjoyable system which fits his style of play. There are a number of teams out there who would love to have just one of those two attributes, let alone both.

“Style of play.” It’s a term I’ve heard a lot since the summer began, particularly from prospects who made their way to the US Airways Center for workouts. It appeared every potential rookie I interviewed brought up the fact that the Phoenix Suns utilize a system which fits their style of play. It’s precisely why Alando Tucker and DJ Strawberry have worn smiles from ear-to-ear since being selected by Phoenix on Draft Day.

People want to play for the Phoenix Suns, everyone from aspiring young rookies to All-Star veterans. I think that speaks volumes about not only the organization, but the city and its fans as well. Anybody willing to put up with summers as hot as the ones in Phoenix are, must really like everything this team and this city has to offer.

For players to turn down offers for more money, and from teams in which they would “be the man”, to play for the Suns should make fans as well as the organization very proud. Don’t take this out of context as a direct comparison, but it really is reminiscent of what players have done for years to play for the New York Yankees (considered by many, the powerhouse of sports organizations worldwide). Players taking pay cuts (although you wouldn’t know it by the Yankees’ payroll) to play for a team they can be proud to say they represent is something not done for many organizations.

As far as the moves the Suns have made this offseason, I definitely say so far so good. Hill is not only an All-Star and an Olympic gold medal winner, but a class act as well. He will be great in the locker room and I think will reap the benefits of having other All-Stars around him. With the exception of Joe Dumars early in his NBA career and a young, inexperienced Dwight Howard later on, Hill has never consistently had other All-Star players around him. Now he’ll have three, including a two-time MVP in Steve Nash. As fans, how can you not be excited about a guy who has played in six All-Star Games joining a team as arguably their fourth option??

I think Mike D’Antoni put it best during last week’s press conference when he said, “Arizona just got better, the Suns just got better, even if he doesn’t play a minute. If you’ve been around him and his family, we just got better.”

My favorite moment of the press conference came shortly thereafter when D’Antoni added, “I think he’s a young 35 and we’re looking forward not only to his leadership, but his playing ability.”

A smiling Grant Hill interjected that he is only 34, to which D’Antoni responded, “See, he’s getting younger all the time.”

Obviously D’Antoni isn’t adding Hill with the aspiration the star won’t log any playing time. But it speaks volumes that a guy can potentially make an impact for a team before even stepping onto the floor. Everything Hill does beyond that will be icing on the cake.

I know a lot of people are concerned with Hill’s age, but weren’t a lot of people expressing similar concerns about Nash a few years back? Hill pointed out that the excellent training staff enjoyed by the Suns also played a part in his decision-making process. Also keep in mind this is a guy who played in the All-Star Game just two seasons ago and was a top candidate to partake in the game just this past winter.
Perhaps I’m so quick to defend the age of the veteran because when people talk about him being “over-the-hill” it makes me feel a bit older too. I first moved to Phoenix from New York in August of 1994, and in desperate need of a hobby, began following the game of basketball. I had first expressed interest in the game during the early 90s after Phoenix had acquired Charles Barkley from the 76ers. Although I knew nothing about the sport, I proceeded to tell everybody in New York I was a Suns fan. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over too well.

When the Knicks qualified for the NBA Finals in 1994, the whole city of New York was in a frenzy. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the hype and quickly found myself going from basketball novice to basketball thinks-he-knows-it-all. It was a great series which went the distance of seven games, and while my home team came up short to Houston, the NBA had definitely captured my interest.

I moved out to Phoenix shortly afterwards and the 1994-95 season was the first I planned on following from the beginning. While I appreciated the veterans of the game in Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, it was the young up-and-comers who most sparked my interest. I loved watching the future of the league in guys like Anfernee Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton. Perhaps it was because I had never really gotten to see guys like Magic, Bird and Michael (at least not at this point), I liked to believe I was watching the quintessential in these younger renditions.

To me, the 1994-95 season produced two of the most anticipated rookies in memory (perhaps due to the fact it was my first season following basketball, I’m not sure) in Duke’s Grant Hill and Cal’s Jason Kidd. Hill was so popular in fact, he became the only rookie ever to lead any sport in All-Star voting (for a game which ironically enough took place right here in Phoenix). While Kidd didn’t qualify for the contest, in no way did he take a backseat to Hill in terms of spotlight. Night after night, the two produced some unbelievable highlights and their play ultimately helped them to co-Rookie of the Year honors.

For Alando Tucker and DJ Strawberry meanwhile, their NBA journey is just beginning. And if summer league is any indication, their marriage to Phoenix should be a beautiful one. Having seen Tucker play, I can honestly say he’ll be among the most exciting rookies to watch this upcoming season. He plays hard and does a great job of getting ahead of the pack which makes the Suns even better in terms of their ability to run (which to me is like somebody saying “Yeah, he’s kind of like Superman only stronger”).

