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.
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.