Jim Nantz, a class act and on-air minimalist, leads CBS into tonight’s telecast of the NCAA title game

CBS vet of 34 years is somewhat of a cross between Ray Scott and his idol Jack Whitaker; Barkley took high road Saturday

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There’s a reason that Jim Nantz is at the very top rung of CBS Sports broadcasters. He’s adept at playing the hand he’s dealt. If he’s asked to work with an analyst who has an edge like Billy Packer, he’ll set him up perfectly and carefully. He did so for 18 years.

If he’s asked to work with two analysts, one with a strong presence and another whose assessments are not quite as insightful, he’ll generally turn it over to the lead personality Bill Raftery, and let him engage Grant Hill. Nantz will also know the questions that he can pose to Hill directly. He’s not one to play bookkeeper, yet has a good sense of how to tailor his own comments to effectively engage his on-air partners.

Jim keeps the broadcasts moving fluidly even at the expense of having to economize on his own commentary.

In many ways, Nantz is a minimalist. He’s a cross between Ray Scott, the father of succinct TV captioning, and his idol Jack Whitaker who presided with oratorical brilliance. The 34 year CBS vet lets the picture tell much of the story and his commentators elaborate on why. He doesn’t get in anyone’s way, doesn’t shout and never over-talks. After big play or small, he’ll share something with viewers that they might not know. He does so with excellent timing.

A basket and a foul might warrant him to do no more than provide the number of points the player has scored and maybe his school year, his hometown and perhaps a quick personal trait or story. He’ll then shut up and let the other two fellows underscore something else of significance. Nantz rarely if ever raises his voice. Top rung network broadcasters rarely if ever do; not Al Michaels and not Joe Buck.

Nantz does most everything with dignity and with a smile. Working in an easy-going manner, viewers feel comfortable. To some he might sound corny, yet to most Americans he’s warm, fuzzy and welcoming. Liked by his bosses, he’s always cognizant of where his bread is buttered. His demeanor reflects the CBS image on camera and off.

The New Jersey raised broadcaster moves seamlessly from football to basketball to golf. He’s living a dream and this is his favorite week. From Minneapolis, Nantz, who turns 60 next month, heads to Augusta.

He presides with an air of confidence and conviction that come across the airwaves with reassuring class.

He’ll do his 29th NCAA championship game tonight.


Weekend notes:

  • A Jose Feliciano World Series moment on Saturday prior to the semi-final doubleheader. Athletes representing the four participating schools sang the national anthem. They did so tinkering with the melody a bit. In 1968, the blind singer Feliciano was booed off the field in Detroit where he sang the national anthem before game five. He did so by tweaking the tune, some of which unrecognizably so, an act that 51 years ago wasn’t accepted in the American heartland. It’s a different world today, Feliciano sang the anthem at a Giants baseball playoff game several years ago and he was warmly received. When these four college students did so Saturday, there was no muttering or protest. If anyone listening even took note, there didn’t seem to be any anger expressed.
  • During Saturday’s pre-game show, there was a heartwarming piece on CBS’ pre-game show on the marriage of Bruce Pearl’s daughter Leah who works for Turner. CBS played footage of father and daughter dancing at the wedding to the famous, “One Shining Moment.” Reading Bruce’s lips, he said: “Next year we’re going to the Final Four, beat Kentucky and we’ll dance to this song!” (Came true.)
  • Perfectly timed report by the dependable Tracy Wolfson on Auburn’s sidelined star, Chuma Okeke, who was back in Alabama recovering from the ACL injury. The report showed Chuma’s locker set up neatly and kept untouched at the Final Four.
  • At halftime, Charles Barkley accurately predicted that the game would come down to the final possession.
  • The classiest response was that of Barkley, an unabashed Auburn supporter. He didn’t criticize the officials. He was also fully transparent, admitting that he didn’t know the double dribble rule that replay showed Ty Jerome violated in the final minute of the game. He also heaped praise on Virginia’s Kyle Guy for calmly making all three free throws.
  • If the Virginia-Auburn game belonged to the officials, the telecast in some way belonged to Gene Steratore.
  • Clark Kellogg said on the set that he feels deflated when games end the way the Auburn-Virginia did.
  • Bill Raftery was working under the weather and playing hurt. He’s 75 years young and hasn’t lost the spring to his step.
  • Raf also threw in a nice anecdote about Texas Tech coach Chris Beard picking up advice from Kelvin Sampson.  The Houston coach told Beard to “keep the chip on the shoulder.”
  • There was a nice shot of Sid Hartman and a nice shout-out to the longtime Minneapolis scribe who sat courtside, still working as a writer and as a radio commentator at the ripe young age of 99.
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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4 years ago

This was the first article of yours that I’ve read…but it certainly won’t be the last! Completely agree with you on Nantz…well said!