by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Every once in a while, we pleasantly surprise ourselves when walking through the local bookstore and come across a new release that we were not expecting to see. So it was earlier this week at the local Barnes & Noble in Henderson, Nevada when stumbling into a gem of a new book recalling one of the most interesting announcers in sports history, the late Bill King. And, if some are to be believed, the best basketball play-by-play man of them all.

We cannot recommend highly enough the new book from Wellstone Press entitled Holy Toledo...Lessons from Bill King: Renaissance Man of the Mic. Written by King’s former Oakland A’s broadcast partner Ken Korach, Holy Toledo is full of tales about the colorful former voice of not only the A’s, but also recognizable as the longtime play-by-play man of the Oakland/L.A Raiders as well as the San Francisco/Golden State Warriors.

(As for that “Holy Toledo� title, it was King’s trademark phrase, much as the “Whoa Nellie� was for Keith Jackson, saved for the most-exciting moments of the games Bill would broadcast, and wholly appropriate for any King-themed book.)

Indeed, it was long a topic of debate as to which of the sports was actually the best to be broadcast by the goateed and handlebar-mustachioed King, whose look was once described as a “satanic countenance� by Sports Illustrated’s Ron Fimrite. That King moved smoothly between all of the sports was a testament to his vast talents behind the microphone. Even Bay Area sports insiders were split on which was King’s best between football, basketball, and baseball. Such as Greg Papa, the current play-by-play voice of the Raiders, who has been able to trademark a variation of King’s famous TD calls (“Touchdown R-R-R-R-R-Raiders!�) as his own.

“I can say without any reservations,� offered Papa in Holy Toledo, “that without doubt Bill King is the greatest radio broadcaster in the history of the United States.�

That observation by Papa was echoed by Pat Hughes, the longtime play-by-play man of the Chicago Cubs who also spent a dozen years as Bob Uecker’s sidekick on Milwaukee Brewers broadcasts and also was quoted by Korach in Holy Toledo. “Bill King was the greatest radio play-by-play man, and I’m talking all-around--football, basketball, baseball--in the history of our country,� said Hughes. “He was the best all-around play-by-play man and I will tell you the truth, I don’t think there was anyone who was even close.�

Hughes’ observations are echoed by the one-and-only Marty Brennaman, who will be starting his 41st season as voice of the Cincinnati Reds this spring. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a more versatile announcer than Bill King,� said Brennaman in Holy Toledo. “You (Korach) and I are forever going to be identified solely with major league baseball and a team. Bill King is associated with three teams, and while you marvel at the fact that this guy was so good in every sport he did--and make no mistake about it, for people reading this, he was as good as it got--I think that can hurt you a little bit, I really do.�

To what Brennaman was referring was acknowledgment as one of the greats in Marty’s speciality, baseball, in which Brennaman is one of a handful enshrined in the broadcasters wing in the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown as a winner of the Ford Frick Award. Korach and others would like to see a campaign mounted to honor King posthumously with the Frick award. Although it is perhaps one honor that will continue to avoid the King legacy.

“What hurts him as far as the Frick Award is that he was so good in football and basketball,� said baseball broadcasting historian Curt Smith, author of the definitive review of baseball play-by-play men, Voices of the Game. “People don’t think of him primarily as a baseball announcer.�

While King’s work with the Raiders and A’s might have been more familiar to most, a large section of King’s fan club actually believed basketball to be his best sport. And while most hoops fans like to identify with their “own� hometown announcer as the best-ever (legendary sorts such as Chick Hearn among Lakers fans, Johnny Most for Celtics backers, etc.), a case can also be made for King, of whom longtime Warriors fans (and many others) still swear was the best of them all.

Those who believed King was the supreme basketball announcer include a wide collection of sorts. Such as Tom Meschery, a product of nearby Saint Mary’s and a former NBA forward who played with the Warriors (and happened to be on the floor the night Wilt Chamberlain scored his 100 points in 1962, the season before the team moved to San Francisco). Meschery was also a deep-thinking type who would love to engage King in all sorts of debates away from the world of sport, including Meschery’s complicated and intertwined family history with links to the Russian Revolution. And Meschery was one of many convinced of King’s basketball play-by-play greatness.

