With No Regard for Human Life!
A Big Ticket flush, “WITH NO REGARD FOR HUMAN LIFE!"
If you're a Wolves fan, you remember such lines very well. They were rendered from the booming voice of former Timberwolves play-by-play man Kevin Harlan, who continues to be one of America’s top broadcasters.
In just this last year, you've heard his distinct call for NFL or college basketball games on CBS, watched him announce the NBA on TNT, or listened to his radio show in Kansas City. He is also the voice of Westwood One Radio's Final Four coverage.
Basically, he's the man.
We were fortunate to speak with Harlan about some of his favorite Minnesota memories, and to ask him some questions about his storied broadcasting career.
Mike Trudell: Hello Kevin, thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at www.timberwolves.com. How are things?
Kevin Harlan: Great Mike, I'm happy to do it.
MT: Cool. Well, allow me to open things up by asking you to talk about some of your favorite memories as a Timberwolves broadcaster, your job from 1989-90 to 1997-98.
KH: I thought it was great the day they drafted Kevin Garnett, which is one of the best decisions if not the best decision the franchise made. I watched him grow from a boy into a man, and I’ve enjoyed that. I felt privileged to be there for the early years when he was just emerging. That was a real treat for me.
MT: You gave Garnett the most common of his monikers, “The Big Ticket,” right Kevin?
KH: That’s correct, after he signed his big contract.
MT: On that note, you’ve made quite a few phrases famous, including our title here, “With no regard for human life!” and “Up high and down hard.” Is it accurate to say that these phrases just come to you naturally in the excitement of a game?
KH: That’s exactly right. There were some real hard games to broadcast back in the early days when the Wolves weren’t winning much. A lot of those phrases were born in those seasons, when Tom Hanneman and I were goofing around. They just came out, and they stuck. So, when the team improved, the phrases had some real bite to them, and they were kind of fun.
MT: You know what, I was speaking with Tom Hanneman the other day, and he told me about some of the fun you had. I hear that Hanny would give you a random word before a game, and charge you with finding a way to get it on the air…to couple other general nonsense.
KH: Let me just say that Hanny and I did more things that should have gotten us fired that stunningly did not. But I can honestly say that those nine years were the most fun, happiest years of my broadcast career, because of guys like Tom, (radio producer) Bill Hohenecker and Kevin McHale. Kevin, Hanny and I did a few years on TV, and I just really, really enjoyed those years. Tom and Bill’s friendship, in addition to some other people – like Charlie Frank and Doug Westerman – that I worked with all the time.
MT: It would seem that equally important to your professional experience calling the games was the people surrounding you?
KH: We talked about things I remember, and I remember Kevin Garnett in terms of players, but in terms of people, it’s Tom, Kevin, Bill and others. That’s what made it the most enjoyable job of my career. I also remember the owners that originally hired me, Harv and Marv, who were very good men in every way. It was a privilege to work for those two guys. They were so instrumental in founding the team, getting the arena built, and helping that whole end of downtown take off. If I have a chance to get up to Minnesota and go to the Loon Café, the first thing I look at is a picture of Harv and Marv on the wall.
MT: Now, for someone who has done such a tremendous amount in sports, including NFL and NBA playoffs, the Final Four, and working as the voice of several teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs, I’m sure it means a lot to everyone in Minnesota for you to single the Wolves job out as your favorite.
KH: All of my jobs have been filling, and I’ve felt lucky to be a part of them. The job I have now is just incredible, and one that any play-by-play person would think highly of. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about how fortunate I am to be in my current position. But when you are climbing up the ladder, I don’t think you ever forget about your earlier jobs (Chiefs for nine seasons, Missouri football, and the Wolves) you always know that where you are now is because of what you had then, and the faith people had in you. Those people are just as responsible for where I am right now. The other part of it is that when you’re doing a local broadcast, you can be a homer. You can have fun. You can be a little irreverent. You can freelance a little bit more.
MT: While at the network level, you are a little bit more buttoned down…
KH: Yes, but locally, you can really have fun, which is a lot of my nature. And then, Tom is like gasoline on a fire. I truly think he is one of the funniest people I’ve ever been around, but at the same time, he’s as good as anyone I’ve been around as a person and as a broadcaster. He encompasses all of these wonderful elements that you want in a person you’re with on the air.
MT: You must be very happy to see Hanny doing so well in your old role as the play-by-play TV voice of the Timberwolves.
