Honoring the Great Tait

On Friday night, the Wine and Gold will celebrate “Joe Tait Appreciation Night” – honoring the legendary broadcaster and the “Voice of the Cavaliers.”

Before the Cavaliers matchup with the Bulls tips off, the great Tait will be immortalized when a banner commemorating the Hall of Famer’s prolific 39-year run is raised to the rafters – joining the organization’s all-time greats.

Along with calling Cavalier games for nearly four decades, Tait has been the voice of the WNBA’s Cleveland Rockers, Cleveland Crusaders hockey and was the TV voice of the Indians for 16 seasons. For the past 21 years, he’s been the voice of Mount Union football, one of the most dominant Division III programs in college athletics.

Prior to the 2010-11 season, Joe announced that he would retire at the campaign’s conclusion, but was sidelined in October with health problems. After undergoing successful cardiac surgery and rehabilitation, he made his eagerly-anticipated return on March 27 as the Cavaliers took on Atlanta.

On Friday’s Appreciation Night at The Q, video vignettes featuring Tait highlights and well wishes from friends, colleagues and fans will run throughout the evening. (And for more, don’t miss the premiere of “Have a Good Night Everybody” on Fox Sports Ohio after the Cavaliers-Wizards postgame show on Wednesday night.)

Through 39 years of winning, losing, change and upheaval, Joe Tait has been a constant in the Cavaliers ever-changing universe.

In fact, Joe Tait …

… was paid a dollar an hour to be the janitor at the radio station at Monmouth College, where he was going to school. But he paid the station manager a dollar a day to learn to be a sports announcer. He did both jobs for six bucks a week.

… was the voice of Indiana University football and the pregame host of the ABA’s Indiana Pacers in 1969.

… met Bill Fitch while Fitch was scouting for Coe College football and Joe was doing play-by-play for Monmouth College – “by far the worst football team God had ever put on the planet.”

… was told by Fitch that he could “make a 66-0 blowout sound like a 6-6 tie.”

… wrote a congratulatory letter to Bill Fitch when he became the Cavaliers head coach, adding at the bottom: “P.S. If you ever need someone to do for the Cavaliers what I did for the Fighting Scots of Monmouth – (66-0) – please let me know. Ha ha ha.”

… became the play-by-play man for the Cleveland Cavaliers eight games into their inaugural season in 1970.

… called a 15-67 season in his first year with the Cavaliers. In that inaugural season, Joe said the Cavaliers felt like they “were at Little Big Horn with Custer” and that “when you run into someone who played on that first year’s ballclub, you don’t shake hands, you hug.”

… felt that the Cavaliers first ray of sunshine was drafting Austin Carr in the second year of the franchise.

… started doing Indians baseball on TV in 1972 and finished in 1987. He began on Channel 8 alongside Rocky Colavito. When Nick Mileti bought the Tribe, he hired Tait to do radio with Herb Score.

… also did Cleveland Barons hockey in his first two years with the Indians and Cavaliers. In 1974, Joe had a total of nine off-dates "when I wasn’t either traveling or broadcasting. “I guess I was young enough not to know any better. You know, the idea of doing a hockey game in Rochester one night and a basketball game in San Diego the next night – that was an adventure.”

… joined the Cavaliers instead of the Indians full-time in 1988 when, at the last minute, Gordon Gund “came up with – as they say in The Godfather – an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

… left the Cavaliers in 1981 to become the radio play-by-play announcer of the New Jersey Nets. A year later he handled the play-by-play of Chicago Bulls games.

… said he had to leave “because I would have killed Ted Stepien had I stayed, and would today be broadcasting the prison basketball games from Lucasville.”

… returned to the Cavaliers when Gordon and George Gund III took over ownership in 1983. One of the first moves the Gunds made was to bring Tait back to the Cavaliers radio post for the 1983-84 season.

… did three unforgettable seasons in the Indians TV booth with Bruce Drennan – years Joe labeled “three of the worst years the Cleveland Indians ever perpetrated on the public. And that’s saying something!”

… was the Indian’s radio play-by-play man in 1979, the same year that Fred McLeod was the Tribe’s TV play-by-play man.

… has been doing TV play-by-play for Mount Union University since 1986. “They were starting to develop some pretty good football down there and they wanted to put one of their playoff games on television. (They) called and asked if I would be interested and I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

… has been named Ohio’s “Sportscaster of the Year” in 1974, 1976, 1978, 1991, 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2004.

