How I got to be a Blazer!
By Brian Wheeler Posted in: brianwheeler
Last week I promised I’d tell the story of how I got the best job of my life, the radio play-by-play announcer of the Portland Trail Blazers. So here goes.
I had finished 2nd four times for full-time NBA radio play-by-play jobs. And sometimes, it wasn’t even something I could control, like the time I was the runner-up for the Toronto Raptors’ radio voice when they first came into the league. The executives who were told they could make the decision wanted to hire me and even sent me back to Seattle where I was living at the time with a book on good places to live in Toronto. They told me they’d call me in a week to solidify everything. Unfortunately in that week, the decision got all the way to the team’s Board of Governors where one of the top guys said in a meeting, “how come if we’re hiring a Canadian born play-by-play guy on TV that we’re leaning towards an American on radio?” And for the simple reason as to where I was born I lost out on that opportunity.
And when you come in 2nd four times for a job you really want, you start to wonder if someone isn’t trying to tell you something. I tried to remain positive though that the right opportunity just hadn’t presented itself yet. So in keeping track of what lead radio jobs would be open in the summer of 1998, I knew there would be two, the Blazers and the Miami Heat. I was in Sacramento at the time, handling the play-by-play on radio for the WNBA’s Monarchs. I also was the pre-game, half-time, and post-game host on Kings’ radio broadcasts, and got to fill in about 10 times a season on play-by-play when the lead guy had other commitments. In addition, I hosted a daily talk show on the Kings’ flagship radio station. But being a lead NBA radio play-by-play guy was still my goal.
Now as luck would have it I thought, the guy who had hired me in Sacramento in 1995 was now one of the Vice-Presidents in Miami. And after talking to him late in the 1997-98 season, he was very interested in me for their radio position. As for the Blazers, I had sent a demo tape to Harry Hutt, who was one of the team’s top V.P.’s at the time. But Harry would never return my phone calls when I tried to follow up with him so I wasn’t very optimistic about my chances with the Blazers.
Then one June night I was with the Monarchs on the first day of a weeklong road trip. We were in a hotel in Troy, Michigan getting ready to play the Detroit Shock the next day. I called back to my apartment in Sacramento to check my voice mails, and all of a sudden, there was a message from Harry Hutt, indicating that things were heating up with the Blazers’ radio job, and that he needed to speak with me as soon as possible. I got him on the phone shortly thereafter from my hotel room and after some small talk he said to me, “so the Blazers’ radio play-by-play job…are you interested?” And I said, “yes sir, very much so!” And then he responded with, “good, good, good. Well, we’d like to offer it to you. Who do we talk to, you or your agent?” I was so stunned at that moment I probably said the worst thing I could possibly say when I uttered, “you don’t even want to meet me first?” And he said, “nope, there’s too many people saying too many nice things about you and we love your tape so we’re ready to move forward.” I thanked him over and over again, and told him I knew he was taking a chance on an unproven talent in some respects, but that I was going to make him proud. He told me he would call my agent in the morning and we’d get the ball rolling.
I hung up the phone and said to myself, “I think I’ve just been offered the radio play-by-play job of the Portland Trail Blazers”, and then I looked around the room and said, “and I have no one to celebrate with!” So I picked up the phone and called about everyone I’d ever said “hello” to in my life and told them the good news. But it dawned on me that here I was getting the best job of my life and I never even interviewed for it formally. How many people have made millions of dollars coaching others about what to say in an interview and how to look the right way, and none of that applied as I was getting the kind of job that I had dreamed about my entire life. Sometimes, things are just destined to happen I suppose.
So a few weeks later, the team brought me to town and introduced me at a press conference. Now I was used to introducing people who were the subjects of press conferences. I wasn’t used to being one myself, but it was much more about finding out who this new guy was that was going to try to step into the very big shoes that the legendary Bill Schonely was leaving behind. As I told everyone at the press conference that day, nobody could replace Schonz in the hearts and minds of Blazers’ fans, and that I was just hoping to carve my own little niche alongside his. Hopefully nearly 13 full seasons later, I’ve been able to do that.
When I think of the other teams I could have landed jobs with, they really don’t compare to the Blazers. We don’t always get things in life as quickly as we’d like, but I now realize looking back that the disappointment of coming in 2nd four times for NBA jobs can’t come close to duplicating the joy I’ve felt in landing with a quality organization that cares about the people that work in it. I’ve had some of the best working relationships of my life since coming to Portland, and some of the best friendships too. And I get to broadcast every night for the best and most loyal fans in the NBA. So thank you, Harry Hutt, for taking a flyer on a young broadcaster back in 1998, and thank you to everyone else since then that has allowed me to live out the phrase I utter after every victory, “It’s a great day to be a Blazer!”