“I don’t think there has been any announcer who has been able to create a visual landscape of the game like Bill, and that includes all of the greats,� Meschery said to Korach in Holy Toledo. “He was the absolute best basketball radio guy I’ve ever heard. There was nobody like him.�

King’s basketball style was certainly unique, for unlike the many shouters and screamers who succeeded him, he saw the game as it unfolded and plays as they were developing. King’s ability to identify screens and action away from the ball was almost singular among basketball play-by-play artists. Moreover, King’s command of the language lent an extra dimension to his broadcasts. And few play-by-play men could rise to the occasion for an exciting moment such as King, whose vivid and colorful descriptions of key plays and moments in the games he broadcast remain forever imbedded in the minds of those who listened.

King’s voice, noted Korach, lacked some of the booming bass notes of some of the classic broadcasters (such as longtime Bay Area icon and Frick Award winner Lon Simmons, voice of the Giants and 49ers, and for 15 years the partner of King’s on A’s broadcasts), but he had a distinctive sound all his own, and like the great play-by-play men was able to use his voice as an instrument, transitioning from conversational to excited without any hint of contrivance. But his voice was seasoned and pleasant, and nobody could use their pipes to crystallize a moment any better than King.

Though spending most of his career in the Bay Area, King’s talents could have played in any locale. “I think Bill King would have been successful in any radio place he went,� said a longtime friend of King’s, the iconic John Madden, in Holy Toledo. “He was the best. He had too much talent to say that he needed an area to be a star. I honestly believe that Bill could’ve done it anywhere.�

Like many in his profession, King was raised in the Midwest and got some of his first radio gigs working minor league baseball in the region. While in Peoria, Illinois, he would also call basketball games for the Bradley Braves in the days before “exclusivity� of radio contracts for schools; multiples of stations would often also broadcast the local college teams, and for a while both Bill and none other than Chick Hearn would be calling Bradley play-by-play action on different stations in the 50s. On a whim, King decided to move to the Bay Area in 1958 and look for work, which he quickly found, providing color commentary for college basketball on the local Channel 2 alongside longtime Bay Area personality Bud Foster. Shortly thereafter, King was hired as the play-by-play man at Cal, coinciding with the Golden Bears’ rise to prominence on the hardwood and back-to-back Final Four appearances under HC Pete Newell in 1959 and ’60, winning the NCAA title in the former.

Another fan of the early days of King was future Oakland A’s owner Wally Haas, he of the Levi Strauss & Co. lineage and in those days a grade-schooler when King would broadcast the Bears. “I was focusing on Cal teams at the time,� said Haas in Holy Toledo, “but what made it so interesting was Bill could paint a picture like nobody’s business. This was before it was really on TV and you were really at the mercy of the radio and however that announcer was going to do his thing. But listening to Bill you could see, it was in such detail. It was not just the play-play-play, it was the color he added at the same time and doing it all in sort of this machine-gun style, because you had to, it was just a faster game. I loved it because it was Cal but I also loved it because it was Bill King. I listened to and watched any sport I could then and he stood out as being so much better than everybody else.�

As part of the book title (“Renaissance Man�) suggests, to say that King was colorful would be an understatement. As Korach noted, the Bay Area that King found in the late ‘50s was perfectly suited to his eclectic tastes in not only sport, but culture, jazz, food, art, etc. And King, according to Korach, was hungry to take in everything and enjoy the freshness and energy of the scene. On the Road, the Jack Kerouac classic that was published a year before Bill moved to the Bay Area, evoked a world of Sausalito nights and jazz joints in San Francisco and a furious rush to experience it all, which Bill did with a voraciousness that, if Kerouac would have known him, might have made King a character in the book. Within months of arriving, King would buy his first boat, the Kahuna, a wooden sloop of about 26 feet that King would anchor in the marina at Sausalito, in Marin county and just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco...a perfect place for King to call home.

As Korach described, those were the days of easy camaraderie among all who loved the sea, and Sausalito attracted all kinds...most of them colorful. King fit right in with this company. Korach’s descriptions of King’s many non-sports adventures, including a zesty passage on where King liked to dine on the road, adds more flavor to the book.

While King’s interests were varied and would include art (King himself would became an oil painter of some repute; one of his works, a panorama of San Francisco as seen from Sausalito, graces the back cover of Holy Toledo), music (jazz in particular), history, and language (King would eventually learn enough Russian to be conversational in the language), sports was his calling card, and when the NBA Warriors moved from Philadelphia in the fall of 1962, King was the choice of owner Franklin Mieuli as the play-by-play man. The Bay Area was college sports territory in those days, but Bill taught the locals about the NBA. As Korach noted, King brought games to life; as a listener, you were in the arena with him. Still, the Warriors would barely draw a total of 100,000 fans to the Cow Palace in their first San Francisco season, despite Wilt Chamberlain pouring in 45 points per game.

