We asked five superstar NBA broadcasters -- veterans of TNT, ESPN, ABC, and NBA TV -- to dish on the coolest parts of their jobs, the best games theyve ever called, and their favorite arenas to visit.
ESPN studio host and play-by-play commentator
ESPN game and studio analyst, 14-year NBA veteran
Emmy-winning sportscaster, NBA commentator/producer, host of NBA TVs Fan Night
Five-time NBA All-Star, NBA TV studio analyst
Veteran NBA play-by-play commentator, the voice of the NBA
What are the high and low points of your gig?
Mark Jones: The high points include being able to witness all six of Michael Jordans NBA titles and seeing transcendent performances from some of the games greatest players. Its always hard being away from my family, though.
Jon Barry: The low point for me, after 14 years as a player, is that there are no longer any home games. In this profession as a broadcaster, every game is a road game.
Tell me an interesting benefit, a cool perk, or an unusual challenge of your job.
Ahmad Rashad: I have traveled the globe many times over in the name of basketball -- promoting it, celebrating it, finding it in some of the weirdest places in the world. Thats a cool perk.
Chris Webber: Truthfully, the hardest part of this job for me is just being myself. As an athlete, youre used to being judged for everything you say and do. When youre doing what I do now, youre paid to use that voice. You have to.
Barry: I sit courtside for NBA games -- and get paid for it.
Jones: I think people would be surprised to know how much we actually memorize for this job. We dont read everything off a teleprompter.
Marv Albert: People would be surprised at how difficult it is to travel with one of my partners, Mike Fratello, who really has to be led around. He travels with boxes for his suits instead of normal luggage because that way, he doesnt have to have his suits pressed. Instead of a single piece of luggage, which most human beings use, he carries six little bags. Its amusing and very, very frustrating. [Laughs]
How many miles have you traveled in your NBA broadcasting career?
Albert: Ive been doing this for a while. [Laughs] It would probably be impossible to calculate.
Jones: Ive traveled 1.9 million miles on American Airlines alone.
Rashad: I think Ive probably traveled close to six million miles for basketball.
Whats the best or most exciting game youve ever called?
Barry: The most exciting game was Phoenix/ Dallas [March 14, 2007]. It was a high-scoring double-overtime game with buzzer-beaters. It was a great game, and I had to make a run to the bathroom after the first overtime.
Albert: The NBA Dream Team in the 92 Barcelona Olympics, where you had the greatest group of athletes ever assembled from a team sport -- Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone. It was a great thrill to do that.
I also did most of Michael Jordans championships with the Bulls. In the Finals against Portland in 92, his was one of the greatest single performances Ive ever seen. We talked to Michael before one game about what he was going to do that night. He came out shooting three-pointers, which he rarely did. He ended up getting six straight. He looked over at me during the game, and he gave me a little wink and a shrug, as if to say, I cant believe Im doing this. [Laughs]
Whats the key to doing a great job behind the microphone?
Jones: Read a lot of anything; it improves vocabulary. Its also important to use anecdotes beyond the statistics. It humanizes the players, which allows people to understand where their greatness comes from.
Albert: I started doing games when I was a kid. Id shut the sound down on my TV and talk into a tape recorder. I just practiced all the time. And Id listen to other guys do it for real. Id absorb everything they did. The best guys usually start in radio, because you have to do the basics. On TV, you have to pull back how much talking youre doing. So start talking a lot on the radio, and then learn how to cut it down for TV. Its important to have a sense of humor about this stuff too.
Who, in your opinion, are some of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time?
Webber: Chick Hearn was the man. And the best in the world ever is John Madden. Hes one of those guys you always look up to.
Albert: At a young age, I started working for a number of announcers, including Marty Glickman, who really set the terminology of basketball and football. He did radio in the 40s. He was probably the first athlete-turned-sportscaster. I learned how to do this job from him.
Rashad: Howard Cosell. He was a forerunner in making big stars of sportscasters. Wed watch games together. He had more stories than you can imagine.
What kind of preparation goes into calling a game?
Jones: We have meetings with coaches and players, along with watching practice, watching video of games, reading game notes, digging into my vast Rolodex to make personal calls to players and scouts, and wrapping everything up with a game-day production meeting.
Albert: I can get ready for a game in about four to five hours. Much of that is on the airplane. I read all the newspaper clips from the previous two weeks so nothing surprises me during a game regarding a player or a coach. You dont want to force too much into a game, so if I get, maybe, 15 percent of the information I have into a broadcast, thats pretty good. But I want to have everything at my fingertips.
Rashad: I read three sports pages every single day. And NBA.com is so informative. Im there all the time.
Walk me through what a typical game day is like.
Barry: On game day, we attend the morning shoot-around and conduct interviews with players and coaches from both teams. Then, we have lunch with a producer and a commentary team to discuss general story lines and the telecasts opening segment. Then, Ill go back to the hotel, hoping to sneak in a quick workout and nap. Ill go to the arena about two hours prior to the game and speak with players, coaches, and front-office executives. Well do a segment for ESPNews from the arena just prior to the game. Sometimes, its tough to sleep after a game telecast. Im often as amped as I was as a player, frequently reflecting on my performance.
When youre not working a game, are you calling it from home?
Albert: No. My wife kids me, Why dont you call a game for a couple of minutes? I dont think so. I try to get away from sports from time to time.
Jones: Im usually pretty quiet when Im watching a good game, until theres a great play. Then, I wake up the house with my shouting.
Whats your favorite city or arena to work in?
Jones: Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. Whether the [Warriors are] having a great year or a bad year, the fans are always devoted.
Barry: Phoenix. I always wanted to play there. There is warm weather, and the team is fun to watch. Plus, I can bring along my golf clubs. Anywhere I can bring my sticks is a bonus.
Albert: New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and [Oakland]. The fans, the arenas -- theyre above anything else.