Hall of Fame beckons Milwaukee icon Doucette
The Milwaukee Bucks have retired seven uniform numbers during their rich, 44-year history as a National Basketball Association franchise.
It’s about time they retired a letter.
Here’s the plan: Sometime soon, a banner ought to be unfurled from the BMO Harris Bradley Center rafters bearing the letter “E,” with a microphone alongside. Then the guest of honor would be introduced to the audience, and Eddie Doucette would take his rightful place alongside Oscar Robertson, Junior Bridgeman, Sidney Moncrief, Jon McGlocklin, Bob Lanier, Brian Winters and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and be forever remembered as one of the Milwaukee Bucks’ all-time greats.
Doucette, the original voice and promoter of the Bucks and a legendary broadcaster with over 30 years of experience calling NBA action, was named Feb. 15 as the recipient of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Award in the Electronic Media category. He will be acknowledged for his contribution to basketball during the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement events on Sept. 7 and 8 in Springfield, Mass.
The award is named in honor of the legendary sports broadcaster and former Hall of Fame board member and president, the late Curt Gowdy. The award is presented annually to members of the print and electronic media whose longtime efforts have made a significant contribution to basketball.
Doucette served as the voice of Bucks basketball for each of the franchise’s first 16 seasons, including the 1970-71 campaign that culminated with Milwaukee’s only NBA Championship.
Already a member of the Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame, Doucette’s impact on the Milwaukee community is immeasurable. Along with McGlocklin, Doucette helped create the MACC (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) Fund. Through the leadership of McGlocklin and Doucette, the MACC Fund has raised over $42 million in the fight against childhood cancer.
In addition to his work on Bucks broadcasts, Doucette has also covered the NBA for NBATV, CBS, the USA Network, and the NBA Radio Network. Doucette has also made key contributions to Major League Baseball through nearly 20 years of play-by-play work, served as the radio voice of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, and has called the action for numerous college bowl games and PGA Tour events.
When Doucette puts his distinguished career and his impending Hall-of-Fame recognition in perspective, though, his thoughts drift first and foremost to Milwaukee, where that career was launched – and where his heart remains.
“I found about about the award four or five days before the press conference. They told me not to say anything until it was announced. I was so stunned I was speechless.
“When you go about doing your job every day, try to do what you can do and try to be better each day, you don’t think about something like the Hall of Fame. When I got the news, I was so humbled and appreciative and nostalgic and sentimental.
“I had the opportunity to fulfill a dream I had since I was 11 years old, and Milwaukee gave me that opportunity. I was told at an early age that I’d have to go through the Flints and the Garys and the Toledos, and I did. When the Bucks came along, I had to make the decision of whether or not to pursue my sports broadcasting aspirations. So I owe this honor and all the great things that have happened to me in my career to what happened in Milwaukee.”
Doucette knew he had to get his foot in the door to establish himself here. Little did he know that would happen when he was disc jockey, making a live broadcast appearance at a fun park on Capitol Drive. When Doucette arrived, a full-scale riot had broken out. Thinking fast, he and a couple of colleagues began handing out records and other promotional items and soon had the chaos subdued.
“Three days later, I got a call from the assistant of the fun park owner, who wanted to meet with me. When I showed up for the meeting at 12:30 p.m., I discovered that the meeting was scheduled for 12:30 a.m., which seemed very odd. It turned out the owner of the fun park was Wes Pavalon. He told me that I saved him a lot of trouble and money, and he asked me what I wanted to do with my career.
“I told him I wanted to get into sports broadcasting, and he said he might have something for me. I had been backing up Earl Gillespie, a wonderful man, with weekend sportscasts at Channel 6, and I had one other possible deal cooking with WBBM in Chicago. I called WBBM and found out they had been considering me and one other guy. They wound up hiring the other guy, who turned out to be Paul Hornung (the Green Bay Packers Hall-of-Famer).”
Pavalon was one of the majority owners of Milwaukee’s professional basketball expansion team, and he hired Doucette to do public relations speeches at $50 per hour, drumming up interest in the fledging franchise.
The team’s owners received inquiries from announcers all over the country who were interested in becoming the first voice of the Bucks. But the owners valued what Doucette had done for them. Knowing that he had a broadcasting background and wanting a young, new voice to help launch their franchise, they offered him the job.
“I couldn’t hold back the excitement,” Doucette remembered. “I went back to the office, and Ray Patterson, the team president, called me into his office. He told me he needed me in PR and marketing, and I said I would do both jobs. He stuck a finger in my chest and said, ‘We only know high school and college basketball in Wisconsin. I’ll give you one year to make this work.
