Mr Collins! How do you do?!
The Charlotte Hornets have been a fun and intriguing story during the NBA season, and the play of LaMelo Ball has been a huge reason. But the story that’s also getting talked about in the center of it all is the game calling stylings of Hornets’ play by play announcer Eric Collins.
If Ball is the story, Collins is storyteller that is making the story jump off the pages and draws you in-making your interest in the Hornets go from just ‘taping in’ for curiosity to ‘locking in’ to see what’s next. For references, look at the times that Collins has trended and gone viral. Fans on social media rave about the energy Collins brings.
Fans from other teams are discovering what Hornets fans already know. Collins is an incredible play by play announcer who brings and keeps that same energy game in and game out. I had the pleasure of speaking with Collins a few hours before the Hornets and Timberwolves game-discussing his career , all things Hornets, the excitement he brings to Buzz City and now to League Pass.
Six years ago, you replaced Steve Martin, a man that’s been with the team since its inception. What was it like to call your first game with the team> What kind of pressure did you feel if any? How are you feeling now?
EC: When I actually got the opportunity to first come to Charlotte,I was a little bit worried because I knew that Steve had been here for so long, and a lot of people don’t like change. My previous job was in LA and I worked for the Dodgers, and I had to job share with Vin Scully, and that was a very difficult situation just because of the respect and admiration that the entire world had for Vin Scully- and for some interloper to come in there, it was hard. So, I was worried about doing the exact same thing here in town and I even asked a couple of people: ‘What’s Steve Martin like? Is this going to be difficult?’ and they said: ‘Wait a year and ask that question again and tell me what the response is.’
So I went in there with open eyes and open arms, and Steve was unbelievable! Steve Martin was the most welcoming person. He showed me around Charlotte; showed me around the team; showed me around the NBA and made everything so seamless. And the simple facf that he was still with us-instead of doing tv, they moved him over to radio went to radio-It made a huge difference because people didn’t have to go cold turkey without Steve Martin. He was still in the mix. He was still in everyone’s daily lives, and I was kind of able to do my thing. Every time anyone would ask Steve ‘ hey, what do you think about the new guy?’ Even though he’s never heard me because he was doing radio while I was on TV, and he possibly couldn’t hear me-but every single time without fail he’d say: ‘I love Eric Collins. I think he’s doing a great job. I like the way he calls the games’. That made things really easy on me both mentally and also in terms of fitting in. The respect that he gave me, I would never be able to repay.
You mentioned working with the Dodgers part time, and you also covered baseball for the Olympics in 2008. You also worked a little bit with the White Sox. What was it that drew you to basketball and to Charlotte in particular?
EC: I love baseball. I love the rhythm of baseball. I love the stories of baseball. I like the strategy. I like the persistence in the minor leagues, and guys busting it to get there, and once you get there it’s like the promised land and you fight like hell to stay there. I love the whole concept of baseball.
But who I am as a person and as a broadcaster, well first you have to take any job you can get. That’s the rule of the business. There’s 30 NBA jobs and there’s 30 Major League Baseball jobs, and that’s really it. So , if you want to work in this business , it’s either Major League Baseball or the NBA or else you struggle and do college games. I never was good at saying ‘no’ to a job, and baseball happened to be first, and it was great. I loved it but I always kind of knew in the back of my brain that my energy, and my passion, and my excitement level fit really well with basketball. Like I said, I wasn’t goning to turn down and job and the Dodgers job was fantastic and it was a childhood dream come true. But long term with me for a fit professionally I felt basketball would be where it’s at.
What kind of transition period did you experience jumping from MLB to hoops? Was it difficult at all or was it seamless?
EC: One of my first opportunities was in the nineties. I was living in Chicago, and I was working as the Chicago Bulls sideline reporter. So I had a chance to travel with the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and those guys were playing. I got a chance to stay in NBA hotels, go to NBA arenas and see all the NBA cities. I understood what NBA life was like.
Now I did leave for a 15 year window and so my life was basically all baseball and I could have told you the second base man on the Double-A team for the Detroit Tigers of any period in that window. I was all in with baseball. So maybe sometimes my knowledge base of the NBA wasn’t as the same as MLB, but the way my brain works, I’ve always had such a love and appreciation of the NBA and what goes in that brain doesn’t come out for some reason in terms of scores but in terms of remembering sports stories that’s always stayed in my brain. So it was easy to get back to the NBA. I had the previous experience doing NBA stuff and getting back into it was relatively seamless for me.
