“I’m Here With…” is Graydon Gordian’s examination of NBA television announcers, a look at the characters who give voice to our favorite game. His first subject — Jeff Van Gundy.
A few years ago I sat down to watch the 1980 Wimbledon final, one of if not the most famous match in the history of tennis. At the beginning of the match, as the frizzy-haired John McEnroe and the indelibly cool Bjorn Borg prepared for the first serve, the play-by-play announcer, an Englishman with a tenor and refinement perfectly calibrated to call a tennis match, described the atmosphere – “electrifying” – and introduced the players’ family and friends in attendance: Borg’s fiancée, McEnroe’s father (who was blowing his nose, bringing to mind an image of an apple falling near the tree on which it grew), etc.
As McEnroe set his feet, the announcer paused, calmly uttered the words, “Here goes McEnroe,” and refrained from speaking for several minutes.
The silence (or the sound of the game itself rather) was astounding. Nowadays nearly every moment of any televised game, no matter the sport, is filled with the incessant chatter of play-by-play announcers and color commentators. The presence of their voice can be a joy, annoyance or outright frustration, but it is always present. As their words per minute have risen, so has the scrutiny. There are whole site’s dedicated to parsing through play-by-play commentary in search of the inane, uninformed, absurd or outright unintelligible. Taking pot shots at telecasters has become a pastime all its own.
However, as their well-exercised vocal chords have propelled them to ever greater fame – Joe Buck is as easily recognizable to NFL and MLB fans as practically any player – the level of our criticism hasn’t risen alongside them. We laugh at their stumbles, but don’t often consider the individual styles and approaches they bring to the games they cover. They are, if not culturally significant, at the very least ubiquitous, and therefore merit further consideration. So let’s consider them: their philosophy of the game, their rhetorical style, even the timbre of their voice.