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VOL. 133 | NO. 139 | Friday, July 13, 2018

Grizzlies’ TV Voice Pete Pranica Loving his Dream Job

By Don Wade

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As the tip-off of another Memphis Grizzlies game nears, television play-by-play announcer Pete Pranica will tell viewers on FOX Sports Southeast, “We have three officials, and they have been assigned by the NBA …”

It’s part of the routine. But one time, broadcast partner and former Grizzly player Brevin Knight jumped in with an ad-lib: “And they showed up on time.”

After that, it was a regular bit with the two of them. It was fun and nice light way to get into the game, and Pranica didn’t really give it a second thought until a Grizzlies fan, a mother with an autistic son, approached him one day to say thank you.

Memphis Grizzlies television broadcasters Brevin Knight, left, and Pete Pranica wear headbands in honor of Zach Randolph headband night during a 2010 game at FedExForum. Pranica, the team’s play-by-play announcer on FOX Sports Southeast, recently received the National Sports Media Association’s 2017 Tennessee Sportscaster of the Year award. (Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

“You think it’s like a little shtick you do,” she told him. “My son isn’t ready to watch basketball until you say it.”

It was a small moment, yes, but one that again showed that the local broadcast crew members are guests in their viewers’ homes. Whether the Grizzlies are winning and driving toward a playoff berth, as they did for seven straight years, or losing and destined for a high lottery pick – as they were in 2017-18 – people make a conscious decision to watch the games on TV and to share their evening with Pete and Brevin.

As a former player, the role of game analyst is a natural second career for Knight. Pranica, whom Knight never fails to call “Pardner” several times a game, knew from a young age that if he were ever to have a job in major professional sports it wasn’t going to be as a player.

Small sports world that it is when Pranica was honored last month with the National Sports Media Association’s 2017 Tennessee Sportscaster of the Year award, it was at the same time that Kevin Harlan was honored as the 2017 National Sportscaster of the Year. Pranica and Harlan began their play-by-play careers at a 10-watt student station at Premontre High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

“My parents wanted me to be a priest or a lawyer or something” other than a sports broadcaster, Pranica said. “I never gave up on it.”

Like any broadcaster who has made it, he has stories of paying his dues. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Pranica at one point worked at a tiny radio station in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. He read school lunch menus. And accident reports. And obituaries.

He worked for the Notre Dame Alumni Association for a time, but still kept looking for a way into a full-time broadcasting career. A Notre Dame graduate who knew Detroit Pistons broadcaster George Blaha, also a Notre Dame grad, passed on a tape of Pranica’s play-by-play work. That led to a fill-in role doing Pistons’ games on radio, which turned into full-time work with the Portland Trail Blazers and eventually as the play-by-play TV guy. In 2004, Pranica joined the Grizzlies.

If you frequent a certain national coffee shop chain, you’ve probably seen Pranica doing game preparation with a laptop and charts. Over the years, much more detailed analytical data has been made available and FOX provides its announcers with a software program called “Broadcaster’s Edge.”

By game time, Pranica has absorbed a lot more data than he could ever use or a viewer could digest. He likes the way veteran sportscaster Wes Durham put it at a recent conference: “You have to put a fence around your prep.”

Pranica, 54, says when he worked in Portland with Steve “Snapper” Jones that Jones was big on identifying the character of a team and translating that for the audience. Watching tape will provide some of the answers, of course, but with advanced metrics provided by player tracking there are deep numbers to back up first, second and third impressions.

For instance, while the Grizzlies suffered a 22-60 season, they surprisingly ranked fourth in secondary assists – a hockey-like stat that tracks ball movement in more detail. The three teams ahead of them, in alphabetical order: Golden State, Philadelphia and San Antonio, all playoff participants.

“You can go down the rabbit hole and lose yourself in these numbers,” Pranica said. “Like with offensive and defensive efficiency. Brevin doesn’t like it. You look at what Golden State gives up defensively, and you might think they’re a terrible defensive team. But no, they just play so much faster it’s comparing apples and oranges.”

The average Grizzlies fan probably has a pretty good handle on who the world-champion Warriors are. But the Grizzlies play Eastern Conference teams only twice a season. That puts more onus on Pranica and Knight to explain to viewers how, say, the Grizzlies match up with the Washington Wizards.

“Outside of (Bradley) Beal and (John) Wall, they have no clue, nor should they, really,” Pranica said.

Last year, fans also may have struggled to keep track of players on the Grizzlies. Sure, Marc Gasol was there pretty much every night, but Mike Conley missed most of the season with injury, Tyreke Evans was shut down late in the year, and there was movement back and forth with the G League Memphis Hustle and odd rotations no one would have imagined back in training camp.

Not to mention a lot of losing, including a 19-game losing skid that lasted almost two months. It got so bad that about the best that could be said about the Grizzlies was what could be said about the officials: They showed up on time.

“Being honest is always the best policy,” said Pranica. “Anything I say that’s particularly critical has to have some basis of fact. If I say someone is shooting poorly, I’ll say they’re 3-for-21 over their last two games.

“We are fortunate in that we have an ownership and a management group that wants us to be honest. They don’t have an issue with us being critical, if it’s warranted. They just don’t want us going over the edge and saying the Grizzlies were horrible tonight. There are diplomatic ways of saying you didn’t play well.”

Pranica doesn’t just limit himself to doing Grizzlies or NBA games. He has called college basketball games, the Southern Heritage Classic football game, college soccer, and Memphis Redbirds baseball games.

“What you get with Pete is a consummate professional,” said Steve Selby, the Redbirds’ play-by-play voice. “He’s smooth in whatever event he’s covering.”

How much range does Pranica have?

At the 2004 Olympics called team handball (he prepared by watching team handball matches in German, just to get a sense of the sport’s flow), and judo. At the 2008 Olympics, he called weightlifting. More recently, he served as emcee for the finals of the Grizz Girls auditions, asking questions such as, “So Millie, you’re a vet tech, what’s your favorite animal?”

In Memphis, of course, one line is synonymous with Pranica: “Hammer, nail, coffin.” It’s his signature when the Grizzlies have a large lead and the hour is growing late. He doesn’t know when he first used it, only that the favorable reaction from fans on social media outweighed the negative and so he has kept it.

In the 2017-18 season, fans did not hear “hammer, nail, coffin” very often.

“Not nearly enough,” Pranica said, hoping for more opportunities in the season ahead.

But even a difficult season in the NBA is a good season for Pranica. So when he gets behind the microphone and the game is about to start, he takes a moment just for himself, lets the crowd noise wash over him and then hits pause to listen to the play-by-play inside his head for an audience of one: “You are so incredibly blessed and fortunate to do this. Never lose sight of that fact.”

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