The inimitable "Hot Rod" Hundley died last week at age 80. He will be remembered as a great announcer, even though he was also an All-American basketball player. He messed it up after just six years in the NBA when he forgot about concentrating on the fun and games.
"You gotta love it, baby," was his signature call for the 35 years he broadcast games for the NBA Jazz. Even when he was playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, he was already trying out expressions, mimicking announcers and working on punch lines.
Years later, during a broadcast of a Phoenix Suns game, announcer AI McCoy remembers asking Hundley about his favorite shot. Without missing a beat, Hundley replied, "Cutty and water."
His father, Butch, was a pool hustler, and Hundley literally had a cue stick in his hands before he picked up a basketball and found out how easy it was to be so good. He grew up so fast. When he played himself out of the NBA, I figured he would end up sort of like his father, living by his wits. Instead, he decided to grow up all over again, only this time he grew up slow. I've always thought that was the best way. Too many guys grow up fast and burn out young.
He didn't want to settle for just being another jock analyst or second-banana, either. So he buckled down and taught himself to be a play-by-play man. He eventually became one of the first former NBA players that the Basketball Hall of Fame honored for calling games.
We boast about how America is a land of second chances. Yeah, that's nice, but it's the guys who figure out those second chances, that's what I admire. You're an All-American, first choice in the NBA draft, and you blow that, but then you remake yourself. Ya gotta love that, baby.
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