Joe, thanks for the memories and inspiration
Five quick thoughts on Joe Tait, the end of an era and a television special you won't want to miss...
1. I can't say I'm lucky enough to "know" Joe Tait or to have worked with him directly, as many of my colleagues can. But I can say I knew of Joe Tait long before I ever went to middle school. I've written before about being a sports junkie since I was old enough to pick up a ball (and, usually, watch a more athletic kid steal it from me) and I have memories of the old radio I kept by my bed and the hundreds of games I'd listen to when I was supposed to be sleeping at night, treating every pass and every rebound like it was the most important in basketball history. Joe Tait didn't just make it sound that way to 8- or 10-year old me, he made it feel that way. He brought it to life. And I lived and died (damn you, Michael Jordan) with every call.
2. I listened to tons of Cavs games back then and let my imagination run wild. I also went to the Richfield Coliseum fairly often — not season-ticket type often, but four or five times a year. I'd go with my mom's cousin, and we'd catch Joe and the rest of the pregame radio show on the way. When I'd go with my dad, we'd always leave to beat traffic (one of my dad's signatures) and listen to Joe's call on the way home. One time, when I was very young and my dad was working second shift, my mom scored tickets right behind Joe's perch. I didn't watch much of the game. I watched him work, watched the papers he shifted with and read from, and listened to his call. I saw it through his eyes and "called" it to myself. I kind of knew I was never going to be Craig Ehlo, but I figured I could be something or somebody involved with the game. Joe Tait seemed a good place to start. I had no idea he was the only voice the Cavs had ever known or that he would one day be one of the all-time greats, but I knew he was somebody. And because he brought those big games to life to me, he was somebody special.
3. When I was playing high school basketball — more accurately, when I went to basketball practice each day — I was a slow, 5-foot-9 point guard with a 6-9 wing span. At the end of a drill I'd often drive to the hoop, simulate a tomahawk dunk and slam the ball off the front of the rim, yelling "Wham with the right hand!" when I did it. It was the kind of class-clown tomfoolery I performed often as a teenager, but the call was a nod to Joe. It was a subtle and unintentional tribute, I guess. To this day, I'll make that call as I watch highlights or even watch a game live. And besides wondering if anyone else around is wondering why I'm so strange, I'd sometimes recently wonder if Joe would ever get back for just a few more games. He did this spring, and he's deserving of these final tributes. The show airing this week has some really strong stuff.
4. The past five or six years, I've had opportunities to broadcast basketball myself. It's a fast-paced, difficult job that includes packing a bunch of names and a bunch of description into short sentences and hoping it comes across as something close to clear English to the listener or viewer. I'm sure mine often didn't, and in evaluating myself I often thought of Joe doing 100-plus NBA games a year by himself, how incredibly talented, prepared and sharp, even at an advanced age, he had to be to do that. And not just to do it, but to do it while mixing wit, wisdom and criticism with sponsorship obligations. He's one of a kind. I've heard him call Mount Union football, something he truly loves to do, and just hearing that voice and the ease with which he embraces a job that he probably does simply for his own entertainment, makes you appreciate his talents. There's little about broadcasting sports that's easy, but most of it sure sounds easy from Joe. He'll be missed.
5. The FOX Sports Ohio special, "Have A Goodnight, Everybody," is absolute must-see TV. It's not only a fitting (and somewhat emotional) tribute to Joe, but it features great storytelling and provides an incredible look at the history of the Cavaliers franchise. I won't go giving away too much, but most of the important names from the memorable eras are in there. Their stories range from hilarious and shared before to the serious and behind-the-scenes, never-been-told variety. It airs immediately after Wednesday night's game and again at various times through the weekend. Watch it, record it or both. It will take you back.
Thank you, Joe, for all the good nights.