You Don't Know Tait

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Anyone who’s ever worked with the great Joe Tait – the voice of the Cleveland Cavaliers – has a “Joe Tait Story.”

For example, here’s mine.

Over the past few years, my mother has baked her famous chocolate chip cookies for Joe. I deliver them to him personally before Cavs games. The cookies are really fantastic and, during the broadcast, Joe makes it a point to sing their – (and my mother’s) – praises.

A few weeks after this tradition began, my then-girlfriend wanted to get into the act, so she baked peanut butter squares. As always, I delivered them to Joe pregame. But I noticed that he didn’t mention her or her squares the entire game.

About a week later, Joe was approaching in the hallway near the Cavaliers locker room. As he got closer, I asked: “Joe, what did you think of my girlfriend’s peanut butter squares?” Without breaking stride – and in that unmistakable voice – Joe smiled and said: “I hope she’s good looking.”

Yes, we all have our Joe Tait stories. But two members of the Cavaliers family – Dave Dombrowski and Scott Zurilla – have more than they can share, and probably more than the Internet can hold.

While the voice of the Cavaliers prepares to return to his rightful position behind the microphone, Cavs.com decided to ask some people around the organization for some Tait tall tales in a segment we’re calling You Don’t Know Tait.

Of course, for our first installment, we had to start with the tandem of Cavaliers Director of Broadcast Services, Dave Dombrowski, and Cavs Radio Networks producer, Scott Zurilla.

Both longtime broadcasting vets have served as producer and engineer to the iconic announcer. So I sat down with the duo to take in a couple interesting Joe Tait stories …


Cavs.com: We know Joe Tait is an NBA Hall of Famer. What are some of his other skills that you’ve witnessed over the years?

Dave Dombrowski: I’ve worked with Joe since 1980, so that’s over 30 years. In that time, I’ve never seen anyone eat a bowl of ice cream faster without getting a brain freeze. Not only does he eat it fast, there’s not a drop left. He’s done.

He’s also the second-worst golfer in the world – behind Phil Hubbard.

Cavs.com: Scott, you haven’t been with him as long as Dave. What were you like when you first met him?

Scott Zurilla: Horrified. I walked up to him and told him, ‘I’ve been listening to you for 25 years.’ Do you know how hard it was to tell Joe Tait, ‘you goofed’ or ‘do another take.’? I said: ‘Joe, this is tough for me.’

Cavs.com: Did he tell you not to be afraid?

Zurilla: No.

Cavs.com: Did Joe ever put you in a tough spot, producing from home while he was on the road?

Dombrowski: We had an off-day out West. We were in Sacramento. Joe was going to drive across the mountain range to gamble in Nevada.

But somewhere along the line, he ditched the car and somehow, while he was trying to get out of the ditch, he got bit by a spider and he swelled up. It was the second time he’d gotten bit by a spider. He’d been bitten by one in the offseason and wound up in the hospital.

Naturally, there was some question as to whether or not he could do the game the next day. I just remember thinking, “We’re going to have to find another announcer because Joe Tait has a spider bite!” But he made the game.

Thinking back, I don’t know if he almost missed the game because he put his car in a ditch or because of the spider bite.

Zurilla: It was the spider bite.

Cavs.com: What are your memories from your early days with Joe?

Dombrowski: My first game working with him was the four-overtime game against the Lakers. My first game, I sat between Pete Franklin and Joe. Four overtimes.

I went from working for Pete Franklin directly to working for Joe Tait. These are two guys that, if they’re Catholic, are so cheap they probably still have their First Communion money.

Zurilla: It was my first or second year for me and the Cavs were in Chicago, and they had that big inflatable Bull flying around the arena.

So Joe’s doing his pregame cross-talk with Mike Snyder, and the Bull’s floating around. And Joe says: “I’m going to say something on the air so that everybody hears it. My last year in the NBA, I’m going to go around the league and shoot down every one of those stupid balloons. You’re just going to hear ‘pop and pop’ all over the league.’

Cavs.com: Is Joe as intimidating as he sounds in this interview?

Dombrowski: No. In fact, what’s funny about him after all these years – I could pick a phone and say, ‘Joe, I have a kid who sent a tape in and a resume, he wants you to listen and critique it.’ And Joe will say: “Great. Send it over.”

He’ll sign autographs and little notes for fans. He’ll always do personal appearances. He’s at his best with what we call the “outer market.” He says that those are the real fans. That’s who he says are the real fans and who he can relate to. Joe’s still a small town guy.

Zurilla: Joe’s not always intimidating, but you don’t really want to mess with him.

Dombrowski: No. Here’s an example of why not.

Many years ago, Joe emceed the old “Meet the Team” luncheon. He’d introduce everybody on the team, do Q&A with each guy, etc. Then he gets to the Cavs new coach, Mike Fratello.

He praises the coach, the direction of the team, etc.. It’s a real solid introduction.

Then Fratello takes the mic and proceeds to talk about Joe Tait’s wardrobe. ‘Well you talk about being a sharp dresser; we’re going to have to work on your wardrobe,’ Fratello says. “We can’t have you going out there in those kinds of clothes.’

And you can see the steam coming out of Joe’s ears.

So Joe gets up and says, “Coach, I can change my clothes. But you’re always going to be short.”

The place went nuts and Joe calmly reminded Fratello something very important. He said: “Coach, you’ll learn something with me: I always have the microphone last.”


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.