Kevin Harlan: Wolves Original Voice
Kevin Harlan: Original Voice of the Wolves
By Joseph Oberle
If you watched NFL Football this past season on CBS-TV and did a double take when you heard the play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan’s voice, don’t be surprised. For the first nine years of the Timberwolves existence, Harlan was the voice of the Wolves, putting an indelible stamp on the call of those games that still seems to resonate with fans.
"I am stopped today,” says Harlan with a laugh, “and people ask me ‘Are you still doing the Wolves?’ ‘Well, not for the last six or seven years,’ I say.”
The sound of Harlan’s voice still takes fans back to the infancy of the Wolves. With sly humor and controlled mayhem, Harlan, and broadcast partner Tom Hanneman, brought urgency, excitement and fun to the young team’s games that kept fans coming back even though the team on the floor didn’t warrant it yet.
“It was a product of the front office’s imagination, intensity and focus that this broadcast was kind of hatched,” says Harlan. “They didn’t set any limits. They said, ‘How can we bring more quality; how can we continue to sell it to our fans?’ So it was not how much it was going to cost, it was ‘how can we do it better?’ And when you are in that kind of environment, that’s great.”
Harlan, and (current TV play-by-play voice) Hanneman, were legendary among the diehard Wolves fans who listened to the late night blowouts on the west coast via radio, where sometimes the unpredictable Harlan became the show.
“I could kind of go off on some calls and really be more flamboyant because we were trying to get on the map in terms of where this team was going to register on Minnesota sports fans’ mind,” says Harlan. “It was a creative time, a very fun time, a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants time and a shoot-from-your-hip time, and for a young guy like me, that was just heaven.”
Harlan, who is the son of Green Bay Packers president Bob Harlan, came to the Wolves in 1989 from several radio broadcast gigs in Kansas City that included the NBA’s Kansas City Kings, the NFL’s Chiefs and University of Missouri football and basketball. When Harlan got the offer from Minnesota, he consulted with a friend who knew his work, Bob Costas, who told him to take the job because the television work would serve him well.
And it has. In 1994, Harlan began broadcasting the NFL for Fox. In 1996, after seven seasons with the Wolves, Harlan started calling NBA games for TNT/TBS, which he still does today. By 1998 when he left Minnesota, Harlan had landed his second network job (this time with CBS), where he now calls the NFL and NCAA basketball. He remains a Wolves fan and has nothing but great memories as the original Voice of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I loved the people I worked with. I loved doing the games. I loved everything about it. I think often about it,” says Harlan. “When Chris Webber missed the last-second shot last year in Game 7 against the Wolves, I was courtside calling it. My eyes starting to water up a little bit. I couldn’t believe that I was here seeing this watershed moment for the Wolves which had gone from a playoff team to Western Conference finalists. That was very wonderful; I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was glad I was around for that, and I am so happy they have done so well.”