Colleagues Remember Broadcaster Gary Bender
As the close of the 2010-11 NBA season approaches, so does the final Suns broadcast for FOX Sports Arizona play-by-play man Gary Bender. After almost two decades of calling the action for Suns home games, the Ulysses, Kan., native will be officially hanging up his mic flag this week. An NBA mainstay on Valley airwaves since the early 1990s, Bender has covered seemingly all aspects of sports, including the National Football League, Major League Baseball, college football and basketball, the Masters Golf Tournament and the Winter Olympics.
Suns.com talked with some of Gary’s friends, colleagues and peers to get their take on the broadcasting veteran as he embarks on the newest chapter in his life.
“One of the things that Gary taught me about being a pro was the relationships that he built with people. When you watch games on TV, you hear the information that comes from Gary. He’ll talk about having spoken with the coach or player before the game, and he does that so he can speak with authority. He’s not just giving his opinion. And what you don’t really think about until you dive into it deeper is the reason that Gary has that information from that coach or that player is because he was such a pro. He built a relationship with that person that allowed them to trust him with that information. It might seem like a small thing, but the relationships that he’s built through the years, at all different levels, everywhere I travel in the NBA people ask about him. Somebody in Chicago that remembers when Gary was the radio voice for the Bears for few seasons will ask about him. Anytime we go to Atlanta (he did a lot of work for Turner), there are people there that say, ‘Hey, make sure to say hi to Gary for us.’ He’s one of those people it would be very hard to find someone that didn’t have a great experience working with him. A lot of that is because he’s such a pro. He’s a nice guy and easy to be around, but at the same time when it comes to doing the work, he’s second to none on getting that work done."
“One thing that really sums him up is his ability to work with almost anybody. In the time that Gary has been doing Suns games he’s had, as his color analyst, Keith Erikson, Bob Elliot, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Tom Chambers, Dan Majerle, Eddie Johnson, Scott Williams and I don’t know if I’m missing any. That’s a lot of different people to go through, and each one of those guys had their own strengths. One of the jobs as the play-by-play announcer is to pull from the analyst, to step them up and lead them in a direction where they can best impart their knowledge on the audience. A lot of those guys didn’t have much experience beforehand. Scott didn’t have a whole lot of experience before he worked with Gary, Eddie had only been doing a few season before he started working with Gary. Dan had very little broadcast experience before he started doing Suns games. I don’t know if Gary would admit to it, but I think he prided himself on looking at each one of those individuals and tried to learn, himself, which was the best way engage each broadcaster. What were the things he knew they liked to talk about, and how he could bring that out in them? Well, he’s got to do that with thousands of people listening to him.”
“I definitely consider Gary a mentor in terms of teaching me etiquette, professionalism and how to be prepared to do a broadcast. His energy and his love for his job and the game… it just comes through. Despite being under the weather or being tired, you would never know. He is just a true professional, and I’ve just enjoyed the tremendous amount of time I’ve spent with him and around him. I’ve learned a lot. He lets me be me. That’s why he’s so good. He’s worked with a number of broadcasters over the years. He doesn’t step on you. He allows you to be an analyst. He allows our mistakes, and that’s one thing I appreciate. It is so easy to work with him. It’s not stressful at all. That’s his best quality. There’s no acting with him. That was one of the first thing I learned in TV… you can’t be two people. The one thing he’s taught me is to be myself."
“The one thing I marvel at is his ability to fill time. You have to be special to be a play-by-play guy and do that job. He does it effortlessly. To be able to talk and describe, to have energy and bring your audience to the game… he is excellent. That’s the one thing I’ve admired about him and that has left me in awe sometimes. He can adjust himself – despite the moment, despite the score and sometimes despite a glitch in the broadcast. The viewer would never know, because of how thorough and how clean he is in terms of his delivery during a game.”
“Gary brought such an added ‘network’ quality to Suns telecasts. His recognizable and golden tones combined with the already legendary Al McCoy on the other simulcasts took Suns broadcasts to an even higher level. I have learned a great deal listening and watching Gary, not only in his performance but his detailed preparation and how he defines the word ‘class.’ He’s a total class act who has been very supportive of me. When you receive a compliment from Gary Bender, it means the world and I am fortunate to have him as a friend.”
"He was great. I knew Gary by reputation before knowing him as a person. Growing up, I remember him making all those calls in all those different sports. He was one of those household guys, a household voice… For me to get into broadcasting and to be able to work with some talented guys in ESPN and TNT and then come here to work with him with the Suns was a highlight. He was one of my favorite guys to work with. He was a lot of fun, and we worked well together. He tended to be serious while I joked, but we still worked well together. We hit it off pretty quickly, and I was lucky to work with such a pro."
“The first time I worked with him was his first season here. I was directing for Cox Communications. I didn’t have a lot of experience yet, so I was somewhat intimidated by the fact that here I’m working with such a pro that’s been all over the place. At the same time, I was excited because you’re working with a guy that’s got a great reputation. I found that even right after the first game how professional he is at all times and how easy it was to work with him. He was so accepting and genuinely warm to work with. I just felt comfortable, that’s the big part of it, I felt comfortable right away and the intimidation went away right away I just knew that this is going to be a great relationship, I could just tell right away. He’s such a pro, so cool and generally warm is a good description. And from then on it was just like a wonderful relationship that I’ve prized all these years, truly."
“Delivery… there’s good announcers out there that have a good delivery, but personally I think he’s got one of the best, if not the best, overall delivery. And the pipes that he has… he’s blessed with a relaxed feel. When you turn on, it’s like sitting next to him in the TV room watching a sport with him. Here’s someone who has all this knowledge, yet is very calm and relaxed about it and easy to listen to. It’s just an overall nice, relaxed, professional delivery. People tell me how they love listening to Gary, because they feel comfortable. There’s no abrasiveness, it’s just smooth and warm. People love that. It seems to just come natural for him, first of all. I know that he’s always well-prepared and well-read and that’s a given. It shows because he can do just about any sport and pull it off in a top-level professional way, absolutely."
“Being a young broadcaster when I joined Gary, he was so helpful. He’d point out constructive things to help me be a better broadcaster. There were things I did knowingly not very well, but other things where he would say, ‘Keep doing that.’ I appreciated his insight on how to make us a better broadcast team and how to make me a better broadcaster. That was so kind of him with all the knowledge and wisdom he has in this business to take the time to help me along. He’s worked with so many analysts over the years. My style is knowledgeable yet playful. I like to have a good time on the air, and Gary has certainly let me do that. He’s always willing to roll with it and get a chuckle out of it. He allows me to be me on the broadcast."
“Between his preparation and knowledge, there are so many areas where he excels. The ease at which he approaches the game… he has a game plan. There are things he wants to get into the broadcast, but he’s not hell bent on doing that. Games will take you into different directions. He’s so flexible with letting the game dictate where he goes with a broadcast. He’s so knowledgeable and comfortable. That makes him prepared to address those changing situations during the course of a game."
“The biggest thing for me as an analyst working with a play-by-play person is that you want to be comfortable. You want to feel a partnership and a friendship. That adds to the broadcast when two guys have great chemistry. Both on-and off-air with Gary, it’s very easy to get into a comfort zone and a rhythm with the timing. It shows two guys having fun, but still giving positive insight by pointing out the little things in a broadcast to enhance a viewers’ image of what’s going on or what may happen out on the court.”