Broadcaster of the Week: Steve Martin, Charlotte Bobcats
Posted Dec 19 2006 3:04PM
EXPANSION DONE TWICE
CHARLOTTE, N.C., Nov. 4, 1988, Charlotte Coliseum - 7:30 p.m. -- Dave Hoppen, adorned in a white uniform with teal and purple pinstripes and a font style that no one has ever seen before, steps into the jump circle for the Charlotte Hornets at center court. An amazing and somewhat tortuous ride into the world of the NBA and major league professional sports is about to begin for the denizens of this booming centerpiece of the New South. 24,000 of which are clad for a black tie gala to mark the occasion.
Reality occurs when Hoppen stares across the circle to see Brad Daugherty of the Cleveland Cavaliers waiting for him. Two hours and forty-seven minutes later, the massive center hung scoreboard (which had fallen to the court three months before) screams that Cleveland has 133 points and the first NBA expansion team since 1980 has only scored 93. It didn’t matter to that crowd. They stayed the entire night and when the two teams left the floor, they stood in unison and gave their new toy a standing ovation.
I was there that night, with a black tux and a teal bow tie, donning the headset as radio play by play for the Charlotte Hornets. My number one goal was to work for a professional sports team as lead play by play. Number two was to do number one as long as possible.
It’s great to be the first at anything. You set the standard for what happens next and if somewhere along the way comes a defining moment that galvanizes the relationship, you are on your way to temporary longevity. In the entertainment business, 13 weeks is a lifetime. Such a moment presented itself on Dec. 1, 1988, when the Hornets hosted Charles Barkley and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers had the ball, down by one with four seconds to play. Charles Barkley is going to take the game by the throat and carry the 76ers to the win. All he’s got to do is drive down the lane and score. Certainly there isn’t a Hornet in the house who’s going to stop him. Into the lane steps Rex Chapman. This gangly 6-4 rookie from Kentucky should still be gazing at a Vanderbilt scouting report. Instead he might as well be staring down the barrel of a loaded shotgun in a red jersey with the number “34” on it. There is a collision. A whistle blows and the official balls his fist and thrusts it straight forward. Offensive foul. Hornets ball. Game over. The Charlotte Coliseum goes delirious. There’s no TV locally, so guess who the only connection to the home crowd, who didn’t count themselves among the 18,000 in attendance happens to be?
That same night the North Carolina Tar Heels were in town waiting to play in the Coliseum the very next night. Their legendary broadcaster, Woody Durham, is on the air of the station that broadcast the Hornets game earlier in the evening, taking calls about the beloved Tar Heels Charlotte appearance. First call out of the chute is from a fan whose first question is, “How about those Hornets!!!” I knew the NBA had arrived in the bastion of college basketball.
The Charlotte Coliseum sold out for 334 consecutive nights for Hornets games. The love affair was on. Before the NBA came to town, Charlotte was a city with plenty of muscles to flex but nothing to lift. It was -- and still is -- the biggest banking center between Dallas and New York.
The love affair roared on for five good years. As concerns were raised about the Charlotte Coliseum as a revenue generating building that could sustain the momentum of growth that the NBA was enjoying around the country, feelings began to change. Ownership disconnected with the fans as key players such as Alonzo Mourning, Kendall Gill, Larry Johnson, and Glen Rice were traded away to other teams. The relationship ruptured when an ill-fated June referendum in 2001 brought all the issues to a head and resulted in a sweeping defeat to plans for a new arena. The NBA had no choice but to allow the Hornets to move to New Orleans. The divorce was complete.
Fourteen years of memories were packed into a moving van for the Crescent City. I went along with them as a temporary resident of Louisiana. Two years in New Orleans were magical in many ways. How many announcers get to say that Emeril Legasse was their color analyst for the night. I can remember an exchange between Emeril and my partner of the time, Gil McGregor, who asked Emeril, on the air, if there was an ingredient that he never used in his cooking. Emeril replied quickly with one word. “Spam”. The two made eye contact and in unison shouted, “Spambalaya”. A Bayou dish was born.
My family remained behind in North Carolina as I spent two years in New Orleans. The Charlotte Bobcats came into being as an expansion franchise in 2002 to begin play during the 2004-05 NBA season. With all the rancor over the Hornets departure, the Bobcats were not eager to relive much of what used to be when the Hornets were in town. I was fortunate to be asked to return and bring some excitement to the rebirth of the NBA in Charlotte. I can’t help but think that moments like the Barkley-Chapman collision 16 years earlier may have had a role in my return.
There is no book that tells the Bobcats how to proceed as they look to establish their brand and re-establish the NBA in the Carolinas. Bernie Bickerstaff has put the Bobcats on a well-calculated path that is designed for the long run. Get hungry players from other teams who felt they never got the chance to play and group them with players who are in their contract years, establishing a brand that stands for hard work and energy. You add to this group key draft picks, like an Emeka Okafor, a Raymond Felton, Sean May and Adam Morrison. All the while saving enough salary cap space for a key free agent who can make the difference and become the glue to all that you have built in hopes of engaging the Charlotte area in a playoff chase that can rekindle the spark that can bring this city back into the NBA fold so it may shed the “expansion” title for good.
Currently in his third season as the Bobcats play-by-play man and host of their weekly call-in show on WNMX-Mix 106.1 FM, Steve Martin is Charlotte's jack of all trades handling broadcast operations, properties and development of the team's radio and television network throughout North and South Carolina, along with parts of Tennessee and Virginia. Courtesy of his 35 years in broadcasting covering ACC football, the Charlotte Hornets, and now the Bobcats, Martin's voice is known throughout North Carolina and as a result has earned him NSSA Sportscaster of the Year in 1984, 1989 and 1997.