HOUSTON — In early January 1986, a 26-year-old with joyful ambition and bottomless optimism took a flight out to Seattle to name a males’s basketball sport.
It wound up being the formal initiation of a legendary broadcasting profession.
Jim Nantz’s first play-by-play project for CBS was a USC-Washington affair on January 11 of that 12 months, working the sport alongside former Kentucky standout Larry Conley.
One week later: a correct introduction to a lifelong friendship. Nantz catty-cornered to Coral Gables, Florida, to name Arizona at Miami. As destiny would have it, he was partnered with the one and solely Invoice Raftery. An eager-to-please Nantz bought taken out to an extravagant Miami Seashore dinner, and as is Raftery’s wont, younger Jim bought greater than he bargained for that night time.
“You stroll out of 1 dinner with Raft and you’re feeling such as you’ve recognized him for 37 years, which is the precise case now,” Nantz instructed CBS Sports activities in his last sit-down interview earlier than his last basketball name after 37 years and 354 NCAA Event broadcasts.
On Monday night time, Nantz will toss on the headset for one last basketball name subsequent to Raftery, working CBS’ broadcast with Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson. It is No. 4 UConn vs. No. 5 San Diego State — a nationwide title sport nearly no one noticed coming as lately as two weeks in the past.
“I would like this to really feel as regular as doable,” Nantz mentioned. “I simply need to have a pleasant, clear, high-camaraderie broadcast. In sync with (producer) Wolfie (Mark Wolff) and (director) Mark Grant, Grant and Raft and Tracy, simply need it to be clear. All in sync. Take off the headset, go give the trophy away. It is their second, it is not mine.”
Humble as Nantz is, there isn’t a escaping this night time may even, partly, be about him. And it must be.
You do not get tales with out the storyteller.
Nantz has a distinctly singular profession in broadcasting attributable to his lifelong ties to CBS and his practically 40-year connection to this blessed, maddening match. He is forsaking the basketball portion of his broadcast duties after tonight, and appropriately so, this joyride is concluding in Houston. That is the town the place he went to school, the place that put him on the trail to microphone royalty.
On the College of Houston, a 19-year-old Nantz started his highway to this night time by speaking into the mic as the general public deal with announcer for Cougars basketball video games.
“My faculty and the basketball program gave me the entryway into the enterprise,” he mentioned.
The 63-year-old is most affectionately tied to calling golf, the Masters being his most treasured occasion of all of them, and he’ll proceed to be the lead play-by-play voice of the NFL on CBS. Over the many years, he is additionally been the go-to voice on CBS for school soccer, the Winter Olympics and tennis.
However basketball — school basketball — bred him and nurtured his craft into changing into the published legend he’s. It is the game the place Nantz reduce his tooth, honed his strategies and, most wonderful of all, grew to become the voice amongst a throng of animated narrators over the previous 30-plus years on this absurdly unbelievable occasion that’s the NCAA Event.
“The enormity of it now nonetheless blows me away,” Nantz mentioned.
Monday night time’s title sport would be the thirty second Ultimate 4 of Nantz’s profession. Given the character of some tv contracts and network-hopping tendencies of broadcasters, this may by no means be completed once more. Earlier than his first Ultimate 4 project in 1991, nobody had labored greater than six Ultimate Fours. It is an outrageous accomplishment, and but it speaks to Nantz’s preternatural functionality as a broadcaster that he is by no means felt previous, stale or worn out. It is all the time felt like he must be there.
“I bought to reside out my dream due to school basketball,” Nantz mentioned. “Positive, I used to be a golfer and I went to Houston to be on the golf group. However, actually, went to Houston to check communications and check out to determine a solution to get educated to hopefully someday be seen by CBS. That was what the purpose was: to work for CBS.”
“I am getting ready for this sport tomorrow as laborious as I did in ’91,” Nantz says as he settles right into a chair, donning a salmon-colored quarter-zip from his personalised Winery Vines clothes line.
Each basketball project Nantz has known as for CBS (the quantity is someplace within the neighborhood of 575 broadcasts) features a “sport board”: a white, huge, sturdy paper that’s his colourful prep sheet of data and statistics concerning the gamers and coaches. Each certainly one of them is handled as a treasured doc.
“No shortcuts,” Nantz says, eyes down, pen to web page and filling out the ultimate board of his profession. “Does not matter if it is a sport like this or it is a regular-season sport. The hassle, the work behind it, must be there. And in any other case you’ll be able to’t be snug. And I occur to take pleasure in this course of.”
Nantz has by no means misplaced or thrown a single sport board out. Each one from his profession is archived, by 12 months, at his Pebble Seashore residence in California. Final 12 months, Hill stopped by Nantz’s home, and whereas he was there, Jim pulled out his board from Dec. 22, 1990, the tenth sport of Hill’s Duke profession — a sport at Oklahoma.
“I do know this sounds very anal,” Nantz says. “However I wish to be organized. I like to have the ability to return and pull a board each every so often.”
And right here, the day earlier than his last match name, Nantz sits down and continues to fill out the goodies as he finalizes his need-to-knows on UConn.
“The document will present the final identify that I ever write down shall be Jordan Hawkins,” Nantz says at 4:00 p.m. on the eve of the championship.
The plan for this sit-down was 15-20 minutes. However Jim desires to speak — Jim all the time desires to speak. He holds courtroom for a full hour, taking in each minute of this expertise. He thinks again to his first match name, in March of ’86, the Outdated Dominion-Duke sport he labored with Raftery.
