Q&A With Al McCoy: "The Real McCoy"
Posted: Nov. 25, 2009
It’s no secret where to locate legendary play-by-play man Al McCoy on a Suns game night, but off the court, now you can add a few new spots to find the longtime broadcaster – on Valley bookshelves.
Get your copy of the new book, “The Real McCoy,” a must-read for any Suns fan that features never-before-heard and behind-the-scenes stories of his life and broadcasting career, as told by the Hall of Famer himself.
“The Real McCoy” is available now at the Suns Team Shop at US Airways Center, all Fry’s Food Stores, or anywhere in the Valley where books are sold.
Suns.com caught up with McCoy shortly after the book’s release to talk about why now was the perfect time to write it, to recount the lifetime of memories that include his start in the industry, playoff runs and tales of the franchise's all-time colorful characters, and the contributions of the peers and friends who share their thoughts on the legendary broadcaster in the novel.
Suns.com: After all you've seen and experienced in your near-four decades behind the microphone for the Suns, not to mention all the other sports you've covered over the years, what prompted you to make your official debut as an author now?
Al McCoy: Through the years, I have been contacted by groups who have wanted me to do a book. I’d say, “I don’t know if I really want to do a book... It’s probably a lot of work, and I hear stories from people I know who’ve done books that they haven’t turned out the way they liked them or had problems with publishers.” I hadn’t really thought about it. Then a few years ago, I met a gentleman named Rich Wolfe, who’s a prolific writer and marketer of sports books. He was doing a book called “For Buckeye Fans Only.” It was about sports and people from Iowa, and I’m from Iowa. He contacted me and did a chapter on me for that book. I found out he was Iowa, too, and he had done more sports books than anyone in the country. A year ago he was in Phoenix, called me and came to a Suns game. I took him into the media center named after me, and after he saw the timeline of my career there he said, “Al, you have to do a book. You can do two books. ” The more I thought about it, for my family, I should do a book. Since I liked him and his other books were real first class, I would decide to do a book.
He thought if we started when last season ended, it could be put together in a few months in time for the start of this season. Unfortunately, he had a freak accident in April, so it delayed the whole process of getting started. When we did get together, it was shortly before training camp. We had a lot of hurry-up sessions, a lot of phone calls, and a lot of people involved than he normally would. You know how our preseason was like this year – we were all the way from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Monterrey, Mexico, and here I am getting faxes of 300 to 400 pages for me to proof. It turned out to be more work than I anticipated. Finally, we finished it. It’s out and I’m happy to say that part of the process is over.
Suns.com: That’s still a pretty impressive turnaround for an autobiography. You’ve also committed to donating all proceeds from the book sales to two causes close to your heart.
McCoy: I said initially that if I did a book, I did not want to do it for my own personal profit. I’m from Williams, Iowa, with a population of 600. We have a nice little library there, and my late parents always loved that library. So I decided the proceeds I would receive from this would go to the library and to Phoenix Suns Charities, so hopefully people will buy the book and those two groups will profit.
Suns.com: It’s no secret your home state is still very near and dear to you.
McCoy: As I say in the later stages of the book, I grew up in a farm on Iowa, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. It was a great place to grow up and be raised. There’s something kind of special about the Midwest. Although, I’m an Arizonan now, but you never forget where it all started. And for me, it started in Iowa. It’ll always be special. I usually get back to Iowa once a year. I still have a farm there, and it always has a lot of meaning going back there. There are a lot of memories and a lot of good times.
Suns.com: Along with the autobiographical section of the book, there are also plenty of contributions from friends and industry peers, including your Suns broadcast partner Tim Kempton, JoAnn Fitzsimmons, longtime Jazz play-by-play man (and former Phoenix broadcast partner) Hot Rod Hundley and Valley journalist Joe Gilmartin.
McCoy: I have to be honest. I did not know these people were interviewed by Rich Wolfe. I wasn’t aware what they said until I read it, but it brought a little tear, because obviously they were friends of mine. A lot of them had worked with me. I would be remiss if I didn’t say it was very gratifying for me to read their thoughts.
Suns.com: As for your favorite memories over the years, there’s probably little doubt what tops the list.
McCoy: It would undoubtedly be that 1976 team and the NBA Finals. We all know the Suns have been in the Finals twice, but the last time they were really expected to be there. They had big-name players: Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, etc. They had the best record in the NBA. They were expected to be there, but in 1976, they weren’t expected to be there. They got in the playoffs just by the skin of their teeth, and then to be in the Finals against Boston and then to have the first overtime game ever in a Finals series. That was something special. Those two teams, and being in the Finals, certainly would be in the utmost in my thoughts looking back through my career. I’d like to be there again, in the Finals.
