Neil Everett's 'Natural Progression Of Life' Brings Him Back To Portland

by Casey Holdahl
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Neil Everett, despite being one of the most recognizable sportscasters in the country, is a little nervous.

Sure, he’s anchored thousands of broadcasts, most recently as co-host on the World Wide Leader’s west coast edition of SportsCenter, that have been watched by millions over the course of a 20+ year career at ESPN. He’s interviewed some of the biggest names and narrated some of the most exciting plays in the world of sports. He’s coined catchphrases and donned togas in ad campaigns. Whether it be on the coast in Florence, across the Pacific in Honolulu or on the other side of the country in Bristol, the Portland native and University of Oregon graduate has consistently won over audiences with his affable, everyman approach to broadcasting.

But even with all the experience and accolades, Everett is still a bit nervous about his new role hosting pregame, halftime and postgame shows for most Trail Blazers road games starting this season on ROOT Sports. But it’s a nervousness born out of the excitement of joining a franchise he’s rooted for since his childhood in the Pacific Northwest.

“I’m pinching myself that a 13, 14, 15 year old kid who sat at the Memorial Coliseum and watched Twardzik and Hollins run down the court with Bill Walton, watched Jack Ramsay stalking the sidelines, now gets to be a part of the franchise that I grew up adoring,” said Everett. “I’m totally touched, I really am.”

While Everett will continue his duties hosting the late-night version of SportsCenter recorded in Los Angeles, he and Orlando Williams will act as host and analyst during most Trail Blazers road games, with Brooke Olzendam and Michael Holton continuing their in-studio partnership for home games. For Everett, joining Portland’s broadcast team presents both a new challenge and a chance to “build a bridge” back to his Pacific Northwest roots.

Here’s what Everett had to say about joining Portland’s broadcast, how he got the job, his motivations for taking the role, what he’s looking forward to, the differences, if there are any, between his role at ESPN and with the Trail Blazers, the time Jusuf Nurkic gave him a sweatshirt and his thoughts on the current roster going into the 2021-22 season...

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How did your joining the team as one of the hosts of the pregame, halftime and postgame show come together?

Neil Everett: My friend down in Seaside, Dan Anderson, used to teach at Grant High, he said "The Blazers are looking for a television host," and I said "Really?" That started the ball rolling, that was the first I heard of it. And so I thought about it. My contract was coming up at ESPN and I was hoping to work a little less just because of the hours -- I’m a little old for going to bed at one or two in the morning that many days a week. So that worked out contractually, it worked out that I was going to be able to work less and I asked them. I talked to Jim Etzel, who put me in touch with Chris McGowan. All these pieces were in play at the same time: Portland was looking, I was in the middle of a contract renegotiation, ESPN was very giving of allowing me to work less and also allowing me to do something that they knew would mean so much to me given my Portland connection and my northwest connection. I got a hold of Chris McGowan and then Dewayne (Hankins) and here we are.

That’s crazy, because my assumption was the team put on the full-court press to recruit you, beating down your agent’s door to see if they could get you to come in. But it turns out we owe it to your neighbor.

Neil Everett: I’ll tell you, this is funny because my sister and brother-in-law live here in Portland and I’ve got a niece and nephew, a senior and a freshman at Jesuit, and my sister said ‘Oh, we know Chris McGowan.’ Nephew, Spencer, used to play soccer with him at the Timbers academy. I called Etzel, who I’ve know because I host those Oregon Sports Awards a number of years, which I think Jordan (Kent) started hosting after I couldn’t do it anymore.

That’s an Oregon story. You obviously have a great gig with ESPN, one of the most recognizable sportscasters in the country. In contrast, Portland is a relatively small market and the Trail Blazers tend to fly under the radar a bit nationally. So what’s the motivation for you, not only to take the job, but to seek it out?

Neil Everett: I just think it’s a love for the Pacific Northwest. I was born here, obviously went to school here, got a house in Seaside, my wife is from here, my blood relatives all live up here -- aunts, uncles, brother, sisters, my dad is here. I think it’s the beginning of building a bridge back to here. L.A. is great, weather is great but L.A.’s not my home. So Hawaii has been my home and Oregon has been my home, and Hawaii doesn’t have an NBA team. I’m pushing 60, this is the natural progression of life for me, it feels like.

What are you looking forward to in this role? There are probably similarities between calling highlights on SportsCenter and in a halftime or post-game show, but it is a rather different environment.

Neil Everett: I think it’s a new challenge. I’ve done SportsCenter for 21 years and I haven’t really done a whole lot of other gigs with ESPN, so this will be interesting to see if I can pull this off because it is a different animal. I’m nervous! Like, I’m nervous to do this because I haven’t done it and I really want to be good at it and I want to succeed and I want the people to like me, it’s only natural to want the people to like you. At SportsCenter, I know that pitch and I feel like I can crank it every time. I don’t know this pitch, but I need to make solid contact and that excites me because I think it’s good to challenge yourself a little bit. And I feel like this is a challenge.

