Broadcaster of the Week: Phil Chenier, Washington Wizards
Posted May 9 2007 5:07PM
I know the focus of this feature is supposed to give you guys some insight into my broadcasting career, but before I do that, I can't help but comment on the incredible series victory of the Golden State Warriors over Dallas.
Every time I see an upset like that, I naturally think back to '75 and the Bullets team that I played on that was swept in the NBA Finals by of all teams, the Warriors. They had a very good team then with Rick Barry, Jamaal Wilkes, Phil Smith, and Charlie Johnson (one of my college teammates who I knew very well). We as a team did not underestimate them. But it was just one of those things kind of like right now, where the Mavericks just caught Golden State at the wrong time. Everything was clicking. I think they had eight or nine players that Al Attles was playing and everyone seemed to fulfill their role perfectly. We had a big injury to Jimmy Jones and we just didn't play up to the level that we had been playing. That's why you play the games, though, because you never know what is going to happen. They snuck in there and won the first game at our place. Then we had a scheduling problem, so we had to play the next two games at the Cow Palace, and they won those games. All of the games were won right down the stretch. In the first three games, 15 total points separated us. Then we were down 3-0 and in that situation, first of all, you're trying to avoid a sweep. You just take it one game at a time. We knew we had two games at our place, so if we get those two wins, then maybe the momentum changes. Unfortunately it didn't happen.
This year's Warriors had a different style of play and it certainly was exciting. I have been walking around Washington, D.C. and people were talking about that series, like, man, I have to stay up and watch the game. You feel for a team like Dallas after the success they had in the regular season, but it was good for basketball.
Anyway, I just completed my 22nd season in broadcasting after having started with Home Team Sports back in, I think, 1985. How I got started is actually a pretty interesting story. I wasn't looking to get into broadcasting. At the time I was working at a youth agency, the Boys and Girls Club, in Washington, D.C. James Brown was doing the games for the Bullets but he was also doing college games on BET. He asked me a couple of times, if he had a conflict, would I fill in for him with the BET games? So I said sure. I didn't know that much about it and had never tried it. The times when I filled in I worked with Charlie Neil. He was really supportive and helpful. Naturally I was extremely nervous.
Eventually I got to a point where it kind of lit a fire. I did that for a couple of years and then after a while they were calling me a little bit more because James was getting real busy. Somebody with BET mentioned that the Bullets were going to have a cable company that would cover Bullet games and maybe I should put my hat in the ring for announcing. At that time Wes Unseld, who had been my teammate, was the GM and I put a note to him and asked if they would consider me if in fact they were looking for a color announcer and they did.
It wasn't as competitive then as it is now. I know that for all the different networks you really have to try out if you want to get into the business today. That wasn't the case then. I came on and actually Jon Miller, who does baseball now, was the first person I remember working with. He was just there for a year I think. Then Mel Proctor came on. I worked with Mel for about 10 or 12 years and I have been working with Steve Buckhantz for about 11 or 12 years. Steve is so good at ad-libbing and listening to the director and producer while he is still talking over the air. These guys are people who have trained themselves to do what they do and they're very good at it.
I've been fortunate to work with some really good people, especially Mel and Steve, who have been extremely good to me. And the fact that I've worked with one network – Home Team Sports at first which is now Comcast SportsNet – has been good as well. The people there including the producers and directors that I work with year after year have helped my comfort level. They're kind of complimentary for me. They help me and give me advice. We have our production meeting before every game so that we're all on the same page and clear of the direction that we want to go. We talk about the key matchups, the strengths and weaknesses of the teams that we're going to look for, as well as some of the graphics that we want to make sure we highlight and share with the viewing audience. In a lot of ways it's like still playing because it's a team effort. Everybody has to fill their role, but it has to come together collectively. That is the epitome of sports. I know I enjoy being involved with the idea of teamwork and having everything come together at the right time.
Before when I would watch a game, I would watch a game to see the physical skills out there and the announcers were almost secondary. Now because I am in this industry, I really pay attention to the announcers, how they're describing things and how they're rhythm is. The one announcer that really had an impact, and maybe it was because I grew up in the Bay Area, was Russ Hodges who used to do the Giant games with Lon Simmons. That's when they had Willie Mays and Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. I never will forget those names. Maybe because it was radio, but they visualized the game for you, unlike TV where you're watching it and you can kind of do your own analysis. They were interpreting the visual for you.