The thought of two cool customers like the larger-than-life Wilt and the colorful King hanging around one another has fascinated many. Those around in the early ‘60s say that the two had a mutual respect for one another. “Wilt hated phonies,� said teammate Tom Meschery to Korach. “I think Wilt admired Bill a great deal. One of the things about Wilt was he never b.s.’d anybody and neither did Bill.�

King, of course, would also soon make his mark with the Raiders when hired as the team’s play-by-plan man by Al Davis for the 1966 season. King’s many calls of Raiders action (including George Blanda’s heroics in 1970 and the infamous “Holy Roller� TD scored by Dave Casper at San Diego in 1978), both in Oakland and subsequently their existence in L.A., have been immortalized by many NFL Films productions.

But it was with the Warriors with whom King would also be identified in the ‘60s and ‘70s. (One colorful passage refers to the game in Seattle in 1968 when King might have been responsible for a Warriors’ technical foul, the subject of the “Mother’s Day� chapter.) Specifically, the wondrous and unexpected 1974-75 NBA title campaign about which Korach devotes another entire chapter. As it deserves, a magical season as well as a special one for this writer who grew up a Warriors fan, and recalls that playoff run fondly.

Indeed, Korach’s chapter on the 1974-75 Warriors remains one of the few published recollections of that unique team and season. The title of that chapter, appropriately, is “Bill’s Favorite Team Ever: The ‘75 Warriors,� and is one of the more compelling in the book.

That Golden State team had emerged not quite out of nowhere, finishing at 44-38 (and barely out of the playoffs) in the previous 1973-74 campaign, but was hardly considered an NBA title threat entering the 1974-75 season, either. There were several detours for that team, featuring Rick Barry, as well. Including some deep financial woes being experienced by owner Mieuli that forced GM Dick Vertlieb (another colorful character of the era) into some creative bookkeeping just to keep the franchise afloat. Such as an at-the-time very controversial trade of longtime great C Nate Thurmond (who dated to the Chamberlain era in the early 60s) to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for a less-decorated center, the 6’9 Clifford Ray. It was not a traditional basketball deal; Vertlieb was also trying to balance the books, and saved a cool $500,000 by moving Thurmond while also picking up future draft choices (one of which to be eventually used upon La Salle’s Joe “Jellybean� Bryant, the father of you know who).

Korach describes that season partly from recollections passed along by King, who compared the Warriors’ defensive play that year to the great Cal teams coached by Pete Newell. Largely responsible would be assistant Bud Presley, a longtime junior college coach but who was targeted by then-head coach Al Attles as a defensive mastermind who could impart those fundamentals to the team. The fact that Barry and the rest bought into Presley’s defensive mindset was crucial in the Warriors (rechristened as “Golden State� in 1971) ascent up the NBA ladder in 1974-75. The trade for defense-minded Ray, who shared pivot duties with shot-swatter deluxe George Johnson, would also pay dividends; by that stage of his career, Thurmond, though once a great defensive presence, was too slowed by knee problems to impact games on the stop end as did the Ray-Johnson combination. Attles would also make great use of his bench that season, with ten or more Warriors often seeing action on any given night.

The tale of the 1974-75 Warriors is riveting stuff, including detailed recollections of the playoff run that included a punishing seven-game Western Conference final vs. Dick Motta’s rugged Bulls. Down 3 games to 2 and headed to Chicago for Game Six, the Warriors played lockdown defense to score an 86-72 win and force a dramatic Game 7, back at Oakland. With CBS on hand for a rare midweek nationally-televised game, and a young Brent Musburger and recently-retired Oscar Robertson providing the descriptions, the Warriors used their defense to make up a double-digit deficit and hold the Bulls to just 32 points in the second half. That 83-79 win would set up the final round vs. the heavily-favored Washington Bullets, featuring Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, and Phil Chenier.

