|How did sports influence your teen years?|
I wanted to play professional basketball. That was my dream as a high school All-American. I was blessed to be on the varsity team of [Maryland's] DeMatha Catholic High School, which was the Duke of high schools in the '60s. The fact that I made the team was a humongous deal among my peers, but Mom could not care less. She told me, "If your grades ever fall below a certain point or you aren't here getting your homework done, you're never going to play basketball again." And she was serious.
Is that why you chose Harvard over schools like Kentucky or North Carolina?
I truly admired Bill Bradley for his academic and athletic excellence when he was at Princeton. I was hopeful that I could do the same thing and be a positive influence, particularly for African-American athletes who, most would assume, would only go someplace just to play sports and would not be as successful in the game of life. Those were very difficult political and social times. Black Panthers. Students for a Democratic Society. The Vietnam War. It was a real turbulent time, to say the least. Then I got drafted by the Atlanta Hawks and thought, "This dream is going to happen," only to have the athletic rug snatched from underneath my feet.
Did an injury end your career?
I wish I could claim that as an excuse. I just wasn't deemed good enough by the coach to make the team. I felt exceedingly good about my training camp, and even Pete Maravich and a number of Hawks' veterans said, "You can play. Just keep your nose clean, work hard, and it should work out well for you." The next day the coach is calling me into his office. I'm thinking he's going to congratulate me, but he's letting me go. The following year, Red Auerbach invited me to a Boston Celtics camp and I gave it one other good shot, but I was the last rookie cut from the team.
What did you learn from those disappointments that might help teens today?
I got complacent when I was in college. I didn't work as hard or as diligently, and my high school coach's words are ringing in my ears to this day. He said, "While you're sitting back relaxing, taking it easy during the off-season, there's somebody out there working in the sun, working, crafting, sharpening, honing their skills. And guess what happens if the two of you ever meet on the same court? Guess who wins that battle?" I had rested on my laurels, and I vowed never to let that happen again. That's pretty much been the work ethic I've applied in life ever since.
Is it true that you got your start behind the mic doing NBA games in Washington, D.C.?
I didn't have any TV experience, but people saw my sincerity and saw I had a knowledge of the game. I worked hard at it, and then I would knock on an executive's door, a producer's door, a news director's door, a commentator's door and ask them to take a look at my tape and give me some feedback. After that I did college sports with Black Entertainment Television, and then some regional basketball games for NBC. The people at CBS saw me just after they'd gotten the NCAA tournament contract, and brought me in for that first weekend when we had a zillion-and-one games.
How would you define your talents as a broadcaster?
I'm not a sports geek who can call off stats from 1955 in some game between UCLA and whomever. My thing is more interview oriented, getting inside someone's head for the human interest aspect of a story. I love sitting and talking to a political figure or headline maker in the world of news—hard news—as much as a marquee athlete. But my role and responsibility doing football is to understand the sport as well as I can and know the strengths and weaknesses of my colleagues. Are they more statistically oriented? Are they better storytellers? Do they have a good understanding of the strategy and the execution of a play? Can they get it done in 15 or 30 seconds? Do they need more time? I factor in all of that so I know during the post-game and half-time shows who to go to on certain topics and how to set them up. It's important for me to make them look as good as possible, because I certainly believe the old adage, "A rising tide lifts all ships."
Has it been tough working on Sundays?
Obviously, I'm missing church during the football season, which is why Wednesday night Bible studies are so very important to me. That is, in essence, my Sunday service. When my wife talks about how our marriage has worked with the challenges of travel and as busy as I stay, our faith is fundamental to all of that. I'm blessed to be a youth minister at our church. That keeps me grounded in terms of making sure that I'm walking the example. TV is my avocation; God's business is my vocation.