Q & A: Sacramento Kings Play-By-Play Broadcaster Gary Gerould
The Sacramento Kings recently announced that Gary Gerould will be the team’s TV play-by-play announcer for the remainder of the 2019-20 NBA season. Gerould will call the game action virtually from Golden 1 Center in Sacramento when the season resumes in Orlando . “G-Man has been the ‘Voice of the Kings’ on both radio and TV from the day the team arrived in Sacramento in 1985, so it is natural for him to assume this role through the rest of the season,” said Kings President of Business Operations John Rinehart. “Gary Gerould is one of the most accomplished and respected play-by-play announcers in the NBA, and his decades-long association with the Sacramento Kings has given him an unsurpassed connection with the team and the community,” said Matt Murphy, Senior Vice President and General Manager of NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California. Currently in his 35th season with the Kings and having called 2,769 Kings games, Gerould has been the radio play-by-play announcer on the club’s flagship station KHTK. In the mid-1990s (1994-95 to 1997-98), he served as the play-by-play announcer on the Kings TV broadcast. Gerould is widely considered one of the best play-by-play announcers in sports broadcasting. In terms of longevity, Gary stands in the top five among NBA broadcasters. In 2018, Gerould was inducted by The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences as a Gold Circle honoree in recognition of his more than 50 years of contributions and accomplishments to the northern California television community. For the eighth in our series of interviews with NBA broadcasters, Basketball Intelligence's Ray LeBov recently spoke with Gary about his broadcasting background, approach and philosophy as well as his memories from his decades-long association with the Sacramento Kings: RAY: How did you get your start in broadcasting? What was the path that you took to get there?
GARY: I grew up in a relatively small town in Central Michigan. I was an only child. My father had cancer from the time I was five years old, and he passed away when I was 12.
Unfortunately, my mother had a lot of different illnesses that she had to battle through much of her life. So at a pretty early age, it became incumbent upon me to learn how to fend for myself.
I lived with some different neighboring families and a minister's family from time to time when my mother experienced illness and after my father had passed away. When I was 13 years old, the small-town radio station was about a mile from my home.
I started going there on a daily basis and it became my second home.
I was able to hang out there virtually every evening. I would get my school work done, and I would just absorb what went on in small town radio. I became friends with some of the disc jockeys.
From as young as I can remember, I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. It was not the popular thing at the time and there were very few colleges or universities that had any kind of broadcast curriculum.
As a very young teenager, they not only let me hang out but I ended up getting a weekly show and I got some hands-on experience. It was a terrific training ground at a very early age. I was very fortunate in that respect.
I went to a small school: Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana. My intent was that I would spend the first couple of years doing the basics and then I would find my way to one of the handful of universities that had broadcast programming.
As it turned out, I liked the atmosphere of the small college campus. We were only 1,200 students at that time, and I was getting good practical knowledge at the local radio station. We worked there full-time during the summer.
RAY: How did you get into broadcasting as a career? And how did you get to the Kings?
GARY: A couple of interesting steps along the way... After I graduated from college, I was desperately searching to try to find some kind of a job.
My wife and I got married before our senior year. We were both in the same year in college, and she became pregnant. At that time, I was able to get a deferment from the armed forces because of her pregnancy. I had qualified for officers' school in the air force. I had my induction date to go to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and I was going to be flying B-52s at the time when the Vietnam conflict was starting to accelerate.
Thank goodness (for the deferment) because, the way things were escalating in Vietnam, it would have been at least a five-year interruption into my broadcast career.
I ended up going back to my hometown of Midland, Michigan, and I was working full-time at the local radio station. I got a phone call one day from my father-in-law who was a minister in Chico, California.
He had gone into radio at KHSL in Chico where he recorded lead ins and lead outs to half hour religious programming that KHSL had to have on Sundays as part of meeting its Federal Communications Commission licensing agreement.
He was in there doing that one day, and the program director came storming out of his office and said, “Preacher, I just had to fire so and so, what in the world am I going to do?”
My father-in-law, who is a large stoic man said, rather quietly, “Well, I have a son-in-law who is involved in radio in Michigan."
"Preacher, get him on the line right now.”
