Eddie Johnson brings a unique insider’s view to his role as a Phoenix Suns announcer for Fox Sports Arizona — from 1987-1990, he played with the Suns, and has been calling their games for the past 14 years. The 54-year-old Paradise Valley resident and 17-year NBA veteran is also a motivational speaker, basketball journalist for HoopsHype.com, and author of the book, You Big Dummy: An Athlete’s “SIMPLE” Guide to a Successful Career!, which he says offers words of wisdom and inspiration for readers to follow their dreams.
He offered up his insight on the Suns’ season, as well as why he loves living in the Valley in a video, below.
What brought you to Arizona?
I was almost forced to come here because I was traded from (the) Sacramento (Kings) to Phoenix, but I wasn’t forced to make it my home. I decided to make it my home after being traded here and playing for the Suns. I came to the Suns in 1987 and got traded from Phoenix to (the) Seattle (Supersonics) in ’90. (My wife and I) still had a house here in Phoenix, and we upgraded and bought another house here while I was in Seattle.
What is it about Phoenix that made you want to call it your home?
Growing up in Chicago, Illinois and dealing with that cold weather on a consistent basis, I always told myself if I ever had the opportunity, I would live in a warm weather place. I did not want to live in the cold weather.
What’s your outlook on the Suns right now?
I’m excited about them, because coming into this season, no one thought they would do well, and they’ve surprised a lot of people. There are a lot of “no names” on the roster for the season, no superstars, but there are a lot of guys who have come forward as very high-quality basketball players.
They’ve been given the chance to excel and have been put in a great system by (coach) Jeff Hornacek and have exceeded expectations. I think the growth process with these guys we have, and adding some additions along the way, this team will be a top-notch team in the next few years.
What was it like playing with former Suns player Jeff Hornacek, and how would you characterize him as a coach now?
We were both young and both shooters. We played similarly to one another, even though he was a guard, and we would ride to the games together with (Suns Vice-President of Player Programs and former Suns player) Mark West. Our wives would come later and ride together, too, so it was a unique relationship. He came in as a rookie and not highly thought of, and started to excel and went on to have a tremendous career.
He played the game. I look at all guys who played the game, and everyone has the ability to coach if they put forth the effort and commitment. I put Jeff in that pool with everyone else. He put in his time, he played a number of years in the NBA, and he played the right way. He got along with his teammates, he had some leadership qualities, and when he got done, he wanted to coach. I would say anyone who had a career like he did and conducted themselves like him is going to have success.
To me, it’s not a surprise he’s having success because he understands what he has to do to get it done.
What made you want to get into broadcasting?
When I retired from the NBA in ’99, I did broadcasting for ASU basketball with Fox Sports. I wanted to get in the front office of the NBA, and I had some coaching aspirations, but one of the reasons why I took a step back is because my kids were in middle school, and I felt like I had been traveling and playing so long, I needed to be home for them. I thought broadcasting was an easy transition for me to stay connected to the game but also have enough time to spend with my kids.
I’ve done it so long, here I am in my 50’s getting these coaching opportunities to go to certain teams and be an assistant coach, and I turned them down because I wasn’t ready to run that gypsy route at 50. I felt like broadcasting and motivational speaking and becoming an author were things I wanted to do.
Does that mean you have no inkling of a coaching aspiration?
No, if it came my way, I would consider it, but other than that, no, I don’t chase stuff.
What’s your typical week like during the season?
I get up and study my craft because I do a lot of stuff other than the Suns. I write and do video articles for HoopsHype.com, so I have to stay in contact with the league and people I call who can give me information I don’t have.
I love to write, play golf, work out, and come here at night and call the Suns games.
Where does your passion for basketball come from?
Just being a kid and being hungry and wanting to be successful. I loved all sports and played baseball and football, but my height kept getting the best of me, so I knew basketball was my ticket. I had a will to compete at anything I do. If I decide I want to do something, I go after it, and I’ve always been that way.
That’s why I excel at basketball, and I like to think I’m excelling at broadcasting, because I try to put my all into it and don’t shortcut anything. I try to fight through and focus and learn as I go along.
How do you stand out as a broadcaster?
I’m learning every day. The one thing I do know is people can never second-guess my knowledge of the game or second-guess whether I do my homework or not. As long as I do those things, then I’m fine.
I listen to broadcasts of games and analysts. Some people fall in love with someone’s voice, and some people fall out of love with someone’s voice. People’s ears interpret things differently, and people tend to gravitate toward someone they like. I would say broadcasters are like politicians: if 50% of people like you, then that’s good, because you’re not going to please everybody.
What are your predictions for the playoffs?