Oddly, however, the Oakland Coliseum was booked for an ice show during the finals, so the Warriors were going to be forced to play their home games vs. the Bullets back across San Francisco Bay in their old Cow Palace. Schedule conflicts also made it impossible for the normal 2-2-1-1-1 homecourt venue rotation. The Bullets had homecourt edge, but were offered a choice; a 1-2-2-1-1 with Game One at home, but not returning home until Game Four, or a 1-3-2-1 with Game One at the Warriors and Games 2-4 at their home Cap Center. Washington took the former option, and immediately began to regret it when the Warriors made up another double-digit deficit in Game One to steal a 101-95 verdict and head back to the Cow Palace for two games, and up 1-0 in the series.

The battles were all thrill-packed, especially Game Two, when Golden State was nursing a 92-91 lead in the final seconds when the Bullets had last possession and a couple of shots to win the game; Korach includes King’s commentary of misses by Mike Riordan and Hayes that preserved the Warriors’ 1-point win. (Editor’s note: you can also check out this sequence on YouTube, with the Musburger-Robertson call from the actual CBS telecast). After a 109-101 win in Game Three, Attles’ team returned to Landover in hopes of wrapping up the series in an improbable sweep.

Korach spared little description of Game Four, including King’s commentary of Riordan’s roughhouse (no, make that cheap shot) tactics on Barry that prompted Attles to charge the court and get tossed from the game. With assistant Joe Roberts then in charge, the Warriors would surge to a lead and hold on for a 96-95 win and one of the most improbable sweeps in NBA Finals history!

Korach saved commentary for the trip home from Washington, and King’s recollections of the reception the team received upon its return, when the flight had to be diverted to Oakland because welcoming fans were beginning to spill out onto the runways of SFO. When authorities suggested the Warriors show up at SFO anyway to placate the fans, the team bussed over from Oakland to join in the celebration with the thousands of revelers who were ready to party all night.

(Among the many recollections in Holy Toledo are those of current Giants announcer Jon Miller, and how he and his San Jose Earthquakes NASL team, after a game in Toronto, would ironically connect in Chicago on to the same Warriors flight returning from the Game Four title-clinching win at Washington, with Miller getting his first chance to meet the dapper King, who was more than happy to pour a young Jon some champagne and engage in discussion.)

Holy Toledo is a special treasure for Bay Area sports fans, who will enjoy not only all of the King stories and anecdotes, but also recollections of many notables such as Jon Miller, former Giants announcer Hank Greenwald, and more than 50 others who were interviewed by Korach, who does a very nice job in his first book. Even for those not familiar with King’s broadcast work, the book is must-read stuff for a look into the “Renaissance Man� character that marked a fascinating and bygone era. It was quite a labor of love by Korach to make sure that the sporting public and many Bay Area fans will always have something special to remember the beloved King, who passed away in 2005.

Holy Toledo is available in bookstores and online at Amazon.com as well as a special website devoted especially to the book (www.holytoledo.info).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, the beginning of what might be an active five weeks or so in the NBA leading up to the trade deadline on February 20 has already begun, with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls firing the first shots. Tempted to make a deal with the L.A. Lakers involving Pau Gasol, the Cavs instead decide to trade with the Bulls, acquiring Luol Deng in exchange for draft picks and C Andrew Bynum, who was quickly waived by Chicago.

Deng, like Gasol, is a pending free agent who was deemed expendable by his current team due to salary cap considerations for next season. Which is why the Bulls were eager to clear some cap space, something they are likely to do in the summer as well when expected to exercise the amnesty provision on frontliner Carlos Boozer. By amnestying Boozer, the Bulls could create nearly an additional $17 million of cap space for next season, and will be able to pursue a prominent free agent to go along with a nucleus of Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, and a (hopefully) healthy Derrick Rose. The future might not be as bleak as it seemed for the Bulls.

Meanwhile, the Cavs have high hopes for Deng, the type of small forward who could deliver much-needed scoring from the wings and help their playoff prospects for this season. Deng is scoring a career-best 19 ppg, although some wonder about his long-term durability after lots of mileage the past few years. Deng is also a quality defender, and Cleveland is said to want to keep Deng for the long haul and intends to attempt at signing him to a long-term deal. In the end, Deng was viewed as a better down-the-road option than the aging Gasol, whose physical problems have been mounting in recent years. Indeed, this Cavs-Bulls deal might be one of the few that actually could work out well for both teams.

