mikebarrett

Mar 30

The Return of Snapper

By mikebarrett

On Sunday night the Trail Blazers will host a special Steve “Snapper” Jones Tribute Night when the Blazers host the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Steve will be in the house, and will join us on the television broadcast during the second quarter.  The following is a brief background on Steve, and my personal thoughts on what he meant to me, and all Blazer fans, during his time on our airwaves, as and my broadcast partner.


In the NBA, team broadcasters are the messengers, the voices, and personalities you become attached to as you follow your team.  If you’re an avid fan, like I was growing up, the team announcers become a huge part of your life. 

I’ve often shared, on the air and off, the stories about my childhood, and how my game-night ritual was so dependent on a couple of different people.  One was Bill Schonely, of course.  I was that kid who took a radio to bed with me, and soaked up every word and every phrase, and always dreamed of the day I would perhaps be blessed with the same opportunity to get behind a microphone and be next to the action.

The other voice, and face, that simply meant “Blazer basketball” to me was Steve Jones.  He had this large, commanding presence on the air, and seemed to always know what to say, how to explain, and how to relate everything to the listener.  It was a smooth cadence, never hurried, and never overly emotional, during good nights or bad.

It was a different time when I was a young fan.  There was no Internet, no League Pass available, and sports-talk radio to speak of.  Just about everything I learned about the Blazers and the NBA came from the newspaper, magazines, and to a larger extent, from Snapper Jones.  I was the son of a coach, so it was in my blood, and Snapper provided the perspective and vocabulary to completely connect all of the dots in my basketball-crazy mind.

I knew that Steve had won an Oregon State high school basketball championship playing for Franklin, and then went on to play at the University of Oregon.  I also knew that he was a huge star in the ABA, where he became an all-star and ended up scoring over 10,000 points.  He was an elite three-point shooter, when the NBA didn’t have a three-point line.  What I didn’t know, at the time, is that he spent just one season playing for the Trail Blazers, and was the last player cut from the 1976-77 Portland team that went on to win the NBA title.  I learned about all of that later.

It was clear at the time, however, that Snapper had other options.  That he would make an indelible mark on the NBA in another way – in the broadcast booth.  The minute his playing days were over, he was moved behind the microphone, and started working on Blazer broadcasts.  CBS loved what they heard, and used him in the playoffs and NBA Finals that very season.  Think of how unusual that would be in today’s world. 

As fate would have it, his first assignment to cover an NBA Championship series would be for his hometown team.  Steve was on the sidelines for CBS when the Blazers beat Philadelphia in game 6, and watched the town go nuts.

His role with the Trail Blazers was just beginning, and he would become a fixture over the next 26 years.

Snapper not only helped call the games on TV (and even was the play-by-play man for a time), but hosted Courtside Monday Night on the radio, and hosted an hour-long Courtside broadcast, by himself, that preceded each Blazer game.  That was always must-hear radio for a young fan like myself.  I still remember the theme music to that show, as the anticipation built for another night of NBA basketball.  I still remember getting frustrated when the show went to commercial break, as that was simply time away from Steve.  Not all the games were on TV then, and this was always still a chance to hear the great Snapper preach to the masses. 

Fast-forward (a long way) to 1999, and my first season working with Blazers Broadcasting.  Jones was still hosting Courtside Monday Night, along with his many other duties.  He was doing the show then with Mike Rice.  Since most of these broadcasts turned into two-hour wrestling matches between two strong-willed basketball personalities, I was selected to host, or basically, moderate these contests.  Talk about a humbling and frightening experience.  I had been a Blazer fan, and had been covering the team for years, but now was completely tossed into the fire against two guys who scared the heck out of me, for different reasons.  One would fire daggers at you with his eyes and make you squirm in his silence, and the other would shout you completely out of the room.  It made for interesting radio, to say the very least, and I usually drove home with my head spinning.

After the 2001-2002 season, the Trail Blazers were making a change on the TV broadcasts and were planning to bring in a new play-by-play broadcaster to work with Snapper.  I still remember the summer afternoon when Jones threw open the door to my small office at Blazer headquarters.  He said, “okay kid, the door is cracked open for you and I think I can kick it all the way open – if you’re ready.  Now, get your keys, you’re taking me to get a haircut.”  I flew out of my chair, still trying to digest what he had just said.

I’d love to say that I had a ton of confidence as a young broadcaster, but working with Steve Jones, who at the time was on NBC’s number-one broadcast team, as well as being, in my mind, the authority on Blazer basketball in our area?  Talk about baptism by fire. 

