The Suns rolled back the clock when they hosted the Sonics on Jan. 3.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)
The game was chosen in large part because the Suns’ first-ever game was a 116-107 win over Seattle back in October of 1968. If you watched the game on MY 45, you might have been wondering what happened to your television.
Although the idea of a “retro” broadcast is hardly new (we did one against Milwaukee five years ago in celebration of our 35th anniversary season), this was the first one done in the age of high definition. Viewers got to experience a history lesson of sorts through a few distinct eras of sports television. By the time halftime rolled around and you had been watching the first quarter in grainy black and white and the second quarter with not-so-sharp color images and obnoxiously big graphics, your new HD set looked even better. Here is how the broadcast played out from behind the scenes, era by era.
Game open / First Quarter– There was a short “tease” segment in which Tom Leander’s voice explained the course the broadcast would be taking over some great old highlights from the Madhouse on McDowell. David Hughes, who produced the broadcast with me, did a fantastic job of putting together this piece. The shots of Dick Van Arsdale, Connie Hawkins, Alvan Adams and Cotton Fitzsimmons brought back a flood of memories.
From this we had a short segment with Tom and Eddie Johnson (with the biggest afro wig I’ve ever seen!) giving a brief verbal history of the franchise, a decade at a time, followed by the usual pre-game rituals – starting lineups, player matchup and keys to the game. All of this was done as if it was the late 1960s – few camera angles, black and white, grainy picture, very simple white graphics and even simpler transitions to (extremely infrequent) instant replays.
Of all the comments we have received regarding this broadcast, 95 percent of them had to do with this first quarter. The phrase of the day was “effect over authenticity,” meaning that we were trying to give the effect of a 1960s (or 1980s, later) broadcast while still making it enjoyable to watch. We attempted to walk the fine line between interestingly different, entertaining and annoying. With 82 Suns games of four quarters each, we thought messing with two out of 328 quarters should be okay.
Some of you loved the nostalgic feel and could see how much fun we had reaching back into the history of television as well as that of the Suns’ franchise. Others would rather have seen the game in HD – as you have become accustomed this season. Either way, thanks for all your comments. We broadcast for your enjoyment and love to hear your feedback.
Second Quarter – One of my favorite elements to this special broadcast was the inclusion of past Suns’ TV announcers. The second quarter began with Al McCoy and his former analyst Greg Schulte behind the mic. Tom and EJ moved over to join Tim Kempton on the KTAR radio broadcast. Al and Greg shared memories of their many years of calling Suns games.
Among Greg’s memories was seeing Chris Webber receive the 1994 rookie of the year award (prior to Sir Charles torching him and the Warriors for 56 in a playoff game) and dropping the crystal trophy to the floor of the Oakland Arena where it shattered into about 75 pieces.
Al’s memories ARE the history of the Suns. He shared his insights into the 1976 and 1993 Finals teams, and told a story about Ronnie Lee and the “floor score” that he kept for the number of times the former Sun would hit the floor during a game. I’ve asked Al on a number of occasions if he intends to write a book – no progress so far, but maybe if I keep asking he’ll do it just to shut me up.
After the second timeout of the quarter, Al and Greg moved over to radio and Tom and EJ returned with another special guest, former ASPN play-by-play voice George Allen. George shared his memories of the night Tom Chambers lit the Sonics up for a franchise-record 60 points and even took the play-by-play reigns from Tom for the final minute of the half (“Nash for three – got it!”) as the Suns closed with a flurry. EJ shared some of his memories of the games George called during Eddie’s time as a player with the Suns. This was my favorite part of the night – hearing the voices of those I grew up listening to while watching Suns games.
The second quarter was done visually in a mid-1980s look. A few more cameras and more graphics, all of which had a huge drop shadow (something we thought was cool way back then) and using colors like cyan and yellow. Who’s idea was that back in the day? Has cyan EVER been a good color to look at? More replays and a few more visual effects crept into the broadcast as an indication that the technology had advanced. Once we reached halftime, we figured that our viewers deserved to watch the remainder of the game in high-def and we updated our on-air look to the one you see each night on MY 45 broadcasts.
Third Quarter – Jude LaCava joined Tom and EJ for part of the third quarter. Jude served as an analyst on ASPN broadcasts during the magical 1992-93 season and had some great memories of games, brawls (thanks, Greg Anthony) and parades. Jude’s day job at that time was as the host of the 620 Sportsline on KTAR (a position George Allen also held for some time) and had yet to make his move to Fox10 TV.
Gary Bender finished out the third quarter by sharing many of his memories as both a Suns broadcaster and a national broadcaster (with CBS and TNT) who covered many historic Suns games. Gary called the game (for TNT) in which Charles Barkley hit the game-winner over David Robinson in the 1993 playoffs, closing out both the Spurs and the Hemisphair Arena.
Bender’s best memories, however, were of the late, great Cotton Fitzsimmons and the years they spent together on Suns broadcasts. Gary’s memories were a fitting tribute to a man that did so much to shape the history of NBA basketball in Phoenix.
Gary Bender is another person who should write a book of stories from sporting events and the TV business in general. His first book, The Call of the Game, was released in the early 90s and chronicled some of his tale of evolution from Kansas farm boy to national broadcaster. But he has got more stories than anyone except – well, Al McCoy. Maybe I should offer to represent both of those guys and get these books done. Tell me what Suns fan wouldn’t head to Border’s to grab a copy of each.
As I was preparing for this 40th anniversary game, I thought back on the number of games I have helped televise and the great moments in Suns history I have been a part of – moments that need no qualification if you have seen them (Majerle’s big three to beat the Lakers, Rex Chapman’s three against the Sonics, double OT wins in New Jersey and Dallas last year, 17 game winning streak). The first game I covered was November 21st 1990. KJ hit a runner down the lane, a bank shot, as the buzzer sounded to beat the Chicago Bulls 109-107 at the Coliseum. I knew this is what I wanted to do when I grew up.
But mostly I remember the people I have been fortunate enough to cross paths with along the way. George Allen was a mentor to me and a lot of others in the sports broadcast community. Scott Geyer, now the VP of broadcasting for the Arizona Diamondbacks, was the Suns’ TV director for 10 years and another great mentor. I’m lucky enough to still work daily with another of my mentors, Dan Siekmann, who is the Suns’ Director of Broadcasting and the person I travel the country with during basketball season. The list extends to all the audio and video technicians (camera and replay operators, audio techs, etc.) that work so hard to get our broadcasts on the air looking and sounding as great as they do each night (insert violin music here.)
So thanks for the memories. Thanks to the Suns, to the television industry and that talented group of broadcasters who have helped us enjoy them.