Shazam! Al McCoy headed to Suns’ Ring of Honor

PHOENIX — The Valley’s NBA team is known for its orange and purple colors, the Suns Gorilla mascot, Hall of Fame players such as Connie Hawkins, Charles Barkley and Steve Nash.

And Al McCoy’s voice.

McCoy, who came to Arizona to call Triple-A baseball games, found a home broadcasting Phoenix Suns games and has been behind the mic since the 1972-73 season.

He has broadcast baseball, hockey, Arizona State sports and roller derby. He served as a ring announcer for boxing events and pro wrestling cards.

But McCoy became synonymous with Suns basketball because of his connection with fans, energetic personality and unique catchphrases such as “Shazam!” or “zing goes the string” on made shots and “Oh, brother!” or “Heartbreak Hotel!” on a miss.

McCoy will be honored for his place in the franchise’s history when he is inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at Talking Stick Resort Arena during Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is the 15th person to be inducted.

“I guess my initial thought is I’m surprised it hadn’t happened a long time ago,” said former Suns player and coach Paul Westphal, a Ring of Honor member. “He’s such an iconic figure in the city and in the Suns organization.

“It’s just an honor that anybody around Phoenix knows that it’s well deserved. Certainly, there’s no Ring of Honor without Al McCoy in it.”

Tom Leander, a former Suns television play-by-play man who now hosts the team’s pregame and postgame shows, said it was only a matter of time before McCoy was inducted.

“He’s basically the soundtrack for everything that is the Phoenix Suns,” Leander said. “I mean, you go back to the early days and the first trip to the Finals in 1976 and the Sunderella Suns and all the incredible calls that he made during that season, including Gar Heard’s ‘Shot Heard ‘Round the World’ in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Celtics, and all the way through to the modern day.”

Jeff Munn, a former Suns public address announcer, said The Voice of the Suns probably deserves some credit for the Valley still having an NBA franchise.

“He sold basketball to this town when there wasn’t a real interest in basketball,” Munn said. “When Al got the job, the Suns went through a period where they were not very good and the crowds at the (Veterans Memorial) Coliseum were like 4,000 a night.

“There were some real concerns about whether or not they were going to survive. I’m not saying that, without Al the Suns aren’t here, but I think their popularity went way higher because he was their voice.”

In sports broadcasting, “legendary voices” are an exclusive club. McCoy is in it as a recipient of the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Tim Kempton, McCoy’s current radio broadcast partner, said McCoy deserves to be mentioned among the iconic voices in the business.

“I think Al may not get the national recognition that maybe a Vin Scully does because he’s a local broadcaster,” Kempton said. “Vin Scully is more widely known, but Al is definitely in that same era of guys that have a distinguishable voice that people know when it comes on.”

Kempton recalls his first broadcast alongside McCoy and the veteran broadcaster created a comfortable environment to put him at ease.

“I’d be sitting there next to him and out of the corner of my eye, as he was ready to pass it to me, I could see his finger getting ready to point at me (to) talk,” Kempton said. “So for me that was very comforting. It became a little bit of a joke as people noticed it and they would joke, ‘hey, did you get the finger tonight?’ ”

As McCoy’s fans fell in love with him on the air, it was the man off the air that colleagues most enjoyed.

“He is a gentleman at all times,” Munn said. “People like to say about a person, ‘I’ve never heard somebody say an unkind word about so and so,’ but I’ve never heard Al say an unkind word about anybody else. He is as good and decent a person as I’ve come across in the broadcast industry.”

Westphal agreed.

“He’s the same on the air as he is off,” he said. “He’s a kind man. I don’t think I’ve ever seen (him) put on a different face then you would expect him to have. He’s just a really consistent, kind professional, on and off the air.”

McCoy, 83, is calling his 45th season of Suns basketball and has made no mention of plans to retire. The Voice of the Suns is still going strong.

“When you think of the Suns, you think of Al McCoy,” Westphal said.