In August, Los Angeles Dodger play-by-play announcer Vin Scully declared that he’d return next season for a record breaking 64th campaign with the club. It was a pretty big deal in Southern California – Everybody here exhaled in relief and blew an extra quantity of smog to the east, explaining those particularly polluted days in Phoenix early in September. The Dodgers without Scully? Unthinkable. You might as well take Mason away from Dixon, Black away from Decker, or Hall away from Oates.
(By the by, the Dodgers’ Spanish-language play-by-play guy, the estimable Jaime Jarrin, announced around the same time that he’d be coming back, too, for a 55th season…thus making him only the second-longest tenured announcer in baseball.)
Wait, you say. This isn’t a Los Angeles Dodger blog. It isn’t even a baseball blog. Has Beechen been without basketball for so long that he’s completely lost his grip?
No, folks, I’m bringing up these announcing statistics because, in the to-do that surrounds the opening of NBA training camps this week, an important milestone has gone practically undiscussed. This season, Al McCoy begins his 40th consecutive year as a Phoenix Suns game-caller.
Forty years! That’s longer than raspy-voiced Johnny Most croaked out Celtics games. That’s longer than Chick Hearn spelled out the last names of little-used reserves for the Lakers. It’s so long, that when McCoy first tilted his head into that microphone for the Suns, the president was Nixon, the folks behind the proposed Equal Rights Amendment still had their fingers crossed, the producers of the Godfather were clearing space on their mantels for awards to come, the Dow Jones crossed 1000…for the first time ever, PONG was considered a state-of-the-art video game, and the Diamondbacks were yet to be a gleam in Jerry Colangelo’s eye.
Statistics aren’t available for these sorts of things, but it’s safe to say no announcer has, or ever will, top the numbers of times McCoy has uttered such famous phrases as “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Zing go the strings,” “Shazam,” “Wham bam slam,” and “swisheroo for two.” He’s called twenty years of games in Veterans Memorial Coliseum and twenty more in US Airways Center. From the Forum to the Boston Garden, from Buffalo’s Aud to Kansas City’s Kemper Arena, from outdoor courts in Puerto Rico to Palm Springs, McCoy has traveled every road with the Suns.
He’s called games for every member of the Suns’ Ring of Honor. You can break most of Suns’ history into epochs if you like – the Hawk Period, the Scott Years, the Sunderella Suns, MacLeod’s Purple Gang, the Cotton Express, Barkley’s Brigade, Backcourt 2000, the Marbury Experiment, Nash’s Planet Orange, and the Next Begins Now Era – or you could just save yourself a lot of trouble and lump them all under the heading of something like, “The McCoy Millenium” (It hasn’t actually been a thousand years, although some seasons have felt like it more than others).
McCoy called what many still consider the greatest game in the history of the league, the Suns-Celtics triple-overtime Game 5 NBA Finals classic in 1976, keeping his cool and sending back reports from the front even in the stifling Boston Garden heat, and even after an inebriated fan passed out in his lap when Gar Heard hit the famous Shot Heard ‘Round the World. Talk about playing with pain. And he got to interview Charles Barkley on a regular basis for several years. Talk about playing around with someone many people lovingly consider a pain.
He’s seen leagues merge, three-point lines appear, salaries skyrocket, and periods where half-court offenses ran through giant centers and fast-break scoring machines zoomed across the land. When I asked him, once, what was the single biggest change he’d seen in the sport since reporting for work that day in 1972, his answer was definitive: “Speed,” he said in that unmistakable voice. “No question about it, the speed of the game is many times over what it was when I started out.” But the pace never threw him as an announcer – He made every possession a “McCoy Moment.”
My favorite “McCoy Moments” come from my childhood in the late 1970s and early 1980s when, after a Suns game in the old Coliseum, staffers would drag a folding table and chairs, and a microphone, out onto the court so McCoy could talk to a “player of the game.” You could either sit in your car waiting to get out of the parking lot or in the stands and listen to the Voice of the Valley have an intimate chat with Alvan Adams, Dick Van Arsdale, Paul Westphal, Walter Davis and a host of others. Now, sometimes, when I’ll drive into Phoenix from Los Angeles, I’ll tune the radio to bring in Valley stations, and when I hear McCoy’s voice, either live from the arena or on a commercial, a warm feeling will come over me – not because the window’s down and the desert heat is creeping in, but because I know I’m close to home.
A place in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame doesn’t wait for Al McCoy…He’s already in there, and more than deservedly so. But he’s also still behind the microphone for the Purple and Orange, forty years and going strong, a civic, league, and (I’d argue) national treasure. Things change quickly in pro sports, and this year’s Suns roster is a testament to that. But the legend that is Al McCoy remains on the air, connecting Suns fans to the team’s past, present and future, just as he always has since 1972, and as we hope he will for another forty seasons.
Savor every “Shazam.”