Magazine article The New Yorker

Buzzer Beaters

Magazine article The New Yorker

Buzzer Beaters

Article excerpt

For a television sports broadcaster, nothing can make a career like a late-game call in a big moment. This is especially true in the month of March, during the N.C.A.A. men's basketball tournament, which has become known both for intraoffice gambling and for the frequency with which its games are decided by last-second buzzer beaters. Case in point: Gus Johnson, a former CBS announcer, became so adored for his guttural late-game outbursts during March Madness--after one "Gusgasm," Greg Gumble, the studio host, had to reassure the audience, "Gus will be out of the hospital in time for tomorrow's game"--that he is now training to be the lead voice of Fox's World Cup soccer coverage. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!

"If it's a tie game, and they're coming up the court, you're better off being a minimalist," Marv Albert, the basketball announcer, said the other day at Le Parker Meridien, where he and thirty other TV personalities were preparing for their annual gig covering the tourney. "The crowd offers a natural crescendo. There's no reason to go over the top." Albert was mulling exactly what made one last-second call better than any other, and noted that some of his favorite moments had come so unadorned that he couldn't even recall what the announcer said. "The Laettner play I obviously remember," he said, referring to the most famous shot in tournament history, a turnaround jumper by Duke's Christian Laettner. "But I don't remember the call."

Verne Lundquist, another veteran play-by-play man, remembers. "I had Laettner's shot," he said at the Meridien, wincing slightly. "I was asked once by a talk-show host in Atlanta, because that thing gets replayed all the time, 'Are you particularly proud of your call on that shot?' And I said, 'No, I'm not.' When it went in, I just channelled my inner Marv Albert and screamed, 'Yes!' "

Lundquist, who is in his twenty-ninth year calling the tournament, admits that calling buzzer beaters is neither art nor science, and is mostly instinct. For the past thirteen tournaments, he has been paired courtside with Bill Raftery. They are known collectively as the Sunshine Boys--their ages average out to seventy-one, and their rapport is that of old friends lounging in Key West--but each is famous in his own way: Lundquist for his throaty baritone, Raftery for wordplay that can occasionally tangle hectic end-of-game situations. "The worst is if I screw it up for him," Raftery said, nudging his partner. …

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