Mike Barrett Interview -- Part I

As mentioned in a post below, Blazersedge was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit down with Mike Barrett at the Practice Facility this past Thursday.

In terms of interviews that we've run on this site, this one is far and away the longest and most wide-ranging.  This is certainly a credit to Mr. Barrett who was very generous with both his time and candor. 

Given its length, I will roll this conversation out in pieces as I get it transcribed.  Hopefully this will read as if you are having a conversation with Mr. Barrett, who is quite the conversationlist, and help you get to know him a little bit better.

Without further ado, here is Part I.     

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Blazersedge.com: I read your bio and understand you're from Albany.  On a scale from zero to Blazermaniac, where were you growing up?

I just turned 40, so I was 9 when they won the championship, I remember seeing it.  I remember at our grade school we made cutouts of all the players with construction paper and mailing them to the blazers.  My friend and I were Blazers nuts.  My dad was a high school coach and he had worked a little bit with Jack Ramsay.

[Tom Penn walks in with tickets to a charity event]

The rarity of this whole thing is that I can think of maybe one or two who are actually from the area where they broadcast.  My dad being a coach then, and knowing Rick Adelman a little bit, because my dad coached Junior College ball when Rick was at Chemeketa, he knew Rick from some basketball camps, so we got into some games. I remember coming to some games in 1974, 1975, I still have some ticket stubs from when it was 4.50 to sit in the second row under the basket.

My dad and I would come to 10-15 games a year back then. I think that even though it's obviously not mandatory that you have a healthy background and history of your team, I think that benefits me so much more because I know where they have been. I know the history of the franchise. I've watched all those guys play throughout the years. That's a benefit that not a lot of guys have in the league.  I not only feel like I know the history of the team but also the history of the fans.  I know what they've been through. I know what a Blazers fan is and I hope that they get that.  Mike Rice, you know is going into his 19th year, he certainly has that too.

Blazersedge.com: When it comes to Blazers rivals, it seems like Blazers fans of my age will point to the Lakers immediately.  Was it always that way?  Back in the 1970s, was it always the Lakers that brought out the vitriol?

Yeah, yeah.  My hatred was with the Lakers as a kid. 

Blazersedge.com: Even before the title?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  If you think back to that championship year, the win over Philly, as good as it was... the sweep of the Lakers in the Western Finals when the Lakers had the best record in the league, that was what... got people rabid... Blazermania had clearly already started, that Walton dunk over Jabbar, the UCLA vs. UCLA, you see that highlight so many times, [but] to beat them 4 straight.  And then winning the title, obviously.  But, as big as that, was beating the Lakers four straight.

After that, there were the Magic years down there.  The loss in 1991 in the Western Finals. When I was in college, I was working as a runner for NBC and CBS when they come and do the games, I was working in media relations at Oregon State. I was at those games, I was a runner for James Brown... and I was a stage manager when Dick Stockton and Hubie Brown were doing games. 

I was at that game 1 in the Western Finals in 1991, and that was when that series was lost, Portland came in to that and everyone was looking ahead to the Chicago series.  Obviously it was a big upset and then there was that game 6 in LA, when there was the lay-in late that went through the hands of Cliff.  That was the stunning upset. 

...

[The lesson from all of that is to] absorb these times and absorb these moments and let yourself enjoy it because the anticipation is better than the memory or the actual event itself.  There is only one of these years.   The innocence will be gone soon enough and expectations will take over.  The next month or two is a really fun time.

Blazersedge.com: Do you let yourself daydream about the potential championship?  Do you have a scripted line for that last call in your mind?  Do you visualize yourself spraying Greg with champagne?  Because the anticipation builds and builds and builds...

Not to sound ridiculously selfless, yes, I play it in my mind, but I don't play my role in it.  In radio you can do that.  And Wheels is great at that, with the lines like Boomshakalaka and the lines he comes up with.  With TV, I don't think you need that.  My former executive producer would always kind of encourage me to come up with a catchphrase, but I never felt comfortable doing that. I felt like that would be getting in the way.  In radio, you're painting a picture, you are the conduit.  In TV they are seeing it already.

