An Interview with My Broadcasting Hero

Imagine you’re sitting at your job on a Friday morning, quietly working away, when your boss sends you an instant message: “How would you like to interview Al McCoy about receiving the 2007 Curt Gowdy Media award from the Hall of Fame and then write a blog about it?”

 

Al McCoy interviewing Tom Chambers.  

(NBAE Photos)

I’m not sure what you would do but after I picked myself up off the floor, I said the first thing that came to mind: “I haven’t ever interviewed anyone before. I’m not sure that would be such a good idea.” But while he was typing his response, I quickly shook off any doubts I had about being a sub-par interviewer and realized that I would have a chance to actually speak with someone who I have watched and listened to for over 20 years. So after my boss sent some encouraging words through instant message, I told him I would do it.

Any kid who grew up playing basketball in the Valley has shot baskets by himself imitating McCoy: “There are only eight seconds left in the game and the Suns are down by one. Hilton brings the ball up the court and is looking for an open man. His teammates are all too heavily guarded and he’s going to have to take the shot himself. The clock is ticking down. Five, four, three, two, one. He shoots! SHAZAM! Zing go the strings! The Suns win! The Suns win the championship!” Or when your brother misses a shot as you’re playing one-on-one: “Oh! He misses by a long shot! Heartbreak hotel!!”

So I took a few minutes to write down the questions I wanted to ask, took some deep breaths to calm my nerves and then called Al. Since he was in Massachusetts at the time, we spoke over the phone instead of in person. That’s probably better so he didn’t see me sweating or my hands shaking as I took notes.

Unfortunately, as soon as he answered in that unmistakable voice, my throat seized up and I broke out into a sweat. I finally choked out who I was and what I wanted and Al was gracious enough to give me a few minutes. I’m sure he could tell right away (from the voice that was an octave higher than it should be and the stuttering) that I was a rookie interviewer but you never could have told that from his voice or his answers. My first question: “Were you nervous while you were accepting the award?” Luckily, Al ignored the question that would lead to a one-word answer and gave me a very eloquent answer about the event:

“The first night of the Hall of Fame weekend is a banquet they call Reunion Night,” McCoy said. “It really is the most fun night of the entire weekend because you have all-time Hall of Fame ballplayers so it is kind of a reunion for them. There are two awards that are presented that night called the Curt Gowdy Media Awards. I was introduced. They gave highlights from my career, I was given an opportunity to respond and I was nervous. You just don’t quite know what to say, where to start, or how much time to take.” (I was thinking right then, “Boy, I know exactly what it feels like to not know what to say or where to start!”)

I asked him if he ever thought he would receive an award like this when he started his career. He answered an emphatic, “No, I never even imagined being given any awards by the Hall of Fame.” In fact, he said when he received the call from John Doleva, the president of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he couldn’t imagine what John would be calling about. McCoy pointed out that most of the broadcasters who have received this award in the past were national broadcasters and of those local broadcasters who have been awarded, there are very few from the West.

Then I got to the part of the interview that embarrasses me just a bit. I have followed the Suns for what seems like forever. I’ve read so many stories about Al McCoy, I can’t even number them. I know what the favorite moments of his career are by reading other interviews. And yet I just had to ask him myself. He proceeded to tell me about the only two triple-overtime games in NBA history and that he had had the opportunity to call both – the Suns against the Celtics in 1976 and against Chicago in 1993. He also mentioned that those would probably be the highlights of his career (along with receiving this award) until the Suns win the championship.

Next I asked how he comes up with the phrases and nicknames he uses during the games. Some of you have probably heard this story before but I think it is worth repeating here for any new Suns fans or those who haven’t heard the story yet.

“When the NBA came in with the three-point field goal,” he said, “I looked at it like a home run in baseball and wanted to come up with a phrase like announcers use for a home run. Something like ‘Going, going, gone’ or ‘It might be, it could be, it is!’ and I started thinking about what I could use for a three-point shot. I went back to the days when I was a kid and read Captain Marvel comic books. Captain Marvel is one of those guys that defeated all of the bad guys. The main character was a was a radio reporter who, when he wanted to become Captain Marvel, he said SHAZAM. That word came from the first letter of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury. And when he said that, fireworks went off and lighting and thunder and all sorts of exciting things happened. And I thought, ‘Hey, this is going to be like the feeling in the arena when one of the Suns hits a three-point shot.’ Of course, initially I didn’t think there would be 20 of them in a game!”

We finished our conversation speaking about the Suns’ chances of winning a championship this season. I couldn’t say it any better than Al: “The window of opportunity is there. The Suns just have to jump through it.”

That was the end of my conversation with Al. I hung up the phone and breathed a sigh of relief. I had just finished my first interview and I think I managed to not make too much of a fool of myself. Sure the other guys in the office were laughing after every question I asked, but I’m sure they were laughing WITH me and not AT me. Right? Right?

Here’s hoping that Al will continue to call Suns games for many more years and that they can jump through that window of opportunity this year. It sure will be fun to hear Al’s call of the last few minutes of the Suns’ championship clinching game. “Put this one in the old deep freeze! Suns win! Suns win the championship!!” I can hear it already.

