Al McCoy is a superhero in the Valley.
In 1972, the broadcaster started calling Phoenix Suns games and has been a franchise mainstay ever since.
This year marks his 50th season with the team and his calls such as “Shazam” and “Zing go the strings” highlight the passion Valley fans have shown for the Purple Gang from Phoenix during the decades.
Shazam comes from Captain Marvel where a boy can transform into a superhero by thinking or speaking the magic word. A lightning and thunder display usually follows the words when spoken.
A strong, energetic call can usually be heard from McCoy after a Suns player makes a 3-point shot during games.
Tonight, the Suns undoubtedly can use some enthusiasm as they take on the New Orleans Pelicans in Game 5. The series is tied at two games apiece in a best-of-seven series.
McCoy, 89, hasn’t missed a ton of basketball games during his tenure.
One report said he only missed one game due to illness.
“That’s not actually right,” McCoy said. “Because when my mother passed away, I missed a couple of games and they probably didn’t include that. I missed more than that. And then, a year ago, for the first time, I started not doing some of the road games.”
Still, the Suns broadcaster has an ironman-like work ethic.
McCoy said he thought his ultimate goal of being a team announcer for a professional sports franchise would be realized in an entirely different sport before he started with the Suns.
He had stints calling minor league baseball and hockey games — for the Phoenix Roadrunners — before he landed the job with the Suns.
“Initially, I thought it probably would be baseball,” McCoy said. “In those days, baseball was more active at hiring announcers.”
Over the years, McCoy said a lot has changed with the NBA game. In the early 1970s, there were 16 teams and the 3-point shot didn’t exist. Now, there are 30 NBA teams and the league has worldwide exposure.
With 50 years of teams and players, McCoy has plenty of stories during his time with the Suns.
In one, he said he called an Majerle shortly after the Suns selected him with the 14th overall pick in the 1988 NBA draft.
A roar of boos could be heard on draft night at the Phoenix Convention Center after Suns officials made the selection.
“Yes, I did (call him),” McCoy said. “We called him on the phone and I talked with him because it was kind of crazy. I know you’ve heard the story — when he was drafted, the fans that were in attendance (at the Phoenix draft party) started to boo. They didn’t know who Dan Majerle was. But I got ahold of him on the phone and talked with him. After spending just a few minutes on the phone, I could tell what a competitive guy he was. Certainly, he turned out to be one of the best.”
McCoy said he tries to tell listeners exactly how the game is being played at any one moment.
“I want to see the Suns win. I’m happier when they win then when they lose. But my philosophy in broadcasting has always been to call the game the way it is being played. If the Suns are playing poorly, you can’t change that. If a particular player is not hitting their shots, you can’t change that. So my approach has been always to describe the game as it’s being played. But however, I’d be the first to let you know that if the Suns win that game, I’ll go away happy.”
During the game, McCoy has the freedom to add his own flare to a particular contest.
“As a broadcaster, you are doing a game — you are going to be on the air for several hours,” McCoy said. “I think you have to make your broadcast listenable. Sometimes, you know, you can be a little off-beat. Or, you can put a little humor into the broadcast. I mean, we are not talking about some real serious event (that affects the world). We are talking about a game. I think you have to approach it that way.”
The current team has a good leader in Chris Paul, a point guard in his second year with the team, McCoy said.
The Suns have had stellar point guard play from “all-time greats” that include Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, he pointed out.
“I always knew Chris Paul was a good player,” McCoy said. “I just never knew how really good he was until he put on the Suns uniform. He is one of the premier players ever to play the point guard position. He does so many things that you just have to watch and see to understand. He sees the floor, he knows how to make plays and he’s definitely in a class of his own as one of the all-time point guards and one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of describing.”
The ride of the 64-win team has been a good experience for the long-time broadcaster.
Fans have gotten a bit of a treat after the team suffered a long playoff drought before the past two seasons.
“It’s always really been a Phoenix Suns town, so to speak,” McCoy said. “For a lot of reasons — you’ve had great players, great teams — have never won it all. But they’ve had outstanding fans. The Suns have really been without question, the team the majority of the fans follow.”
McCoy turned 89 today and said he wants to see the Suns win tonight at Footprint Center. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. The team will have to overcome the adversity of being without Devin Booker tonight, he said.
“Well, they need it — there is no question about that,” McCoy said. “The last few games in this opening round have been frustrating for the Suns and they need to turn it around. I’d like to see them do it (tonight) so I can be a little happier blowing out my birthday candles.”
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