The Voice Behind "Spurs Ball"

By: Lorne Chan

Like most basketball fans, Jonathan Sanford remembers the first time he saw Michael Jordan on TV. He was in complete awe, but it wasn’t Jordan who impressed him so much.

It was the guy announcing Jordan’s name.

That would be Ray Clay, a former public address announcer for the Chicago Bulls, who became famous for “From North Carolina…at guard…6’6"…Michael Jordan!”

Sanford dreamed the man behind the microphone would be him one day. There was one slight problem, though.

“I hadn’t quite hit puberty yet,” Sanford said. “My voice wasn’t there.”

Sanford prayed and wished for his voice to change, and sure enough, it became the baritone growl he always wanted. Now, he’s living his dream in his third season as the Spurs’ public address announcer.

Sanford, 38, is the voice behind “Spurs ball” and “Threeeeee” shouts that ring through the AT&T Center.

Armed with a bag of cough drops, Sanford does pregame introductions and all announcements during a game. He’s occasionally recognized for being the redhead with one of the best seats in the house, behind the scorer’s table at center court.

“There’s an intimacy unlike any other to the job,” Sanford said. “You have an interaction with more than 18,000 people at a time. It’s humbling to know that you are spokesperson during critical moments of the game.”

An Alabama native, Sanford studied music at Jacksonville State University, where he, of course, sang tenor.

Sanford also is a minister at the Southern Hills Church of Christ in nearby Buda, Texas, where his booming voice pays dividends on Sundays.

His wife, Jennifer, is a music teacher. Their five children are all aspiring public address announcers.

“There’s never a moment of silence in the house,” Sanford said. “I love it.”

Like many Spurs, Sanford was a call-up from the Austin Spurs. He spent the 2012-13 season in Austin announcing games before he moved up to San Antonio in 2013-14.

Sanford also serves as a P.A. announcer for the San Antonio Stars, the UIL Texas state championships and the Austin Independent School District.

“If you make a mistake, you know everybody’s going to hear it,” Sanford said. “So you always have to think ahead about what you’ll say next, but you have to be careful not to get too ahead. And it’s better not to say something than to say something that’s incorrect.”

Sanford said one of the toughest names he’s ever had is Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. While common fans can take the easy route and refer to Antetokounmpo by his nickname, the “Greek Freak,” Sanford doesn’t have that option. He rehearsed the name all day before Antetokounmpo’s first game in San Antonio, and received a standing ovation from the AT&T Center control room.

He’s only flubbed one name in his time as Spurs announcer: Suns forward Mirza Teletovic.

“I got that wrong because of a researching mistake,” Sanford said. “I felt pretty bad about it.

Some of the toughest moments come when coach Gregg Popovich does a five-for-five substitution. Sanford has to rattle off 10 names in just a few seconds between whistles.

Sanford’s favorite moment is an easy one: announcing the Spurs as the 2014 NBA Champions.

“I’ll never forget the clock hitting zeroes and getting the approval to go ahead and say those words,” Sanford said. “It was a dream come true.”



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