Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.
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It was a road trip to remember. The last two legs – a near miracle in Boston, late magic in Indiana – featured stirring, MVP-like performances from Manu Ginboili. Twisting drives to the basket here. Clutch three balls there. Big plays everywhere.
When it was over, when half of Spurs Nation stood cheering and the other half sat slackjawed, Bill Land managed to capture Manu’s mojo with two words: "Oh momma!"
Land’s signature call may well have described his own trip to the East and Midwest. Between the stop in Boston and the game in Indiana, Land squeezed in a visit with his 95-year-old mother in DeKalb, Ill. Then he drove with his wife Gayle to the Windy City to watch his youngest son, Cooper, play for Wright State against the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Energized by his own cheering section – mom and dad were there, along with a handful of high school friends from Texas holding signs – Cooper Land knocked down his first four shots. Then he went down, thrown hard to the floor, and hit his head. Cooper lifted his 6-foot-8 body off the floor and shook off the blow.
Bill isn’t sure what Cooper told the trainer. All he knows is that Cooper returned to the game, finished with 10 points and helped Wright State win, 71-63.
The following day, Bill drove three hours to Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. After Manu rallied the Spurs to a come-from-behind victory, Land drove back to Chicago to watch Wright State defeat Loyola on Saturday, then flew to San Antonio for Sunday’s Spurs-Minnesota contest. "It was a basketball lovers weekend," Bill says. "What else can a guy want?"
Land’s recent five-game swing (three for the Spurs, two for Wright State) is a snapshot of his life. For roughly nine months out of the year, he watches round ball round the clock. When he’s not calling Spurs games, he’s watching a video stream of Cooper’s games or viewing video clips of his oldest son, Taylor, a player-coach with a pro team in Copenhagen, Denmark. When scheduling permits, Bill and Gayle catch a Wright State game in person.
The scouting report on Bill: Devoted dad and distinguished broadcaster, a versatile play-by-play talent who owes his start in the booth to – what else? – basketball. A 6-3 off guard, Bill turned a redshirt year at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville into a gig with the campus radio station.
"I was working out with the guys and knew the coaches," Bill says. "So I convinced them I should be the color analyst for basketball. That got my foot in the door."
He left the analyst job to play the next season but remained behind the microphone, calling baseball, soccer and other sports. But then came an honest self-assessment before his senior season. "I was a very mediocre player," he says, "at a very mediocre level of Division II basketball."
So it was goodbye basketball, hello play-by-play: Bill became the voice of the team he departed. Later, through an internship with KMOX radio in St. Louis, Bill befriended baseball broadcaster Jack Buck. A letter of recommendation from Buck helped Bill secure his first job in Lacrosse, Wis. From there, he began his climb, calling a variety of sports in the Midwest before moving to Tulsa.
At a golf tournament there, he met Gayle, who was coaching middle school volleyball, softball and track in Wichita, Kan. A long-distance relationship commenced. Marriage followed. As Bill’s career blossomed, the boys were born. Before long, Bill began squeezing the weekend games of his boys into his broadcasting schedule.
"Our family has always been centered around sports," says Bill, who moved from Dallas to San Antonio last year. "It wasn’t forced on the kids, but it was presented to them."
As the boys grew and began playing college ball, mom and dad found creative ways to keep up. Bill recalls one occasion two years ago. Taylor, a 6-1 guard, was playing for St. Edwards.University in Austin on a Thursday. The Spurs had home games on Wednesday and Friday. So Bill drove up from San Antonio, Gayle drove down from Dallas and that’s when it got interesting. While cheering Taylor, mom and dad opened a laptop to view a videostream of Cooper’s game in Datyon, Ohio.
“We’re watching one in person and one online,” Bill says. “It’s great when it works out.”
And when a Spurs game conflicts? During timeouts, Bill checks his phone for stats and scores or an assistant provides an update.
“My family is the most important thing to me,” he says. “I’m really lucky and blessed that my wife Gayle is so tolerant and supportive. All these years I’ve been traveling, she’s been the one to haul the boys all over the place and have them play multiple sports. It’s great that she’s knowledgeable and athletic and can be supportive of them. It allows me to do the job I want to do, which is broadcast one of the best basketball teams going. I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”