Considering your experience, I think it might surprise people to hear you're nervous. So is there anything you’re especially worried or concerned about?

Neil Everett: Even when I do a SportsCenter show I’ve got nerves going because if you get too comfortable, that’s when you step on it. I guess it’s just that there’s a newness to it. It’s an audience that has been friendly to me at SportsCenter and I know how passionate the people are about the Trail Blazers. I want them to know that, hey man, I’m part of that passionate fanbase. I’m just sitting in a different spot than y’all are while we’re watching the games or talking about the games. I guess it’s just because I don’t know it. I think after I go down to Moda Center -- here’s the set, here’s what we got, here’s what we don’t got -- and I think once I get out there for that first game, whenever that might be... I sweat and stuff! I’m into it! I’m not a real coat and tie guy but I have to be for SportsCenter and for this gig. I think I’d feel better if we could do it in a Pendleton and Levis.

I don’t know, it’s new. Like, I can’t believe it. I remember my dad taking me to games in the mid-70’s when he lived here. I can still see Walton and Twardzik and Gross and Luke, Johnny Davis and Robin Jones and Jack Ramsay. I’m online, I’m seeing some website called The Jacked Ramsays or something, I’m like this is so great! There’s a place at the arena, Dr. Jack’s, I can’t wait to go there! I haven’t been able to be a part of the Trail Blazers really since I was a kid because I was in Hawaii for so long, then I was back east. I’ve been to two or three or four games in the last 100 year, it feels like. There’s a bit difference from watching them on TV to watching them in person to representing them, in person, as a member of the organization. That’s where I’m at, that’s where my head’s at. I really want to do well and I really want to represent the people of Portland, the people of Oregon well.

What are your read on the current iteration of the Trail Blazers?

Neil Everett: Well, I watched the first preseason game from my house in L.A. That might be the first preseason basketball game I’ve ever watched and I was totally into it because I’m like, these are my guys. Nurk looks healthy and in good shape, I see they’re going to allow him to spread the floor a little bit and shoot some threes out there. It’s funny, I got to interview him for SportsCenter and we played ping pong. He brought me a Portland Trail Blazer hoodie and I’m like "You’re the first guy who has ever brought me a gift who I’ve ever interviewed." We had so much fun and he was so cool and I think it was the next day when he shattered his leg, the next day or two (ed note: It was two weeks later) and I was like oh man, I felt like I Schleprocked him.

So I have an affinity for him, I have an affinity for Lillard and CJ because they’re both underdog dudes who have excelled and I always root for the underdog. Lillard, what he’s done for the franchise and what he’s done for the city and how he represents for everything that feels like it should be right. I really admire him.

I’m interested to see how Larry Nance fits in defensively with Chauncey. And I worked with Chauncey at ESPN, and we didn’t work a lot together but we worked well together when we worked, so I’m excited for him. I’m excited to see this Simons kid and his growth because it sounds like he’s going to be the backup point guard. And Norman Powell, I remember watching him play at UCLA and I remember being at a couple Bruin games and I was like, this guy is stone cold man. Even at UCLA, he had that same look he’s got in the NBA. I’ve always liked his game, I liked it at UCLA so I was excited to see when he came to Portland last season and glad they were able to work out a deal to keep him this season because I think he’s an undervalued dude. He’s not imposing when you look at him, but neither is Dame, neither is CJ and all the sudden, boom, they’ve got buckets. There’s a lot of new faces and all that, I’m just excited to see how they all work together.

How do you think it might be different calling highlights in this capacity for the Trail Blazers than being an anchor on SportsCenter?

Neil Everett: I don’t think it’s going to be that much different because I get fired up when I do highlights. When I have a game that I know is going to be a lead game on SportsCenter, I will watch that game and chart it and really follow it. And that’s when I’ve got 10 games. Blazers/Lakers playoff game, if I know that’s the lead, and I’ve got one TV in my cube at ESPN so that’s the game I’m watching. Now I might have the hockey games on channel 468, so during timeouts I’ll bust over to that, but I will really follow the game. I think highlights are a strength of mine and being able to focus on just one game, I think I’ll be strong at that.

And I think I’ll be accommodating to Orlando because he’s the one who has played. When I’ve done highlights with former players before, you don’t do the highlight because the people are watching at home. So it’s like, ‘First quarter Orlando, Dame came out as hot as a fox in a forest fire’ and then boom, and you’re showing Dame hitting threes. And then Orlando is explaining ‘Hey, here’s how he got open, here’s how I knew he was in a grove, boom, boom, boom.’ ‘He wasn’t the only one in a grove, CJ, he looked like he didn’t want to be undersold either.’ Go, boom. I think you bring excitement but you also bring a conversation when you’ve got an expert and an analyst in Orlando sitting next to you and it falls into place.

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