Broadcaster of the Week: Ian Eagle, New Jersey Nets
Posted Mar 1 2007 11:16AM
It feels like it was just yesterday. In reality, it was July 18, 1994. I received the call from then Nets Director of Broadcasting Amy Scher that I was the new radio play by play voice of the New Jersey Nets. I was 25 years old, recently married, and knew very little about the state of New Jersey other than a pungent aroma I had experienced on the car ride from Newark Airport to New York City. But this was the big time, the NBA, I would be chronicling the action of some of the greatest athletes in the world (not necessarily the Nets at that time- but at least the other 26 teams). It was the beginning of what has been as enjoyable a 13-year ride as I ever could have imagined.
Some background; I didn't grow up in a 'normal' household, both of my parents were in the entertainment business and fortunately were able to 'look outside the box' when it came to my future. My father Jack was a standup comedian, musician, and actor. He has appeared in more than 50 commercials over the years with the most famous being a campaign for Xerox that featured a chubby monk (Brother Dominic) in a panic to make copies for his church. He was also part of a Hertz commercial that saw OJ Simpson jumping over him at an airport (I find that most people are interested in that one for whatever reason) on his way to the rental car counter (oh, the stories he can tell from that day of taping). My mother Monica Maris (who passed away in 1988) was a professional singer and later portrayed Judy Garland in the Las Vegas show “Legends in Concert”. From a young age, they urged me to find something that made me happy and turn that into my life's work. Those words still live with me today, and their acceptance of my career choice made diving into this difficult and competitive profession that much easier.
October, 1994 (Princeton, N.J.) The Nets open up training camp and I am like a kid in a candy store (I should mention that I am addicted to Sour Patch Kids and Swedish Fish). It is clear that my life is going to change dramatically, and that becomes painfully obvious when Derrick Coleman blows me off for an interview (D.C. and I attended Syracuse University together and I don't think he recognized me that first day, at least that's the story I'm going with). There was quite a collection of characters on that roster: In addition to Coleman, Chris Morris, Benoit Benjamin, Rick Mahorn (who would later that season give me my first and only wedgie on a flight from Atlanta to N.J.—not pretty), Jayson Williams, Dwayne Schintzius, Yinka Dare, etc were a part of that squad. What a way to start your NBA broadcasting career!? The team only won 30 games that season and Yinka (may he rest in peace) only played 3 minutes (he also once asked me while checking out of a hotel in Seattle if we were in Phoenix), but this was what I dreamed about and I was actually doing it for a living. To see the franchise undergo a metamorphosis and later appear in back to back NBA Finals in '02 and '03 was both fulfilling and astonishing for anyone who was with the club back in 1994.
I knew that whoever was responsible for finally turning the team around was going to be hailed as “the savior”. Others had tried but failed; Jason Kidd was just the man to do it. I had broadcast basketball in relative anonymity until 2001, that's when Nets President Rod Thorn made the deal that would change this organization forever. You could tell on opening night that the Nets were no longer going to be a laughingstock; they were ready to rid themselves of the tag “NBA Siberia”. Kidd performed like an MVP that season (he ultimately lost the award to San Antonio's Tim Duncan) and the Nets have been a playoff team ever since. These last six years it has been a joy having a courtside seat to watch Jason Kidd's court wizardry; his work ethic and sheer will are characteristics that every NBA player should emulate. And selfishly it was the first time in years that NY/NJ viewers starting paying attention to Nets broadcasts, and for that I am forever grateful.
I have been lucky to have worked with some special broadcast partners during my years with the Nets; Bill Raftery, Jim Spanarkel, Mark Jackson, Kelly Tripucka, Tim Capstraw, and Mike O'Koren as well as talented producers Frank Digraci, Steve Danz, and Kevin Smollon (I'd also like to thank my fourth grade teacher Mr. Frank for believing in me). Whether he knows it or not, my first television cohort Bill Raftery taught me to allow my passion and personality to come through the airwaves (he also taught me to reach for the check at dinner but never actually pay for it). I am happy to say that I am just as excited today to broadcast an NBA game as I was 13 years ago when I sat next to Mike O'Koren for Nets/Rockets in Houston (my first broadcast; take my word they will not be bronzing that tape for the radio Hall of Fame). I am also proud that I have passed along my adoration for the game to my 10-year-old son Noah (who dreams of one day playing in the NBA, I don't have the heart to tell him that he may top out at 5'7'' if he's lucky—but kid there's always broadcasting).
Emmy Award-winning Ian Eagle is in his 11th year as play-by-play announcer for Nets telecasts, the last four on the YES Network. One of the most respected and most versatile sportscasters in the nation, Ian became the radio voice of the Nets in 1994, and moved to the television side the following year.
Following the 2001-02 season, Ian won a New York Sports Emmy for his play-by-play work of the Pacers/Nets Game 5 of the NBA playoffs, and has also received a New York Sports Emmy nomination for his work during the 1999-2000 NBA season.
A 1990 graduate of Syracuse University, Ian was the play-by-play voice of the Orangemen in football, basketball and lacrosse, and was awarded the Bob Costas Award for Outstanding Sportscasting.
Ian has been one of the play-by-play voices for the NFL on CBS since 1998. In addition to football, Eagle has called the NCAA Tournament for CBS for the past eight years, the Army/Navy football game, boxing and anchored the "Sportsdesk" at CBS Sports. Eagle also handled English-language play-by-play for the international telecasts of the NBA Finals in 1995-98.