Calling The Shots

Chances are that at some point over the past couple of decades you’ve heard the voice of Chris Carrino.  He has been calling games from as far back as the age of 9, when he used to turn down the sound on the television and record his voice on a tape recorder.  In high school, he was a star student on the speech and debate team, and in college Carrino seemed to find his way on a path that led him to a career that combines his love for public speaking and his passion for sports. He was first given an opportunity to prove himself while attending Fordham University. From there, this young talent from Yonkers, New York, was able to land an internship on the New York Giants radio broadcast led by Bob Papa. He was also involved with the Nets and Jets on a part-time basis, which afforded him the chance to work with some of the “great names” in the business. In 1997, the Nets offered him a full-time position with the team as manager of broadcasting. From that point on, one thing led to another. Carrino has never looked back, except to reflect on his success. In fact, for the past 7 years he has been looking up – way up – to the players (who are quite tall) on the NBA’s New Jersey Nets basketball team. Countless games and interviews have earned the commentator a fantastic seat at every Nets game. He loves his job and relishes learning all there is to know about each player in the NBA. Since he’s such a fan he’d probably know all there is to know about them even if it wasn’t his job!
 Living In Marlboro recently had an opportunity to sit with the most humble Chris Carrino during the off-season to learn all there is to know about this play-by-play announcer.
LIM:  Tell us how you became the voice of the New Jersey Nets.CC:  It was the summer of 2001. I was working for the Nets as manager of broadcasting, and I would do the pre- and post-game shows. I was the backup play-by-play guy for Bob Papa, who was the voice of the New York Giants on TV (now on HBO). Bob’s contract was up… and they couldn’t come to an agreement, so Bob called on a Saturday morning. I’ll never forget…he was like, “I just met with Lou Lamoriello (who now runs the New Jersey Devils) and we’re not going to be able to make a deal, so I am resigning. I told Lou they would be crazy to hire anybody else but you for the job.” That Monday morning, Lou had me in his office at 9 o’clock and offered me the job; I have done it for seven seasons now.

LIM: So, how many games a year do you call?
CC: Eighty-two, and then playoffs – I think I have done 78 playoff games over the last 6 years; before I got the job I think, combined, I’d done twice as much as any other Nets play-by-play guy in the history of the team. Obviously, in the last 6 years we’ve played more playoff games than they [the franchise] had in 25 years prior.

LIM:  With so many teams in the league now, how do you prepare yourself for a game?
CC: At the start of the season, the first time you see a team you’ll spend a few hours making your charts on these guys…going into all the particulars of a player.  You go to the media guide, all their notes, all their vital statistics, and put it together in some form that makes it easy to find during a game. Once you see a team two, three, or four times your preparation is much less.  During the season it’s ongoing, every day reading up on the NBA.  It’s watching all the highlights, just following it. But then again, it’s probably something I’d be doing if I were an accountant.  For 6 months you bury yourself in the NBA, trying to learn everything there is to know about it.

LIM: How do you convince fans of your credibility?
CC: I think all you can do is do the game the way you know how; everything is for the listener. The more information I have, the more I can give my audience. A lot of people are nice enough to come up to me at games, or if they recognize me they’ll tell me they really enjoy listening and that’s the greatest feeling. But when I’m on the radio or TV, you don’t see your audience; you’re just doing the game. You don’t know whether you’re talking to a million people or two people.  For all you know, nobody is listening and you’re talking to your engineer and partner, but you just do the game the best you can and hope the people enjoy it.

LIM: And you have to be “quick on your feet.”
CC: Well, it’s not easy to do. It’s instantaneous and you have to be able to express your point. You have to be quick, especially on radio where, if I’m doing the play-by-play, I’m describing every action as it happens.  I pride myself on being on top of it, but doing it in a way you can understand.

LIM: Do you think you have a gift?
CC: To me play-by-play is an art form. My teacher in college, Marty Glickman, was there every week to work with the kids at radio station WFUV at Fordham University.  Marty is a legend in the business.  He’s the guy who invented basketball on the radio…the voice of the Giants, the Knicks, and the Jets for years. He would tell us, “You are painting a picture, so you have to use the stroke of the brush to add color. How vibrant you make that picture is up to you.”  So you are really an artist who is painting a mental picture for someone, just like van Gogh was different from [Jackson] Pollock. You enjoy their pictures in different ways; it’s an art form. I’m very different from John Sterling…some people enjoy John Sterling, some people enjoy me. 

