This season, no TV play-by-play announcer and NBA team make more sense together than Eric Collins and the Hornets. Collins has been calling Hornets Games since 2015, but this year’s team has had a certain level of drama and excitement that fits right in with their unique, exuberant, and insightful approach to broadcasting.
You cannot watch Collins during the Games but he’s lively enough to hear every gesture. He’s hysterical in the most pleasant way without losing sight of the stakes in any particular game, especially during the crunch time when no team is more successful than these Hornets. And not to bury the Lede, but Rookie of the Year favorite LaMelo Ball plays for this team. Ball’s flair is to Collins what a blank canvas was to Monet.
Last week, Sports Illustrated met with Collins to discuss this season’s pandemic why he isn’t hearing other play-by-play announcers how LaMelo Ball reminds him of Michael Jordan and more.
Sports Illustrated: What’s the biggest thing you notice when you watch this team night after night that you may not have expected to start the season?
Eric Collins: I love the fact that there is no specific alpha. I think it’s really cool that every night it’s either Terry Rozier who was Nails last [Thursday] night. It is Gordon Hayward who is making huge hits in the fourth quarter. It was Devonte ’Graham during the thrusts this year, a ton last year. P.J. Washington can move up and have a big game. And then LaMelo Ball simply ties everything together. I’m still waiting for him to meet his first game winner, but he’s the guy who made such a radical difference because there really isn’t just one guy the ball goes through and a go-between like LaMelo who does it all otherwise gets involved … all others are chronically disregarded. I think the Hornets have so many guys who are above average that if they play well together you really have a chance at something special because the style of play is fun and effective.
SI: Did you think they’d be that good? The overall standings are bundled, but they have a good chance of making the playoffs and maybe even avoiding play-in games.
EC: I was one of the believers at the end of last year. Last year, in late February and early March, before our season ended and didn’t resume, the Hornets played a good ball. Terry Rozier played phenomenally, and I’d seen enough of him to realize he was a special talent . Devonte ’Graham had played well and P. J. Washington had a good year as a rookie. I’ve always believed in Miles Bridges and the kind of energy he brings. I think a lot of the basketball world didn’t even realize what happened late last year. And then, if they weren’t invited to the bubble, even more so.
But that’s real, man. If you just look at the individual parts, the parts are pretty good! And the way these roles play together just makes it a little better. I don’t think this is blind luck. I think the Hornets are a good club and I think they have been for a while; Circumstances formed a conspiracy against her over the past year, but now everyone is well and good. These are exciting times.
SI: Additionally, do you feel like I don’t want to say any pressure, just the awareness that there are probably a lot more people watching Hornets games now than ever since you had this job?
EC: I do. And I think a lot has to do with the fact that the arena is always empty, but there are still people talking about the hornets. The people in my neighborhood are still excited about the hornets. I see the power of television. That’s not because, as a season ticket holder, you go to the game and wonder what LaMelo Ball is doing. Your only source for finding out what’s wrong with the hornets is from watching the show. And that’s pretty cool. It’s a pretty good responsibility.
But I’ll be honest with you, my broadcast style has always been number one for years, pretend no one is there. That was my thinking process. And then the second pillar is, if someone is around, I want a person in their basement in Beatrice, Nebraska, to watch, only to be blown away by what they hear and say, « Oh my god, I am the only person who does this gets this guy? « This is my audience because I always feel like I’m trying to come up with something that would entertain this one guy. That kind of thing keeps me from thinking about the gross number of people who might or might not be watching. » / p> SI: This may be a strange or difficult question to answer, but when you’re trying to reach that one viewer in Nebraska, you tend to say things that no other play-by-play announcer in the NBA does how do you come up with some of the things you say?
EC: I used to play small, low-level basketball, and when I played I generally had a buddy sit next to me every season, and we just had fun talking about the game and coming up with different things that we found interesting.There’s a period in my life where I played college basketball in St. Lawrence and every time someone did did something, we tried ei ne form of … to find. We said, “This guy shoots more jumpers than a rabbit hunter! He has more movements in color than Picasso! « And we’d just try to do it all game for the whole season.
A lot of the things have been seeping into my brain for 30 years just because I don’t know, I think basketball and sports [broadcasting ] have generally been done the same way for years and years. and I think people hear a game aired and feel like they should do it that way. I strongly disagree. I want to, that people watch a game and … I always respect the game, that’s the most important thing. But I don’t think it has to be a cookie cutter. I am strongly against the cookie cutter and I will try everything to make the game interesting .