And what about Andrew Bynum? The disappointing center might soon be running out of chances after being discarded so unceremoniously by the Sixers and Cavs within the last seven months, although there still figure to be a handful of suitors looking for a big man. Including, if reports are to be believed, Miami, which is apparently in the market for one more “big� that it feels it might need to battle Indiana in an expected Eastern Finals showdown. Whether the Heat wants to take a risk with Bynum or look in a less-risky direction remains to be seen. Dallas might also be seeking some help in the pivot and is rumored to be curious about Bynum as well. Stay tuned.

Other notes from the NBA rumor mill...

Denver...After a recent violent shouting match with HC Brian Shaw earned him a 2-game suspension and paid leave afterward, vet G Andre Miller’s days in Denver look to be numbered. A possible suitor could be Sacramento, which believes it can make a run at a playoff berth in the second half of the season if it can address depth at the PG spot after trading away Greivis Vasquez to the Raptors in the Rudy Gay deal. The Kings would reportedly be willing to offer either Marcus Thornton or Jimmer Fredette, along with a second-round pick, in exchange for Miller, who could also play alongside current PG Isaiah Thomas in the Sacto backcourt. Word around the league is that the Kings have been starting Thornton over Kansas rookie Ben McLemore in recent games to showcase the former LSU star, whose scoring average has dipped to 8.4 this season after being in double digits the past three years.

Golden State...The Warriors are looking for a bit of cover for Steph Curry at the point and might have interest in Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich, which would also fit in with the Bulls’ desire to shed more salary. Hinrich’s shortcomings as a full-time player have been exposed since Derrick Rose’s injury, but as a spot substitute he could fit the bill for Golden State, which has also been looking for some extra pop off the bench since losing Jarrett Jack to free agency in the offseason. The Warriors have a $4 million trade exception from the earlier Brandon Rush deal in which they could fit Hinrich, although Golden State might be tempted to move someone like a Toney Douglas or Kent Bazemore in such a deal in order to stay a safer distance from the luxury tax line.

L.A. Lakers...The aforementioned Pau Gasol will continue to be shopped, as the Lakers, far from playoff contention and with Kobe Bryant not expected back for another month or so, begin to shed salary in hopes of avoiding luxury taxes and clearing some space for a summer run at free agents. At $19 million-plus on an expiring contract, Gasol is a valuable commodity in a trade deadline scenario beyond what he does on the court, and a recent uptick in his performance could make him very attractive as a short-term rental for a contender. The Lakers seemed close to a deal involving Gasol with the Cavs, but reportedly asked for Dion Waiters in return, and Cleveland balked, dealing with Chicago instead. One rumored possibility includes Boston, one of many teams that could use Gasol’s expiring contract to get further under the cap. The Lakers might be tempted to go fishing for G Rajon Rondo, due back soon from a knee injury and with a cap-friendly contract. To this point, however, the Celtics have not indicated that Rondo is available for trade. At least not yet.

Milwaukee...Sources say that G Gary Neal, the ex-Spur who is scoring almost 11 ppg, could be on the move after a recent heated argument with 6-11 Larry Sanders following a loss at Phoenix. Why anyone would want to cause trouble with the menacing Sanders is beyond us. Neal’s ability to deliver instant offense could be of interest to many teams, although he has been a bit inconsistent this season (only 39.4% from the floor) as he has had recurrent bouts of plantar fasciitis in his foot. Still, he could help the right team.

New York...J.R. Smith is likely on the move, especially after his recent $50,000 fine from the league for untying opponent’s shoelaces two games in a row. Although the ghosts of the original Three Stooges thought Smith’s moves to be pretty cool. But the Knicks seem to have had enough of Smith’s histrionics, on top of the five-game suspension he earned to begin the season after violating the league’s anti-drug policy. Smith, however, might be hard to move because of two more seasons on a three-year, $18 million deal. If some team wants to roll the dice on Smith, it might be Oklahoma City, which could be looking for someone to replace the scoring that James Harden and Kevin Martin provided off the bench the past two seasons. Remember, Smith was the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2012-13 when scoring 18.1 ppg. Some believe that with a change of scenery, Smith could prove a valuable addition, although any trade will have to wait until at least January 15 per Smith’s contract. The Knicks could use some draft picks after dealing many of them away, although they will also likely want a player in return, and if Ok City wants to deal, New York could ask for defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha. From the Thunder’s perspective, they might be more tempted to move prospect Jeremy Lamb instead. Stay tuned...one way or another, something is likely to go down involving Smith, and soon.

Return To Home Page