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Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 at 2:26 am  |  63 responses

Links: My Night Announcing An NBA Game

Seriously. This just happened.

by Lang Whitaker

Tonight I had the chance to do something I’ve wanted to do my entire life. And it looks like I’m going to get one more shot at it later this week.

On Monday morning I flew to Miami to begin work on our upcoming SLAM cover story on Heat backup PG Chris Quinn. (Quinn: Hobbit or Not?) I didn’t really choose to come down on Monday, that’s just the way it worked out best, schedule-wise, for SLAM. When I checked the schedule, I discovered the Heat were playing the Atlanta Hawks. My Atlanta Hawks. So that was a bonus, considering I write for Hawks.com and all that.

For a while I’d been thinking about doing a column for Hawks.com on either the TV or radio crew, and what it’s like to work on that side of things. They travel with the team, sit at halfcourt at every game and then do their best to relay what’s happening on the floor to everyone back home. And since I knew the Hawks’ TV broadcasters (Bob Rathbun and Dominique Wilkins) and radio announcer (Steve Holman) pretty well, I figured I’d sit with one of them for a night and observe and see what it’s like to do that job.

Secretly, of course, I’ve always wanted to announce a game. What NBA fan hasn’t? We’ve all sat there at home and yelled at an announcer or laughed at a comment or whatever, and I’m pretty sure we’ve all thought at some point or another, Hey, I could do that.

Well, tonight, I did it. I did color commentary for the Hawks/heat radio broadcast. Really. Here’s how it happened:

Once I knew I was going to be at the Hawks/Heat game, I set it up to where I could sit with Hawks radio play-by-play guy Steve Holman. The plan was for me to observe for an evening. Holman’s been announcing Hawks games on both TV and radio since I was a kid, and he’s been the full-time radio guy now for nearly two decades. (What’s more amazing is that Holman has never missed a game. Steve told me tonight that counting regular season and Playoff games, tonight’s game was his 1,654th Hawks game in a row.)

About twenty minutes before tip-off, Steve and I went up to the radio broadcast table near the top of the lower level of stands at the American Airlines Center, and I took a seat to Steve’s left. An engineer was sitting to Steve’s right. In front of us were two TV screens, one with stats and one showing the Atlanta broadcast of the game. Steve had with him a score sheet that he’d annotated with every player’s current averages and other stats. (He said it takes him about an hour to do the sheet each game and he does it the same way he learned how from legendary Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most in the early ’70s.)

So I had my notebook out and was asking Steve some basic questions before tip-off, when he handed me a headset and told me I could listen to the broadcast through them. I put it on and pushed the mic way up over my head, so that listeners wouldn’t hear me coughing or whatever. A few minutes before we went live, Steve said he wanted to get my title right so he could mention me on the air. Great, I thought, and I texted my family back home in Atlanta to listen in.

Then, as the teams took to the court for the opening tip, Steve introduced me and asked me about SLAM. So I started talking about SLAM and SLAMonline and Hawks.com, etcetera. And then the game started, so I shut up halfway through a sentence. I motioned to Steve to ask him if should finish talking, and he nodded, so I said something about the game starting and threw it back to Steve.

And we just kept going. For the entire game.

I’m going to write more about this for Hawks.com on Thursday, but a few quick things worth mentioning:

radio-microphone• Announcing an NBA game is frigging hard. I mean, it’s really, really hard. Especially considering I came into it without having done any research, didn’t bring any notes, etc. Sitting on the couch and chiming in, I can do that the rest of my life (and I will do that the rest of my life). But having that open mic in front of your mouth and knowing anything you say is about to be transmitted out to thousands of listeners, it’s really, really hard.

• Steve’s done so many games, and done so many of them without a partner, that he’s used to talking and talking and talking without sounding like he’s just talking and talking and talking. I didn’t want to interrupt his flow, so I tried to just listen for breaks in his announcing to interject whatever I could. (Thank goodness I’ve listened to him for years and had an idea of Steve’s style.) Even then, it’s tough to be both insightful and timely. For instance, early in the second quarter, the Heat suddenly went to a zone. Steve was busily announcing what the Hawks were doing on offense, and I didn’t want to interrupt him, so I let him talk and waited for a chance to get in where I fit in. But the Hawks turned it over and the Heat had a possession, and when the Hawks came back down on offense, the Heat were back in a man-to-man. So I said something like, “Steve, it’s interesting how the Heat are switching from man-to-man to zone here on alternating possessions.” Stayed current, got my point in, hopefully said something interesting.