LIM: What games can you point back to that will be etched in NBA highlight film history?
CC: My first 2 years that I did this job we went all the way to the NBA finals. There were so many big games early in my career…I wish I could go back and do some of those games I did in 2002 again today, but I can’t. Some of my most memorable were from my first year. There was game five of the first round against the Indiana Pacers. Reggie Miller ties and sends the game into overtime, and the Nets ended up winning in two overtimes.  The place, the atmosphere, was unbelievable.  I think I described it at the end of the game as “20,000 people leaving the arena…exhausted!” It was just an unbelievable experience. The way I remember it, that day I had my grandmother’s funeral, and I actually did a reading at the church during the service in the afternoon and then went and did probably the most memorable game of Nets history.  I’ll never forget that day and that night.  It was the very first playoff series of this run that the Nets had with six straight years to the playoffs. It was such an important game because they had gone from 26 wins the year before, never won a playoff
series in the history of the franchise in the NBA. Now suddenly Jason Kidd comes and they win 52 games, but no one really bought them as a legitimate title contender, and here we were in a life-or-death game 5 with the eight seed Indiana Pacers…they win, end up beating
Detroit, Boston, go to the finals, and lose to the Lakers. The following year they sweep the playoffs and get to the finals again; they always kind of had playoff success, but then it sort of dwindled after that. The franchise is viewed in a different light now because of that game 5 in the first round. So that is absolutely the most memorable game I had.

LIM: Jason Kidd was recently traded to the Dallas Mavericks. How do you think it’s affected the team?
CC: There were a lot of reports that Jason wasn’t happy this year, so that was affecting the team negatively. It’s unfortunate the way it all worked out, how he ended up leaving.  I think most Nets fans appreciate what Jason Kidd did for the Nets over the 6 years, especially his first few. He absolutely willed those teams to the NBA finals. You can make a case that he single-handedly changed the way people view the franchise.  I think one day he’ll be brought back and they’ll raise his number in the rafters, and everyone will have a feel-good moment. In the years I had to deal with Jason and got to know him he was nothing but a pleasure to work with, but long term for the Nets it’s the best thing that could have happened because now they can move on and focus on rebuilding the team, and they’ve got all the pieces to work with that they wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t traded Jason. Hopefully, it all works out for everybody.
LIM: Let’s talk about the possible move to Brooklyn or even the Prudential Center.
CC: As of right now, there is no plan to go to Newark. Bruce Ratner, the owner of the team, has just flat out said the Nets are just not for sale and we are going to Brooklyn.  What I want for the Nets is whatever is going to make them a thriving, relevant franchise in the New York area. I think going to Brooklyn will do that.  I think it will automatically springboard them up to the elite franchises in the area and that will help everybody. That helps the people who are trying to sell the advertising, the people trying to sell the tickets, and the people trying to enhance the fans’ enjoyment of the games with the state-of-the-art facility. 

LIM: Do you think the talent will want to come to the Nets?
CC: Oh, I absolutely do. Anything that makes you relevant, a good facility…the by-product is that it gives you the resources to go out and build a good team. The Knicks are not worried about money when it comes to building their team. They’ve had limitless resources because they are at Madison Square Garden and they have such a huge fan base.  If that can happen for the Nets, I think it could benefit everybody, even the casual fan in New Jersey.  They aren’t moving out of the market; you can still follow them.  It does affect season ticket holders if the team goes to Brooklyn, and that’s unfortunate, but if there were 20,000 of those people every night and the ratings were great, the Nets wouldn’t be looking to leave. So, unfortunately, they’ve got to go somewhere to make money. It’s a business.  

LIM: Are you a true Nets fan?  Be honest.
CC:  I’ve always loved sports.  I was probably more of a college basketball fan than an NBA fan. Growing up in Yonkers I was a Knicks fan, but I always followed the Nets.  I liked a lot of the players from the early ’80s – Buck Williams, Albert King, Michael O’Koren, Ray Williams, and Michael Ray Richardson. Those were the players I followed.  When you work for a team you start to travel around with the team and get to know the players, the coaches; you can’t help but develop an emotional interest. I’m with these guys every night and with the coaches after every game – you can’t help but become a fan.  Now, on the air I’m going to be a little more emotional when it comes to the Nets than for the other team.  You have to consider who your audience is. You try to balance it, but I think I am very fair. If the Nets are playing poorly I say so, and that’s a credit to the Nets’ ownership and management. They never tell me what I can and can’t say.  If things are wrong for them, I have to say it because if I don’t point out the negatives, then no one believes you when you point out the positives. 

