SALT LAKE CITY — As introductions go, it was as polished as the Vivint Arena court Saturday at the NCAA Tournament. Public address announcer Dan Roberts flew through the names without a hitch.
Forty-plus years of practice, you get pretty good.
The one name he was sure to get correctly was Gonzaga’s. It wasn’t always that way. When John Stockton was a rookie, Roberts was already an announcing fixture. But he had been pronouncing the name of Stockton’s alma mater Gon-ZAH-ga.
“Dan,” Stockton politely told him one night, “it’s Gon-ZAG-a.”
Roberts made no such slip-up during introductions of Saturday’s Baylor-Gonzaga game.
“Ladies and gentlemen, good evening and welcome to NCAA Tournament basketball!” he boomed. “Let’s meet the starting lineups!” He segued into the rosters, sounding as though he’d known the teams for decades.
Roberts normally announces all the Jazz home games — which he has since the team moved from New Orleans in 1979, missing only a handful in that time. But with the NCAA using Vivint for a regional site this week, he was happy to lend his talents. That’s not always an easy assignment. It’s one thing knowing all the NBA players’ names, as he sees all of them annually. But when March Madness rolls in, it can be a crash course in pronunciations — eight unfamiliar teams and no dry runs.
Roberts doesn’t sweat it.
“I don’t practice,” he said. “Time has taken care of that.”
Time has also given him lasting memories. For instance, the most anticipated championship game of all time, Michigan State vs. Indiana State, 40 years ago next Tuesday. Before he introduced Mailman and D-Will and Mitchell, he was delivering on a national stage.
In March 1979, Roberts was wrapping up a year as a public address announcer for Ute basketball. He had worked the ABA’s Utah Stars games until the league folded. That season, the Final Four was in Salt Lake. He sailed through that and a lot more since. Roberts deadpanned the words, “Bryant shooting two” the night Kobe Bryant bricked several free throws in the closing minutes as a rookie against the Jazz. He was there the night Michael Jordan got tossed for complaining, as well as for Jordan’s “push-off” that won the 1998 NBA championship.
Practically all of Stockton and Karl Malone’s historic moments were within Roberts' purview. Throughout, he managed something few convincingly accomplish: he sounded relatively unbiased.
“Being a cheerleader is stupid,” he said.
At the same time, Roberts wants no ambiguity as to where his loyalty lies.
“The end result is that I am far, far away from being bipartisan,” he said. “I am a homer beyond your wildest imagination, but I don’t try to make a complete jerk of myself by overemphasizing that.”
He admits to going “off the charts” on occasion, such as Stockton’s 1980s buzzer layup to beat Chicago in the Salt Palace.
“Holy (expletive), did you see that?” he shouted.
Fortunately, the crowd was screaming so loud no one heard.
Getting all the names right isn’t a given. In the NBA, there are Antetokounmpos, Ilgauskases, Tskitishvilis and Mbah a Moutes. In the increasingly global NBA, there are a dozen names that could stump Daniel Webster himself.
Roberts makes it look like they’ve been friends for years.
Saturday’s doubleheader was an easy day for Roberts. He did have Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji to deal with, but on the other end, the coach is Bill Self.
Roberts tells visiting teams not to worry, regardless.
“I say if I can say Antetokounmpo 15 times in a game, I can say your guys' names,” he said.3 comments on this story
There have been occasional mistakes, as could be expected. One year, when the Jazz were still in the Salt Palace, he was fielding numerous substitutions in a game against Kansas City. A teenager came from the stands and handed him a piece of paper, wishing happy birthday to a friend. Roberts immediately read the greeting over the sound system.
Turned out it was a crude double-entendre that drew guffaws from the audience.
“Just awful,” Roberts said. “I didn’t have a clue.”
Forty years after the fact, he says the Bird-Magic pairing left a strong memory.
“I watched them hug each other and Bird hang his head,” Roberts said. “That was the beginning of the NBA.”
Long before calling people out became popular, he was, well, calling them out.