Two weeks later, Marlene and our then-infant daughter, Beth, headed to California. We spent a couple of years there. I was working at KHSL doing music, news and sports. (You do a little bit of everything in small town radio.)
They had a sister station, KHSL-TV, and it was during the time in between 1963 and 1965, that they decided they wanted to have local news programming, which they had never done before.
They asked me if I would be interested in being the sports guy on their television newscasts. I had absolutely no working knowledge of television but I said "yes."
So for five minutes each weeknight, I sat in a studio in front of a large studio camera, and I did what was basically a radio sportscast while talking to the camera. That is how I began to learn a little bit about television.
Fast forward a few months, I get a call from a fellow I did not know from Sacramento, Bill Zimlich.
He said, "You do not know me, but I used to work at KHSL radio in Chico. There is an opening in the sports department at KCRA television here in Sacramento, and I think you would be perfectly suited for that."
I was taken back and thought, "Wow, Sacramento and television! "
I came to Sacramento with my wife and my daughter for the day, spent a few hours at KCRA-TV just talking with the leaders of the news department.Then I went down to the studio and had an audition.
It went very smoothly. In fact, the news director said to me as we walked out of the studio, “Well, you are very good. Have you been doing a lot of these?”
I said, “No sir. It is the first time I have ever done a television interview.”
So fast forward another two weeks and we are headed to Sacramento in 1965 for a position at KCRA television.
I worked at KCRA-TV from 1965 through 1977. I was working independently after I left there, doing a variety of things in public relations and broadcasting.
After I left Channel 3, we decided that we were going to stay in Sacramento rather than uproot and and try to establish an identity all over again elsewhere. I was doing things in Sacramento that led to some opportunities as a freelancer with NBC Network television sports, primarily motor sports related.
One day early in 1985,out of the blue again, here comes a phone call from a fellow by the name of Gregory 'Dutch' Van Dusen, who was involved with the Sacramento ownership group of the Kansas City Kings.
He said, “Gary, I want to play ‘What If’ with you... What if the Kansas City Kings were to move to Sacramento, would you be interested in becoming the radio play-by-play voice?”
I gulped and said, “Well, of course.”
Why wouldn't I be interested in something like that?
So another few weeks went by and I did not hear anything. Then I got a call from another person that I didn't know.
He was the general manager of KFBK radio in Sacramento, and he said, “Gary, day after tomorrow, I am flying to Kansas City. I am going to meet with Joe Axelson the general manager and Bob Whitsitt, the assistant general manager, of the Kansas City Kings. Would you like to go and meet some of the folks in the organization and watch a Kings game in Kansas City?”
So we did that, and it was very productive in terms of meeting people, seeing the Kings for the first time. Kevin Harlan was their radio play-by-play announcer at that time.
After a few weeks I got another call saying, “Gary, the Kings are coming out to the West Coast for their final road trip of the season to play against the Lakers and the Warriors. We would like you to take a tape recorder and record those games.”
I thought that was an interesting opportunity. So I drafted my then teenage son, Bob, as another set of eyes and somebody who could help me with some stats and some numbers.
We went to LA, staying at the Airport Marriott, which was the home of the Kings when they visited LA. I was told to contact Bill Jones, who was then the trainer and travel coordinator for the Kings. He was so gracious and so accommodating.
We get on the shuttle bus, and there is Eddie Johnson, Reggie Theus, Larry Drew, Mike Woodson and their teammates. They were looking at my teenage son and me probably thinking, “Who the heck are these guys and what are they doing on our bus?”
Bill Jones was so kind and he told them that we were good people and why we were there. He asked them to treat us nicely, which they did. They were so supportive and it was wonderful.
So we went to the Great Western Forum, way up in the nosebleeds, a couple of rows behind the legendary Chick Hearn.
I had a small tape recorder in hand and Bob by my side and I called the Kings-Lakers game. Then we went to Oakland and did the same—from a much better broadcast location—against the Warriors.Those tapes were then used as my final audition by Joe Axelson once it was known that the Kings were going to move to Sacramento.
He listened to those tapes while traveling cross country on the drive to Sacramento. Not too long thereafter, when I met him in Sacramento he said, “Kid, you are a hell of a lot better than you have any right to be.”
I had not told him that it had been 15 years at that point since I had last broadcast basketball.