• Being funny is even harder. I got a few good lines in there — when the Hawks went down 20 in the third quarter, I asked Steve on-air if he wanted to leave after the third so we could hit South Beach; I also gave my full endorsement to the Heat Dancers — but being funny on the air requires a totally different skill set than in writing, because you have to say it now, right now, and it has to be good and relevant and funny without being offensive.

• Describing the action isn’t the toughest thing in the world, but giving listeners a feel for the game is a completely other thing. And this game was one of the strangest games I’ve ever been to. The Hawks couldn’t make a basket to save their lives early on, and at halftime they had a total of 27 points. (They had 15 points, total, with 6:34 to go in the first. They actually went 13 1/2 minutes without a field goal.) But the crazy thing was that the Heat couldn’t put them away. As good as D-Wade is, that’s how bad the rest of the Heat were, especially after Beasley went down with a bruised knee. Joe Johnson kept driving to the rim and throwing it back out to the three-point line, Bibby didn’t seem to want to shoot, Mike Woodson was making weird substitutions…it was just a strange night from both teams. I did my best to relay that to the people listening.

• In the midst of all of that, you’ve got to remember to speak clearly and slowly. I also noticed how Steve had so much inflection in his voice, raising and lowering it at certain times to make regular sentences sound more interesting, but not in a comical way. I tried to remember not to sound monotone, but I was also so worried about just providing interesting content that it was a tough balancing act.

• Also, I can’t thank Steve enough for the opportunity to do that. You know you’d want to do it, too, at least once in your life, and Steve didn’t mind sharing the spotlight with me all night, something I think a lot of announcers would not have wanted to do.

When we signed off at the end of the game, and after I gave my closing analysis — The Hawks have been living by the three all season, but tonight they died by it, hitting 3-16. Also, D-Wade was unstoppable, etc. — I thanked Steve for the chance, and he told me I’d done a great job. I told him that all I wanted was one more chance, with more than a few seconds notice. And Steve’s granting me my wish.

So, on Wednesday night when the Hawks play the Knicks, I’ll be on the mic with Steve again. This time I’ll be able to prep a little, maybe even write some one-liners. And if you’re up for it, you can listen, too. If you’re in Atlanta or the Atlanta area, tune in to 790 A.M. If you’ve got satellite radio, you can get the Hawks broadcast on there.

Or, if you’ve got internet access, you can go to Hawks.com to the Radio page, then click on “Online Radio: Live Play By Play” and then choose the Hawks’ feed. It’s free and it’s simple.

(And if someone out there is particularly industrious and can figure out how to save an audio file of it or tape it off the radio or whatever so I can chop it up and post bits and pieces on The Links, I’ll give you a prize from the SLAM swag cabinet and a shoutout in The Links. Or something. I’ll work with you on this.)

The whole thing was like running a marathon at sprint speed. This was happening, that was happening, people were getting injured, T’d up, Dick Bavetta was reffing, refs were missing calls. I was just trying to keep up. Man was it hard.

But above all else, man was it awesome.

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  • minikidd

    sounds awesome Lang. Hope someone’s able to record the knicks game, so we can hear some bits and pieces… oh, and 1st btw..

  • Ang

    Congrats, Lang. Can’t wait to hear you during the Hawks/Knicks game.

  • http://slamonline.com Tzvi T

    Lang, Do you ever sleep?

  • matt the jazz fan

    if you endorse any dancers make sure the links page has full references so we can visualise who you’re talking about.

