My favorite basketball announcing duo just happens to be one of the more nationally prominent – ABC/ESPN’s pairing of Mike Tirico and Hubie Brown. Though I wish those two would get the top games each week, and the Finals assignment this June, it’s still a treat to hear a quick and open mind in Tirico and the brilliant Hubie Brown ply their trade on each weekend’s “number two” game. There's a reason I'm watching those two more this year than most others, though.
I’ve taken in more ABC/ESPN telecasts with the TV volume up in 2012-13 because Jim Durham passed away last fall. Durham, in my opinion, is the best basketball announcer to ever sit behind a microphone. When he passed six months ago I found it hard to properly construct a post for BDL as to what it meant to listen to the man call basketball games for so many years.
Durham’s radio partner at ESPN, Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay, is currently having the same sort of issues. And though he’s often paired with some of the best (and I don’t say this lightly or without experience in listening) in the play-by-play business – Kevin Calabro, Marc Kestecher and Dave Flemming – Ramsay’s age and rough year without his longtime partner have apparently taken a toll. Dr. Jack is set to call it a career as a broadcaster this summer, according to an interview with FOX Sports’ Chris Tomasson:
“I think this will be my last year,’’ Ramsay, a Naples, Fla., resident who once was a Miami Heat television analyst, said in a phone interview with FOX Sports Florida.
“It was very hard,’’ Ramsay said. “He was not only a great broadcaster but a great friend, and it was very difficult.’’
“These are very good guys that I work with, but they’re not Jim Durham,’’ said Ramsay, who coached the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA title and is affectionately known as “Dr. Jack’’ due to his doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania. “Nobody is …. I’ve always believed Jim was the best, and nobody has convinced me otherwise.’’
Damn. Same here, good Doctor.
I know this makes me sound out of touch, but I don’t mind in the slightest. I’m lucky enough to live in a part of Indiana where I can hear both the Chicago Bulls’ radio crew of Chuck Swirsky and Bill Wennington, and the Indiana Pacers’ crew featuring Mark Boyle and Austin Croshere (and sometimes Slick Leonard). I don’t sync those broadcasts up with the televised video all the time, but it’s a nice final end to a triptych that (family-willing) I run with NBA League Pass running on the TV, and League Pass running on my computer all in the same room. There’s a reason I don’t prattle on much over Twitter during games at night. It’s because of sensory overload.
Radio work doesn’t have time to obsess over pointless sports talk radio yammering (hello, Jeff Van Gundy). It is furious work, actual broadcast journalism, as the purveyors are asked to describe and analyze the action that those without video aren’t privy to – often from a second or even third tier of a stadium’s press row. Jim Durham, with video or without, kept that edge for his listeners and viewers. And for years, Dr. Jack was the perfect, pointed, counterpart. Smarts, humor, insight and passion – without letting ego or TV-inspired haughtiness (hello, Jeff Van Gundy) get in the way of talking actual basketball.
This is why for years I often excused myself to run “errands” on Sunday afternoons in winter and early Midwestern spring (which lasts until mid-June) to go listen to Jim Durham and Dr. Jack on my car radio. And while Ramsay has been just as great this season, it’s understandable that the Hall of Famer wants to step aside.
Ramsay hasn’t coached for a quarter century, and he hasn’t worked the TV booth (for the Miami Heat) for quite a while. The plaudits behind his Hall of Fame coaching career can wait for another day.
For now, you have a few months to bomb around a car or train or living room listening to Dr. Jack Ramsay call a basketball game on radio. Thanks to Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson and Michael Powell, if you choose to sync up the audio with the nationally televised visuals, things will be off -- far more off than the TV/radio sync was in decades past. Don’t worry about it.
Speaking from experience, you’ll be listening to something completely and fantastically different. If Ramsay walks away this summer, after a media career that is worth its own Hall of Fame induction, we don’t blame him.
We would blame you for not firing up the AM dial to listen to Dr. Jack Ramsay while you still have the chance.