KH: Oh yeah. From the Ray Scott award he got a few years ago, to where he is now… Because he was not a play-by-play guy. He was a host, a TV personality, an interviewer and a reporter. That was his background, where as most people that are in play-by-play have done that from the time they got into the business. What is extra appealing about Tom, and so commendable, is that he has made that transition. So few people can pull that off. It is a very difficult thing to do, but he has been seamless in how he has done it. I love listening to him when I get the chance.
MT: This might be tough to narrow down, but can you identify the best game you’ve ever called?
KH: There have been some NCAA Tournament games for CBS that have been very compelling, and some games with last second shots that have been highly enjoyable. I’ve done so many NBA games, I don’t know if one stands out above the others. There are individual moments that stand out; I’ve never been bored doing NBA games.
MT: But if you had to name a few…
KH: The Timberwolves first win was really fun and exciting, and then, I was fortunate enough to do the Wolves game seven win over Sacramento that got them into the Western Conference Finals. I was lucky enough to be in the Target Center broadcasting the game that night. That was a real memorable game, I enjoyed it a great deal.
MT: Could you talk about a few of the moments you mentioned?
KH: Watching Kevin was just special. Every time I do a Garnett game, it’s always a thrill. He continues to be one of the top three or four players in the NBA, and he has continued his excellence. Otherwise, Kobe Bryant, with some of his incredible dunks. He’s just like a moving circus, with so many different things he can do, and you never know when he’s going to explode. That’s exciting.
Tracy McGrady had a dunk in a playoff game in Dallas a few years ago where he literally jumped over some guy off the baseline. That was just incredible. It set the tone for the series, and was really memorable.
MT: Indeed. Now, back to your career Kevin. You became the voice of the Kansas City Kings (NBA franchise now in Sacramento) directly out of the University of Kansas. Can you take us through your early path to such a prominent position at the age of 21?
KH: Well, when I was a sophomore at Kansas, I started to produce the Chiefs radio network, which was one of about seven different jobs I had. I was doing high school football and basketball on local radio, and some weekend TV things, and was the sideline reporter for the University of Kansas Football Network. So on Sundays, which was my only “free” day, I was hired to produce and contribute to the Chiefs pregame show, which was three hours long.
MT: Nice, so you had a ton of free time.
KH: This station in Kansas City was KCMO Radio, the flagship station for the Chiefs. The second semester of my senior year, they gave me my own sports talk show on Sunday nights. Someone gave me a break. At that point, the guy that was doing the Kings games left for the Philadelphia 76ers. They were looking for someone young, and very, very cheap, and I remember when I was walking to get my diploma, I knew that I had a major league broadcasting job already. I was 21, and it was just luck. Right place, right time, had done some play-by-play, and was very inexpensive. That’s how I got the job.
MT: Fair enough, but we’ll say you make your own luck, but it’s clear that you love and appreciate your job.
KH: I never take it for granted, and always consider myself very fortunate. Last week I did the Detroit-Miami game for TNT, with the defending champs and one of the best teams in the NBA. I’m sitting there courtside thinking how fortunate I am, and knowing that there were a lot of people that were part of my past that I can hopefully share that with. I mentioned some of the people on the Wolves that were so much a part of that. I think that if you ever lose your feel for what got you where you are, then you’ve lost a real part of what makes this business so enjoyable. It’s the steps that gets you from point A to point B, and that journey is what colors a lot of my feeling about what I’m doing in broadcasting and how I got where I am.
MT: Speaking of colors, could you tell us about a few of the color analysts with whom you’ve really enjoyed working?
KH: I loved Kevin McHale, of course. I’m not putting Tom Hanneman there, because he never did color or he’d be at the top of the list. I loved Trent Tucker. He’s a rascal, and is a good hearted man.
MT: I couldn’t get enough of you and Trent when I was growing up. “To win the baaasekktttball game….”
KH: Trent is great. But I love Clark Kellog, Bill Raftery and John Thompson with whom I worked on college basketball. I think Doug Collins is probably the most passionate I’ve ever worked with in terms of basketball. I’m not putting my football guys in there, but in terms of basketball knowledge, preparation and passion, Doug Collins is incomparable. He’s just incredibly good (see photo of Collins in his coaching days, with Michael Jordan).
MT: He really is amazing to listen to. The way that he analyzes the game is just a cut above everyone else.
KH: It is. He looks at it from a players’ perspective – he’s a four-time All-Star – and from a coaches’ perspective, and that unique combination gives him a lot of different views of players, plays and games. He’s just without peer right now. He’s been the best for a long time and he continues to be the best.
MT: All right Kevin, thanks so much for taking the time with us. We’ll certainly be watching and listening to you.
KH: My pleasure. Thank you, and tell everyone in Minnesota I say hello.