Just after the Suns set a new franchise record last month with their 63rd win of the regular season, Al McCoy was finishing calling the game on local radio as he has in Phoenix for the past 50 years.
To his surprise, star Suns guard Devin Booker was standing right in front of third of him at his broadcast position in the row from center court at what is now called Footprint Center. Booker peeled off his no. 1 white jersey, signed it and gave it to McCoy in an gesture of love, respect and appreciation.
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“I just looked up and there was Devin Booker with his jersey, grabbing both of my hands,” McCoy said the other night in an exclusive interview at the same broadcast position. “That was really an unforgettable moment, because I was so shocked.”
It was a no-brainer, said Booker, who told his teammates in the locker room before the April 5 game of his intentions if they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers. The Suns finished with a record setting 64-18 mark and are now vying to defeat the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the NBA playoffs after losing Game 6 at Dallas Thursday night, 113-86. Decisive Game 7 is Sunday back in Phoenix.
“He’s literally the voice of the Suns,” Booker told Sportico. “I wanted to pay him honor for the sacrifices he’s made being on the road with us for a long time. I’ve just always had a huge appreciation for him.”
McCoy is about to be honored again by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He’ll be only the 18th member ascending to the Rocky Mountain Southwest Golden Circle for his 50 years of broadcasting, primarily with the Suns. He’s called more basketball games for any single NBA team than any other announcer, surpassing the Lakers’ tenure of Chick Hearn, who died in 2002.
“The gold is the top award, I guess, and they only give it out on rare occasions,” McCoy said. “I’ve been around that long.”
McCoy is a child of the Midwest, growing up in Williams, Iowa, population 600, where he taught himself how to call high school sports. He wound up in Phoenix announcing minor league baseball and could have made the grade doing any of the major professional sports.
He wound up working for the Suns when he put together an edited audition tape off an NBA preseason game played at the Coliseum, and Jerry Colangelo, the team’s former owner and then its general manager, bit.
“That’s exactly right, I forgot about that,” said Colangelo, when reached Thursday by phone. “He was a local guy, and we decided to go with him. We thought he’d do a great job and turned out to be a lot more that that. He’s responsible as much as anyone for selling the Suns and the NBA not only in the city, but in Arizona and the entire southwest.”
Colangelo also used him to fill in broadcasting games for baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks.
Fifty seasons later he has a World Series ring for working on the 2001 broadcast crew when the D-backs defeated the New York Yankees, the only pro championship in Phoenix sports history. His top basketball moments are a pair of triple overtime games in the NBA Finals, a loss to the Celtics in Boston Garden in 1976, and a victory over the Bulls in Chicago Stadium in 1993.
“That would only be exceeded by an NBA title,” McCoy said. “No question about it.”
The Suns lost both those above-mentioned final series, and another last year against the Milwaukee Bucks after winning the first two games at home.
He’s 89 now—his birthday was April 26—and he knows the 24-second clock on his stellar career is ticking down.
Like Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game or another pitcher amassing 300 Major League career wins, McCoy doesn’t think a broadcaster spending 50 consecutive years with one NBA team will happen again.
“No, no, because the business has changed so much,” he said. “There are so many venues now locally and nationally for announcers to be on. Nobody is going to be crazy enough to be with the same team for 50 years, so I doubt it.”
Secondly, even though he’s still sharp, healthy and on his game, he isn’t sure he’s going to be back again to the call the Suns next season. Already, he no longer travels, just doing the home games.
He said he could work another 50 years. “But why? I’m really thinking about giving it up, because I want to give somebody else a chance,” he said.
He’ll determine that after the playoffs are over.
Meanwhile, Booker may be the player most affected by his departure. The 25-year-old, who’s becoming one of the NBA’s most prolific scorers, loves basketball history.
“Yeah, 100%, since Day 1,” Booker said. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for it.”
To that end, McCoy told the story about his induction into the Suns’ Ring of Honor along with many of the players and coaches he’s befriended and covered during his long career. It happened in 2015-16, Booker’s rookie season.
McCoy looked over to the Suns bench during the halftime ceremony and there was only one player sitting on it: Booker. Players come and go, and McCoy has thus far outlasted them all.
“He deserved it, and I didn’t want to miss out on that, even though it was in my first year,” Booker said. “Just a respect for somebody being with the franchise for that long. I knew it was a big deal. Our relationship only took off from there.”