What was it like as a Bulls sideline reporter during the Jordan era?
EC: I wasn’t there for the first three peat. I was there for the second three peat. So Horace, BJ (Armstrong) those guys were gone, but I was there for Michael, Scottie, Rodman and Steve Kerr. That was unbelievable and I don’t have any problem saying that. I will never experience anything like that again in my life. My very first experience in professional sports and I was at the mountain top, and this past spring when they came out with the Last Dance documentary, it was awesome.
I was living my life once again. I was just a ‘fly on the wall’. I was hardly a big mover and shaker at the time, but I was there for every bit of it. I was in a couple of those background shots and I was interviewing Scottie Pippen. It was kind of cool for my kids to see that their dad, first off looked different but also had a court side seat to something that was monumental in the sports lives of a generation of people. So, I’ll cherish it forever-getting a chance to see greatness on a daily basis.
Watching Michael Jordan was something that kind of changed my life in a sense that he didn’t wake up great. I saw him work and I saw him get after it. I saw how it pained him when things didn’t go his way and how he was going to make sure that it didn’t happen again. It was life lessons. I was doing my job and getting a paycheck, but I was also learning about the human condition and what greatness is all about and what it takes. Forever apprecaitiave.
You have gone viral with some of your reactions lately and you don’t have a Twitter. How do you feel about those moments of trending ? What is it about your style that resonates with people?
EC: I think a raising tide raises all boats, and I think that with LaMelo Ball coming into town, and we didn’t understand what kind of following he had and all of a sudden, we got extra eyeballs. To me, like you mentioned, I don’t do Twitter. I like broadcasting. I like putting it out, I don’t necessarily like reading it back in. I don’t like to get in to the back and forth, I like to celebrate people and it’s too much negativity for me. Maybe that will change in years to come but that’s always been my philosophy. There’s nothing different in my world. I call the games the same way since I started holding a microphone.
To be honest with you, when my life changed I was a general assignment reporter in the mid 1990s and I was working-covering city council meetings, homicides and arsons at a CBS affiliate in Rochester, Ny. It was a white collar job and they pay you money, but it was one of the most difficult jobs mentally in the world. I saw some stuff and I had to do some stuff, and it was hard. I built my entire life professionally to get into position to get that job, and I got it.
And I said : ‘You know what? This isn’t what I want my life to be. I made a mid career shift. I believe in television. I believe in the medium, but I don’t want to hold a microphone if I can’t have a smile on my face. I want to celebrate man’s accomplishments . I don’t want to revel in their downfalls. So I’m out. I’m not going to do news anymore, I’m going to do sports because that’s where I could find joy. So I said to myself, if someone ever pays me to hold a microphone and talk about a sports game, I was going to let that joy come out. I had enough of the negativity and the difficulties of being around news and television. If I were ever going to hold another microphone, it would be joy expressed.
There is a perception that some analysts and broadcasters in the game that don’t really like what they are covering, When you’re not working and watching other games, have you noticed this? If so, why do you think there’s a lack of energy and disconnect?
EC: Well I do think that some people are jaded. I think when you get a chance to go and see 82 basketball games a year to some people, you would lose interest. That’s never happened to me and I can’t imagine a world in which it does. I purposely and maybe this helps me to a certain extent-In the last twenty years, I haven’t listened to a broadcast with the sound on.
That’s kinda been my thing is I watch sports, but I got a wife and two daughters who are not interested in sports so I genuinely don’t punish them with putting on sports and having an announcer talk to them. I also believe that I don’t want to lose my own voice. I don’t want anyone else’s opinion in my head. I don’t want anyone else’s thought process or how they go about the game or any of that kind of stuff. I respect me, and I respect how I approach a broadcast and how I approach my own research. I don’t want anyone else’s …anything else. Anyone else’s mojo to come in my head. I don’t ever want to be on the microphone and say something and have my mind trace back like “Sheesh, did you get that from someone else’s broadcast? Isn’t that some one else’s catchphrase?” I don’t want to waste time with that. So maybe one of the reasons that I stay fresh, or I like to think I stay fresh is I watch and I know what’s going on in the world but I don’t listen. The only person I listen to is myself so that’s kind of been my life long philosophy in terms of broadcasting.
