He sees it differently than I do because he played, so I think it’s still that emotional factor that comes into play. Sometimes I kid him that he still wears his jersey underneath his coat and tie —Utah Jazz play-by-play broadcaster Craig Bolerjack on Matt Harpring
SALT LAKE CITY — As Orlando Magic coach Frank Vogel addressed the media outside the visitors locker room in Vivint Arena Monday, a 6-foot-7 man scribbled notes near the scrum.
Once that ended, that same guy stopped to autograph a basketball card for a young fan before assuming his customary seat at the scorer’s table, next to Utah Jazz television play-by-play broadcaster Craig Bolerjack.
Matt Harpring hasn’t competed in an NBA game since April 27, 2009, but for the last eight years, the 41-year-old stays relevant and connected to the game as a Jazz analyst for AT&T SportsNet.
“It’s just different. I don’t view myself as a guy trying to get the adrenaline rush out of it like I was as a player, I don’t expect to feel like I did,” Harpring said. “It’s fun calling the game and getting this side of it, because as a player it was adrenaline, it was ups, it was downs and you live and die by.
“But as a broadcaster you care, but at the end of the day you go home and get a good night’s sleep,” he continued, laughing. “It’s a lot different.”
Although the retired 11-year veteran spent the last seven seasons of his career as a Jazzman, he played his first two in Orlando from 1998-2000.
Harpring was named to the 1999 NBA All-Rookie First Team after averaging 8.2 points and 4.3 boards out of Georgia Tech.
So, when the Jazz hosted the Magic Monday, Harpring acknowledged some familiar faces, such as Rodney “Sid” Powell, Orlando’s longtime director of team operations, ahead of the tipoff.
It’s still weird for Powell to see the once hard-nosed player transition into a dedicated media member. Times have certainly changed.
“You would’ve never thought that was going to happen,” Powell said. “You loved him as a player because he was hard-nosed, a tough guy, and they don’t have tough guys anymore, so everybody loved that about that, but I would’ve never thought of him going into TV. He was good with the media, at times.”
Harpring was never the one to seek attention during his playing career from 1998-2009. The shooting guard played in Orlando, Cleveland, Philly and Utah, where he relished guarding the best player while holding an 11.5 scoring average with 5.1 boards in 665 career games, then going back home about his business.
He never hated reporters, but also wasn’t a media darling, either. Reading ESPN and newspaper clippings about himself wasn’t his thing.
“As a player, I was always dialed in,” Harpring recalled. “I wasn’t outgoing, and I didn’t want the media around. I would answer questions if I was asked. I wouldn’t be short, but I wouldn’t be as long-winded, either, but you certainly wouldn’t get me trying to be on air. I kind of avoided it if I could, but when I did it, I did it.”
The light switched for Harpring after the ball stopped bouncing, under the influence of legendary Jazz broadcaster “Hot” Rod Hundley. He now carries over that same basketball work ethic and tough approach to being the best he can be during a 2.5-hour broadcast alongside Bolerjack.
He certainly knows the game, but not to the degree that he doesn’t feel the need to do his homework.
He studies trends, box scores, past games, team stats, press clippings and other interesting details to prepare at least two prep sheets for the broadcasts.
Through that process, Harpring has developed his style.
“He sees it differently than I do because he played, so I think it’s still that emotional factor that comes into play,” Bolerjack said. “Sometimes I kid him that he still wears his jersey underneath his coat and tie, and the way he played, I wouldn’t be surprised, but it’s fun.”
Sitting courtside to analyze the action is not quite the same as playing professionally, but he enjoys the grind. The committed husband and father to five children travels back and forth from Utah to Atlanta, to spend time with family, but does it smoothly.
He tries to keep it fresh and display a personality in ways at work that fans may not have known him in his No. 15 Jazz uniform.
“The way I want to come across is someone that’s fun, I want it to be high energy,” Harpring said. “I don’t want a boring broadcast. I hate listening to stuff on TV that’s boring, so I try to keep it fun, knowledgeable, and I don’t want to feel like I’m just throwing out stuff that people ask, ‘What is he talking about?’
“I want my facts to be right, and it pisses me off if my fact is wrong, so I want to be reliable and honest.”