RAY: So your first job with the Kings was doing radio play-by-play.
GARY: Yes, I started with radio in ‘85. The first nine seasons was with KFBK radio. Then the Kings took the broadcast package in-house at the encouragement of the NBA because they recognized that you can generate ad revenue and use it for ancillary income.
It was radio-only from roughly ‘94 through ‘98. After that they shifted me to the TV side and Grant Napear went from TV to the radio side.
In those days, they did not televise all games. So I was doing a handful of games on television and a handful on radio. I was kind of doing double duty.
RAY: Do you prefer radio or TV?
GARY: Each has a certain appeal. The analogy that I have always used is that in radio you drive the bus.
You have to paint the picture. You have to create a vision so that if somebody wants to try to envision what I am seeing, I am there as a conduit. I am the one who finds the way to paint that picture and let them to watch a game unfold in their mind.
On television you are a passenger on the bus.
Everything you do is dictated by what is seen on the screen and you react to that. There is more of an ego fix when you are doing television because you are occasionally seen on camera and you have a significantly larger audience than on the radio.
That being said, I still like radio a lot. I like them both. I think I am comfortable with both but I have always been a little partial to radio because that is what I grew up wanting to do and have been fortunate to be able to realize that dream.
RAY: Your fans appreciate that you are thoughtful and prepared. It is always clear that to you it is about the listener or the viewer and not about you.
GARY: That is a terrific compliment and I appreciate that because I am not the story by any stretch of the imagination.
I am the conduit, and I am the one who tries to paint that picture in your mind or if it is from a television standpoint. I try to supplement what you are seeing with good information, good accurate content and some storytelling.
It is important to have compatibility with the analyst so that we can weave our way in and out of what we are seeing on the screen and do it in an entertaining and informative fashion.
RAY: Let's explore your preparation since it comes across as being so well done. How do you prepare for a game?
GARY: A lot of it is driven from kind of working my way up the ladder over the years from a young broadcaster to a veteran broadcaster. If you are going to succeed in anything, not only broadcasting, you have got to be as prepared as you can possibly be. I am a big believer in that.
Unfortunately, I do not have one of those minds that retains everything that I read or see.
I need fingertip reminders, and I am old school in the way that I prepare my charts for each team in each game. I have a lot of fingertip information on spot cards that I generate.
One of the things that has become helpful within the past year is that (for the first time) the Kings have been utilizing the services of Jeff Chapman's stat service, which gives fingertip bio information as well as updated stats and trends and different things like that that you can weave into your broadcast. That is a terrific tool.
Obviously, from the time I started in the mid 80s to now where you have so much information available on the internet and at your fingertips, you can touch base with so many different sources to get information. And that is a big challenge, but yet I think it is absolutely pivotal in having any success as a broadcaster.
I have a fairly regimented routine that I go through before every game, breaking down game notes, updating all statistical categories for individuals as well as the team and having those at my fingertips so that I can find ways to rather unobtrusively weave them into a broadcast.
RAY: You are now going to be the Kings' interim TV play-by-play announcer. Obviously, you have a very different style than Grant Napear. I would call his a ‘hot’ style and yours a ‘low-key’ style. Do you think that will affect how you are going to be received or how you are going to approach things, or is it irrelevant?
GARY: I would not call it a concern, but it is certainly something I am very much aware of. Grant and I obviously have two distinctively different styles. I spoke to him recently after this acknowledgement from the Kings came that I was going to be plugged into an interim role as a television broadcaster for the games that the Kings are hoping to play later this month in Orlando.
I said, “You know as well as I do how our styles are different and I am certainly not in any position where I am trying to fill your shoes. I am trying to do what I do and I will try to do it at the best of my ability.”
How people will react to that is a giant unknown.
You want energy, you want accountability and you want to have informative broadcasts. Something that is as big a challenge will be the fact that I'll be working alongside Doug Christie. That’s because I have not heard Doug on-air that much because I am doing radio while he and Grant were doing television.
During the last three and a half months or so during the suspension of league activities, I have seen a variety of Kings games where I got to see Grant and Doug in tandem together. Doug and I have great compatibility so I am not at all concerned about that.