LaMelo Ball is killing it this year. He’s front runner for Rookie of the year. What is it like watching his progression? How far do you think he can carry this team now and in the immediate future? Do you think the Hornets have found their guy?
EC: I have no question. I’ve seen this guy play for 26 games and to me, it’s like watching Beethoven compose a symphony. I feel like I’m that close to watching an absolute genius at work. I don’t think even he realizes it. I think that he’s just playing like he’s always played. He’s playing differently than anyone else I’ve seen, and I’ve watched a ton of players over the years. There’s a lot of different ways to play basketball, but no one plays exactly like him. He plays with a joy, and an energy, and an exuberance, but he also plays with a style that’s different from anyone else. He’s in different spots on the floor defensively than everyone else is. He’s in different spots of the floor offensively when he’s choosing to throw passes.
He’s playing the game like we’ve never seen before. He’s 19 and guys like this-who are putting up number like they are doing at the age of 19, they don’t go backwards. History has shown that if you are really good at 19, you will be unbelievable at the age of 25. I can’t wait to keep watching this guy. Whenever you play a game, you can’t talk to the opposing announcers before the game, and say ‘Hey look out for this. Or this guy is trending here or this is a story you may want to tell.’ Whenever I talk to opposing announcers, I tell them that he (Ball) will do a minimum of three things throughout the course of today’s ball game that you’re going to say ‘My goodness! I’ve never seen a pass from that angle. I’ve never seen someone attempting to do this. Or he got that steal because he was thinking about something that was possibly going to happen four seconds into the future, and he just knew it was going to happen.’
Win or lose, the Hornets are just fun to watch but I think there’s going to be more winning than losing in the immediate future because this is a young team that is consistently gotten better as the seasons has gone on for the first three years under this coaching staff. James Borrego and his guys give opportunity early in the year. Guys have to earn playing time but as they go forward, they get better.
Last season, when the season ended so quickly and they weren’t invited back to the bubble, it really hurt the Hornets in the sense that I thought they were playing fantastic basketball. They were playing the best basketball of the season. I was really looking forward to the last month of the year because I thought they were going to do some damage. I think if they had that final month in the regular season last spring, I think they wouldn’t have gone in this year with people not knowing what they really had. I think there would have been a little more buzz about the Hornets this year.
What do you feel that the Hornets lack right now in terms of taking that next step?
EC: It’s kind of small things. I think the Hornets need someone to grab that rebound. When there’s a possession late in the game, and you get a defensive stop-you need that rebound. Then you go the other way and get fouled or go the other way and get yourself a bucket and the game is over. The Hornets sometimes have a hard time getting that difficult, in-traffic, contested rebound and there’s always a doubt as to who’s going to get it despite the possibilities. It’s not just that one guy that you would say ‘This is it! He’s going to get this rebound and this possession is going to be over. So I think that’s something that is do-able and realistic. Rebounding is something that’s continually bitten them late in games. There’s a bunch of polishing that needs to be done, but to me that’s the biggest area that needs improvement.
As the Hornets continue to get League Pass attention, NBA-TV attention and some people are tuning into the Hornets for the first time, What should audiences and what should fans expect from a Hornets broadcast and from the team?
EC: When you turn on that broadcast, you will see and hear joy. Everyone is welcome. We are the most welcoming broadcast in the NBA. I want the die hard Hornets fan to watch, and I also want her to bring her husband to the game too. I want everyone. I want the kids. I want the senior set. I want people who don’t like sports just because we are going to talk about some things and have a good conversation. That’s what it is. I don’t know if it was Eisenhower or if it’s Truman but he said ‘Everyday, I read the sports section before reading the news section because the news highlights man’s downfall, while the sports highlights man’s accomplishments ‘ and that’s what we try to do on a nightly basis. We are trying to highlight the accomplishments of this organization. It’s fun. It’s a broadcast that puts a smile on the face. The bandwagon has plenty of seats. And if we start getting a little crowded, we will add on seats.