“I said, ‘OK.’”
As Doucette began what unfolded into a Hall-of-Fame career, he remembered something his father once told him.
“He said, ‘If you ever get a chance to do what you want to do for a career, do it your way. Be different. So I did.”
Doucette did not even think about emulating Johnny Most or Chick Hearn or any of the other popular announcers of the era. He put a lot of thought and creativity into developing his very own style, and it caught on. And he presented it with an unbridled passion and flair that has never been duplicated.
“You have to be careful if you’re going to tamper with what people like,” Doucette said. “I took that black cup of coffee, but added the right blend of milk and sugar with a little whipped cream on top, and the young people bought me.
“I started getting calls from parents and teachers saying, ‘I can’t communicate with my kids or my students anymore. They’re speaking this language I don’t understand. It’s yours. Can you help me?’”
So Doucette printed up and distributed a million copies of the Doucette Dictionary, which featured the many innovative descriptions he used while announcing Bucks basketball games on the radio. More and more people learned where to find the “toaster” on the basketball court, what on earth a player was doing when he “bisected the Cyclops,” and kids on Milwaukee area playgrounds began shooting “sky-hooks” and “pancake jumpers.”
“My whole approach was to build excitement over Bucks basketball and reach young people,” Doucette said. “I realized that they would start asking their parents to buy tickets and bring them to see the Bucks play, and that one day they would be the season ticketholders.”
National networks of that era were looking for by-the-book, vanilla announcers and didn’t want to take a chance on a colorful young prospect with a style all his own. So Doucette made his home in Milwaukee, and he probably never envisioned what a local icon he would become. He entered the Wisconsin Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2011.
“I really became tied to the team,” he said. “I lived and died with every bounce of that ball. The Bucks were my love, and when a game was going on, the picture was being painted. The mic was my paintbrush and the floor was the palate. I tried to keep it different and keep myself and the audience on their toes. If they heard something they didn’t understand, they’d tune into the next game and find out what it meant.
“I put so much into calling each game that I literally burned myself out. I haven’t told many people this, but I actually had to start wearing an athletic supporter when I was calling the games. I left it all out there every night, and I lot of times I’d need a towel to wipe the sweat off my forehead when the game was over.”
Doucette became as popular with Bucks fans as the players – guys like Jon McGlocklin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Bob Dandridge and Greg Smith -- who rapidly developed into a championship team.
“I’ve always been very appreciative of the opportunity the Bucks organization and its fans gave me,” Doucette said. “And I gave the Bucks and their fans the best shot I had every night. It was an unbelievable experience for me.”
Doucette’s impact in Wisconsin went far beyond the basketball court.
Eddie and his wife Karen’s oldest son, Brett, was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 2 ½ years old. Soon afterward, Doucette and McGlocklin co-founded the MACC Fund.
“The most important thing I’ve done in my life was co-found the MACC Fund,” Doucette said. “I believe that God has a plan for everybody, and I believe his plan for me and all the steps I had to take in my career were to motivate Jon and I to start a charity for people in the community who had cancer.
“My platform as Bucks announcer and Jon’s as a player enabled us to co-found the MACC Fund. I think of all the lives that have been saved since then, and how the cure rate for cancer has gone from 20 percent to 80 percent. No man could have a greater legacy than that, and all of that was God’s plan.”
Doucette is grateful for the many people who surrounded and supported him during his years in Milwaukee.
“Wes Pavalon,George Korkos, Jim Fitzgerald, John Steinmiller, Bill King, ‘Jonny Mac,’ of course … there were so many special people there in Milwaukee who helped me so much and I owe a lot to them,” Doucette said.
Though Doucette has spent most of his time in California since leaving Milwaukee, he still follows the Bucks closely.
“I read the Bucks box scores every day, and I talk with John Hammond often,” he said. “I don’t follow any of the other teams I worked for. The Bucks will always be my team, and I’m so thankful to the Lord for the opportunity he gave me in Milwaukee.”
Milwaukee should be grateful, too.
Eddie Doucette and his wife, Karen, will celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary in July. They live in Poway, Calif.
Their older son, Brett, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 1974, leading to the creation of the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer (MACC) Fund, will turn 40 in May. He is married and works in marketing at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Their younger son, Cory, who turns 38 this year, became a standout high school basketball player and went on to play at the NCAA Division III level at Linfield (Ore.) College. Also married, he now works in corporate insurance brokering.
Eddie plans to partner with current Bucks radio announcer Ted Davis in calling the Bucks’ game against the Clippers in Los Angeles on March 6.