The game is enough to keep people 85% of the time, but the other 15%, I want people to stay because the announcers are talking about things, maybe in a way they’ve never done before have heard before or to address a point of which you have noc h have never heard of speaking in a language they have never heard before, or telling a joke that at that point may never have been told because it may be awkward or weird. For me this is my job as a broadcaster. I have two hours and if people only listen for 20 minutes, then I haven’t done my job. I want her for the entire two hours. Whatever I can do to keep it my goal is and hopefully it will air so I want a wide audience to enjoy it. What can I do about humor, history, language and statistical information? That’s all in my lucky bag and I try to get everything I can.
SI: In terms of language, your show is unique, but so is your energy. I wanted to ask if there are announcers who have modeled your style or who you enjoy listening to but recently read that you don’t see games with the sound on?
EC: No, no, I don’t listen to anyone. I am honest to you. I have all the respect in the world for anyone who got a job. Anyone selected as one of the 30 TV players obviously got many things right. But I go through the league and every time I’m in a new building I ask my standard questions, questions that I want to answer from the other play-by-play guys (because they’re always guys), and inevitably nobody knows answering my questions. So I know I’m doing something right because I’m asking the hometown play-by-play guys to … pick an NBA team and they say, « Oh man, I never thought of that » or » I don’t know the answer to that. » Number one, it kind of annoys me that they don’t know their team as well as I think is right. For me, you have to know your team like the back of your hand. But it also confirms my belief that I don’t have to listen to anyone because I don’t think they are doing the research or I don’t think they are taking the time that I do. And I know it sounds a little cheeky, but that’s my thing. I’ve invested a lot of time and I know what I’m talking about and I know what I’m trying to get out of a show. I think my preparation is different from other people’s and I don’t even want to relate to that in my brain. I want my own clear line of thought and style. That’s why I don’t listen to anyone.
SI: Sometimes, as a writer, I avoid certain articles before working on a similar topic because I don’t want that work to affect what I’m trying to do. Is that your way of thinking
EG: 100%. I was the in-game reporter for the Chicago White Sox, and one of the most iconic Major League Baseball players in the history of the sport was Hawk Harrelson. And I had to listen to Hawk for years. Obviously very talented, but he influenced what I call baseball games when I got a minor league baseball job. I could never let that happen again, you know I have to trust what I see. And I have to trust my language and it takes away my originality when I listen to him and let it invade my brain. Then I got a cold turkey.
SI: If I called these hornets « a broadcasters dream », would that be too strong? Or do you feel that way sometimes?
EC: You play close games. You win close games. There are many elements that make them a really fun team. It was really great for me because I’ll be honest, I’ve been in this business for a while and worked with the Los Angeles Dodgers for five years. I only did the street games. I took turns with Vin Scully. Vin would play the home games and the California games, and I would do all the games against Colorado and everyone else east of it. Since I only played street games, I never actually got a walk-off win for the Dodgers. So there was never really a time when I could unleash myself and really get a Dodger victory. They always had to get the last three outs and that would be the end of the game.
And then I started the Hornets, and they had the longest streak of one-ball losses in NBA history. I think the number is 14. So I went a couple of years without ever having a game-changing summer beater for the Hornets. And so they’re making up for lost time over the past year and a half because James Borrego and his staff got in and for some reason we’re winning tight games again. It took me a long time to come. I really missed eight professional sporting seasons that never had a walk-off win or a summer beater, and now it seems to be pouring out.
SI: The Hornets have the best offense and defense in crunch time this season in the NBA. In these situations, they are 13 to 5 years old. When the game is near, do you get a feeling that they are going to get it out?
EC: I don’t know if I have any meaning or not. I am always looking for it. For me this is gold. I had Stephen F. Austin against Duke last year when Stephen F. Austin won at Cameron, which was insane. I played the game with Dan Bonner who is a dear friend and one of the most talented people in the business. The game was early and Stephen F. Austin was 10 minutes ahead and I started pushing it. “Hey, is this the time Duke loses at home to an unranked team or an unconfirmed team? Will this be the night Stay here! « And so we do a commercial break and Dan looks at me, rolls his eyes and says, » Come on boy, what are you talking about? « And I said, » You never know! This could be the night. Let’s look for it Let’s look for joy. ”And so I kept building it and building it and building it. I don’t really think so because I was a major in journalism. I believe in the truth. But someone told me a long time ago, if the legend is better than the truth, tell the legend. I always urge that. For me, what could happen? Where is the joy? Where will we find it? Where does the excitement come from? I am always looking for something that is fun.
