The Voice of Sports
Jim Nantz began his dream job as a sports commentator right out of college, and to this day is thrilled by The Masters, March Madness and his NFL broadcasts
From the Print Edition:
Jim Nantz, May/June 2011
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Yes, Nantz loved sports, playing basketball and golf in high school and golf at the University of Houston. But he was consumed by the broadcasters who chronicled the events on TV.
“They were classical storytellers and I was mesmerized by them—I’m not exaggerating,” Nantz says. “I had a strange way of looking at sports, because I was so into the broadcasters.”
Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Nantz recalls, there were no 24-hour cable networks devoted to sports. Nor were there VCRs or DVRs, and sporting events were generally only broadcast on Saturdays and Sundays. So, to get his daily sports fix, Nantz would spend his weekends recording whatever events were being broadcast—from golf tournaments and NFL games to the long-running “ABC’s Wide World of Sports”—on his little cassette tape recorder, winding the microphone around the TV dial so it hung next to the speaker.
“Then, during the week, I would go back and listen to the broadcast over and over, to listen to the excitement in the commentator’s voice,” he says. “I would play it back over and over. I was probably borderline obsessive-compulsive about it. If I liked the sound of it, I’d practically be hyperventilating about the opening of the broadcast, listening to Jim McKay do the tease before the U.S. Open. The opening tease was just this beautifully written piece of prose, 60 seconds long with striking visuals and a big narration. I’d play them hundreds of times. I’d wear those tapes out.”
Nantz began to pursue his dream of becoming a sports commentator after enrolling at the University of Houston. (He makes the distinction between “sports commentator” and “sportscaster,” in his best-selling 2008 memoir, Always By My Side, noting that, to him, “sportscaster” refers to someone who delivers the sports headlines on a nightly newscast.)
A member of the storied Houston college golf team (where one of his roommates was future Masters’ champion Fred Couples), Nantz spent all his spare time freelancing and stringing for local radio and TV stations, eventually anchoring a weekend sportscast on one of Houston’s TV stations—a job that led to his first full-time job out of college at a CBS affiliate in Salt Lake City.
“I had no college life, really,” Nantz says. “I wasn’t into fraternity parties or hanging out drinking. My goal was to get to CBS. Why would I waste a night at a party when I could be out covering a game?”
Paul Marchand, general manager and head pro at Shadow Hawk Golf Club in Richmond, Texas, says, “He’d come back to the dorms and he was a star already. I thought, This guy’s on TV. He’d walk in and say, ‘I interviewed Muhammad Ali today.’ Muhammad Ali? He was still in college and he was talking to Muhammad Ali.”
Though he loved playing golf, Nantz decided quickly that his game wasn’t good enough to buy him a future. Recalls Marchand, “Jim tells a story about playing a freshman tournament. He shot a 35 or 36 on the front 9— and on the back 9, he went into broadcasting because it all fell apart.”
So, after college, Nantz was recruited as sports anchor for KSL in Salt Lake City, a CBS affiliate where he also did play-by-play for Brigham Young University football and Utah Jazz basketball games. In 1985, he was tapped by CBS to anchor its college football scoreboard show, eventually expanding to cover golf and college basketball for the network.
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Tracy Rowe — KS, USA, — November 20, 2011 5:32am ET
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