Remembering Legendary NBA Announcer 'Hot Rod' Hundley

Apr 1, 2015
Originally published on April 1, 2015 5:22 pm

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 whom 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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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's remember a man whose career in basketball lasted more than half a century. Hot Rod Hundley, who died last week, played for West Virginia University and then the Lakers and finally became a broadcaster for the Utah Jazz.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOT ROD HUNDLEY: Stockton with the ball, front court left. He looks to Karl Malone. He's got him low. The Mailman jumps it - shot up. It's in. He did it. He did it. John Stockton to Karl Malone.

INSKEEP: The play called by Hot Rod Hundley. Commentator Frank Deford has this appreciation.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Each generation of ex-athletes always believes that they had more fun than their successors. Yeah, I know. Nostalgia feeds that thinking. And probably, that's especially true in sport because the old jocks know that the incumbents are better as sheer athletes. They need to compensate. So - but we had more fun. Exhibit a - West Virginia, the 1950s and (imitating announcer) and now number 33 in your program but number one in your hearts. Yes, the inimitable Hot Rod died last week.

Rod Hundley, age of 80, remembered as an announcer which he made himself into because when he was a player, which came so naturally - all-American - he messed it up. Because after six years in the NBA, he forgot about concentrating on that part about games in fun and games.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HUNDLEY: And you've got to love it, baby.

DEFORD: That was his signature call for the 35 years he broadcast games for the NBA Jazz. But even when he was still playing for the Lakers, he was already trying out expressions, mimicking announcers, working up punch-lines. What was your favorite shot, Rod? Scotch and water. Hey, (laughter) his father, Butch, was a pool hustler, and the kid 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. And when he played himself out of the NBA, I figured he'd end up sort of like his father, living by his wits. But 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. Grow up fast - too many people burn out young.

He didn't want to settle for just being another jock analyst, second banana. So he buckled down, taught himself to be a play-by-play man. And he ended up celebrated by the Basketball Hall of Fame that way - the only ex-player so 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 - and 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. You got to love that, baby. But yeah, it is also true that it was more fun back then when Hot Rod Hundley was number 33 in your program but number one in your hearts.

INSKEEP: He comes on Wednesday in your program but makes it feel like Friday in your heart. Frank Deford on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.