Utah Jazz: 33 years later, the voice of the Jazz keeps rolling along
By Steve Luhm
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Dec 29 2012 01:05PM
Jazz point guard John Stockton took Thurl Bailey’s inbounds pass near midcourt and, with 3.5 seconds left in the game against Chicago, sped toward the basket.
Stockton maneuvered past two defenders and, as time expired, spun the ball against the glass. He gleefully punched the air as it settled into the net, giving Utah a miraculous 108-107 victory over the Bulls.
Michael Jordan had scored 40 points.
The Jazz had trailed by seven points with 38 seconds remaining.
Yet Utah somehow defeated Chicago on Stockton’s off-balance layup.
The capacity crowd of 12,616 at the Salt Palace exploded, which, it turns out, was a good thing for Dan Roberts.
If anyone had heard his spur-of-the-moment reaction to Stockton’s game-winner — especially someone like Jazz owner Larry Miller — Roberts’ reign as the only arena announcer in franchise history might have ended on Nov. 15, 1989.
"I actually said, ‘Holy [bleep], did you see that?’ " Roberts recalls. "But it was so loud — fortunately — that nobody heard me."
Millions of Jazz fans have heard Roberts over the last 331/2 years, beginning in 1979.
Not sure of the exact number, Roberts estimates he has worked at least 1,600 home games, including the preseason, regular season and playoffs.
"Dan’s got that voice — the deep, very mellow voice," said Grant Harrison, the Jazz’s vice president of game operations. "... It’s not too harsh yet bold enough so he can be heard. He’s got that golden voice that not too many people have."
Roberts downplays the notion that he employs a particular style behind the mic — "I just try to communicate with the fans" — but his trademark is known throughout the league.
Once or twice during every game, Roberts will encourage the crowd to make noise by asking, "How ’bout this Jazz?’ "
Roberts got the idea while reading a Sports Illustrated issue.
"There was a story in there about Georgia Tech," he said. "The headline was, ‘How ’bout them ‘Dawgs?’ I said to myself, ‘Hey, I can use that.’ "
Roberts rattles off a long list of his memorable games, including those during the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals against Chicago and a triple-overtime win over the Bulls in the regular season that ended with Jordan’s ejection.
One moment is especially etched in Roberts’ memory. Perhaps surprisingly, it did not involve what happened on the court. In 1993, the Jazz played host to the NBA All-Star Game. Karl Malone and Stockton ended up as co-Most Valuable Players, which thrilled Roberts.
"... But what I really remember," he said, "is the national anthem by Boyz II Men. It was unbelievable. Just ... unbelievable."
Roberts has developed a few friendships with players and coaches over the years, but not as many as you probably imagine. He’s actually gotten to know more NBA officials, including the late Earl Strom and Ed Middleton.
Still, there are limits.
When Roberts’ desire to see the Jazz do well was once detectable in his description of a play, Middleton walked over to the scorer’s table and lectured him.
"It was against Denver and one of their guys got called for a foul," Roberts remembers. "I said, ‘Oddly enough, the foul is called on whatever the guy’s name was.’ Ed came over and said, ‘We don’t need that kind of crap from you.’ "
Roberts was born in Ely, Nev. But his father, who was a doctor, almost immediately moved his family to Salt Lake City so he could join the staff of the old Veterans Administration Hospital.
Roberts attended Skyline High School and enrolled at the University of Utah, where he played football for one year.
"I got clobbered," he said.
Roberts married and started a family while attending Utah. He did not graduate because, after his wife became pregnant, he needed to find a job.
"Like they said in the movie [‘Animal House’]," Roberts laughed, "seven years of college down the drain."
While working part-time at KALL radio, Roberts got to know Grant Nielsen, who was the arena announcer for the Utah Stars of the old American Basketball Association.
One day in 1971 — after the Stars won the ABA championship — Nielsen told Roberts he was taking a job in Seattle.
Roberts "nominated myself" as Nielsen’s replacement with the Stars and, after auditioning with "15 or 20" others, he was hired by general manager Vince Boryla.
Roberts stayed with the Stars until they folded early in the 1975-76 season, but he stayed involved in basketball by taking a non-paying job at the University of Utah.
It was worth it.
Roberts worked the 1979 Final Four and was a front-row witness to an epic championship game: Magic Johnson and Michigan State defeated Larry Bird and Indiana State.
"I got $200 for those two days" from the NCAA, Roberts said. "But I got to be part of history."
Six weeks later, the NBA approved the Jazz’s move from New Orleans to Utah. Roberts was back in business, getting the job over a handful of other applicants.
"Dan will be here until he drops," Harrison said. "Seriously, he will. ... There’s nobody else that I have seen or heard that I would rather have sitting in that chair.
"He’s very easy to work with and he doesn’t get rattled. ... He hasn’t got that ego that takes over and it becomes all about him."