To say that Snapper was into “tough love” was an understatement.  To say I feared the man is an understatement.  If I had been from somewhere else, and didn’t have such respect for him, and hadn’t always regarded him with “hero status” during my formative years, it probably would have been easier.  But, I did realize what an opportunity this was, so off we went.

I prided myself then, and still do, on being overly prepared.  I come armed to every game with these sheets with little scribble all over them.  Stats and storylines I could never possibly get to in one single game.  Snapper would show up for games with a pencil, and stroll across the court just before we went on the air (I’d arrive at 3pm and pace for three hours). He’d look at my stuff and just shake his head.  As I would set up my end of the table for the broadcast, he’d turn my stats monitor away from me, or just unplug it.  He’d say, “kid, you’re making it too difficult.”  He was always into simplicity.  The game, he’d say, was simply “passing, cutting, movement, and scoring the ball.”  My job, in his mind, was about “score, time, situation, and who’s on the floor.”  That’s it.

Snapper had a knack for making the game incredibly interesting, while always taking his own personal emotion completely out of it.  He was the complete opposite of a “homer.”  I would ask him at times if he cared if the Blazers won or lost.  I think he did, but he just didn’t think it was his role to put that on display.  He had this deep and well-thought out perspective that I couldn’t get my head around.  If I wanted to get him completely mad at me I’d make a comment about a referee’s call.  Steve, who never got a single technical foul in all of his years playing, saw no purpose in ripping a ref during a game. 

My favorite memories of my years of doing games with Snapper were our rides together to and from the games.  He never rode the team bus, like we do today, but instead rented his own car.  He invited me to ride with him that first year, which I was told by others was quite an honor.  I never knew why, at the time, that he chose to separate himself from the players and coaches like he did.  I think it was because he never wanted to develop emotional relationships with the players – something, for better or for worse, I have always done.  He figured that got in the way of him staying unbiased.  It makes perfect sense, but for me has always been very difficult.

On the way to games he would say, “kid, what’s your approach tonight?  What kind of game are you going to call if the team wins, or if they’re getting pounded?”  After the games he would pepper me with questions, make me think about everything I said on the air, and constantly challenge me.  It was an education and an experience I’ll never forget.

During those years the national assignments started coming more and more frequently for Snapper.  He would start out with us on a road trip, and then would break off to cover other games on the national broadcasts.  NBC was at its best when Snapper was doing games with Bill Walton.  The odd couple thing worked so well.  When ABC took over the national contract, it started using him more and more in New York.  Neither side was getting enough of Snapper.  The time came for the Blazers to get something more permanent, and for Steve to stop living on an airplane.

Snapper was gone from Blazer broadcasting, but will never be forgotten.  His mark on this franchise, and what he meant to fans has long since been etched in stone.  It was a privilege for Blazer fans to hear him each game, and an absolute honor that I got to be involved in a small part of his broadcasting legacy.  Even though it lasted 26 years, it ended too soon. 

We’ve all got people in our lives who have made such an impact, that finding the words to properly explain just how deep an impact, don’t come easily.  I remember each and every compliment he gave me.  In fact, I clearly remember them both.  One was after a game in Denver in 2003, when a huge referee’s call helped decide the outcome.  I actually stayed fairly composed, which was rare.  The other was after a game at Golden State, a game Portland won 94-93 (I still remember the final score, because of the compliment).  He patted me on the back after we boarded the team plane and said, “good call tonight kid.”  I probably have never told him how much that meant to me, or how much he meant to me.

I’m not sure if Portland has ever told Steve how much he meant to the fans, and to the franchise.  He’s never been properly recognized by the organization for all that he gave to Blazers fans over the years.

Now is our chance.

Welcome home Snapper.   


I invite you to share your Steve Jones memories below.



10 Comments

  1. Mike thank you for reliving those moments for me, I didn't get hardly any TV games and few radio games, so much of my stuff came from the papers.
    I kind of disliked Snapper, on the few occasions I seen him because he seemed uncaring and cold. I remember a few times he made you look like an idiot IMO, sorry about that, and when he was asked about it he would say you brought it on yourself. That is why I disliked him all these years for the way he treated you. But if you are OK with it then that is good enough for me. He was a great analyses, but I like Mike Rice so much better.

