Legendary Broadcaster of the Week: Eddie Doucette, Milwaukee Bucks
Posted May 23 2007 6:51PM
To give you a little history, I got out of college in the early ‘60s and I was a disc jockey in town. One day I got a call from somebody who I didn’t know who asked me if I would make an appearance on a Friday night out at a fun park in Milwaukee. I wasn’t from Milwaukee. I’m an East Coast guy, born and raised in Boston. I spent my high school and college years in Evanston, Illinois, and went to Michigan State. So Milwaukee was kind of a new venture for me. People came to know me through being a radio personality.
So I went out to this fun park after I did my radio program one night. It was like a pitch and put, but it had a big area where they had a couple of bands. When I got there, there was a full blown riot that had broken out. For whatever reason I had a couple guys that had traveled with me, and I got this crowd under control by giving them records and stuff like that. With the crowd settled, we went on and finished the night, but it could have been a pretty messy thing I guess. The following Monday I got a call from the secretary of the guy who owned this fun park. She told me that the owner would like to meet with me as he was really appreciative of the fact that I was able to get things under control, and in turn, saved him a lot of consternation. So I agreed to meet with him.
When I showed up at the building to meet with him, I couldn’t get in. I found a security guard and explained my situation, and he informed me that the man I was looking for never was there at that time. I eventually found out that our meeting wasn’t at 12:30 p.m. as I had thought, but 12:30 a.m. This seemed kind of odd, so now I had to meet this guy. Upon finally meeting him, he started off complimenting me for getting things under control that night at the fun park. He looks at me, and I’m a real young guy, and he says to me, “What is it you want to do with you life?”
I said, “I don’t want to be a disc jockey, that’s for sure. I’ve been working my entire life to this point trying to get into sports which has been my goal since I was 12 years old.”
“We might have something for you,” he says. “I’m heading up the group that is trying to bring an NBA franchise to Milwaukee. In the event we get this franchise, I like you, and I might have something for you. In the meantime, I’d like to hire you to go out and speak to groups. We’ll get the groups and we’ll pay you $50 per speech. We’d like to have you talk to these groups and drum up excitement and interest in the franchise that we might get.”
Now this was 1967. Nobody knew about it. It was kind of a secret. We had read some things in the paper about it maybe happening. Remember, they didn’t have a team or name and I was going into a market that didn’t know much about NBA basketball. I did it anyway and it turned out to be the biggest break of my life. Up to that point, I was talking to a lot of guys that didn’t want to give me a chance to do what I really did best, which was sports.
So one night I am out speaking to a group of men, and apparently in that crowd was the team lawyer and the team accountant who were also major investors in the new franchise. It had been announced that they were going to get a team for the ’68 season. I got up and spoke and apparently I did a really good job because the following week, the guys who were bringing this team in had a board meeting, and among the things they discussed was what they were going to do for broadcasting. Television wasn’t an option at the time. They didn’t have enough time to put it together, but they thought that they had to have a radio component. A few said that they probably should bring someone in from New York who knew how to do the games. Meanwhile, these two guys who had heard me speak, they had hired me to come in and do PR for the team. So I already had a position with the team as the first PR director in addition to my broadcasting in the city. At this board meeting, these two guys said, “We have a new team. We need a young presence, a new voice. Why don’t we bring someone in who has some youth and some enthusiasm and excitement?” So the team lawyer said, “We heard this guy speak the other night and he was really into this thing. He was talking about a team that we didn’t even have and he got everyone all pumped up.” The other guys in the board meeting asked who they were talking about and they said, “Some guy Eddie who’s a local DJ.” When they found out that I had already been hired to do PR, they said, “Well, what about him?”
When it was announced that I was the broadcaster, they pulled me aside and told me I had to meet with the president of the team, who happened to be a guy named Ray Patterson (who later went on to run the Houston Rockets and his son more recently was running the Trail Blazers). I can vividly recall going into his office and him saying, “Hey, you weren’t my choice. I didn’t know you were a broadcaster. But I’ll tell you what. In the state of Wisconsin we know high school and college basketball and nothing about the pros. I am going to give you one year to figure out how to sell these people on the game. At the end of one year if you don’t have it, you’re gone.”
In order to make it interesting and to catch people’s attention with the nicknames, we got this thing started and what happened was it became kind of a camp thing with the young people. The young people started talking my language. Then I started getting phone calls from school teachers who started complaining to me that they couldn’t understand what the kids were talking about in school and they wanted to be educated. So I came out with a Doucette’s Dictionary of all my terms. Over the course of three or four years we went through over a million of them. We had Coca Cola sponsoring them one year, Miller beer another year and the Milwaukee area Chrysler-Plymouth dealer sponsoring another year. We circulated these dictionaries all over. I got lucky.
