He was there in New Orleans in 1974 to welcome Aaron James, the first player the Jazz ever drafted. And he was there two years later, when the Jazz made history by drafting Lucy Harris, the first woman ever selected by an NBA team. He described Akeem's sucker punch on Billy Paultz in 1985. He watched Pete Maravich go for 68 points one night against the New York Knicks, and witnessed Karl Malone scoring 61 last winter against Milwaukee.
He's seen them come and go, from Pistol Pete to Adrian Dantley to John Stockton, and everyone in between. Rod "Hot Rod" Hundley, the Jazz's play-by-play announcer since the franchise began, has seen - and called - them all.Tuesday, in the Salt Palace, the Jazz take on Golden State, and Hundley will be there again, this time for his 1,500th Jazz game. That's only 60 games fewer than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played in during his long, history-making career.
Hundley has spent almost 24 years announcing the game he loves, including two seasons with the Lakers, five with the Phoenix Suns and going on 17 with the Jazz (five in New Orleans).
"And I've never missed an assigned game," he says.
There have been a few nights when Hundley was absent, but all were due to other commitments. The most notable absence is a good answer to a trivia quiz: Who called the first Jazz regular-season game after they moved to Utah?
Answer: Paul James.
The Jazz had traveled to Portland to play the Trail Blazers, and Hundley was doing a national TV game (Lakers vs. Clippers) with Brent Musberger on CBS. (Incidentally, it was the first-ever NBA game for the Laker's Magic Johnson.) As a result, longtime BYU play-by-play man James was tabbed to do the Jazz game.
Hundley holds the distinction of being the only radio play-by-play man who competed in the NBA. "I think that's a big advantage, because I played," he says. "I think I'm the best. I work at it."
It has been a long road from modest beginnings for the Voice of the Jazz. He had a broken home life and his father was what he calls "the best pool player in West Virginia." He says he owes much to the game that saved him from a life of pool halls and dead-end jobs.
"I grew up without family, lived in a hotel in high school and hung around pool rooms," says Hundley. "I learned how to steal, cheat, hustle . . . and basketball took me away from all that. Without basketball, who know's where I'd be?" His rise to stardom began in college, where was an All-America college player at West Virginia. He later became the NBA's No. 1 draft selection in 1958, signing a one-year, $10,000 contract. "No bonus, no nothing," he says wistfully. After six years with the Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers - playing in two NBA All-Star Games - he moved into broadcasting.
Times, he allows, have changed dramatically. When he was in Minneapolis, players laundered their own uniforms. When patches were issued to put on uniforms, players were asked to take them home for their wives to sew on.
Among the most riveting stories Hundley tells of his playing days has nothing to do with the basketball court. One night on a trip from St. Louis to Minneapolis, the Lakers' plane lost lights and power. Hundley says the pilot asked passengers if they wanted to try to get to an airport, or put the plane down as soon as possible. "We all said to put 'er down," he says. The plane touched down in an Iowa cornfield, and no one was hurt.
Despite working in one of the NBA's smallest markets, Hundley is among its best-known announcers. Early in his career he worked alongside the Lakers' Chick Hearn, probably the NBA's most famous play-by-play man. During that time he began to pick up his renowned breakneck, staccato delivery. Such trademark phrases as "belt-high dribble," and "frozen rope" were borrowed from Hearn.
"The one guy who was the best when I started was Chick Hearn," says Hundley. "I said, `This man does it the way it ought to be done."
Hundley studied Hearn's pace of delivery, description and the way he stayed on top of the play. "I liked his enthusiasm. Basketball is an exciting game. I copied some of his stuff and inserted my own stuff to make the combination work," he says.
Hundley's most repeated phrase, however, is his own making: "You gotta love it, baby!" He says that became popular after he said it a couple of times during games, and soon began to hear people calling it out to him on the streets.
Despite calling games for 24 years, Hundley says he hasn't tired of watching NBA basketball. Last fall he signed a new five-year contract. Does this mean the start of another 1,500 broadcasts? Maybe. If not, it won't be for lack of enthusiasm.
Says Hundley, "I love this. It's the greatest game in the world."
Game Notes: Golden State's 12-7 record equals the team's best start (after 19 games) since 1975-76 . . . Ex-UTEP star Tim Hardaway is averaging 21.1 points for the Warriors . . . Chris Mullin is averaging 26.3 points . . . Utah has won nine straight regular-season games against Golden State in the Salt Palace . . . The Warriors have won four of their last five games, while the Jazz have claimed nine of 10 and four in a row . . . The Jazz's Sub for Santa project begins Tuesday night. Fans are encouraged to bring new, unwrapped gifts, wrapping paper, clothing and other Christmas essentials to games this week.