CBS and Turner
Talking somewhat haltingly and a bit teary-eyed, Jim Nantz engaged with the media, as he has annually since calling his first Final Four in 1991. He rattled off factoids extemporaneously, never having to reach for the right word. It came naturally.
Talking about his alma-mater, the University of Houston, he was asked how his school will do in the tourney. The Cougars are ranked number one in America. “We have a chance.”
He finally caught himself Tuesday and stopped using “we.” with a hint of a chuckle Nantz attended Houston and was on the golf team. His roommate was Fred Couples. In 1992, Couples won the Masters, a year after Nantz presided over his first NCAA Final Four. Not many can do what he does, basketball, football and golf in an abbreviated time. To this day, Jim still speaks softly, for events he covers. He has young kids too and wants to be part of their upbringing. So this NCAA Tournament will be his last.
Nantz has two color commentators, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill. They have the breadth and latitude to work at ease.
Jim has inspiring memories who remind me of the retired NBAer Jerry Lucas. NBA.com said of the former Forward/Center, “Lucas had an incredible memory, one that helped him recall opponents’ tendencies and set plays. He could also perform an astonishing parlor trick, memorizing 50 pages of the New York City phone book in one sitting.”
The subject of conversation on Tuesday stretched from one day in 1986 when Brent Musburger was still presiding over the NCAA Tournament and Jim was brought on by CBS as a studio host. While Jim showed his wares, Musburger’s relationship with the network declined. On the eve of the 1990 title game, Brent was fired over money, the number of assignments and his insistence to do baseball which CBS had jusr acquired. News about the firing of Brent seemingly made virtually every tabloid in America.
Brent had an edge to his opinionated style, reminding some viewers occasionally of the striking Howard Cosell. Meanwhile, Jim sounded as pleasant as the chirping birds hovering over golf courses he covers, fabricated or not.
Still, Nantz was perfect for the tournament. Too bad, he’ll be missed.
We’ll hear him on the NFL and golf including the Masters. At 63 Jim will be missed at the Final Four. It will take time to embrace Ian Eagle as the number one basketball announcer.
On Tuesday over Zoom, he opened up, reminiscing about the people he’d gotten to know over thirty years on the NCAA circuit. Name a tournament Nantz’ called or hosted, he’ll share a story he witnessed and what he remembers. He learned the game from Guy Lewis, the Cougars’ legendary coach. As a student, Lewis was a mentor of sorts. Nantz later applied for air-work in Salt Lake City and worked with Hot Rod Hundley.
In ’83, Lewis invited Nantz to travel to the arena on the team bus from the hotel. The title game was in Albuquerque. Coach Lewis asked him to find a seat at the end of the bench. He had done all sorts of things including a public address man.
The Cougars got close. Despite Broadway basketball stars like Hakeem, Michael Young and Michael Drexler, the Cougars were stunned by Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State’s Wolfpack. It was a head-spinning and unfortunate loss for the star-studded Houston team. A generation later, the Cougars have another shot. They’re ranked number one in the country.
His last game, if it includes UH in April, Nantz will have to maintain his equanimity. He will never forget it. Forty years later and sadly so, those who were there at the 54-52 loss Valvano’s NC State stunner is still a killer. The number #1 team in the country went down and Lorenzo Chares became a hero forever in Raleigh .
Like Nantz can share stories and slices of history, the truth of the matter is he still remains number one on CBS’ NFL and golf. Jim knows and loves college basketball too. Eagle won’t measure up for a while.
But we’re crossing incomparable generations. From Nantz, Enberg, Gowdy and Musburger to shrieking Eagle. Ian will be embraced in time but will take some time to be embraced across the United States.