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.