Play-by-Play, but First: Charting Stats, Hour by Hour

December 28th, 2914

Scott Cacciola

From: New York Times
CLEVELAND — Six hours before the fickle madness of another N.B.A. game, Pete Pranica sat at a desk in his hotel room here with some of the tools of his trade: several sheets of legal-size paper, a portable printer, eight felt-tip pens, a stick of glue and a small pair of scissors.

Pranica, the play-by-play voice for the Memphis Grizzlies’ television broadcasts, was getting ready for the team’s road game against the Cavaliers earlier this month by transferring data for 20 statistical categories — everything from points per game to field-goal percentage to offensive rebounds — to a white index card.

As he does before every game, Pranica was using a black pen to write the name of the category and an orange pen for each team’s leaguewide ranking. The statistics were written in blue (for the Grizzlies) and red (for the Cavaliers), although Pranica was not fully satisfied with one of the shades.

“I wish I had a darker red for the Cavaliers,” he said. “But you have to make do with what you got.”

Within the small fraternity of basketball broadcasters, Pranica, 50, is known for being particularly fastidious. Even though games are impossible to predict, Pranica does everything he can to prepare. He approaches each broadcast, he said, as if the last guy on the bench could have the game of his life.

“I would feel very vulnerable if I walked into a gym and did not have all of this,” said Pranica, now in his 11th season with the Grizzlies.

So he assembles color-coded charts packed with tidbits. He prints out notes, cuts them by hand and affixes them to index cards that he can refer to during timeouts. He searches for patterns and trends: Which players have shot well on the road this season? Pranica even scours the bios of referees. He estimates that he only uses 10 percent of the data that he collects.

“But you never know which 10 percent you’ll need,” he said.

Live television and radio broadcasts are high-wire acts for the men and the women who convey the play-by-play action of N.B.A. games. There are no do-overs, no second takes. And because of cable and the Internet, regional broadcasts have a wider reach than ever. What these announcers say can go global (for better or for worse) within seconds. So they rehearse and research and try to make sense of a fast-paced game before the first shot is even attempted.

Fred McLeod, who does play-by-play for the Cavaliers’ telecasts, typically spends 20 hours preparing for each game, he said, sifting through newspaper articles, talking to players and coaches, and assembling his notes.

“If they show me a shot of anybody on the floor, I want to immediately have a story to tell,” McLeod said.

Mark Boyle, who has manned the microphone for the Indiana Pacers’ radio broadcasts for 27 seasons, has developed a system that features a pair of highly detailed rosters that he pastes to manila folders. He highlights some of the most pertinent pieces of information, going so far as to use two shades of yellow.
“Everybody does it differently, but there are also similarities,” Boyle said. “What we all need is information in front of us, because we don’t have time to search for it.”

Pranica wants the best material available to him for the roughly two and a half hours that he is on the air for SportSouth, the Fox Sports regional network that carries most of the Grizzlies’ games. That often means setting his alarm for 6 a.m. (especially if the Grizzlies have back-to-back games), cracking open his laptop and plugging in his printer.

Hours before the Grizzlies’ game against the Cavaliers, Pranica had no idea whether he would have an opportunity to tell viewers that the Grizzlies’ Jon Leuer had played in Germany during the lockout-shortened 2011 season. Or that the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving had committed just eight turnovers in his previous 13 games. Or that LeBron James was 593 points from passing Allen Iverson for 22nd place on the career scoring list. But Pranica wanted to be ready. So he reached for a pen.

“Whoops!” he said, realizing that he had nearly used blue ink instead of red for the Cavaliers’ second-chance points. “We’re going to take that pen and put him in timeout.”

He placed the blue pen at the far end of the desk, safely out of reach.

Rob Fischer, the sideline reporter for the Grizzlies’ telecasts, said that he used to work with Bob Carpenter, the widely respected baseball announcer.

“I never saw anyone prepare like Bob Carpenter,” Fischer said, “until I met Pete Pranica.”

Growing up in Sobieski, Wis., Pranica listened to Jim Irwin, who was the longtime radio voice of the Green Bay Packers, and to Eddie Doucette, the original play-by-play broadcaster for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Today, Pranica pays homage to Doucette by using one of his catchphrases — “Bango!” — whenever a player hits a big shot.

Pranica also learned from Hubie Brown, the former Grizzlies coach who has since become a television analyst. During his coaching days, Brown would have a sheet of notes with him whenever Pranica interviewed him before games. Pranica would try to glance at them to get a sense of what Brown thought was important to know.

As part of his current routine, Pranica constructs a small card of statistics that he calls the “mini Hubie.” He wants to think about the game as a coach would, he said. It can be a painstaking process. For example, Pranica said he had tried nearly every type of pen before he found one that he liked: Le Pen, manufactured by Marvy Uchida.

“Writing small is very, very important,” Pranica said.

Technological advances have made parts of the job more efficient. Pranica recently began using a software program called Broadcasters Edge, which uploads statistics onto a formatted roster. In the old days, Pranica would need to research those numbers himself and write everything by hand. Turbulence on airplanes was the enemy.

With so much information readily available, the larger challenge is sorting through it all and identifying the most useful pieces. But Pranica said he still enjoyed the quiet ritual of preparing for games. It ensures that the information is fresh in his mind — and that he knows where to find it once the game begins.

That much was clear during the early moments of the Grizzlies’ game against the Cavaliers. As soon as the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love isolated against one of his defenders on the perimeter, Pranica was quick to point out that Love ranked among the top first-quarter scorers in the league. Sure enough, Love drained a jumper.

“And he rains that one in,” Pranica said as he and his broadcast partner, Brevin Knight, blended action of the game with analysis and insight.

Pranica goes out of his way to avoid watching old broadcasts — “I hate listening to myself, I really do,” he said — and tends to dwell on the missed opportunities.

“After the telecast, you’ll go and look over your cards and you’ll be like, ‘Ah, I didn’t use that stat, and that would have been perfect,’ ” Panica said.

Earlier this month, a couple of days after the Grizzlies had beaten the San Antonio Spurs in triple overtime, Pranica was visiting with Chuck Swirsky, who does play-by-play for the Chicago Bulls. Swirsky told Pranica to save the tape of that game.

“It’s always nice to hear from your peers: ‘Hey, you were on top of it. Your stats were accurate,’ ” Pranica said. “One of the great misconceptions is that you just show up and start talking. Only other broadcasters know how time-consuming it is to prepare properly.”

And, perhaps, a few others. For Christmas, Pranica received another box of Le Pens.

“My family knows me too well,” he said.