Voice of the Players

Blaha stands alone on list of NBA players’ favorite broadcasters

George Blaha has been the voice of the Pistons for 38 years.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
OKLAHOMA CITY – Back in 1976 for George Blaha’s first road trip as Pistons broadcaster, he walked into the team hotel lobby and ran into Bob Lanier and Chris Ford, faces of the franchise. Welcome to the team, they told him, you’re one of us.

“Both went on to become NBA head coaches and Bob a very deserving Hall of Famer,” Blaha said. “From that day forward, I was a players’ guy.”

Maybe it was that reputation over his 38 seasons courtside calling play by play on radio and TV that landed Blaha on the Sports Illustrated list of the top 15 NBA broadcasters in a poll of current players conducted after last season.

Blaha was in a company of one among that 15-man list, coming in at No. 14. He was one of only three play-by-play men named – the other two were national TV voices Marv Albert and Mike Breen – but the only person associated exclusively with one team with the quasi-exceptions of Hall of Fame players Walt Frazier and Tom Heinsohn, each of whom has done national TV work in addition to their roles for the Knicks and Celtics.

“I thought it was terrific that the players felt that way,” he said. “I’m not sure if it speaks to longevity or having a lot of friends who lace ’em up around the league. I’ve always been a guy who believes that this is a players’ league. The guys around the league have been terrific. I feel like they know I respect them and appreciate them and it’s nice to know they appreciate me.”

The honor likely is a reflection of the players’ appreciation for the enthusiasm Blaha still brings to the job 82 times a year – plus preseason and postseason games – and the genuine amazement his voice captures when the spectacular occurs.

“I don’t care what year you’re in,” he said. “We just played back to back in Denver and Sacramento and I thought they were both amazing games. You’ll never see basketball like that at any level other than the NBA. The guys around the league have been terrific.”

Only Al McCoy of Phoenix, in his 41st year, holds seniority on Blaha among NBA broadcasters. Blaha started on radio and for several years simulcast on radio and TV, doing his best to straddle the line between not burying TV viewers in information they could glean with their own eyes while providing radio listeners with enough detail to give them a sense of the action.

“I thought it was very gratifying,” he said. “You had to constantly keep the fan in mind, either the viewer or the listener. People know you’re simulcasting over the years because they could be watching the game on TV, then jump in the car to go pick something up at the store and listen on radio, then get back home and start watching on TV again. They knew what you were trying to accomplish and I don’t think they were offended by a little extra talk for television and I would hope, over the years, the radio listeners understood I tried to clean it up and streamline as much as I could.”

The Pistons experienced some lean years when Blaha started, from the Cobo days to the Vitale era at the Silverdome, before Chuck Daly and the Bad Boys coalesced and the eventual move to The Palace culminated in the first two titles in franchise history. Even in seasons that don’t include the thrill of a playoff run, the rapture of calling 48 minutes of NBA play hasn’t diminished for Blaha.

“You can’t help but be dragged down a little bit by the losses – the coaches and players feel the same way,” he said. “But when you have games like we just had in Denver and Sacramento, you get a chance to broadcast games where both teams make great plays – and that happens 99 percent of the time in this league – it’s exciting. Once the game begins, it’s hard not to get excited, it’s hard not to enjoy it. I’ve always told people there is no place I’d rather be on a snowy Tuesday night in February than inside an NBA arena.”

Watching the careers of young players like Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight blossom, seeing rookies like Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond feeling their way, Blaha starts to envision what the Pistons will be in a month or two – or a season or two, when, chances are, he’ll still be courtside, calling games.

So who’s the favorite player – non-Piston – of Blaha’s 38 seasons?

“Like anybody else, I was a Dr. J, Larry Bird and Magic guy,” he said. “But the one guy who turned my head every time I was lucky enough to call his games, double digit times going all the way back to the days of the old HemisFair in San Antonio, was the Ice Man, George Gervin. He was a Motor City guy who was so special. He had so many shots, you couldn’t believe it. But like he said, the one thing he could do was finger roll.”

Thirty-eight years into calling Pistons play by play, George Blaha is still on a roll of his own.