As long as the Suns can find ways to consistently rebound underneath the basket, Tucker will often find ways to show off his speed. Is he as fast as Leandro Barbosa? No, but not many are. I think Tucker makes up for that, however, with his ability to think fast. He’s got great reaction speed and in this system, that’s equally if not more important than being fast physically.

Strawberry meanwhile surprised many in the 202007 Summer League, but surprising people is anything but new to the former Maryland guard. The son of former Major League All-Star Darryl Strawberry first began turning heads as far back as the workouts in Orlando, Florida. His defensive toughness matched with his quickness is not a combination seen often in this league. While he’s still obviously a ways away from the overall ability of Shawn Marion (not to mention the All-Star appearances), his play reminds me of the Matrix nonetheless. If Strawberry plays at the two-guard position, his long arms are going to provide many headaches for opponents. It’ll be kind of like when Marion had the task of guarding Sam Cassell in the playoffs a couple years back. The only question right now is whether or not Strawberry’s feet will be able to keep up. On offense, those feet have not been a problem, particularly in Phoenix’s contest against Portland where the New York native contributed a game-high 27 points.

As a Mets fan, I’ll be the first to admit I may be a little biased when it comes to Strawberry. But I’ve seen first hand how dominant those athletic genes can be, especially in Major League Baseball. It’s actually the son of former slugger Cecil Fielder currently leading the National League in homeruns. Just behind him is former Mariner and current Red Ken Griffey Jr. who is of course the son of former star Ken Griffey. Where the children of former Major League Baseball stars rank in terms of NBA stardom, I’m not too sure. Guess we’ll just have to wait until the 202007-08 season to find out.

Summer School Set to Begin For NBA Newbies

Yesterday marked the first day of the Suns Summer Camp, and while I certainly enjoyed my time out there shooting video, it sure feels good to get out of the heat.

Stoudemire’s summer sessions in 2006, helped him to another All-Star appearance in 202007.
(NBAE Photos)

Making their way out as guests to the camp were the newest members to the Phoenix Suns roster, rookies Alando Tucker and DJ Strawberry. It worked out well as you couldn’t have asked for two guys more excited to be spending time with the kids. Of course I’m sure it also felt good for them to get away from the press conference podiums and back around basketball as well. I’ve had time now to talk with each of the two rookies and think both will be great fits for the organization.

Strawberry, while soft spoken, got along really well with the kids once he got more comfortable in his environment. As time went on, he got pretty vocal whenever one of the kids took Tucker to school. I joked with Steven Koek, “I thought we got this guy cause he could play defense.”

While we did draft Tucker in large part because of his ability to guard perimeter players, there is certainly more to the Wisconsin Badger than meets the eye (you knew I was getting a Transformer reference in there at some point). Tucker is quick, smart and experienced. He is also a lot better a shooter than people realize.

On Friday, I had the opportunity to speak with Tucker one-on-one for an article I was working on for Suns.com. I’d done a lot of research on his collegiate career and asked him about the improvement his shooting saw throughout the years. To be honest, I was hoping maybe he could refer me to a specific cereal or magical refreshment beverage which could improve my game, but I wasn’t so lucky. Tucker’s response was simple:

“When I came from high school I was a perimeter player, but when I went to Wisconsin, I felt it better to play a four down low. Because of that, I spent so much time in the post that it ended up being a struggle adjusting when I was back on the perimeter. As I continued playing outside, though, the more and more confidence I got and the better I felt. Of course, it always helps putting in a lot of practice off the court, too.”

Practice is something I don’t see being a problem for either rookie as both are in love with the game of basketball. I’ve never been big on watching the Summer League, but will definitely be tuned in the upcoming weeks to see how these guys do.

Of course there is also some interest in seeing this Greg Oden guy I keep hearing about (I think he’s a center or something, I’m not sure) and some guy named Kevin Durant (who probably only did as well as he did in college having Vince Young as a teammate). All jokes aside, Corey Brewer who went to Minnesota and Al Thornton who will be playing for the Clippers will also make things interesting as far as rookies go.

The Summer League isn’t reserved for only NBA freshmen, however. Orlando’s Dwight Howard and Phoenix’s Amaré Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa have participated as non-rookies and things turned out fairly well for them. Howard is obviously one of the league’s top players, while STAT used the 2006 Vegas Summer League to rehab the knee injuries which forced him to miss most of the previous season. The “Brazilian Blur” meanwhile participated in both the 2004 and 2005 versions of basketball summer school and eventually sped his way to the 202007 Sixth Man of the Year Award.

For the most part though, the summer league is about the rookies. And with a draft class consisting of names like Oden, Durant, Tucker and Strawberry; it certainly should be a lot of fun to watch.