Denton: "Nick Stole the Ball" Call Still Gives David Steele Chills

David Steele

By John Denton
April 13, 2014

ORLANDO – Far too humble to ever admit it himself, David Steele absolutely nailed the biggest moment in Orlando Magic history the way that a slugger knocks a fastball out of the park.

Even now, some 19 years later, Steele’s epic call of Nick Anderson’s come-from-behind, knock-away steal of Michael Jordan in the 1995 NBA playoffs makes the heart race and the mind daydream for even the biggest blue-blooded Magic fan.

Without question, the collision of Jordan’s greatness and the upstart Magic’s improbable way of winning fed into the process of making the moment stand out. But also it was Steele’s perfectly described soundtrack that allowed the moment to stand the test of time. Listen to it today, for even the hundredth time, and you quickly realize that Steele was perfectly ready to call a moment that still gives Magic fans goose bumps.

``[Toni] Kukoc will inbound it. Jordan takes it. Anderson’s there with him. Anderson trying to steal it. Jordan dribbles around him. Clock is down to 12,’’ Steele said on the Magic Radio Network with the old O-rena crowd blaring noise behind him. ``And Anderson stole the ball! Hardaway picks it up, two on one. Penny bounce pass to (Horace) Grant. He dunks it! 6.2 seconds to go! Nick Anderson stole the ball! Nick Anderson stole the ball from Michael Jordan!’’

The call was so befitting of Steele’s style behind the microphone: He conveyed the emotion of the moment without going overboard. There were no corny catchphrases and he kept the focus on the action on the court instead of prattling off some look-at-me histrionics.

For Steele, hearing ``The Call,’’ still gives him chills. And it also allows him to breath somewhat of a sigh of relief.

``The thing is that you don’t want to mess it up; you don’t want to blow it,’’ Steele said with a good-natured chuckle. ``Great plays make great announcers. You have an opportunity if there’s an exciting moment in a big game and you can do something that people can relate to for a long time. That’s not foremost in your brain at the time, but as an announcer it’s always back there all of the time. It’s why you have to stay ready and try to be focused. At any given moment there could be a play that everybody is talking about tomorrow morning and you want to be ready.’’

Steele’s ability to ``stay ready’’ is one of many reasons that he has stood the test of time as an announcer and has become what many refer to as ``the voice of the Magic.’’ One of just three people to have been with the Magic for all 25 years of their existence along with Senior Vice President Pat Williams and equipment manager Rodney ``Sid’’ Powell, Steels said his voice has become synonymous with the Magic by happenstance and longevity. But those who know Steele the best know differently.

``David is so even-keeled and professional and he knows that the game isn’t about him,’’ said Dante Marchitelli, Fox Sports Florida’s sideline reporter. ``He lets the games shine and speak for themselves. He prepares and studies more than anyone that you’ve ever see, so he knows the game, too.’’

Steele, who will be at the microphone on Sunday night when Magic face the Brooklyn Nets, is in the last week of his 25th season with the Magic – something that even makes him briefly drop his ``aw-shucks’’ persona and marvel upon. In a day and age when many of the iconic announcers have retired and given way to boisterous and bombastic newcomers, Steele has stood the test of time. At 60 years old, he considers himself fortunate to have been around for an entire generation of Magic basketball.

``It’s unique to be able to work with one team for that many years,’’ Steele said of his 25-year run in pro basketball. ``When you start you don’t think about how long that you are going to be around. Then you turn around and it’s been 25 years and you realize how special that is. It’s been such a great organization to work for for me.’’

LEARNING FROM THE GREATS

Steele’s style was born out of a broad sampling of some of the most legendary voices in the Southeast. A native of Jacksonville, Steele grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., but with a father who was a University of Kentucky graduate. So that meant that as a child Steele would often go to sleep at night listening to Caywood Ledford at Kentucky and/or John Ward at the University of Tennessee on the transistor radio tucked under his pillow.

A college baseball career didn’t last long, so Steele wound up at the University of Georgia where he got talked into his first broadcasting gig doing college baseball games on the campus radio station. It was then that Steele knew what he wanted to do the rest of his life.

Years later, the man who grew up rooting for Kentucky, lived in the shadows of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium and graduated from Georgia ended up working for … the University of Florida.

Seven years into his time as the Gators’ football and basketball play-by-play announcer, the Magic were taking shape as a franchise in Orlando. Bob Poe, the Magic’s new director of broadcasting and the former founder of the Gators Radio Network throughout the state, was bullish about hiring Steele away from Florida and having him work for Orlando.

Steele was somewhat leery of making the move at first, thinking that the UF job was one that he could enjoy the rest of his life and he was nervous about moving his family with three young children out of Gainesville and to Orlando.

But a couple of life-altering moments happened in the fall of 1988. Steele’s mother, Cora, died at the age of 63 from lymphoma. And not long after the funeral, Steele received a package in the mail from Pat Williams, the co-founder of the Magic.

``I got a note from Pat a week after I got back from the funeral with a book on dealing with the death of a love one. And he included a really nice note and it was very thoughtful,’’ Steele recalled. ``I just remember thinking then that if these are the type of people running the Magic organization then it’s something that I could really be a part of. To say that it was the only factor wouldn’t be accurate because there were a lot of factors. But it probably tipped the scales.’’

`DAVID IS NEVER RATTLED’

Steele worked as the Magic’s radio play-by-play announcer for nine seasons, and incredibly did a two-man job by himself for the first eight seasons. His famous call of Anderson’s steal was actually done on radio, but it was so perfectly described and filled with emotion that it dwarfed the telecast on NBC that day by legendary announcer Marv Albert.

Marchitelli, who is in his 15th season as a TV and radio sideline reporter for Magic games, marvels at the perfection and simplicity of Steele’s call of Anderson’s steal of Jordan. He said that Steele’s call has played a big role in the moment becoming the most-remembered one in franchise history.

``None of that was rehearsed, it was off-the-cuff and it was just David reacting to what he saw,’’ Marchitelli said. ``He understood perfectly how important that moment was. David is never rattled and he’s always ready. How many times have we seen that play and heard that call? And it’s easily one of the best calls in Magic history.’’

Steele became the team’s TV voice in 1998, where he has worked with analysts Jack ``Goose’’ Givens, Matt Goukas and Jeff Turner for 16 seasons on Sun Sports and Fox Sports Florida. He was behind the microphone for two NBA Finals berths, Scott Skiles’ 30-assist game in 1991 and the 2007 night when a young Dwight Howard caught an alley-oop over Tim Duncan for a game-winning dunk at the buzzer. Steele also got to live out a life-long dream recently when he was chosen to announce the University of Florida’s national semifinal game as part of Turner Sport’s ``teamcast’’ format.

Before the national broadcast for Turner, Steele admitted to having some nerves and anxiety before realizing, ``This is what I do. And I was just fine once the game started,’’ he said.

Steele said that he wants to keep broadcasting as long as his health holds up, and he wants to stick around long enough to see the Magic return to being a championship contender. Steele has seen some of the greats in the game come through Orlando, such as Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady and Howard. He said history is proof positive that the Magic have one of the most resilient franchises in the NBA, and they will soon be back in the hunt for a NBA title.

``There are ups and downs with any pro sports franchise. We’ve been around 25 years with the Magic and history does always tell us that it shouldn’t take too much longer for the Magic to be back challenging for a NBA championship,’’ he said. ``We’ve done it before and we have the right people in place to get it done again. And we also have the right ownership, leadership, arena and location to get it done.’’