John Mason is in demand.
Detroit Pistons fans know him simply as Mason, the Pistons’ in-arena announcer and progenitor of the call, “DEE-TROIT BASKETBALL,” and they wave and yell for his attention like he was one of the players. They did it again before the Pistons hosted the Boston Celtics last week.
Mason obliged, signing as many autographs as he could before tip-off. He received handshakes and pats on the back in return as he signed his way down the line.
“That’s what they’re doing,” Mason said as he settled into his courtside seat. “The fans are congratulating me.”
The NBA wants Mason, too. His popularity with local fans and players across the league made him an easy selection to be the in-arena announcer for 2007 NBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas.
Mason will call this Saturday’s festivities, including the McDonald’s NBA All-Star Celebrity Game presented by 2K Sports and the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge, followed by the main event at 8 p.m. Sunday – the 56th NBA All-Star Game at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I was part of the NBA championship, two NBA Finals, I got a ring, and I almost lost my mind,” said Mason, shaking his head in astonishment. “This is like a rocket going to the sky. Unbelievable.”
The host city’s in-arena announcer generally receives the privilege, but with this year’s game being held in franchise-vacant Las Vegas, the league had options. It chose Mason, and informed him of the decision before the start of the regular season.
“What a great honor, because I didn’t know how to do this when I started,” said Mason, who has been calling Pistons games since 2001. “I don’t have an arena voice, and I’ve finessed it. It’s all because I have Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton, now Chris Webber, and Tayshaun Prince. That’s quite an entrée calling card.”
In Las Vegas, Mason will have Billups and Hamilton – both All-Stars for the second straight year – but a lot of other players he’s not used to giving the star treatment. He doesn’t think it will be that big a stretch, though.
“One of the things that [Pistons Senior Vice President of Broadcasting and Multimedia] Pete Skorich taught me was, when I (introduce) the visiting team, not to blow through them, but to give them a pretty peppy, thoughtful introduction,” Mason said. “So it won’t be foreign to me to do that [in Las Vegas]. I’ll just kick it up another notch.”
Skorich, whom Mason credits for teaching him “play for play” how to announce the game, believes Mason’s one-of-a-kind approach will fit right in at All-Star Weekend.
"John Mason has re-defined the role of stadium public address announcer,” Skorich said. “Using his unique personality and vision his high-energy delivery at our games is a major reason why our fans are considered the most spirited in all of sports.”
“Mason’s created style celebrates the Pistons accomplishments but never diminishes the respect for the opposition,” he said.
Though he’ll have to leave “Deee-troit Basketball” at the airport, Mason thinks he can still find a way to acknowledge the Pistons faithful that helped book his ticket.
“Because of the type of event it is, I’ll be somewhat restricted, and I’ll have to get to Vegas and find out how much they’ll let me play,” Mason said. “But I’m going to find a way to do something ‘Detroit special.’”
“I don’t know exactly what I’ll do,” he said. “But I’ll be excited to create it and try to create it in any place that I can.”
Mason will miss the Pistons’ Valentine’s Day contest against the Spurs to begin his preparations in Vegas. He’ll have to get right down to business – even if he’ll feel like a kid while he’s doing it. (Mason’s predecessor, Detroit radio icon Ken Calvert, will return to his old post for the Feb. 14 game.)
“The rehearsals will be long, the rehearsals will be really long,” Mason said. “But it’s the thrill of being a part of the NBA home team. Every kid wonders, ‘what’s that like, to have an NBA credential, and be at everything?’ And now I get to do it -- wow.”
Mason remembers when he was on the outside looking in. It was last season, at the 2006 All-Star Weekend in Houston.
“I didn’t have any tickets, credentials, I didn’t know anybody. I was just trying to get close – and I got 15 miles outside the arena,” Mason said with booming laughter. “What a difference a year makes.”
Look for Mason’s All-Star blog Sunday morning before the All-Star Game, only at pistons.com.