LIM: So that helps in building your credibility…
CC: Absolutely. If you’re associated with a team you can’t always be sunny.  The fans know when it’s raining outside. You have to paint a true picture of what’s going on.

LIM: Who are some of the big names that continue to intimidate you, even though you are in the business? Is there anyone who stands out in your mind or who you are still in awe of?
CC: I’ve interviewed Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dominique Wilkens, Dr. J…and I really enjoyed talking to them. I don’t want to say I’m intimidated. I think I’m excited to talk to them.  You’re in awe of their accomplishments and sometimes you have to pinch yourself that you are actually sitting there talking to them.  When I interview Rod Thorn, president of our team, he’s such a brilliant guy, sometimes you have to ask tough questions. I think it’s easy to interview when you are still gushing, but to interview someone who is a powerful person in the business or in the sport… I’m more in awe sometimes when I interview people who aren’t in the business,   like Little Steven [Van Zandt]. I’m like, “You’re in the Sopranos and the E-Street Band!”  It’s exciting.

LIM: Who else intimidates you?
CC: You can go back to David Stern. He’s a very powerful person in the NBA.  If I rub him the wrong way he could somehow affect my career adversely. I’m not established to the point where I’m elusive to criticism, so that’s intimidating – interviewing a person of great power who’s done some much for the game – you don’t want to ask him a question that might upset him. To his credit, he is someone who will answer any question that you have. If it’s something that’s so important, no matter who I’m interviewing, I’ve got to address it. 

LIM: Take us back to the beginning of your career after graduating from Fordham University.  Did you have a dream of commentating games on the air at some point?
CC: I was 9 years old.  I used to turn the sound down of the game on the television and do the games into a tape recorder, so you can say the dream goes back all the way to that point.  But I really didn’t know that you could do this for a living probably until I got to college and I started working at the college radio station doing games.  My father always told me, “Go to school for a profession…for something you can fall back on.”  So I went to the College of Business Administration, but at the same time, my first week at Fordham I signed up at the radio station.  Public speaking has always been a part of my life.  I was a nationally ranked public speaker in high school in speech and debate.  I thought I was going to be the next Tom Brokaw. So, when I went down to the radio station and they asked me whether I wanted to do news or sports, I couldn’t believe I could combine my love for public speaking and sports! Then I began to know people in the business and realized that I can actually do this for a living – and that’s what I wanted to do!

LIM: Give us a couple of highlights of your career.
CC: Last season I filled in for Bob Papa for some pre-season Giants football broadcasts on the radio.  I’ve done some jobs for the NFL Network the last couple of years – NBA-TV. I’ll be doing play-by-play for NBC’s digital basketball channel during the Olympics in August, with some of the games simulcast on USA and MSNBC – men’s and women’s games, two games a day, throughout the Olympics.

LIM: What would be your dream job if you weren’t doing what you’re doing?
CC: Lead sportscaster for one of the networks, doing the lead events…The World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA finals…that’s my ultimate goal.  I guess you can say Jim Nantz of Colts Neck has my dream job.

LIM: What do you do during the off-season?
CC: I chase my 4-year-old around!  I like to spend the time with my family that I don’t get to during the season. I just look to do a little freelance.

LIM: So you’re married?
CC: Yes, and we have one 4-year-old boy.

LIM: Is he into sports?
CC: He is a sports fanatic. He knows more NBA players than Sesame Street characters.  There’s no doubt about that!  He loves coming to the games.  He’s genuinely interested in it.

LIM: What about your experience living in Marlboro?
CC: My wife Laura grew up in Brooklyn.  I grew up in Yonkers.  When we got married we lived in Staten Island. We originally settled up in Wayne, but it didn’t feel like home to us.  I’ll never forget that when we came to a friend’s house for a barbecue down in Marlboro they said we’d be crazy not to look here. So we did. My wife and son are comfortable here; they have to be since I’m not around all the time.

LIM: What are some of your other hobbies or interests, other than sports?
CC: You’ve got to have balance. Sports are the biggest part of my life…but it’s not life and death.  I like to make sure I follow current events, I like to cook; I subscribe to those Italian cooking magazines! I like to go out to a great dinner. I follow music and movies and I have over 2,000 songs in my iPod!  I love reading in the off-season, when I have the time.

Favorite restaurant: Roberto, on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx
Favorite musician: Pearl Jam
Favorite movie: The Godfather
Favorite sports figure: Mariano Rivera
Pet peeve: able-bodied people who park in handicapped parking spots
Three people you’d like to have dinner with: Leo Ferrity, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder

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09 Sep 2016

By Gayle Davis