I sat down for a quick interview with Mr. Bill Raftery before the Final Four on Saturday, I started off as just a fan of the man’s broadcasting skills and his incredibly entertaining catch-phrases and one-liners that we’ve all grown to love. But by the end of the interview I was more than just a fan of the man’s work, I became a fan of THE MAN in general.
His energy and love for the game of basketball is definitely contagious, even as I sat in my cold, corporate-feeling, quiet office in a building Don Draper wouldn’t be caught dead in, I could feel Raftery’s big, warm, grinning smile over the phone filling me with excitement as he discussed Izzo and Michigan State’s toughness, Coach K and Duke’s chances at another championship, Coach Cal and the undefeated (at that time) Kentucky Wildcats legacy and Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky’s Wisconsin Badgers. The Final Four was about to take flight and Bill Raftery was piloting the ship for me.
The most abundantly clear trait I noticed while talking hoops with the legend was his ability to recall seemingly any game he’s ever been a part of instantly. His basketball mind is as sharp as Bill Laimbeer’s elbows, but with a feathery touch and perfect release similar to Ray Allen’s jumper.
I asked Bill to name a few of his favorite NCAA tourney moments that he’d been a part of, here’s his list:
- His first memory was the Sienna double-overtime upset over Ohio State in the 2009 NCAA tourney. I almost became airborne when he yelled out over the phone “ONIONS!”, then followed it up with “AN ORDER OF DOUBLE ONIONS!”
- His next memory was the George Mason overtime upset over UCONN in 2006 to reach the Final Four for the first time in the school’s history:
- Lastly he ended with the 1985 Final Four when three teams from the BIG EAST made it, Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s and rounding out the basketball-table was Memphis State:
Just to put that in perspective, Raftery just referenced 30 years of basketball off the top of his head. I was 4 years old when The BIG EAST dominated the 1985 Final Four, Ronald Reagan was president, and Bill Raftery was calling games.
Our conversation moved seamlessly onto my favorite stories about Raftery, the stories that Jim Nantz refers to as “The Hang”, the after-hours of the legendary broadcaster.
“You work to accomplish things in life,” Raftery says. “Nothing that would embarrass the family – but let’s say over the years, I’ve had legs.” –USA Today article
I posed these “hard-hitting” questions to see if I could dig a little deeper:
- What’s your drink of choice?
- What’s your favorite word?
- What’s your least favorite word?
Bill’s answers (of course he delivered JUST what I was looking for):
2. “Yes, as in when someone asks Would you like another?”
3. “No, as in after I ask a business proprietor Can I have another?”
Yet again, Mr. Raftery delivers right on cue when the pressure’s on, just like he’s been doing for 30+ years.
Bill will be dropping more classic puns and one-liners on us tonight as he will sit down with Grant Hill and Jim Nantz to cover the National Championship game for the first time in his TV career. A long overdue opportunity for Raft, as he’s being covering the championship for CBS radio for the last 23 years.
My Final Four conclusions from the conversation with Mr. Raftery is this:
- Within five minutes of being on the phone with him, I was as comfortable talking about hoops with him as if I was sitting in my parents’ basement talking with my Dad and brother.
- He’ll never let you down, he’s always got another funny, brilliant analogy or pun ready in his holster for deployment and he has a computer for a brain when it comes to college basketball.
- You feel better about your day after talking with Bill, he’ll always leave ya smiling.
- As accomplished as he is and as great as he is at his job, he’s an even BETTER PERSON outside of the TV personality that brought us “Send it in JEROME!” and “with a little KISSSSS!”. Bill can light up a room without ever even setting foot in it.
Thanks Bill, we’ll keep watching and listening. Cheers to another 30 years of college hoops and the next time you’re in Los Angeles, the first round of lemonade is on me.