Al McCoy is one of the Valley’s biggest legends. The Phoenix Suns radio play-by-play announcer has been calling Suns games for 42 years as the longest-tenured announcer in the NBA. The Arizona Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame inductee never misses a beat on the court while amusing listeners with his colorful commentary — including his unforgettable catchphrases, such as “Shazam!” (Learn all about the origins of his most popular exclamations here.)
Fans can get excited: the 80-year-old Glendale resident and Williams, Iowa native has absolutely no plans to retire. Listen to him on KTAR (620 AM) and KMVP (98.7 FM), and read on for his impression of this year’s team, as well as to learn about his favorite jazz musicians — McCoy is a talented piano player himself. McCoy also shares his five favorite reasons for living in the Valley — scroll down to watch the video.
What brought you to Arizona?
I came to Phoenix in 1958 to do minor league baseball when the major leagues had realigned. The New York Giants had moved to San Francisco, the Brooklyn Dodgers had moved from Brooklyn to LA, and the Giants moved their number one farm team from Minneapolis to Phoenix. I was working in Buffalo, New York at the time, and I came out here to do minor league baseball. I worked for what was then KOOL radio and KOOL television.
What do you attribute to your passion for basketball?
As a kid growing up, I played in high school and loved the game and have always loved basketball and still do. When I got into the broadcasting business, I did baseball, football and hockey, but basketball was always my number one passion.
If you go to a football game, you might see two or three great plays — maybe a long pass or a long run. If you go to a baseball game, you might see some super plays, maybe a big home run or a great play in the outfield. If you go to a Suns game, an NBA game, there’s a great play every 24 seconds.
How do you characterize this year’s Suns team, and what do we need to do to win a championship?
They’re a fun team. I think it was expected of them, and they have come together as a team. As a result, their record is much, much better than anyone had anticipated — whoever those experts are that do that anticipating, I don’t know, but they’re a fun team to watch.
That’s the main thing. I don’t think anyone thinks they’re going to win an NBA championship. We’re hoping maybe a nucleus will arise from this team that will go on to bigger and better things. Right now, they’re a team that comes out and plays aggressively.
What do we need to improve on?
If they can build a nucleus of this group and then add to it with draft picks or free agents, then if they do that successfully, they can climb up into another era of winning ball games in the NBA.
Do you think the Suns should go after any trades this season?
No. Trades are problematical. Maybe next year before the season starts, there could be some free agents, veteran players who are big-time scorers who might want to come to Phoenix. But right now, I don’t think there are any trades — but they don’t ask me about that.
You’ve been with the Suns more than 40 years. What are your best tips for staying energized with the road trip grind?
There are a lot of distractions. This is my 42nd year — the busses, the planes, the hotels are all part of it. As long as I’m able to divorce myself from those problems when they throw up the ball and start the game, I’m OK.
I’m still able to do that. I still enjoy the challenge of the games, and the other things you push aside and keep going.
Do you have any solid retirement plans?
No. I used to take it a year at a time, then a month at a time, then a week at a time. Now, it’s a day at a time. I don’t have any plans.
You play piano.
I would describe myself as an intermission piano player because I don’t play that much anymore. I did play professionally for a number of years. I’m an avid jazz fan and very appreciative of jazz.
Who would be your dream musician to duet with?
There are a lot of great piano players. Oscar Peterson is one of the all-time greats. Erroll Garner was a very stylized player who was a very good friend I enjoyed listening to. Red Garland — you could just go on down the line. There are so many great players — that’s why I got out of the business, there were too many great players.
Where can people find you when you’re not calling Suns games?
That’s a secret. I’m hiding. I’d probably be some place listening to music.
What’s your typical game day like?
Preparation in the NBA is an ongoing thing. It’s an everyday thing of being kept up-to-date of what teams are doing and players are doing and the league is doing. Now, a lot of that is available on the Internet, which is good, but still, you read a lot of newspapers.
Then, you prepare for an individual game. I try to set aside a few hours in the afternoon to concentrate on the team we’re going to be playing. Then, I like to be at the broadcast location at least a half-hour before we go on the air to kind of get in the mood.
Preparation and concentration are the two vital parts, I feel, for being an adequate play-by-play broadcaster.
What’s it like to watch Jeff Hornacek as a coach after you’ve watched him as a player?
It’s interesting. I think Jeff has done a terrific job. I don’t think people were aware when he was hired as the head coach of the Suns, this is the way he grew up. His father is a basketball coach. He played at Iowa State — Johnny Orr was the coach there, one of the outstanding college coaches of that day.
Then, he played in the NBA, for Cotton Fitzsimmons and Jerry Sloan. He was virtually really prepared to be a head coach in the NBA. I think it’s apparent his influence and his coaching ability has the Suns where they are right now.
Do you have any other goals after accomplishing so much?
No, I don’t really have goals. You know, 42 years is a long time. I always wanted to be with just one team, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to leave Phoenix over the years, but hey, it’s a good life. I like being here, I like my job, and it’s been a good ride.
What’s the secret to having such a happy, long, healthy career and life?
I don’t know, but if I ever find out, I’ll bottle it and sell the first bottle to you.
What advice do you have for aspiring play-by-play announcers?
I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of young people, and I think the biggest thing is you have to realize there are going to be a lot of sacrifices in this business. First, you have to find a place where you can get a lot of experience. I was fortunate because I grew up in the Midwest. There are a lot of radio and TV stations there, small markets where you have the opportunity to get experience.
Then you have to realize, if you’re going to be involved in play-by-play or other aspects of the business, there are no holidays. No one shuts off the radio or TV just because it’s a holiday. You have to learn to live with those things and be willing to make some sacrifices along the way. You do those if you love what you’re doing.
What stands out to you about the fan base here?
The fan base here is great when you’re winning. We’ve had some tremendous years with sell-out crowds and great teams. Of course, the Suns have been in the NBA Finals twice, once against Boston, once against Chicago. There were triple-overtime games in both of those, for the first time ever in the NBA Finals, and our fans were terrific. I hope they continue to be.
Learn more about Phoenix Suns Fox Sports Arizona announcer Eddie Johnson here on Phoenix People.