Congratulations again to Al McCoy on winning the Curt Gowdy award. It was an honor speaking with him for a few minutes and it is nice to know we have the best play-by-play announcer in the league calling the game for the Suns.

What are your favorite moments listening to or watching Al McCoy during a Suns broadcast? Is there anything that stands out as a memory you’ll never forget? If so, leave them in the comments.

Update from Alicante

Hello, Suns fans. Writing you from Madrid, Spain, home of the 202007 European Basketball Tournament. Much like the Americas Tournament in which the USA just defeated Argentina, the top 2 teams from Europe will automatically qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

I have been traveling with the French National Team while training with Boris Diaw to prepare him for the upcoming Suns season.

Since my last blog, we left Maribor, Slovenia and had “pool play” games in Alicante, Spain. These games would decide the seeding for Madrid. France was in the bracket with Italy, Poland, and Slovenia. The top three teams would move on to play in Madrid. After three days of practices, the French team matched up with Poland in game one. Boris had a solid game scoring 10 points, seven rebounds, and four assists and France defeated Poland by eight points. Tony Parker and Tariq Kirksay also contributed big in the win. The buzz around the gym was directed more at Tony’s wife, Eva Longoria, who joined us in Alicante for a few days.

France then matched up with Italy in the second game. Italy has a tough team including NBA players Andrea Bargnani (Toronto) and recently drafted Marco Belinelli (Golden St). It was also great to see Massimo Bulleri, who was a 2006 Summer League player for Phoenix. Tony Parker once again had a huge game, scoring 36 points for France and lead the team to a close 69-62 victory. Boris had a quiet game stat-wise, but had probably the two biggest plays of the first round. In the third quarter, Boris got a rebound and took the ball coast to coast for a tomahawk dunk – jumping from outside the dotted line in the lane – over Bargnani. The arena went berserk and even the Italian fans cheered. The second play was a great defensive stop with France leading by�two points with under�two minutes left in the game. Belinelli had what seemed to be a clear path to the basket and went up for an easy dunk. Boris then came from the weak side, cleanly blocked his dunk, pinned the ball against the backboard and started a fast break in which France scored. It was great to see such intensity out of our guy! The Suns players and staff will be happy to hear that I got my fill of the Italian chant to the White Stripes song “Seven Nation Army” in the process!

With France sitting at 2-0 they had qualified already for Madrid, but being the one or two seed was still on the line in Game 3 vs. Slovenia. France beat them twice in the last few weeks and had an�eight-point lead at halftime. The second half started with Rasho Nesterovic (Toronto) getting his second intentional foul (much easier to pick up in International play than in the NBA) and was ejected from the game. It gave France four free throws and the ball on the side which resulted in a 14-point lead. It was all downhill from there as Slovenia fought back with Matjaz Smodis leading the way. Smodis looks more like Brian Urlacher than a basketball player, but was scoring from inside and out. With France down two with 1.2 seconds left, Tony Parker had a chance to tie the game with two free throws. He made the first and missed the second for a one-point loss. Why Tony cant miss shots like that in the Western Conference playoffs, I don’t know!

That brings me to the point that many Suns fans may ask me…how can you cheer for Suns rivals Tony Parker and Ronny Turiaf? I told them that I could root them on through the FIBA Europe Championships. They are both great people to be around and they have made me feel at home here with the team. But c’mon, all bets are off come October 1! Plus, I have picked up a few choice French sayings to shout when Tony is taking a corner�3 in front of the Suns bench next year!

Alicante is a great resort town located right on the beach. I spent a few afternoons on the beach (clothing optional) and saw a good part of the town by walking around and taking the bus to and from the arena. I went on a morning run every day with a few of the staff and along the way I would scout out stores or restaurants that I wanted to check out later. The hotel also had a great workout facility, so Boris and I could get some work done between games and practices. Our best workout may have been a night swim in the Mediterranean Sea when a few of the players and I swam to the farthest buoy and back. It was pretty crazy at night fighting the waves, but I was assured there had been no recent shark attacks.

All of the meals were provided for us buffet-style at the hotel but I got out for dinner on my own a few nights. We did have one night where most of the staff went out for drinks because we had the next day off. I led them to a Irish Pub that I had seen in town. That’s right…I (American) led the staff (French) to a bar (Irish) for some pints in Spain. That’s how I roll. We later took in more of the “local” Spanish scene on the way home. There are so many cafes to just relax at along the beach and in the streets. It was a great time.

We left Alicante after the last game vs. Slovenia. All three teams that made Madrid flew on the same plane…France, Italy, and Slovenia. We arrived at 5 a.m., checked into the hotel, and then slept until lunch. We had a late evening practice to get the bodies moving again and found out the pairings. France plays Germany and Dirk Nowitzki on Saturday. So many conference rivals here to deal with! I have made friends with the local Policia if I happen to run into Robert Horry. More later from Madrid. Go, Suns, Go.

PS: Congrats to Coach D’Antoni, Amare, and LB for having such a good outing in Vegas.