Covering games there are all kinds of people to interview besides the players. I think I’m more excited to see the relevant personalities in and out of basketball than players sometimes. Halftime in the press room or on the court pregame folks in front and behind the scenes are at a premium. I want to know, so I make sure I approach the biggest and the baddest as well as the last but not least. I have a bunch of these on file so I’ll post them when I can.
Mark Jones is definitely one of my idols. He’s been around the universe and back, has a serious sports broadcasting acumen and is chill enough to personally identify with. I caught up with him in Philly when the Magic were in town pregame on the floor and asked him some questions I hope you all would want to know (the answers to). I have you in mind when I do these interviews, so I hope you get as much out of these chats as I do.
Michael Tillery: Mark, what’s up with the Magic?
Mark Jones: You know the Orlando Magic have the potential to go deep into the playoffs. I was just talking about that with Hubie (Brown). With Dwight inside and their ability to stretch the floor with three pointers, I believe they can challenge the elite teams in the Eastern Conference like Boston, Detroit and Cleveland if they continue to grow defensively.
MT: What are your impressions of Philly?
MJ: They may not be at full stroke until March or late February. They are still trying to figure out where to fit in Elton Brand. It’s gonna be that way for a while–maybe a lot longer than people think.
MT: I’m forever attempting to link the chain. Who was that guy who made you say. “I want to be him or I wan to do that?”
MJ: You know what? Coming up, there weren’t a lot of role models. If that’s what you are alluding to. There weren’t a lot of cats who looked like me. Bryant Gumbel is probably one guy, but it was a real short list. James Brown…actually I don’t want to date Fred Hickman, but I used to love–and still do–the work he used to do on CNN with Nick Charles. I think Fred was one of the first guys to bring along that special flavor to the sportscast.
MT: You offer a lot of versatility. What’s your favorite sport to work?
MJ: Oh, gotta be NBA. I love the NBA through and through man. I’m at home watching the game on League Pass 24/7 or on my laptop. I play ball, but I love watching the NBA.
I grew up in Toronto. Canadian born and raised but American faith. I grew up watching the Buffalo Braves with Jack Ramsay as coach. Bob McAdoo scoring 30 a game. I was a ball boy for a couple of games. People forget the Braves would occasionally play home games up on point at Maple Leaf Gardens.
So yeah man, I’ve been a big fan of the NBA since yea high–when I was about six or seven.
MT: So when the ball bounced to you during the telecast, were you temped to put it up like you used to do before the NBA Today show faded to black (motions a jump shot)?
MJ: (Mark laughs) I was about to get a couple of jacks up tonight when I had it but I had to get back to the microphone.
MT: Could you tell the folks how the signature came about?
MJ: The signature came about when the end of a show we taped and the producer said you still have 25 seconds to go. I’d already said good bye so he said “Do something, say something!” I just started pretend dribbling between my legs, did head fakes, an A.I. crossover then shot the imaginary jump shot and left the follow through up. That became the signature. Just doing it week after week where guys around the league would see me coming and start doing that. It took on a life of its own. It was all done in fun.
MT: Who are the guys you now look at and say that’s guy is gonna be good? Someone the younger generation can look up to and aspire to be.
MJ: I’m at a great place in my career…being able to not only do studio, but also play by play. When I look around, the guys I admire are the guys who get to call the NBA Finals. I think that ultimately that’s one of the things left that I’d like to do. I also want to call an Olympic Games. That’s something in my career I’ve yet to do.
MT:I’m sure you will bruh. When you look back on those days…the NBA Today days…did you every envision actually doing as many games as you have in different sports?
MJ: Once ABC and ESPN acquired to rights to the NBA, I was hoping to get my hands on some of the inventory we might have. I’ve been fortunate enough to do that.
Being able to call games is fun because you have great contact with the players. My approach has always been man that there are so many great stories in the NBA.
We like to take the players out of the uniform and humanize them (This is why he’s good), because there might be views who might be checking in for the first time. Even for the hardcore viewers there are stories to tell no one is aware of. You can never talk about your best stories of athletes enough.
That’s the approach I take, then in the studio it’s a little bit different because you are basically talking about scores and highlights. Having the benefit of having close contact with the guys, there are still stories to relate and information that may relate in a new sense when you are in the studio.
It’s all kind of cyclical and it all plays out pretty good man.
MT: When you look at the climate of journalism as it relates to all the TV…because of ESPN being here this is a festive atmosphere tonight in Philly. Where do you see it going? Do you see sports as being strictly entertainment? Is its appeal athletic or is it a combination of both?
MJ: That’s a great point. The line has been blurred so much where you see so much crossover with entertainment and sports. I think ultimately athletes are going to be true to themselves, stay in their own realm and comfort zone. I think it’s a great feel. You have basketball players who are so incredibly talented on and off the court. Sometimes I feel TV just doesn’t do them justice because of how good these guys are.
As far as journalism…vis a vie the NBA…with the proliferation of media man–with bloging, Internet, cable television–it used to be when we talked about the NBA Today, it would be one basic show where people would get their NBA news. Now there are so many different platforms–radio, Internet radio.
I think as long as journalists have accountability and their feet are held to the fire on what they report and what they say, it’s all good. If they are not, then we have information Armageddon man. If there’s no accountability, then cats will be saying stuff and getting away with things they shouldn’t be able to.