First, the Suns have to get in, and right now, it’s tedious because we’re (currently in the seventh position.) I feel like whatever we do, if we do get in the playoffs, it’s going to be a tough out. I would like for us to keep moving up and get into the fifth or sixth spot, so we don’t have to play the first two seeds in the Western Conference. That’s what I’m pushing for.
Do you have any predictions league-wide?
I think Miami (Heat is) the best team in basketball. If I had to pick a team, I would say they’re going to win a championship again. Trust me, I hope the Suns can do all miracles and win a championship this year, but I’m being a realist, and it would be very difficult for them to do that this year.
But please, I’m going to be hoping like everyone else I can be proven wrong, because I’m very connected to this team.
What inspired your book, You Big Dummy: An Athlete’s “SIMPLE” Guide to a Successful Career!, and what do you hope people take away from it?
I wanted to write a book that’s very different than what most athletes write. Most athletes write autobiographies, and I felt like, if I’m a student of the game, I don’t think there’s a book out there an athlete can write, especially about basketball, where he’s going to surprise me with something he says in the book, because it’s already been documented. The way they sell the book is to put some type of dirt in there, because it’s going to get attention, and I didn’t want to go that route.
I wanted to write something I felt was going to help people improve — not just athletes or basketball players, but everybody in general. When I wrote the book, I came from a self-help angle to give people something that would help them, whether it was a business person or athlete — something they could take to learn how to dress, how to respect other people, and how to love something and persevere at it. That’s what my book is about.
I titled it You Big Dummy because I’ve always reminded myself I don’t know everything. I felt like that’s why I’ve achieved a lot, because I’ve always humbled myself and have always said to people, “I don’t know about this, so talk to me like I’m in kindergarten. Take me to the basics, and teach me.” That’s what I did with the book — a middle school kid all the way up to an adult can read this book. I wrote it on my own and published it on my own, so I had to go out and learn how to do both of those things.
It took me two years to write it, and it’s doing well. I love to go out to speak to groups and companies, basically off chapters of my book, and I’ve been busy doing that.
What tips do you have for an aspiring author?
You’ve got to love to write, and you’ve got to be OK taking criticism and getting your feelings hurt. If you can’t handle that, then don’t write, because you’re not going to finish your book. I put myself in that position, where I’d hear the criticism, but also stand firm in my beliefs and not change everything people wanted me to change.
Do your research. Make sure what you write is what you believe in, and stand by it, whether it’s negative or not.
What are some of the most prevalent messages in your motivational speaking?
Love what you do. Once you love what you do, you’re going to be successful because you’re going to put everything into it. Not only will you study your craft and work hard at your craft, when you’re away from your craft, you’ll follow the rules.
You’ll conduct yourself correctly, you’ll network, you won’t burn bridges, you’ll dress the right way, and you’ll groom yourself the right way. All those things will come to pass because you won’t want to lose it. If you’re really passionate about a job or career, you will make sure you won’t do anything to mess that up. That’s my message in the book.
Why should people support the Suns?
The (Arizona) Diamondbacks and the Suns were. The Suns are the first child of the Phoenix area, so people should support them and never think of them as anything but first.
What are your thoughts about upcoming trades for the Suns?
Well, it’s basketball, so, of course, they’re going to make some trades. It’s hard — I’d like to see a guy come here who would get them on the road to make them better than they are. It’s no one in particular, because you just don’t know. You don’t know which free agent is going to go, you don’t know which team would want to trade a certain player.
I do know, the way the Suns play now, they play an up-and-down tempo, and they love to share the basketball. Any great player who is willing to do those things would fit in on this team, and that’s the guy I’d love to see.
You’d always love to see a superstar, but no particular name. There are stars in the league and free agents coming out, but nobody who is jumping out. Obviously, we’d want a star and someone who could take great leadership and lead every night.
What are the things you miss most and least about being a pro basketball player?
What I miss most is the camaraderie in the locker room with teammates, being together and having a great time.
What I miss the least is the travel. The travel is very difficult, and it’s taxing on your body. Also, getting myself ready at the end of my career to play games was very difficult.
Do you see yourself staying in Arizona forever?
This is home. Would I move other places and try to figure things out? Sure, but Arizona will always be home.
What advice would you have for an aspiring basketball broadcaster?
Put your resume together by doing your work now. Build up your tapes, build up your library, connect with people, and work on your craft. Take criticism, because no one does it correctly, and everyone has issues. Just bypass all of that, work hard, talk to people, and try to get as much knowledge as you can.
Learn more about Phoenix Suns Announcer and Arizona Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame Inductee Al McCoy here on Phoenix People.