Traffic is bearable as long as we have Hubie Brown on board.
A trucker tailgating on Interstate 5 in rush hour?
That’s OK, I’ve got Brown to take me to a far-away land, painting a picture in detail as the ESPN Radio analyst on back cuts, player movement and all manner of strategy - with stories of teams and players from yesteryear dotted in - during the NBA Finals between the Warriors and Raptors.
Brown is a national treasure, still on top of his game. He is sharp, witty, opinionated and informative as he closes in on his 86th birthday. He is covering his 18th NBA Finals, the most of any national broadcaster, and lucky us.
Think about this: You cannot watch or listen to any sporting event any more without some sort of narrative of “best ever” or “greatest” or “worst” of all time, a lot of it fanned by social media. Are the Warriors in the midst of one of the greatest NBA dynasties? Is Kevin Durant the greatest player in Finals history to get hurt? Were the Toronto fans who lustily cheered when he went down the worst of them all?
This debate seems clear: Hubie Brown has our vote as the NBA’s greatest color voice. He often has lines such as, “See, you don’t want to do that” in breaking down a forced pass, or, “you have got to understand...” in explaining how good the NBA was and is. He’s talking to us and everyone, as if we’re right next to him.
Brown is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and the college basketball Hall of Fame. He coached in college and the ABA and in the NBA, never afraid to speak his mind as a coach or, later, as a broadcaster (he once called Bill Russell “a moron” of a broadcaster).
In the mid 2000s, when doing a media column for The Bee, I ran into Brown during a broadcast. He said then, as he would now, “What I do isn’t work. It’s a joy. I love basketball, and one thing I can do is talk.”
Jim Dimino knows. He grew up down the block from Brown in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the 1940s. The lads played ball together, attended the same churches, went to rival high schools, and pushed to make their fathers proud.
Dimino went on to become one of the greatest (there’s that word again) high school football coaches in Sacramento, leading El Camino to championships in the 1970s and ‘80s.
The old guys remain friends.
“We’re two Jersey guys who go way, way back, back to the old days, part of the gang,” Dimino said by phone Tuesday with a laugh and a hint of his Jersey drawl.
“Hubie was a fine all-around athlete: football, basketball, baseball. And a talker? Oh, man. He was a talker and a leader. In playground games in the park, he’d always be an automatic captain, and he wouldn’t pick a guy on his team unless he knew how to play basketball. And he still loves what he’s doing. He’s tremendous.”
Here’s how we view nine other all-time great national broadcast voices (disclaimer: we’re going with those we’ve seen or heard and/or spoken to over the decades):
Anyone who doesn’t cherish the smooth delivery and story telling of Scully, even the most ardent Dodger despisers, must have a hole in his head and his heart. Scully was too good not to cherish. He called Dodgers games for a remarkable 67 years, with a lot of national broadcast World Series (“The ball gets through Buckner!”) and NFL broadcasts mixed in, including the Joe Montana to Dwight Clark “The Catch” game in 1982.
Scully retired following the 2016 baseball season. A Vin gem on air in 1991, “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?”
The voice of college football for generations – a good 50 years worth – the folksy Jackson coined expressions such as “Whoa, Nellie!” and he named Michigan’s stadium as “The Big House.” He also broadcast NBA games, Major League Baseball, NFL, auto racing and the Olympics.
Pat Summerall/John Madden
We can’t list one without the other as they made for the best 1-2 broadcasting punch of our lifetime, anyone’s lifetime.
Summerall’s baritone voice was synonymous with the NFL for decades, and the everyman Madden introduced America to “Boom!” while breaking down blocks and tackles. Summerall was the calm to Madden’s bombastic, and it worked beautifully, helping elevate the NFL to America’s true past time.
The guy who never seemed to age was the primary voice and face for NBC Sports for nearly 40 years – Olympics, golf, NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL – and now does work for the MLB Network.
His pasttime is baseball. Costas delivered the eulogy at Mickey Mantle’s funeral in 1995, and he once left a $3.31 tip on a $10 bill at Stan Musial’s restaurant – the tip matching Musial’s career batting average.
A fixture at ABC and then NBC since the 1970s, Michaels has offered the sound of calm for Monday Night football, MLB (including epic World Series games), college football and basketball, the Olympics and horse racing. Who can forget his trademark 1980 Winter Olympics hockey call, when the United Stats stunned the Soviet Union, punctuated by, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”
The voice is unique, and has been since he was the voice of the Knicks for 37 seasons.
Albert has worked NFL and NBA games on national telecasts. He once said excitedly of an in-your-face dunk on air, “Oh! A facial!”
He’s already a longtime staple for NFL and NCAA basketball and golf (close your eyes and you can hear his delivery, “A tradition unlike any other. ... The Masters on CBS”) and Nantz is only 60. His career is just warming up, considering others on this list worked into their 80s.
Anyone who grew up enjoying the NFL in the 1970s surely recalls Musburger’s NFL Today hosting duties, or how he’d open a broadcast with, “you’re looking live at ...”
Musburger came up with the phrase “March Madness” to best explain the hysteria for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. With CBS Sports, he worked the NBA Finals, the Super Bowl, tennis and golf, and while with ESPN and ABC Sports in the 1990s he was a fixture on college football. At 80, the going-strong Musburger is the Raiders play-by-play voice.
The folksy host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports for more than 40 years, McKay worked 12 Olympic Games. He held a captive, horrified audience in Munich in 1972 when Palestinian terrorists captured 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team and murdered them.
McKay was on the air for 14 straight hours to provide updates, and after an unsuccessful rescue attempt, he said on air, “When I was a kid my father used to say, ‘Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.’
“Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were 11 hostages. Two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning. Nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.”
This was the sort of voice you wanted delivering grace on Thanksgiving, not rallying the troops. The kindly Enberg worked eight Super Bowls, plenty of tennis and college basketball and did his share of MLB with this catching line on emphatic home runs while the batter ran the bases, “Touch ‘em all!”
OK, this makes 11 on a list of 10, but here’s why Cosell is worthy of honorable mention: He made viewers either tune in or want to throw bricks through their television sets in the 1970s and 80s as part of the Monday Night Football broadcast. He also had an enduring rapport with Muhammad Ali on Wide World of Sports.
Said Cosell once at a roast, “Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff. I have been called all of these. Of course, I am.”