… began his tradition of sitting in the rear of the team plane when “airlines closed down on the number of first class seats and it became a pecking order. I always ended up on the back of the plane. And it hasn’t changed to this day – I’m still in the back of the plane.”

… lists Portland, Sacramento and Salt Lake City as his favorite NBA cities to visit. (Now that two of his previous favorites – Vancouver and Seattle – no longer have teams.) “Every city that the players don’t want to go to, I like.”

… is proud to say he broadcast every game the Cleveland Rockers played between 1997 and 2003, claiming that “they played the game the way it was meant to be played.”

… didn’t know what a “smoothie” was until he traveled with the Rockers.

… was named to the Monmouth College Athletic Hall of Fame in October 1991, to the Media Hall of Fame by the Sports Media Association of Cleveland and Ohio (S.M.A.C.O.) in September 1992 and to the Broadcasters Hall of Fame in October 1992.

… broadcast a “Reunion Game” with Bruce in the summer of 2009, admitting that the highlight of that day was judging an ice cream sundae eating contest with Mike Hegan. When asked by Tribe PR Director Bob DiBiasio if he’d come back the next summer, Joe explained that he’s “on a 20-year plan. I’ll come back and do it when I’m 92.”

… names Danny Ferry as his all-time favorite Cavalier player.

… lists his favorite Cavaliers coaches as Bill Fitch (“who is obviously is No. 1 on the hit parade because he was instrumental in bringing me to Cleveland, and I have a very soft spot [in some part of my anatomy] for him.”); Lenny Wilkens (“one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met in my life. He is a cut above most people.”) and Mike Fratello (“got more out of less than any coach I’ve ever seen. Some of his teams were so inept that they would have had a tough time getting to the playoffs in the CBA.”)

… doesn’t have a computer. “I’m in the Eisenhower Administration Era and I’m not coming out.”

… almost killed Wilt Chamberlain as he and John Block crossed the street from their hotel to the old Cleveland Arena in a blizzard. “I didn’t see them until I was right on top of them.”

… has worked with countless engineers in NBA cities, but none as long as John Trinidad of Golden State, who’s “been with me, I’m sure, for 35 years.”

… feels the most pride “when a person who is blind or shut-in – (or incarcerated; I hear from them, too) – tells me that they can ‘see the game’ based on my call of the game. That’s really the best right there.”

… is, according to long-time friend and Cavs Director of Broadcasting Dave Dombrowski, the second-worst golfer in the world – right behind Phil Hubbard.

… once almost missed a game in Sacramento after driving his car into a ditch – and then being bit by a spider, his second run in with an arachnid that season.

… once responded to Mike Fratello’s jabs about his wardrobe at a “Meet the Team” event, by saying: “Coach, I can change my clothes. But you’re always going to be short.” Thus teaching Fratello a very important Joe Tait lesson: “I always have the microphone last.”

… was awarded the C.S. Williams Founders Award by the Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1996 and was presented the Broadcasting Legacy Award for 2004.

… was inducted in the summer of 2001 to the Cleveland Sports Legends Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Press Club Hall of Fame in September of 2003.

… joined some very select company in 2008 when he received the prestigious “Lifetime Achievement Award,” presented annually by the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, joining local legends such as Jim Brown, Bob Feller, Dick Jacobs, Mark McCormick and Herb Score.

… admitted this past March 27 – in his return from cardiac surgery and recover – that his biggest fear was that he “might fall, face-first, out of my perch and kill somebody down below.”

… asked his color analyst for that night, Jim Chones, to “sit there and speak only when spoken to, so there won’t be any problems. (Unless he does speak when he’s not spoken to. Then HE might be the one going out of the perch down below.”)

… scoffs at the notion that he’s “going to need six months to really figure out what I’m going to do in retired life” claiming that “I’ve been practicing that for the past four or five months.”

… considered returning for the 2011-12 season “for about 20 seconds, and I dismissed it on the spot.”

… has broadcast 3,380 Cavaliers games

… was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

… lives with his wife, Jean, in Lafayette, Ohio.

… is and will always be “The Voice of the Cleveland Cavaliers.”

Joe Gabriele is the official beat writer for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Cavs.com. You can follow Joe and send him your questions on Twitter at @CavsJoeG.