As I have tried to evolve as a broadcaster, I have tried to find somebody whose style that I like and that I can follow. My first choice would be Doug Collins. I enjoy his broadcasts. I think that he is concise, he's entertaining, and he sticks with it. A lot of people like the jargon and the rhymes that Clyde Frazier provides, but I don't feel comfortable doing that and it's not something I would try to emulate. Not to say it's wrong or right, that's just not my style. I have tried to find something that I am comfortable with, something that fits my skills and my abilities and grow on that. I also like Ron Boone with Utah, who I have gotten to listen to because of NBA League Pass, which lets you watch games all day. He has a very smooth delivery and a good style. So I am looking at guys that kind of fill my role.
Obviously I know some of the play-by-play guys, guys like Marv Albert and Joe Tait, and they were doing games when I was playing. That was 30 years ago. Joe Tait, he is like a god to anybody in the Ohio area. I don't focus as much on the play-by-play guys, though I do listen to them and see, especially on TV, how Marv and Steve Kerr blend in together. You are constantly thinking, how well do I blend in with my partner? He is the play-by-play guy. I have to follow his lead and make sure I don't step on him. I think that is a real good pair there. It is a matter of picking some of the styles, some of the techniques, and some of the points they try to emphasize. Hubie Brown is great. But for me to try to do what he does – he has way too much knowledge and way too much history for me to try to emulate that. He has been around the game for 50 years. I don't have the ability of recall like some of these guys have. Both the play-by-play guys I had just astounded me with that. I mean, I can't remember games that I played in sometimes and they're talking about stuff that happened when they were kids so precisely.
I still get nervous and insecure sometimes since I didn't have the training of others. There are times when I get a little flustered and get off track, and during those times I try to relate that to basketball. In basketball, I trained myself to play the game. I grew up and went through the different stages, from the high school stage where you had maybe 300 or 400 people watching you play, to the college days and then into the pros where you have 20,000 people watching. You find ways to neutralize that nervousness. I think that some nervousness is good. It means that you have your adrenaline ready to go. You're not going to start off sluggish because that adrenaline is pumping through your system.
You have to go through that formula that you've developed for success – work hard, practice, prepare yourself, be willing to fail, and be willing to come back from adversity. If the broadcast was not good, I'd go back and look at some of the tape of it and maybe feel bad about how it came off but assure myself that I was going to be better prepared and more concise the next time. Like in basketball, you never have that perfect game. You may get close a couple times, but that is your goal. You are always shooting for that. All those things come to mind. As a basketball player, if things aren't going good and your jump hook shot is your strength, then that is what you try to set yourself up for and then branch out from there. But you've got to go to your number one play or your strength to get into the roll of things.
Even though I have been doing this for a long time, I still see a lot of room for improvement. Basketball has always been a big part of my life. I started when I was in junior high school and enjoyed the surrounding and I feel very blessed and fortunate that I'm still able to be around the game. Commissioner David Stern and the whole crew have taken the game to an ultimate level.
The 2006-07 NBA campaign marked Phil Chenier's 22nd consecutive season providing television color commentary for the Washington Wizards organization. Seated alongside play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz, Chenier has been further ingrained in the consciousness of Washington area sports fans after he starred for the Bullets for nine seasons during his playing days in the NBA.
An All-Star performer for the Bullets in 1974, 1975 and 1977, Chenier still holds the franchise record for most points in a non-overtime game (53), and he ranks among the all-time franchise leaders in field goals made (4th), points (6th), minutes played (6th) and games played (8th). He averaged at least 20 points per game for five consecutive seasons (1972-77) and was named to the All-NBA second team in 1974-75, when he finished eighth in MVP voting. After 10 professional seasons, Chenier retired in 1981 with 9,931 career points and a 17.2 ppg scoring average.
In the NBA off-season, Chenier shares his basketball expertise at his youth basketball camp, which is co-directed by David DuPree, a sports columnist for USA Today. Chenier lives in Columbia, MD, and has three children: April, Philip Lawrence and Adelle.