Broadcaster of the Week: Sean Elliott, San Antonio Spurs
Posted Jan 4 2007 5:59PM
Transition Game: From Successful Player to Successful Broadcaster
If you had asked me during my playing career if I ever saw myself working in broadcasting when I finally hung up my sneakers and moved away from the hardwood, I probably would have responded with something like, "How about never." Like a lot of young guys, I wanted to play for as long as I could. The thought of coaching in some capacity crossed my mind as a possibility, but I didn't put a lot of thought into broadcasting. I guess I was just caught up in the moment playing and I really wasn't thinking too much about my career after basketball. Five years later, though, here I am.
I got my first taste of life behind the mic near the end of my career after recovering from an injury. The team asked if I would do color for a game. I was kind of caught by surprise, but I said ok and gave it a try. I had a good time doing it and got a few comments from people saying that I wasn't that bad. Then the year that I was recovering from kidney transplant, I worked about 60 games with the Spurs. I had Steve Herz, my agent who is also kind of a broadcasting coach, show me some tapes and give me all kinds of clips. From there it just kind of took off.
When I finished playing, I decided that broadcasting was what I was going to do full-time because I enjoyed it. It kept me close to the game and I was able to stay around a lot of the players that I had played with for years. Plus, I needed something to do. Every athlete will tell you that. I was a bear to live with the first couple of years because I didn't have that routine of practice every day and games and getting up and down. It was hard to do that as a broadcaster. It just wasn't the same thing for me, but we all need something. If I wasn't doing that and I just retired and sat and got fat all day, I think I would probably go crazy.
So I said, hey, why not, I'll try it for a couple of years. I did it the first year in San Antonio, but the next year I got hired by ESPN and ABC. I worked for them for two years, but then decided to go back to the Spurs. It was more important for me to be local in San Antonio because I needed to see my kids grow up. That was the biggest thing, plain and simple. With the ESPN schedule, I wouldn't have been able to see my family for long periods of time and I just couldn't do that.
Having played for San Antonio and the great relationship that I have with the coaching staff and the ownership is another reason why I chose to stay at the local level. It also helps me to gather some inside information that a lot of broadcasters probably wouldn't have access to, that's for sure. Coach Popovich will tell me lots of things. Pop and I go way back, so he treats me like I am part of his family. There are times when if I don't go to the coaches' dinner with him, he'll get mad at me. The whole time they will be talking strategy, so they obviously trust me to keep certain things confidential. The relationship is probably different than that of 90 percent of the other broadcasters in the league.
As I've announced more and more, I have tried to craft my own style which I think is different than maybe a lot of guys. I like to try to treat it more like a film session, a film session in the sense that I like to show people where people are out of position, why the play broke down or why the play worked, things of that nature. I also try to relax and have a good time with it, be humorous and keep people interested in the game. I don't know what kind of style that is, but that is what I try to do.
I try to keep it interesting for people who aren't hard core basketball fans as well. There are terms that I throw in there for the people that are real students of the game and other times when I try to get stuff across to the people who are tuning in for the first time and don't really know basketball. You don't want to freeze them out, so you try to appeal to a wide variety.
One of the biggest advantages for me is that I don't have to read over tons of game notes to learn about the game. My preparation was Lute Olson and Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich and the endless film sessions that I experienced throughout my career. I can see plays happen and know what the game plan is going to be. I don't need to read notes on players because I've seen them play. I guess my homework would be my NBA League Pass. I watch a lot of games, but from years of being around it, you just know it. When watching a play, most people will say, "Oh, I didn't see that." Well, I did see it. I mean, I didn't train to become a doctor.
Being a player turned broadcaster, a lot of people ask me how I have made the transition so successfully. I think a lot of players assume that broadcasting is easier than what it really is. You have to get on the mic and describe a play and have a conversation. It is not just about knowing the game. You have to try to draw people in and just make yourself approachable.
Fortunately, I've been privileged to work with a lot of the great play-by-play guys like Dick Stockton, Brent Musburger, John Saunders, and Mike Tirico which has helped me immensely in learning the craft. Those are some of the legends out there. And I can't forget my guys, Bill Land and Dave Barnett, who are terrific. Listening to other people has probably helped me the most. Whenever those guys give me advice, I take it. There were lots of times where we'd go to break or I'd get tongue tied, which happens to me all the time anyway, and those guys would give me advice on certain things – how to come back from break, how to communicate certain things better, maintaining energy level, and stuff like that. I never went to broadcasting school or did any of those things. Those guys know all the tricks and how to stay composed in their seats, so you basically pick up little bits and pieces from everybody.
Despite all the great teachers I have had, there are still times when I am fairly uncomfortable and nervous. I think that is a part of it. I am trying to bring the best to the broadcast and trying to be relaxed at the same time, but sometimes you can't help it. I think a lot of people go through that, especially when trying to critique yourself.
I am always tough on myself. I think we all have a little bit of that in us. It is hard for me. Every once in a while we'll tape an open and I'll be able to watch the open going into the game while we're doing the national anthem or something like that. I'll be able to hear if my energy level is there or not, or if what I am saying is to the point, things like that. There are all kinds of little things I'm always trying to critique myself with. And if I miss anything, my family members are just grammar freaks who listen to everything I say. If I make mistakes, they're always letting me know, and if it's a good show then they're letting me know that too, as is my wife Claudia who provides the most feedback.
But there are always more things to learn in this business and as long as the Spurs will have me – and truthfully I wouldn't want to work for anyone else – I'll keep doing it. Now who would have thought that?
Sean Elliott may have hit the most memorable shot in Spurs history. With 12 seconds left in Game 2 of the 1999 Western Conference Finals the Spurs found themselves trailing the Portland Trail Blazers 85-83 when Elliott caught a pass in the corner, pirouetted and lofted a high-arching three-pointer over Rasheed Wallace. The shot, now referred to as the "Memorial Day Miracle" gave the Spurs the victory and propelled them to the NBA Finals and their first NBA title. The world may know Elliott for that shot but Spurs fans remember No. 32 for his determination and clutch shooting over 11 seasons for the Silver and Black. In 669 regular season games in a Spurs uniform, Elliott averaged 14.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 33.0 minutes. He left the Spurs as their all-time leader in three-point field goals made (563) and attempted (1,485). That same determination defined Elliott's March 14, 2000 return to the Spurs after undergoing a kidney transplant and eight months of rehab. Elliott became the first player in NBA history to return to the court following a major organ transplant.
On March 6, 2005 the Spurs honored Elliott by retiring his #32 to the rafter high above the AT&T Center. Elliott currently serves as Spurs analyst on Spurs television.