Cedric the Entertainer
By Josh Greene, Suns.com
Posted: Jan. 15, 2004
“I’ve shot free throws with no time left on the clock in front of 30,000 people. I don’t have a problem with having a microphone in my hand.”
Cedric Ceballos is more than accustomed to entertaining crowds. This season, he’s just doing it in a little different way. As the Suns' new Game Night Emcee, it’s his job to keep fans into the game during the breaks in the action at America West Arena. Running contests, interviewing celebrities in attendance, hosting the halftime shows or just getting the crowd pumped up – they’re all a part of Ceballos' new responsibilities.
“What I do is try to keep fans entertained with what’s happening on the floor or the big screen,” the two-time former Suns forward explained. “It’s real hard to keep everyone’s attention during breaks in the action. Usually they’ll go to the bathroom or go get something to drink. I just entertain them and keep their attention, their focus. I give them a little lighter side, because most of the time games are pretty intense. They’re focused on the games obviously, but I give them the lighter side during short timeouts so they’re joking and laughing.”
In addition to Suns fans, who have been getting a kick out of Ced's on-court antics, Director of Game Operations Kip Helt is also pleased with the newest member of his game night crew. “Cedric is a perfect fit for the emcee role," said Helt. "He has all the tools: voice, looks, personality and he is extremely popular with our fans. In my mind there is not a better emcee in the NBA.”
Ceballos was offered the emcee spot at the Purple Palace after blowing everyone away at an impromptu audition last April. Of course, the Suns’ surprising stretch run and eventual postseason berth played a major factor, too. During a Suns playoff party kicking off the San Antonio series, "Ice" got a chance to show off his entertainment skills, made an impression and wound up with a new job.
“They just wanted me to say 'hey’ and welcome everybody there,” Ceballos recalled. “I kind of took the party over. I was entertaining, making up games, quizzes, questions, doing giveaways. They’re dying laughing the whole time. The thought was, 'We need to bring that to the arena.’ I was asked if I could do that during a game and I said, 'No, problem.’
“I’m just being myself. I’m a jokester, the life of the party.”
This isn’t the first time the jokester has been behind the mic or in front of the cameras, of course. He’s done radio work, in addition to some broadcasting for ESPN, TNT and the Phoenix Mercury. He's dabbled in the rap scene and even released his own album, 'Nuff Ced, in 2000. Throw in face time on TV sitcoms Living Single, The Jamie Foxx Show, Martin and Hang Time, plus bit roles in movies like Space Jam and Eddie, and Ceballos is pretty use to all eyes and ears being on him.
“The first game we did, everyone was just floored,” the emcee said about his start to the 2003-04 season. “After that, the second one was the clincher, because they saw everyone staying in their seats during timeouts. People were paying attention and looking forward to it. People want to be entertained the entire time they watch a game. Most of the time they’d go and get something to eat, but now fans can’t wait for us.”
Now don’t go thinking Ceballos is done playing basketball just because he's got a new job. The 11-year NBA veteran – who played with the Suns, Lakers, Mavs, Heat and Pistons – still hits the court as often as possible as an unofficial free agent forward for various teams and leagues. He just has to work his playing time around Suns games now.
“I still have a lot of basketball in my blood,” said Ceballos, who averaged 11.7 points and 4.5 boards over his six seasons in purple and orange. “I play in the CBA or overseas when the Suns go on road trips. I play wherever I can play when I’m not working games.”
He stresses his role on the court and in the stands at AWA on game night is anything but a simple public speaking gig. It takes a unique individual to handle an equally unique job description.
“It’s a difficult task because people aren’t really used to working in an arena atmosphere and keeping fans’ attention,” he said. “I know guys who’ve been in radio for years, but as soon as they get in front of a crowd, they fall apart.
“You have to grab the fans’ attention. My voice and my presence might grab them a bit more than somebody else coming across.”
Even though Ceballos doesn’t sport his No. 23 for Phoenix anymore, he’s still part of the team – the team atmosphere during Suns games at America West Arena. And as part of the game night experience, it’s his job to make the fans feel like they are, too.
“It’s all about having a great time and trying to complete the whole entertainment package,” Ceballos said. “You get a full NBA experience when you’re there from jump ball to the final horn.”