Longtime Utah sports broadcaster Paul James, the voice of BYU football and basketball for 36 years, has died. He was 87.
James, who was also a longtime sports anchor and reporter for KSL-TV, was on the call for some of the most iconic moments in BYU sports history, including Danny Ainge’s full-length drive to beat Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament and BYU’s come-from-behind win over SMU in the Holiday Bowl.
James lived most of his life in the Olympus Cove neighborhood of Salt Lake City and retired from broadcasting the same year, 2000, that the late and legendary BYU football coach LaVell Edwards stepped down.
“Paul James is the reason for my career,” said the man who succeeded the legend as the ‘Voice of the Cougars,’ Greg Wrubell. “He taught me how to do play-by-play, by instructions, and by example. I could never hope to duplicate his delivery, or even truly replace him, but I have tried my hardest to be prepared as he was, and as dedicated as he was.
“He represents for me the gold standard in the profession, and I was blessed to work alongside him. He was my mentor, and he was my friend. He was kind and generous, and supremely talented — in so many ways.”
In all, James provided commentary and play-by-play for more than 400 football games and 900 basketball contests and was known throughout the West due to KSL’s 50,000-watt radio broadcasts. Many fans wrote on social media Monday about their memories listening to James’ game calls at various locations around the entire country.
James was born in Ogden and was student body president at Ogden High before attending the University of Utah on a Rotary Club scholarship. He got his start in the profession doing weekend sportscasts on KDYL-TV in Salt Lake City and did play-by-play on University of Utah football and basketball games for a half-dozen years before joining KSL in 1965.
James suffered a heart episode prior to the 1996 BYU-Utah game at Rice-Eccles Stadium but refused to leave the booth until the game was over and completed the broadcast before driving himself to the hospital, where he underwent six-bypass heart surgery.
He missed just one football game in 36 seasons — the first WAC championship game two weeks later — due to the heart surgery.
James wrote a book about his experiences broadcasting BYU games called “Cougar Tales” and was inducted into the BYU Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
“Paul is an amazing man,” Edwards wrote in the book’s foreword. “He is an insatiable reader, a world traveler; he’s well-educated, a trivia master, an actor, and even a magician. He’s always the center of a large crowd on our trips, entertaining the players with card tricks, impersonations, and ‘war’ stories from previous campaigns. His great intelligence, quick wit and easy-going manner lend themselves well to his association with others, in and out of his profession.”
In his later years, James became one of the top tournament bridge players in Utah and an avid oil-painter. He sold prints of more than 100 of his works.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 60 years, Annette, in 2011.