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Hoops Announcers of the Past

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Billy Packer died the other day

The thing about Billy Packer is that he was horrible. I mean, sure, he knew the game. But I’ve never seen an announcer express less joy out of a game than Packer. He hated everything. Every change was bad. Innovations were for communists. Women being around the game was an abomination. March Madness was terrible because it gave small schools chances. And this was the expression of Packer on the floor, game after game. That he had so many huge games is an abomination. Giving those games to the wonderful Bill Raftery, for instance, might actually get people excited about what they were watching. Billy Packer did excite I suppose, in the sense that yelling at the TV about how horrible he was is the one thing that might connect, say, UNC, Duke, and Kentucky fans. When I was reading Seth Davis’ remembrance of Packer at The Athletic, well, let’s just say it reminded me of his daddy Lanny publicly defending many of the worst people in the world.

So I was surprised that the New York Times obituary was just open about how awful Packer really was.

“The poor guy is so serious about basketball that he can’t have any fun with it,” Mr. McGuire once said. “It’s all life or death. There’s no in-between with Billy. If it’s on his mind, it jumps out of his mouth. But bless his heart, his mind is just as fast as his mouth.”

In 2004, Mr. Packer excoriated St. Joseph’s University as a No. 1 seed in its region in the N.C.A.A. tournament. The next year, he criticized N.C.A.A. officials for choosing some mid-major conference teams for the tournament while excluding teams from larger conferences that he deemed better.

More problematic was the time in 1996 when he called the Georgetown University guard Allen Iverson, who is Black, a “tough little monkey.” He apologized on the air, saying he had not intended the comment to be racial. “Al Capone was a tough monkey,” he said. “Mike Ditka was a tough monkey. Bobby Hurley was a tough monkey.”

In 2000, he snapped at two female students who were checking press passes at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, saying, according to news reports, “Since when do we let women control who gets into a men’s basketball game?” He later apologized.

Mr. Packer said that broadcasting was a hobby for him, compared with his interests in real estate and golf course development and art collecting. He also pursued other paths: He hired a psychic to find the knife used in the murders of O.J. Simpson’s former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994. And he started a defense fund for Richard Jewell, the security guard who was wrongly suspected of planting a pipe bomb in Atlanta that killed one person and injured more than 100 during the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Mr. Packer had an entrepreneurial streak that he demonstrated on the Friday before the 1995 Final Four at the Kingdome in Seattle. Bryant Reeves, the Oklahoma State center, shattered the backboard on a layup drill during the team’s practice, sending pieces of it all over the court. Mr. Packer went after the shards, stuffing his pockets with pieces shaped like three- or four-carat diamonds.

After an N.C.A.A. official made him surrender the pieces, he found the person who had swept them up, and he stuffed his pockets again.

“He didn’t give up easily,” Mr. Nantz said, “But when Oklahoma State got knocked out in the semifinals, I asked him what he was going to do with the shards. And he said: ‘They’re not worth anything. They lost. It’s garbage now.’”

What a weirdo.

In the end, after his retirement, Packer wouldn’t even watch college basketball anymore. I think that’s because of the transfer portal and the one and done. It wasn’t his game anymore and despite being its top announcer for decades, he hated the game too much to continue.

On the other side of things……

When you are a kid who watches and listens to a lot of sports, certain voices define your life and stick with you. For me, that person is Portland Trail Blazers announcer Bill Schonley, who I listened to religiously. He was so great. For one, those Blazers teams were great–for a small market, the Blazers historically have had very few terrible years, though they feel basically hopeless at this point, stuck with a Hall of Famer and a bunch of guys who wouldn’t even play for a contender. But those Drexler/Porter/Kersey/Buck teams were just fantastic, even if they didn’t win a title. So I got to listen to a great announcer–the guy who coined the term “Rip City,” who repeatedly gave us the mantra of “You’ve….Got….To….Make…Your…Free…Throws, etc. He was a Portland legend forever and was known to hold court in the city for all those years. He died at 93. The opposite of Billy Packer, Schonely made you want to enjoy the game you watched. RIP City indeed.

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