“Tonight shall be Recreation 354, and I get to say, ‘Bookends. Raft. Back and front.’ It is a fantastic privilege,” Nantz says, pen in hand.
He was nervous again then in 1986, simply as he shall be Monday night time.
“That is the character of reside tv and what resides inside of people that try to attempt to do it as cleanly and completely as doable,” Nantz mentioned. “It is not a worry. It is extra an anticipation, a joyous anticipation. There’s that, ‘Right here it’s, it is gonna occur now.’ It is not a scarcity of belief. It is coming from a spot of I am sitting right here. It is coming from appreciation. I am right here. I’ve been given this nice reward of protecting one other nationwide championship sport yet one more time. That is not misplaced on me. I’ve all the time felt the identical in these video games. It has been a tremendous reward for a very long time, an enormous a part of my life.”
Nantz’s narration has carried us residence for three-plus many years, his voice telling the tales that outline seasons, create legacies and carve eternal recollections of school basketball. For Nantz, his Ultimate 4 run began in 1991 with Duke’s stunner over undefeated UNLV, which led to back-to-back nationwide championships for the Blue Devils and the official ushering in of Mike Krzyzewski’s legacy.
He is had a entrance row seat to a number of the best groups and gamers this sport’s ever seen, however ever-humbled, Nantz has spoken usually and does once more right here of Curt Gowdy, Dick Enberg, Gary Bender and Brent Musburger, all of whom known as Ultimate Fours, all of whom Nantz idolized as a boy after which into the early levels of his broadcasting profession.
The entire approach, it has been CBS. By no means a critical thought to pivot elsewhere. That is made him the signature voice of this match.
“I by no means needed to maneuver round,” Nantz mentioned. “I needed to be the anti-portal participant in sports activities broadcasting.”
It may be unusual to undergo 67 video games of this occasion in 2024 and never hear Nantz on a name, however he is able to step away and desirous to have Ian Eagle get his well-deserved shot at being the subsequent voice of the Ultimate 4. However for yet one more day, it is apparent he is clinging to each second of this.
“You get right here to see the place bulging on the seams and the depth and vitality within the constructing is as fevered pitch as ever,” Nantz mentioned of Saturday night time’s semifinals.
The universe winked at us Saturday night time, gifting a buzzer-beater within the FAU-San Diego State thriller. Nantz was on it, as all the time, because the spectacular spooled out in actual time. He recognized the less-than-ideal offensive lineup San Diego State had on the ground as the ultimate play broke free earlier than the Aztecs broke out an all-time match second. Lamont Butler’s winner occurred in the identical constructing, on the identical finish of the ground, as our final epic second below this roof: Kris Jenkins’ title-winning shot for Villanova over North Carolina in 2016.
“That was I had that factor that got here to me inside seconds and I went up with it.” Nantz mentioned.
Who is aware of what the Huskies and Aztecs will give us tonight. That is why we do that, proper? Play the sport, inform the story, let’s discover out collectively.
Take us by way of it, Jim.
As he does, he’ll partly be carried in spirit by some not with us. The late Billy Packer, who died in January and was Nantz’s north star in basketball broadcasts for therefore a few years. Additionally gone is Pat McGrath, Nantz’s longtime statistics specialist and right-hand man, who died of a coronary heart assault in his sleep the day after Choice Sunday. It has been a looming void for Nantz as he is gone by way of this last push. They labored alongside one another for 3 many years and had deliberate to stroll off collectively after Monday night time’s title sport.
Then there’s the photograph of Jim’s mother and father.
Throughout Saturday night time’s semifinals, for the primary time in his profession, Nantz positioned a photograph of the late Jim and Doris Nantz subsequent to the monitor in entrance of him. It is a image from the 1998 Ultimate 4 in San Antonio. Nantz misplaced his father to Alzheimer’s in 2008. His mom died final October.
“Each time I checked out it through the sport, I actually felt like they had been me,” Nantz mentioned. “I had by no means completed that earlier than, however I believed, I am in Houston, I would like them to be right here by my facet.”
Greater than something, Nantz desires Monday night time to be concerning the group that wins, the coach that guides them there. He desires to observe “One Shining Second,” as he does yearly, together with his oldest daughter, Caroline.
“That’ll be joyful,” he mentioned. “Joyful and triumphant. That is what I hope to really feel when it is over. Joyful and triumphant. In a private sense, in a broadcasting sense, fulfilled. I’ve had so many individuals which have lifted me on their shoulders and gotten me right here that I’ve shared the expertise with and I hope all of them really feel that I am repping them and that they are with me on that night time and have felt that approach hopefully each time they turned on tv, noticed a sport, they felt like they had been being represented. I need to rep them.”
A child who bought his first over-the-air name on 740 AM KTRH Radio for a Rice-Fairfield sport in Clemson, South Carolina, in 1981 goes to name yet one more basketball sport on Monday night time.
The man who eagerly scooted and coyly sat beneath the CBS set, all however 3 toes away from Brent Musburger in 1983 on the Ultimate 4 in Albuquerque, will come full circle in Houston.
Nantz has been our largest narrator of March and April for not only one era however a number of. He’ll proceed to serve in that position for golf and soccer, however these occasions do not present the nationwide, wide-eyed magic that this one does.
“This match is about dreamers,” Nantz mentioned one time on a broadcast.
You had been proper, Jim. You are the proof of that.
Let’s share this expertise yet one more time. Inform us yet one more story.