Whatever I did, I did in an impression-like manner because I thought it was fun. It was the thing I thought I had to do to create excitement and have fun. The nickname the fans eventually gave me back in Milwaukee was “Mr. Excitement.” I did these things not knowing how this was going to build up in the minds of people. Well it really caught hold unlike anything I’ve ever done in my career since then. When I go back there today, people still know me. They still think I am doing the games. It’s an amazing thing. When I go to the airports and hotels, the people see me and start throwing out the nicknames because those were young people at the time who have grown into adulthood that are now ardent Bucks followers.
Early on most people thought I was talking a different language, but it was all done by design to draw attention. Every night when the games were going on and I saw something that triggered a thought in my mind, I would throw that term out there. Back then people thought I was a little wacky. Later on came Chris Berman and Dick Vitale. I was working with Dick back in the late ’80s doing Indiana Pacer games and he got a hold of my dictionary and used some of the stuff, changed it a little bit, put it on his Rock basketball. Now it is pretty commonplace when you hear it on ESPN all the time. But a lot of that stuff that took place when I started was a new thing and now it’s part of the basketball presentation on radio and TV. Imitation is really a form of flattery and I always looked at it as being something we created to make the game interesting. When you listen to basketball on the radio, it can become pretty up and down unless it’s a very exciting game. TV is a different broadcast because you don’t have to paint the picture. I used a completely different tact on TV. I tried not to overtalk.
When I came up, the play-by-play guy was the personality. Nowadays it’s the analyst who is the personality and the play-by-play guy is there to kind of frame it and lead the analyst into thought provoking answers to questions that are meaningful. You don’t need someone in there telling you what the play-by-play guy is going to tell you. I think the quintessential guy doing play-by-play for basketball now would be a guy like Mike Breen. I think he does as good a job of presenting and interfacing with this analyst as anyone.
Hubie Brown is an interesting guy also. He was with us back in Milwaukee in the early ‘70s when we were really a good team. In Game 6 of the ’74 Finals – a game in which Hubie got thrown out as an assistant coach I think – Kareem played 53 minutes in our double-overtime win. For Game 7, Kareem couldn’t even raise his arms over this and Dave Cowens ate him up. That series saw more games won by the opponent on the other team’s home floor than any other series I can remember. Anyway, Hubie became a coach in the ABA and then went on to the Atlanta Hawks. At the end of his tenure there he was really under a lot of pressure. I went down there when we played them and knocked them out of any playoff potential, and he looked like he was going to collapse. I grabbed him and told him he needed to take a break. At that point, I was doing games for USA Network, and I told him I thought he would be great on TV. I called the president of USA Network and that is when they hired Hubie. That was the beginning of his TV career. He worked with us until he got the job with CBS and then later moved on to TNT and ESPN/ABC. So I go back with a lot of these guys for many years.
Having started with the Bucks in ’68 and leaving after the ’84 season, I was there to see Don Nelson start his unexpected coaching career. When he retired as a player, he had a young family and was trying to figure out how he was going to support them. He decided he was going to try to be an NBA referee. At that time Wayne Embry was our general manager. He and Nellie had become very good friends. Wayne played with us in our inaugural year. He was part of the expansion draft and was the Bucks first captain. He stayed with the team, came on as an assistant general manager and then became the general manager when Ray Patterson moved out to Houston in 1972. So when Don Nelson retired, he went to the West Coast to become a referee and failed. Now he’s heading back to Boston not knowing what he was going to do and he comes through Milwaukee. Larry Costello was our coach, and I remember this day like it was yesterday.
It was midsummer and we were having a golf outing. Nellie was in town. Wayne brought Nellie out to the golf outing and he was sitting out there looking a lot like Willie Loman from Death of a Salesman, like what am I going to do with my life. Unbeknownst to us, Wayne had offered Nellie a job as an assistant coach working with Larry Costello. So they go to training camp. Nellie is an assistant coach having just finished his playing career and flunking in his attempt to become an official. Coaching really wasn’t on his radar screen. We got off to a real rocky start that season and Larry Costello decided to step down. Well Don Nelson was there, and having been a member of a number of those championships in Boston, they decided to give Nellie a shot. So Nellie gets thrown into the fire and those first two years were rough. He had a lot of basketball knowledge, but his bench management was tough. All the little things that good coaches do so well, he didn’t have the skills yet. Along the way he developed some individual skills dealing with players and using a different style of coaching where he would kind of go against the grain. His match-ups were different. He would do things like point-forwards, small ball, and he would really drive other coaches crazy because he was going against the book. As a result he developed his coaching style which has carried him over the years. He eventually became an excellent bench coach handling substitutions, timeouts and clock management. He developed into a good coach and then we changed owners.