  • Michael Lee

    Congrats Lang…hopefully my Knicks and your Hawks provide you with a more interesting game to provide commentary to

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    wow. You just went to another level in your cool career in b-ball media. Congrats, Lang. (have i mentioned it yet this month that I ENVY YOU YOUR JOB?!! Cant wait to listen to the recording. Shouldnt be too hard to download the sound file into my local drive. So, how about them hawks eh? Rollercoaster much?

  • http://www.ballislife.com Justin Walsh

    Lang, thanks for admitting it was hard. Because my whole time as a basketball fan, I watch the commentary and chide the living daylights out of Jay Bilas and Bill Walton. Good to hear from a legit person that I was wrong and it’s just hard. This gives me even more respect for people like Dick Vitale… Just curious though, is it ever hard not to cuss, like I know you’re professional so you’re used to not cussing in a professional sense, I’m sure. I just mean if Josh Smith yanks it on somebody the next game you announce, how hard is it going to be for you to say seated and not scream to the airwaves “F*** YEAH” or “AND JOSH SMITH HAS JUST T-BAGGED THAT HOE”? haha

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    quinn, hobbit or not? Eboy’s gonna rip you a new one for that, Lang.

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    justin rocks…. Big time. Josh just t-bagged (no homo) that ho! Priceless.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Moose

    Don’t let your kids come down if Justin Walsh is coming over for the Lakers game . . .

  • http://www.ballislife.com Justin Walsh

    Moose, don’t hate on my swag!

  • http://www.ballislife.com Justin Walsh

    and btw i commented both the art of war and haiku posts you did on bachi

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    Nah Darksaber……it’s fine…..Quinn is a hot mess of a teen-man…I just feel bad that Lang had to announce for the Hawks in his debut as a radio man….I mean seriously…..who would want to talk about that 3rd rate squad?

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    And yes Lang…..congrats on the cool assignment….I hope someone can find some audio clips so we can hear them. Fu*ker.

  • http://www.ballislife.com Justin Walsh

    Eboy, welcome to the morning glow!

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    Justin, yeah….for real…..I’m trying to wake my kid up….dude’s in zombie state right now….kind of like the Hawks last night.

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    Oh……and lets make something abunduntly clear……Mike Bibby is about as much as an All-Star as Moose is.

  • http://www.ballislife.com Justin Walsh

    Eboy,allow me to make something even more clear, in case the world hasn’t noticed you making it clear enough. *ahem*…*Drumroll* COSIGN. Thank you, thank you.

  • Randy Brown

    Is this whole story just one big joke? Chris Quinn in Slam? Rofl

  • http://fdklf.com Jukai

    Haha, this is awesome dude. I’ll be listening in. Give a shout out to yer ol’ boy Jukai!

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    ***green with envy***

  • http://www.shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    In case no one mentioned it…..Steve Holman sounds like one really cool cat.

  • khknucklehead

    Congrats Lang.

  • j

    I respect Tim Roye even more now.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Awesome stuff, Lang. As someone who knows what Lang’s spoken word is like, I know this was the hardest part: >>funny without being offensive.<< I’ll try to get my plug-ins right at home so I can listen to you Wednesday night…

  • http://hoops4life.com overtime

    Congratulations, aside from actually being in the game, is there any better job?

  • Jake

    Hey Lang I’ll be recording the game for you if that’s alright.I’ve got all the audio software on my computer just tell me who to send the file to after it’s done.

  • http://www.myfiba.com/deuce21 Deuce21

    This is excellent news, congratulations Lang! I always dreamed of commentating an NBA game and to do it for your home team is especially cool. Well done!

  • http://where-basketball-b-longs.blogspot.com/ B. Long

    This is Miles Davis cool.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBQEmmgDl9I Boing Dynasty

    I thought Mile Davis was an asshole?

  • http://ittakesanationofmillionstoholdthissac.blogspot.com ciolkstar

    Thats dope. I’m sure it is tough, but that nervousness caused by the mic probably goes a way once your comfortable in that setting.

  • http://ittakesanationofmillionstoholdthissac.blogspot.com ciolkstar

    Maybe Lang can answer this: why wouldn’t Joe take a shot in the first half yesterday? The Hawks were clearly struggling to score and JJ had like 4 attempts in the first half. Was he mainly trying to be the facilitator? He got some shots up later in the game, but the Hawks need him to be aggressive from start to finish. (So does my fantasy team)

  • Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo

    lang, you work for hawk again?