But when you put a new tandem together, normally it would take a month or two to begin to get a real comfort zone and a rhythm. We are going to have a minimum of eight games and hopefully more to try to find that.
We have got to find it right off the bat, and this is going to be significant because the Kings are involved in something that they have not been involved in recent years: an opportunity to get into the playoffs. So it is a huge challenge.
And then, on top of that, of course, is the fact that we won't be on-site.
We won't be in Orlando under the NBA bubble. No local broadcasters are going to be there. We are going to be at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
We will take a feed from Orlando, and we will call the game off a monitor. Whatever they deem fit to show from Orlando is what we will have to react to and build a broadcast around. So there are a lot of big challenges in this upcoming business for Doug and me and our production team.
How people will receive that and whether or not they are screaming, “Man, I cannot stand listening to this guy. I want Grant Napear back!”
Who knows? I am sure there will be a little bit of that. And, yet, I hope that there will also be people who say that they have enjoyed my style. I guess we will all find out.
RAY: One of the things that is going to be markedly different is there will be no fans in the stands. Have you ever called a game like that?
GARY: I certainly cannot recall that being the case. It is going to be bizarre to say the least, and I am really torn. I just do not know how we are going to react to it.
You rely on the ambient crowd noise. It gives you energy, and you feed off of that. I am sure that Doug would tell you, as a former athlete and pro basketball player, that the players feed off it as well.
So you have the question of how will the teams respond, and then you have the question of how a broadcaster responds. And how bizarre is it going to be for a viewer or a listener? These are uncharted waters.
But we all know that and we will keep that in mind as this all begins to unfold.
RAY: One of the things that I have admired about you is your ability to present a game in a way that is not over the heads of casual fans but not boring to more sophisticated fans. Do you consider that a challenge, and what do you do so that it is appealing, attractive and understandable for fans at various levels of understanding?
GARY: It is a huge challenge that is always there. Some nights, you hit the mark and you know it and you feel like that was good. “We encompassed this, this, and this and we were able to elaborate on this, this, and this” and you just you feel good about it.
Other nights, you say, “Oh man, I missed the mark on that or I forgot a couple of really cogent points that I wanted to get in and they slipped my mind and I did not find the right time to get them into the broadcast.”
I am not one who is good in the X's and O's department, in the technical aspects of basketball.
So that is one of my frustrations. I wish I had better knowledge of how those things work so that I could try to find a way for the hardcore knowledgeable basketball fan that I can make it more palatable.
Then I think there are times when maybe that is good because there are so many viewers or listeners who are less sophisticated. You want to see it through their eyes. You want to be able to convey it so that there is an entertainment value.
I know that I am understated at times. One of the ongoing challenges for any broadcaster is you have got to have some place to go when you see a game escalate and is taken to another level. Or when an individual does something that maybe you have never seen done before and you are just all but going out of your mind.
But you have got to be under control and find a way to describe that.
I think that I have managed over years to find pretty good ways of doing that. Of course, any broadcaster loves the moment when you have high drama, suspense and a game on the line coming down to the final possessions. You find a way to amplify that excitement and clarify that drama and the significance of every possession and somehow present it so that your listener or your viewer can become part of it.
That is so satisfying when you know you have hit the mark, but it is also so frustrating when you know that you came up short. Every game is different in that respect.
The easiest games to call are the ones with high drama. The toughest ones are when you are getting blown out.
RAY: There have been lots of changes in the game during your years broadcasting. Which of them stand out to you the most?
GARY: The biggest thing that I have seen change in 35 years is the physicality of the game.
I look at highlight packages and I am reminded that it was mayhem on the floor with big bodies crashing into each other and throwing each other down. And, occasionally, swinging an elbow or throwing a punch. That was part of the game.
Now it is 180 degrees from that.
There are times when I look at something and say, “Well, that cannot be a flagrant foul, can it?” Then it turns out to be a flagrant foul.
Another way is the propensity of the three point weapon and how prominent it has become. Sacramento is one of those teams that loves the three ball, and Luke Walton wants an average of 35 threes a game.
The three point weapon is so great, and it seems like now the game is either played above the rim or from beyond the three point arc. But it is kind of sad to me that you see the intermediate face-up jumper being eliminated from the arsenal of some teams and a lot of individual players.