Entering the Basketball Hall of Fame was probably the biggest surprise. It was extremely rewarding and it doesn’t really get any better. That was terrific, and in the book, you’ll see some lines from my friend and “Voice of the Atlanta Hawks” Steve Holman who came to Springfield when I was honored by the Hall of Fame. He mentions that all the guys were so happy I got the award, because I was a local guy. Most of those awards go to national broadcasters, so it was a great feeling “for one of us” to receive the award.
Suns.com: Is it true when you were first starting out you were encouraged to drop announcing and focus on the production side of things instead?
McCoy: I never really told that story to anyone before mentioning it in the book. It was my second job in broadcasting, and I had my eyes set on sports and being a play-by-play announcer. It was huge station, and I thought I was doing well. When my boss at the time came down and told me he didn’t think I had a future, I guess I could have cashed it in, but he really did me a favor. I made up my mind at the time and decided he didn’t know what he was talking about. I still thought I could do it, and it probably made me a lot stronger and more determined in making some of the decisions I made professionally at that time. You never know what can transpire… I met my wife, I ended up in Phoenix… those are things, where if certain other things hadn’t been there, I would have gone in another direction. That’s how life is. You’ll find a lot of situations in the book going back through my life, where if things didn’t happen the way they did, my life could have turned out entirely differently.
Suns.com: You made the move to Phoenix in 1958, but you didn’t have any work officially lined up yet. But thanks to New York (baseball) Giants announcer Russ Hodges, you had some first-hand info as to a possible lead in terms of the burgeoning sports market in the Valley.
McCoy: Russ became a friend accidentally. I was working in Buffalo, New York, and I had a chance to watch some of the New York Giant baseball games. And up in the press area I met Russ. He was five feet, six inches, so we looked eye to eye. He took a liking to me. He was a well-known national broadcaster, not only with the Giants but with boxing and football. Of course, he had that great call, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Bobby Thompson ‘s homerun that won it in 1951. He was the one who tipped me off to the fact the Giants were going to move to San Francisco and move their No. 1 farm club from Minneapolis to Phoenix. Really, his tip was the reason I took the chance of coming out here at that time. He was always somebody I admired and I still open every Suns broadcasts with one of his lines.
When I came out here, I didn’t have a job and the games were probably going to be on one of two stations. I went to both and applied for the job. I had recently gotten married and we came out to take a chance. If it didn’t work out, we’d pack our bags and move on. Fortunately, I was hired by KOOL-FM and they got the broadcast rights for the then-Phoenix Giants. As they say, the rest is history.
Suns.com: In an age where the Internet has really come to the forefront of sports coverage, the medium has broadened not only the NBA’s fanbase, but yours, as well. In the book, you have an interesting story about meeting fans overseas.
McCoy: I did the games on TV for many, many years, but basically I’m a radio guy. I started out in radio, and that was my initial goal – to be a radio play-by-play announcer. It was heart-warming overseas, when people were asking for my autograph. I thought they thought I was an assistant coach or something. Finally when I started asking people why they wanted my autograph, they said, “Oh, you’re Al McCoy. We hear you all the time on the internet.” It really made a huge point to me, which I passed along to the NBA, is that it’s the largest marketing tool the NBA has is its radio broadcasts. We’re literally all over the world with the advent of the Internet and satellite radio. It’s a tremendous tool. Radio can go everywhere and it is still “the theater of the mind.” You can create a lot with radio that you can’t always do on television. That’s what makes radio more fun than doing TV. TV is more straight laced, where as on radio we can let it all hang out.
Suns.com: How do your near-four decades behind the microphone for the Suns differ from your time covering other Valley sports teams over the years.
McCoy: The Suns are something special. After baseball, I did Arizona State University football and basketball. I was a TV anchor on Channels 10 and 3. I did the original Roadrunners hockey games on radio and television. When the Suns and the NBA came in, that was really something special. I had done all the other sports, but basketball was really the game I loved the most. I played it in high school and it was really my first love. When the Suns became a reality here, that obviously whetted my appetite.
For more from Al, check out “The Real McCoy,” available now at the Suns Team Shop at US Airways Center, all Fry’s Food Stores, or anywhere in the Valley where books are sold.