Brian Wheeler

Mar 24

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!”

11 Comments

  1. Nice story, Wheels! I listened to many Blazer games when you were on the radio with Mike Rice and I lived in southern Oregon. I would hide as best I could, the ear phones as I was working a swing shift as a Security Guard. I live in Portland now and I enjoy listening to you and Tone do the games. Glad the Blazers got you!

    by lumberjack83 on 3/24/2011 4:15 PM
  2. Too funny! The editor thinks that the major city in southern Oregon, on I-5 is a dirty word! I don't know that I disagree and I'm glad to live in the Rose City.

    by lumberjack83 on 3/24/2011 4:17 PM
  3. Heartwarming story. They made the right choice. I normally watch the games on TV because I love having the view, but when I can't, you do a great job of making a boring game seem exciting (don't worry that's a great thing). I remember coming home from a beach trip in January during the Blazer vs Clipper game on TNT. I was on the road so I listened to you on the radio. It seemed like the most exciting game of my life. When I got home, I watched the replays and was like, "eh, it was alright". Seriously, you do a great job and really help Blazer fans get into a game they can't watch. They made the right choice. Glad they chose you.

    by Herr on 3/24/2011 4:23 PM
  4. Thanks for sharing Brian. "It's a great day to be a Raptor/Heat" just doesn't have the same ring as it does the Blazers. So glad the Hutt man took a chance on you. As I posted in one of your previous blogs, you're a legend in the making for us. Thanks for your spirit and enthusiasm. You make us all proud to be Blazer fans!

    by blazerdarren77 on 3/24/2011 5:30 PM
  5. Great story Wheels, Really glad you ended up here in Portland. Love listening to your calls.

    by firedog on 3/24/2011 5:30 PM
  6. by the time the season is over we will have been to 20+ games this year, and every game we sit in our seats up in 325 and my husband puts on his headphones so he can listen to Brian Wheeler broadcast. Always laughing and sharing Brians comments with me, even while watching the action LIVE!!

    by Holly Belgarde on 3/24/2011 6:08 PM
  7. Awesome story....dreams do come true!!!

    by daddylogan on 3/25/2011 9:44 AM
  8. great to hear the background of your relationship with the blazers. i'm attending college 675 miles from portland and streamning you and Tone really helps bring the games to life for me. you guys do an awesome job. and to think, had you caught on with another team, we would never have heard "BATUM-SHAKALAKA!!" that would have left pdx fans feeling deprived, devastated and disappointed.

    by Kassandra on 3/25/2011 12:25 PM
  9. ty for sharing wheels. yes you have grown in my heart as a broadcaster. yes it was hard at first the transition with the shonz and the both of you are great. i love listening to you and tone. i sometimes wil make up my own one word same letter of the alphabet to describe something going on with the team just to see if I can do what wheels does. I love how you created your own niche and are yourself. I am glad you were hired by the tb. no one better to replace the shonz. ty for sharing your story!
    t

    by oregongal47 view (TG) on 3/28/2011 10:44 AM
  10. Great story Wheels. Thanks for putting it on paper and sharing it with all of us. All of us who are Blazer fans, are in some way, shape, or form, fans of yours. No one can question your dedication, or your passion for this game and this team. Listening to the last few games, you've "left it all on the floor" and have done an incredible job bringing us some VERY difficult games. Thank you for your passion. You've done incredible things and can't wait to hear you call the game when OUR teams wins the NBA Finals. It with be an "EPIC" day to be a Blazer.

    by bigjeff911 on 3/29/2011 3:20 PM
  11. If you've ever thought, "I wish I was listening to this on the radio" then you might be a WHEELS FAN!!! You rule buddy. Period.

    by Leroy on 4/9/2011 9:46 AM
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