FROM THE HIP: Hockey Guy With a Hoops Background

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A couple weeks ago I mentioned in a column how much I enjoy the Minnesota State High School Tournaments. Today, another round began with Boys Basketball and already the highlights are electric!  There's nothing better than the raw emotion of these talented teens and their fans coming together to create memories that will last a lifetime.  No pregame fireworks, scoreboard induced chants or piped in, pumped up music. Just the glorious sound of cheerleaders, fans and a high school band. Even today the atmosphere gives me chills.

For years people have pretty much assumed I'm a hockey guy. Yes, I've played the game my entire life. (Dad put all of us on skates at 2 years old!) But we also had a basketball hoop in the driveway and every year at tournament time we'd end up out there, sometimes in the snow, pretending we were part of St. Louis Park's 1961 Championship team.. and SLP's tourney entrant in 1980 behind Jim Peterson and a beloved coach, Augie Schmidt. (Many of those guys are my friends today.) Or future Viking Jeff Wright and Bob Zender of Edina in the mid-60's, or future Gopher and NBA star Mark Olberding out of tiny Melrose dominating the basketball tournament in the 70's. Truth be told, my buddies who played on our high school team would refer to me as a "brick-layer" with my less than deft attempts at shot-making. But we had fun!

Fast forward a couple decades and suddenly I found myself on Press Row right in the middle of the action as part of the broadcast team for the Basketball Tournaments. My co-worker and friend Randy Shaver and I were in charge of our "B-site" coverage, meaning the plan was to only come to us for scoring updates every half-hour or so.  Not expecting to be on the air that much, we didn't spend a lot of time memorizing the rosters, etc. that you normally would for full coverage. Just as we were set to go on air we got word that the signal from the main venue went down and we'd have to fill all of the time!  Let's just say we looked at each other with the OMG on our faces and we started to "wing-it." Our time on air seemed like an eternity, but at the same time it was invigorating. We took turns doing play-by-play and somehow made it work. The kind of thing that when you get through it you look at each other, give a "high-5" and then have some laughs that last through the years.

At the time I was just getting started in the TV business so I included some of my play-by-play on a resume tape that young journalists send to "talent agencies" just to see if they might be able to advance their career in another market. I must admit I was surprised when I received a call from a station in Salt Lake City, Utah. They were looking for a new Sportscaster for their news shows, but the job also included play-by-play of the Utah Jazz games the station aired. I asked who was the guy they were looking to replace and they said Jim Nantz.. now of CBS Sportscasting Fame. In the end it didn't work out for a variety of reasons, but I always thought if I had taken the job I'd probably be the only guy who played College Hockey that would be calling NBA games!  Besides, I think things worked out pretty well.

One more example of my "Basketball Acumen" is provided with photos I have posted. The famed Harlem Globetrotters made one of their many appearances in Minnesota and I was asked to be part of the team that would be facing them. The Washington Generals have been the perennial losers to the Globetrotters in games all over the world. On the bench I asked Generals Coach Red Klotz what I should do out on the court. He said, "Just stay out of the way." Most of the famous "Trotters" were on hand: Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal and Geese Ausbie. My job was to get near Geese and under his breath he'd tell me where to move while shouting out jokes and instructions to his teammates. Their synchronized precision is amazing to see from the seats.  Imagine my wonder being so close to it all!

One photo I never got was from when they had me go to the free throw line. And that's a good thing! Because I became the target of one of their famous "gags." Just as I was going to shoot, Geese yanked down my shorts!  The crowd at the old Met Center went wild!  Luckily, the jersey I had on was so long it covered anything risque.  I'm not sure that makes me much of a basketball expert, but who else do you know that got to play with the World Famous Harlem Globetrotters?

Good luck to all the teams this weekend!