EC: In thirty years from now, it will probably be one of the things that will determine what I do for a living. I played a lot of games when Michael [Jordan] was playing. I was the side reporter for the Chicago Bulls and I saw what it was like. I keep my head up and I feel very proud when I tell my daughters that I saw the greatest who ever played during its prime when it won championships. He made me sweat after every game. I was so close to the size. I don’t know if I want to go that far with LaMelo, but it’s pretty cool to be there when he’s just starting out and get the chance to do his games when he’s 19. If he ages well and stays in Charlotte and I get a chance to do his games for 10 or 15 years whatever, I think it’s going to be pretty cool. That’s one of the great things about sport: you can fall in love with a player, a city and a team. He’s an easy guy to fall in love with.
EC: I don’t know what I said, but I remember getting very excited and enjoying a Terry Rozier Dunk on Kevin Durant. It’s always unexpected. And it wasn’t this year, but I think the best I’ve ever done – God’s honest truth – I think the best I’ve ever done, and I don’t think I’ll ever get a chance to do anything Something similar actually came at a loss, so I don’t think a lot of people even heard it.
Zach LaVine had a historic 30-second final against us at the Spectrum Center. I don’t want to sound weird, but if I were teaching a play-by-play course I would be proud to play that piece and say, “Folks, this is a way to capture the moment with not a lot of words, with suitable words for the actual moment that do not overtake the moment, but are part of the moment and make the moment even better. “I think that was my best job in the six years I’ve been in town. I don’t think anyone heard the call because it was a Bulls win, and that’s probably why everyone is playing the Bulls call. Like « Oh my god the cops win, who knew da-da-da-da-da? » But I really enjoyed the havoc in my call.
It was perfectly appropriate for the game. It was respectful of Zach LaVine. It was respectful that the Chicago Bulls had won a ball game. I’m not going to lie: I’m not a Homer, but I’m a Hornets fan and I am broadcasting the Hornets games from the Hornets’ perspective.
SI: I mentioned your energy a couple of times. Was it a challenge to keep this up in a season when there weren’t any fans in the arena for almost every game?
EC: I always aired the game the same way. It’s very physical. It’s a very active show. My arms rise in the air. Sometimes I get up. It’s noisy. I just am That brought me here and I never felt like I could do anything else. [The empty arenas] make no difference. I’ve been doing women’s softball and events that have very few fans for years. It is my job to be me. I would be doing the people at home a disservice if I only made up my mind when there are 20,000 people in the building. So it doesn’t make a difference. I come into play and don’t realize that there is no one or 20,000.
EC: My big deal is information. I was a part-time journalist in the NBA for six years in the ’90s and early 2000s and I know how to get information. And I got all of my information right before the game. I walk through the hallways and Kyle Korver walks by and gets ready to take pictures. I think, « Kyle, why are you wearing # 26 again? » And those are just little things that are now banned. You can’t rely on a zoom to get things like this as my checklist has 15 things I’d like to answer before each game. So access to information and the players is easy, it was day and night.
SI: When you talk about your role as a broadcaster, who is your favorite opponent?
EC: I really respect Steph because my broadcast style is always looking for joy. Where can we find it? Let’s celebrate joy together for two hours. It’s so clear he’s playing for joy, like at the end of the first quarter, he’s going to shoot it from 80 feet away. He’s literally the only person in the NBA who’ll do this. He’s the best shooter ever played and he’s on the all-time list for the largest three-point field goal percentage. He will bring this to the line by shooting an 80 foot archer who has a 1% chance of walking in. He shoots at it because he is forever searching for joy. I love that and I want to celebrate that. Nothing burns me anymore – and I actually call people to do it, one of the few times I ever do because these guys are the best in the world – as if some guy purposely takes an extra dribble at the end of the first quarter Half-time just to get a shot halfway through and it won’t count against them. That annoys me. Whenever someone does that, I make a point on every single show to say, « Tyler Herro, didn’t mean to do a hero shot! We’ll remember that, Tyler! »
SI: Is there something I don’t asked that you want it, or something else you just want to say?
EC: Just for your own clarity, I think it is important that people know that I am not a cookie cutter. It is intended. I don’t look like anyone else. I don’t have the same background as everyone else. I am biracial. I consider myself black. And it was hard for me to find a job, probably because I didn’t look or sound like everyone else. So I think it’s important that people realize that doing different doesn’t have to be scary. And that’s mostly good.
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