OFF THE TOP OF MY BALD HEAD
Barry Warner: A truly humbling interview with Jim Nantz of CBS
Former Houstonian and now CBS lead announcer Jim Nantz and I have been friends since his freshman year at the University of Houston. On last Friday’s Reality Check Jim granted me an exclusive interview.
I started of asking about all of the behind the scenes preparation. ‘‘ In Charlotte last week, I did four games in one day noon-to midnight. That was followed by two games on Sunday. Six games in 48 hours. What the public does not see are the hours of preparation, the work behind the scenes, that’s the grind. You cannot worry about being live and focused on every syllable that leaves your lips. But that’s not a complaint, I love the process,” the man with the blazer told our listeners.
‘‘It’s part of what makes March Madness so special, trying to dig up stories no one has heard of before that may or may not make the telecast. The University of Maryland-Baltimore County biggest upset in college basketball history, beating Virginia 74-54, the first No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed in the men's NCAA tournament. You can’t make up drama like this.’’
Has Nance ever seen anything like Sister Jean Schmidt? “No, what a special story that has turned out to be. I’ll be in San Antonio next week and so looking forward to meeting her.’’
A couple weeks ago, Nantz finally checked something off his bucket list when he did his first ever Cougar game. What was that like? “It was a real wish list for my career. When I was rooming with Freddy Couples and Blaine Mc Allister, masquerading as a golfer, coach Dave Williams knew I always wanted to be a broadcaster. So, he called the legendary Guy Lewis ,who pulled some strings. I became the Public-Address announcer for games at Hofheinz Pavilion, that led me to being the host of Lewis’ weekly television show on KPRC-TV, the NBC affiliate.
‘‘Several years later, with my former roommates, we endowed the first basketball scholarship to a UH player. This year it was Armani Brooks played on our scholarship. I got to call two of Kelvin Sampson’s exciting games in March and I’m thrilled the direction the program is going.”
I asked Nantz to relive the gut-wrenching 1983 NCAA championship game at the Pit in New Mexico where the Phi Slamma Jama team lost the heartbreaker final to Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State team.
“I did not have a ticket, but rode into the Pit on the team bus. I sat right next to the set where Brent Musburger was broadcasting. I literally was so close it was possible to reach under the table and tie his shoes. My next thought was how cool it would be to wear the blazer and broadcast the game. Three years later I sat in the set in Dallas wearing the blazer as the studio host.’’
In 1991, Nantz replaced Musburgur to become CBS' play by play voice. He is now broadcasting his 27th Final Four for CBS.
The only thing that has changed since first meeting Nantz is the size of his bank account, not his ego.
He does not forget his friends. Humility should be his middle name.
Originally, we were told by his assistant that Jim had only eight minutes for the segment. On his own volition, the interview lasted 12:30 and is available on last Friday's podcast/arena.com.
But there was one more pertinent question I thought our audience would enjoy. Since his first days at the network he has enjoyed a unique relationship with
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. What are some of the things he learned from the Duke legend?
‘‘When I’m around Coach K there is always something new to be learned. Yesterday he came over to talk about when he got hired. The all-time winningest coach in college basketball talked to me about the power of believing in someone — the gift it is.
“It was a faith and belief system instilled in him by then AD Tom Butters. It’s the power of believing in someone. And it is not something he uses lightly. Now, 1099 wins later at age 71, he talked about the power of believing in someone. What a gift that is!
"I got to thinking as I’ve gotten older about giving back to young, aspiring broadcasters. But here’s my point. It reminded me of when I was a young kid just starting out, the power of someone believing in you. That was you to me,’’ he stated.
“I met you and you believed in me and it made a huge difference. The power of someone believing in you – that was you believing in me. It made a huge impression in my life and career. It took someone like Coach K to put it in the right context. Yesterday, it was about the gift of believing in someone. And I thank you for that.’’
Talk about getting blindsided, this floored me. I was damn near speechless, gathering my senses to thank him.
Humility has never been a word to describe me over the years.
After that interview, I am truly humbled.