    I will try to reconstruct my mind, because like I said I never got the full facts, but I must say you really have thick skin. I almost chuckle when people attack you on your blogs. I would tell my wife if you could live through Snapper Jones these small fries wouldn't even dent your armor. See, I have been a fan of yours for many more years then you realize. I was sticking up for you just like I stick up for the players and you now.

    by Hg on 3/30/2012 11:34 AM
  2. In 1976, the Blazers were still a year from a championship and crowds at the MC were sparse. To attract fans, one promotion was to give away iron-on transfers of players and coaches faces. I still have the transfers for Bill Walton, Rick Roberson, John Johnson. I even have trainer Ron Culp's. But the one that got turned into a t-shirt was Steve Jones. I wore that thing with so much pride. One more thing Mike - it's cool to see a fellow KBVR'er doing so great. Keep up the good work!

    by ronjm on 3/30/2012 12:13 PM
  3. I always loved it when Steve called games, he was the calm and cool to Bill Waltons crazy... He was always right on with his comments how he could tell you what was wrong or right about the teams playing... I loved that he was the Blazers announcer... And he made other games the Blazers werent playing in watchable for me! Yes he deserves our recognition... Thanks for everything Steve!

    by pdgwhof on 3/30/2012 12:20 PM
  4. I am only 20 years old and I've been watching the Blazers since ever since I was born. It's funny how you remember the song when the broadcast would come on the radio because that's exactly what I remember being little and so excited when I heard the opening music to yours and Snapper's broadcast. I have never missed a Blazers broadcast and still get that same excited feeling every time. You are to me what Snapper was to you and I hope you stay in Portland for many years. At least until your national broadcasting opportunity presents itself :)

    by Omalleyd3 on 3/30/2012 12:30 PM
  5. I always looked forward to the Courtside show, and exchanging thoughts with Steve on which players would be able to do what, for each team during the up coming game. I remember once in the mid eighties, we got into a twenty minute on air heated discussion on Clyde's jump shooting. (The Captain probably remembers that one.) I argued that Clyde should take tips from Kiki, and put more arch on his shot to become a more purer shooter, and Steve argued Clyde would never become a pure shooter like Jimmy or Kiki, but would still be effective with that flat trajectory. His was always the voice of reason. I ended up winning some contest, and was treated to a wonderful dinner, at a five star restaurant in Portland, and a limo from there to the game and back. My wife and I had only been married about ten years then, and we had such a great time, she became an avid Blazer fan ever since. I would truly love to thank you Steve for all those great evenings, and helping my marriage last these 34 years!!!

    by bar24bis on 3/30/2012 12:50 PM
  6. Thanks for sharing this Mike. I loved his honesty and objectivity about the Blazers. Let's hope he gets the respect he deserves like the Schonz and gets himself elected in the basketball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster.

    by blazerdarren77 on 3/30/2012 3:12 PM
  7. MB, you clearly have turned out very well in spite of (or maybe because of) your episodes refereeing between Steve and Mike. Whichever, I'm happy to call you my favorite play-by-play announcer working today.
    --
    don

    by dgpdx on 3/30/2012 11:13 PM
  8. Mike Barrett,

    I share the same respect you do for the Snapper. I have the poorest memory of details so I can't share anything in particular but I remember how I felt watching and listening to him. I was about 11 or 12 when I really started to get nuts about the blazers and Snapper was calling the games with Pat Lafferty. I would get so emotional when things weren't going our way but after listening to the Snapper calmly put things into perspective it made the losses easier to bear. He made it easier to be a fan. He made basketball easy to understand and was always spot on about the psychology of the players. He'd explain why a player was screwing up with something like, so and so has him rattled so he's forgetting that he needs to blah blah.

    I loved how he'd laugh at Walton's outrageous exaggerations and call him out on them on national television.

    Thanks for giving respect to Steve Snapper Jones like this. It brings me back to when I was a kid. He played a huge part in how I view basketball.

    Go Blazers!




    by thedanman on 3/30/2012 11:38 PM
  9. I'll be there tomorrow to honor the Snapper and root us to victory. We owe the T'wolves one!
    --
    don

    by dgpdx on 3/31/2012 4:03 AM
  10. I am desperate to see video of the apprectiation ceremony itself. Please, if possible, make it available or share a link. Living in rural Central Oregon and can't get games on Dish, so I missed this. This was the most important thing that happened this night. Got to hand it to the Blazers organization for setting this up.

    I have long admired and respected Steve's work. Hoping that you get your health back soon Steve.

    by stripe57 on 4/2/2012 10:50 AM
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