Most NBA fans tend to rank the high-scoring Phoenix Suns as their second-favorite team to watch beyond their local club. Since Steve Nash returned to the team in 2004, the team has consistently produced fast-paced and aesthetically-pleasing basketball, with local play by play man Gary Bender calling every shot.
And as the national TV audience watches Phoenix's late-game attempts to get back into the Western Conference playoff bracket, it has become clearer and clearer that the Suns' season will end along with 13 other NBA teams two and a half weeks from now. The team is four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot with just 10 games to play, and though the .500 Suns are playoff-worthy, the West is just too good to let the team slide in.
And, via a press release we regrettably read today, it appears as if Gary Bender will be taking leave once the regular season ends as well. The veteran voice is retiring following the season.
One of the most recognizable voices in sports broadcasting, Bender's radio and television career spans 27 sports, three major networks and some of the most storied franchises and institutions in sports. He served as the voice of the University of Kansas, the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams and Phoenix Cardinals. Bender's time with CBS, ABC and Turner Sports saw him broadcast not only the Olympic Games and Final Four, but also the Masters, Sunday Night Football and national NBA and Major League Baseball telecasts.
A 1962 graduate of Wichita State, Bender earned a master's in television/film from the University of Kansas. He was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Phi Delta Theta Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
Bender joined the Suns family in 1993 for what he expected to be a brief stint; now in his 18th season handling play-by-play duties, he has broadcast more than 700 Suns games. The Suns will honor Bender during the club's April 11 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at US Airways Center.
With March Madness in full bloom, it's good to remember Bender as the voice of dozens of memorable NCAA Tournament games from the 1980s and early 1990s. He also worked as the needed voice of reason on some often-combative NBA playoff games alongside Rick Barry and Bill Russell, and he's been a welcome fixture covering Suns games to both local fans, and those that dutifully tune in via League Pass.
His voice will certainly be missed.
(Image via this dude's MySpace.)