RAY: In the past, when a particular aspect of the game has become too dominant, we have seen rules changes to try to push it in a different direction. Do you see that happening with anything that you have just been talking about?
GARY: Well, I think that there is always that possibility. I wouldn't advocate anything because I think the product that we see right now is really entertaining.
I think that another way the game has changed over the 35 years of my involvement is how vastly improved athleticism has become in the things that big men now do routinely in the league.
To me, the quality of the product is really good. I revel in playoff time every year even though the Kings have not been involved. I watch every playoff game I can. I love the intensity and the competitiveness. I love the athleticism. It is a really entertaining product.
The NBA has done a very good job of keeping their game in the forefront, in the spotlight on a big stage and I welcome that. I do not foresee any significant change called for.
Of course, there could be something right around the corner that could happen and I will say, “Well, yes, that was a great idea. Why didn't I think of that?"
RAY: In the course of your Kings career, there have been so many intense ups and downs. Has that affected how you call games?
GARY: I would like to say that it has not had an impact because, as a broadcaster, your first and foremost challenge is to provide the best broadcast regardless of the circumstances on a nightly basis.
Yet, it would be silly to say that they do not have an influence on your broadcast. You talk about the drama and the angst that the Kings and Kings’ fans went through when there was the very real likelihood of losing the franchise and having it moved.
It was so bleak in that one stretch when it looked like the Kings were Seattle-bound and the Maloofs said that they thought they had made a sale.
There were nights before broadcasts when I had to talk seriously to myself and say, “Now look, you have got to find a way to be positive. You have got to find a way to bring excitement even though we are all facing this very possible, dreary, nightmarish outcome.”
We did not want to see the Kings uprooted and transplanted, and that was a very tough time. I found myself on the road going to an arena and thinking about whether it was the last time I would be going to be in that building.
“Is this the last time that I am going to see the people from this team or the people that are involved in media relations? Is this the last time that I am going to be able to go to a favorite hole-in-the-wall dining spot for my pre-game meeting?”
I was taking a lot of pictures. I was thinking that if I never would have that opportunity again, I wanted to have good remembrances of those amazing times.
Fortunately, it worked out. The Kings were not uprooted and we got a beautiful new arena in downtown Sacramento that is revitalizing the downtown region. It has been marvelous the way it worked out. But, boy, it was a scary ride.
RAY: Do you have favorite memories of your time doing the Kings games?
GARY: I start with things like a 35-point second half comeback on the road in Chicago against the Bulls in what I believe was Tyreke Evans' rookie season.
You just do not win games like that when you are down 35 in the third quarter, and yet the Kings ended up winning that ballgame 102-98. I will always remember that night.
I will remember a couple of games from this season, including a similar huge comeback on the road in Minneapolis against the Timberwolves. Down 27 late third; I think down 25 starting the fourth; down 17 with two minutes and fifty seconds to go in regulation.
Now think about that: Down 17 with 2:50 to go…
And then De'Aaron Fox comes up with just an amazing play on a deliberately missed free throw that perfectly caroms off the rim back to his hands. He akes it to the rim, flushes it and we go to overtime and the Kings get the win.
Game winners, over the years that come in the last moments are always something that you remember well.
Like Nemanja Bjelica hitting a 35-foot bomb in Houston this year at the buzzer off a pass inbounds. It had to be catch-and-shoot and he nailed it. It broke a 10 or 11 game road losing streak in Houston to the Rockets.
You remember Mike Bibby's winner in Game 5 against the Lakers in the 2002 playoffs. Tyreke Evans hit a half court shot after Memphis had taken a lead over the Kings on an O.J. Mayo shot with one-and-a-fraction seconds to go and the Kings got the win.
I also remember games when the Kings got absolutely annihilated.
The Kings got buried by 62 against the Warriors, 58 against Milwaukee and 56 another time. Those are brutal but they are part of the game.
There was the game in L.A. against the Lakers where the Kings gave up the first 27 or 29 points before they scored. Four free throws from Reggie Theus were the only points they scored in the first quarter to trail 40-4.
So, there have been some memorable moments. Some of them real good and some of them real bad.
RAY: Can you name an all-star five for the Kings from your years with the team, as well as an opponents' all-star five?