Don Nelson and our owner, Jim Fitzgerald, grew very close. Jim was a tremendous guy. He had partners who decided they were going to sell the team, but the caveat was they were going to keep the team in Milwaukee. George Mikan and a group from Minneapolis offered what I think was $25 million, but Jim Fitzgerald, who was a Wisconsin guy, turned it down saying he was going to leave money on the table and sell it to a group who offered a lot less. The difference ended up being something like $8 million less from the local ownership group, headed by Herb Kohl. Later on Jim became an intrinsic part of the league that David Stern went to him in the early ‘80s at a time when the Golden State Warriors were having problems. The owner of the Warriors at the time didn’t have a center because their current center, Joe Barry Carroll, was playing in Italy. He didn’t have enough money to pay the guy to bring him back to Golden State. So, David Stern went to Jim Fitzgerald and presented the idea of doing some financing for the Golden State team. Stern asked for Fitzgerald to loan the Warrior owner some money and that he would be paid back at better than the going rate of interest. By the end of the year, Fitzgerald would be paid out. Fitzgerald agreed, but with one request – he wanted an option to buy the team if after one year in which he would study the market and the team, he liked what he saw. Stern acquiesced and they came to an agreement. At the end of the year, Fitzgerald ended up buying the team.
At that point, Don Nelson decided that he wanted to go out and work for Jim Fitzgerald, but he couldn’t because he was working for the Bucks. Nelson eventually got out of his deal and joined Fitzgerald in Oakland. Fitzgerald and Nelson enjoyed some great years out there before he got out and sold the team to the present owner. When that happened, Nellie decided he didn’t want to be a part of that group without Fitzgerald. Then Nellie took the job with the Knicks and it was really his only failed coaching effort. The next thing you know he was out and subsequently he ended up going to Dallas, had a ten year run there, and then of course headed back to Golden State where the rest is history.
But back to those early Bucks teams, which featured some great ones. The Bucks expansion year was 1969 and we won 27 games. The second year we just took it over the top, winning 56 games during Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s rookie year. In the third year we won the title with Oscar Robertson joining the team. Robertson and Kareem formed what I would eventually call the “KO Combination” (after Kareem changed his named from Lew Alcindor).
After the ’74 run at the championship in which the Bucks lost in seven games to Boston, Kareem had told management that he wanted to leave Milwaukee. Unlike today’s players he did it very quietly in a very classy manner through his representative. The Bucks tried to work out a deal to keep him. He really wanted to go to New York, where he was from, or L.A., where he had gone to school. At one point Bucks’ management was looking around the city of New York to buy him a brownstone so that he could live in New York and commute to games. Then they decided along with Kareem that it wouldn’t work. Kareem was a team guy and he couldn’t just fly in, let the guys practice and then he would just participate in games. But that was conversation for a while.
I’ve been with the NBA throughout the entire time and it one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me, but it will not be my legacy. In 1975 my oldest boy got sick. It was a catastrophic disease and I had to endure some very tough times. We worked with the doctors at the children’s hospital in Milwaukee and as a result of our experiences, we started a charity, which we announced the night that Jon McGlockin retired in 1976. The charity would be for children’s cancer research in Milwaukee and we were going to name it the Mac Fund after Jonny Mac. I wanted to have something there that the fans would recognize and would take to. We called it the Milwaukee Athletes Against Childhood Cancer (MACC) Fund. Since that time it has become so big it is now the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer Fund. I have to thank the current owner at the time, Jim Fitzgerald, for his generosity and help assisting in the formation of a charity game that we held in conjunction with a golf tournament. As a result, the MAAC Fund game has been held every year with 85 to 100 additional events held and we’ve raised about $40 million. When the charity was started, there was a 20 percent success rate for those faced with the disease. Today, it is 80 percent. Having founded the charity along with Jon McGlocklin, that is our legacy to the city. Our goal is to one day not need a MACC Fund.
Eddie Doucette is a sports broadcaster and sports marketing ambassador, with a history and style unlike any other.
He has spent nearly thirty years in the NBA, most recently completing a seven-year tenure as the TV voice of the Portland Trail Blazers in 2000. Eddie was an original member of the Milwaukee Bucks where he spent sixteen years on radio and television. Other NBA associations include the Pacers, Nuggets, Clippers, USA Network and NBA Radio.
Eddie’s versatility is also unmatched, from Major League Baseball (Dodgers, Astros, Padres, Inidians and Brewers) to NFL (Mutual Radio) and including NCAA Football, NBA Game of the Week on USA, golf and others.
Most recently Eddie served as a Consultant for the NBA Entertainment on the new Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield Massachusetts. He was the voice of the Sony-989 Sports 2002, 2003, 2004 NCAA Final Four and NBA 2006 Basketball Video Games.
Eddie is involved in many community programs and initiatives, having co-founded Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer (MACC Fund) 30 years ago.
Eddie is a graduate of Michigan State University and now resides in Poway, California with his wife, Karen.
His style is one of genuine enthusiasm, boundless energy and creativity that has helped shape the language and metaphors that define the NBA.