Kragthorpe: There's still only one Hot Rod
Borrowing most of legendary Los Angeles Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn's signature phrases was Hot Rod Hundley's way of honoring him.
Consciously not copying Hundley's style is David Locke's tribute to him.
The Jazz will honor Hundley during tonight's game with Sacramento at EnergySolutions Arena, staging the first formal recognition of his retirement in April as the franchise's radio play-by-play broadcaster for 35 seasons in New Orleans and Utah.
In a sense, he's still the only traditional play-by-play man in team history. That's because Locke mixes interview clips, commentary and conversations into the broadcast, while not feeling compelled to account for everything on the court.
"I don't call the game the way any of my idols do," Locke said.
Hundley is one of them, and Locke speaks reverently of him. A Jazz "icon," according to team president Randy Rigby, Hundley was as identifiable as any player during the team's early years in Salt Lake City. That recognition factor was boosted by the team's simulcasts on radio and television. Once that practice ended, Hundley did radio-only broadcasts for his last four seasons.
Locke's style more resembles TV play-by-play. He figures televised games are so common now that fans expect that approach. For anyone accustomed to hearing Hundley account for every pass and most dribbles, Locke is a bit jarring. So most fans I surveyed this week miss Hundley, who's now 75, while starting to appreciate Locke's strengths.
"With Hot Rod, the detail was so good you could easily visualize it in your head," said Jordan Rasmussen of South Jordan.
"Hot Rod, God bless him, was definitely among the very last of a generation," said Lincoln Hirschi of Salt Lake City.
While Hundley's approach took tremendous passion, covering every possession from start to finish, Locke's style requires its own level of energy and organization. He's willing to sacrifice some play-by-play details for background and statistical trends, serving almost as his own analyst and delivering "geeky numbers," in his words.
Locke will not always update the game's score after a basket, much less the player's point total. The tradeoff is a bigger-picture broadcast, including taped sound bites and live conversations with the Jazz's TV studio hosts, often during the action. Locke, 39, believes listeners can compartmentalize the game, picturing a player standing at the free-throw line while he's discussing something else.
Locke's signature moment of his first season came when the Jazz trailed Cleveland by two points. As the players lined up for the last sequence, he said, "Why do I have a feeling this is gonna be Sundiata Gaines and the storybook is gonna be so good, it's unreal? Let's see what happens."
Sure enough, the rookie ended up with the ball and delivered the winning three-pointer. "He got it!" Locke exclaimed, sounding at lot like Hundley in that moment.
Labeling himself "an objective homer," Locke models Hundley's attachment to the team. "I do miss Hot Rod, but ... the more I have listened to [Locke], he is growing on me and getting better," said Tom Albano of Sandy. "I like the fact he is a real Jazz fan and I like the enthusiasm Locke brings."
Monday, when Phoenix's Goran Dragic hit another three-pointer, Locke muttered a Charlie Brown-style "Aaaargh" and said, "Are you kidding me?" He also reflected the mood in the building when the Jazz rallied from 17 points down in the third quarter to beat the Suns.
Locke has a few go-to phrases -- "cock and hammer" is a good one, describing a one-handed dunk -- but he's nothing like Hot Rod in that regard. Hundley unabashedly took the likes of "yo-yo dribble," "frozen rope" and "hippity-hop" straight from Hearn, having teamed with him on Lakers broadcasts before joining the expansion Jazz in New Orleans in 1974.
So it is fitting that Utah's tribute to Hundley includes naming the arena's media room for him and a banner in the rafters, just as the Lakers have done for Hearn.