GARY: For the Kings, I have to include Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber and Peja Stojaković. I probably have to include DeMarcus Cousins.
I know that is frontline-heavy and I have not done justice to guards. I thought about Reggie Theus; I thought about Mike Bibby; I thought about Kevin Martin. In view of the success that the Kings had in that eight season run where Bibby was involved, I would make him probably the fifth guy.
So Richmond, Stojaković, Webber, Cousins, Bibby is the five that I would go with.
From an opponent standpoint, that was relatively easy. I am still astounded at what Michael Jordan accomplished, what Kobe Bryant accomplished, what LeBron James continues to accomplish, what Magic Johnson did with the Lakers and what Larry Bird did with the Boston Celtics.
I cannot think that there would be a whole lot of argument with that. Now, there are a lot of other people that I have been able to see play that have impressed the heck out of me, including Dr. J, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.
RAY: How do you assess this year’s Kings team from a growth perspective?
GARY: Well, growth is the key, and I have seen a lot of growth. Although fans do not want to hear it, it takes time, particularly when you have a new coaching regime in place.
I have been very impressed with what I have seen from Luke Walton and his staff. I like the fact that they deal with building a foundation and that they have a long-term vision. I have been very encouraged the last couple of years.
The Kings have been wandering out there in the desert for far too long. Yes, they have seen a mirage a time or two, but they really have not made much headway until the last couple of seasons. So I am encouraged.
I think a legitimate foundation is being built. I think that these eight games (and hopefully more) that they are going to play in Orlando are going to be a huge part of the continued growth.
They have got some nice young pieces that you are trying to build your franchise around.
There have been injury problems and that is a concern. We have hardly seen Marvin Bagley this season. He has only played 13 games. There are some really good people: De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield. Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes. They have come together as a team.
It is really unfortunate that the virus situation cropped up and there was the suspension of league play because, at that time, the Kings had won 13 of their last 20 games prior to the break. They had legitimately pushed their way into a position where they were going to challenge for that No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.
So I am very encouraged with what I have been seeing, and I am optimistic. I try to be a realist, too. I know it is going to be very difficult because of the competitive nature of the game and the strength of the Western Conference, but overall I like what I see.
RAY: What do you think the Kings need in order to complement the current core in its growth?
GARY: You always need good defense. When it gets down to crunch time, you must play good defense, and I know that that is a staple of Luke Walton and his staff.
I think the Kings have become much better in that respect. We all know that it takes a great deal of energy to be an effective defender.
That is one of the things that I am going to be watching very closely as this season resumes with the limited number of games in Orlando: Can the Kings find unity and scrape off the rust and continue to score at an efficient level, but at the same time, shut other teams down?
This is an eight game battle to get into the playoffs involving five teams. You have got to hit the floor and be good from the get-go.
It is not going to be like the normal start of a season when you say, “Well, we have got five months to try get this right and to get our rhythm and to get in stride and to be a competitive factor.”
I like the acquisition just this last week of Cory Brewer. He brings some length on the perimeter and he is a good defender. He doesn't have to have the ball in his hands on the offensive end. I like that because chemistry is important.
You do not want dissension; you do not want guys pulling in different directions.
If Bagley is healthy enough to be a part of the rotation in these eight upcoming games, that would be huge, but it is a giant unknown.
RAY: During the season, travel is so frenetic that it must make extreme physical, mental and emotional demands on you. In contrast, how have you been adjusting to the hiatus?
GARY: It is peculiar because I do not know of any time in my life in the last 40 plus years that I have not been on an airplane for three and a half months. So that alone is a huge difference.
It has also been good from a personal basis because our adult daughter, Beth, passed away at the end of March and she had a lifetime of tremendous medical and challenges. Unfortunately, in January, she suffered a significant stroke and complications set in and we lost her. That is really hard, but I am thankful that I was able to be home and be close to her and to my wife and our family in those final weeks.
I am at an age where I am considered to be in the vulnerable group. I am happy with the fact that I do not have to go to Orlando and be in the bubble.
Under the circumstances, I am glad that we will be calling these games from Sacramento and that I do not have to travel. Hopefully we will get an antidote for this virus before too many months go by and we will all get back to what we have known in the past.