  • Tommy Patron

    Sweet! Also well deserved.

  • raghu

    yo lang,

    i’m going to be recording the audio live. how should i sent you the file. i can put it up on rapidshare.

    should i just send it to the general slamonline email address?

  • http://www.rich-imaging.com Dutch Rich

    From the Links to Slam Radio to Hawks broadcaster. it’s all coming together nicely. Congrats Lang.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com/ RV

    that’s awesome…you have to get ping ping in there somehow….”and ping ping goes the ball on the rim”…or maybe more literal like ” Nate looks like Mr ping Ping”

  • http://slamonline.com Adam Fleischer

    That’s awesome, Lang. Congrats man. Sounds like you held your own. That game’ll probably tip off at like 1 am over here in Madrid, but I should be up so I’m definitely going to try to stream it online. It may have been difficult to give the listeners a feel for the game like you said, but you certainly did a good job here of letting us readers know what this experience must have been like and all the things going through your head. Good luck tomorrow.

  • http://www.myspace.com/hemantsbeats what

    Dammit… if I had known this I would have turned on the radio and muted Nique. Not that Nique doesn’t deserve a muting regardless.

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Moose

    Eboy . . . I RESENT that statement! Take that! What, you hatin’ on my age? I got more of a chance then you (because you wasted yours) . . .

  • http://hibachi20.blogspot.com Moose

    And you too, Justin . . . anyone else wanna cosign?!?!?! Feel my wrath! :)

  • At The End Of The Day

    boooring

  • http://slamonline.com/ Double R

    So Lang do you have a greater or newfound appreciation for one Reginald Wayne Miller and people of his ilk?

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Hey guys, sorry I was out all day. If anyone can record it, email me the link (lang@harris-pub.com). My name at the top of the column is also a hyperlink to email me.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Wouldn’t it be sweet to do color commentary for Marv Albert? Or announce with Clyde Frazier? Man that’d be sweet.

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    Appreciation for Reggie’s inexistent commentator skills? Nahh.

  • http://www.sprint.com/sero dma

    heh at sprint speed. see i knew i’d get to you subliminally.

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Lang, is that going to be available from the nba.com feed? Same feed as the Hawks one?
    Congratulations btw!

  • Jer Boi

    damn ur right ive kinda dreamt about doing that

    i do my own commentary on nba 2k9 lol the cloest ill ever get

  • God Shammgod

    Where’s sam at these days?

  • Myung

    Congratulations, Lang. I’m truly happy for you. Where I live, the 790 signal is terrible at night (if you don’t live inside the Perimeter, the signal is almost non existent). I’ll try to watch the game while listening to your commentary via the computer. Monday was a terrible game, but hopefully we’ll bounce back tonight. I read that Al will be back soon but probably not tonight?

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @Hursty: As far as I know, yes.

  • http://slamonline.com Tzvi T

    Lang, I got high expectations for this one. GL

  • S. Deen

    Hey Lang, just sent you an email, I can record the online stream of the broadcast if you’re still in need and then I can send that your way, let me know! Congrats on getting this chance and looking forward to hearing the broadcast.

  • Myung

    The radio stream is a little behind what’s on the TV (about a 15 second delay?). I can predict what you guys are going to say before you say it. :-)

  • raghu

    Hey Lang,

    Just wanted to remind you again to check your email. I sent you the links to the audio files about 3 or so hours ago.

    Thanks!

  • Jackie Moon

    Awesome. Maybe someday you could do a broadcast with Spiro! SLAM in da house!

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    I got the files. Thanks to everyone who recorded it! I’ll try to post some high/lowlights later…

  • http://www.infowars.com/krs-one-obama-911-the-nwo-freestyle-austin-tx-1-24-09/ Tarzan Cooper

    CLICK MY NAME FOR A KRS-ONE FREESTYLE ABOUT OBAMA

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Spaaaam ^^

  • Pieman

    Well done lang my mang. Jolly good show homie.

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