Sure there are some calls that I've enjoyed in the past, or listened to on Youtube, and thought "yeah it was good" but I never want to listen and go "yeesh, I stepped all over that. I don't want the viewers to remember me, I want them to remember the play. In TV that's something you've got to be careful of.  The advice I've gotten was, "don't tell them what they can already see.  Keep it simple." 

Rice is good,  he's a character, and you strip away some of that cartoon character, and I'm so lucky to work with him. I think his calls are probably as memorable as anything I say. I like to give him that room.  Some of the traditional broadcasters really want their own space, who get upset when their analyst gets in and steps on their call. I'm not into that. I want to be there to fill in the blanks and to provide some information and entertainment. 

I absolutely daydream all the time about [a title].  I wonder what it will be like.  The funny thing about TV is that if we get to that point, in the Western Conference Finals, the [national] network takes over and I won't even be doing the game.  Radio will be doing the games but we won't.  it will kind of stink to take them to that point and not do the games.

Blazersedge.com: Well, will you be there in the second row, just calling the game to yourself?

Absolutely. I am much better nerve-wise when I am doing the game. There's excitement and sitting on the edge of your seat, but when I'm watching the games, I'm awful, I'm terrible. I'm pacing the floor. But when I'm doing the game, maybe because I know my responsibility, that doesn't mean I'm not a homer, that comes through, that's obvious, I try not to be over the top that way, but I'd much rather be doing the game for my nerves. That kind of sounds funny. 

When I'm doing the game, I have my own thing to do, so I don't feel like I have control of the outcome of the game. But as fans, when you're watching the game, you kind of do feel like you have control of the outcome, and you get superstitious, you're sitting in the wrong chair, I crossed my legs the other way, my dad is that way too.

Blazersedge.com: Who is your biggest critic?  Yourself?  Your wife?  Your dad?

No, no, it's myself.  I've really had to work at being able to take a compliment.  But I've been bad at that.  My dad was a coach and a good coach, and growing up around the game, he coached at Idaho when I was a baby, I think my first game was when I was 3 weeks old, being little and just running around the gym, I'd sit there on the sidelines and run around, that's all I know. 

Maybe coming from that environment where you are coached all the time and it's not a knock on being a coach's son, I think a lot of coach's sons would identify with what I'm saying, it's easy to figure out why I'd be my own worst critic.  There are a lot of times during the season when my Executive Producer Scott Zachary, who is one of my best friends, and we will be going over the littlest things and then we'll be like, "shut up. Just put the DVD in and let's watch it."  If I just go on memory, I'll beat the heck out of myself. I've got to watch it to get to the point where I say, ok. 

The only times I feel awful after games, or I sit there and I'm driving or I'm sitting on a flight, the only time I feel really bad is if I bitched about a call or I went over the top or got overly excited about something.  That's the only things I really regret....

Blazersedge.com: You kind of sound like a young point guard in that you've got to consciously remind yourself to forget that last one.  Is that something that could happen on a road trip, for example, could it accumulate or what steps do you take to prevent it from accumulating?

A lot of it you don't have anything to do with.  [As a broadcaster] you don't have control of the outcome [on the floor] but it affects your next game.  So like a player, you do have to put it behind you.  If you're out on a road trip and you drop the first 3, you have to change the way you're looking at things.  You have to start looking for positives in different places, goodness knows, when I took over, my first year doing this, we missed the playoffs by a game, we had that huge game in Denver late in the season, so I've never done a playoff game. 

I've done some games in pretty lean times, but I'd rather start in those times, because it makes these times easy. Those were tough times. Not because you have to hold your resume in one hand and the truth in the other, and lie to people about how things are looking, but when you're getting beat by 25 points...

Anybody can call a good game, those are easy, but it's when that you're down 20 in the first quarter and you don't have a chance. I remember walking into San Antonio knowing that there is no way you're winning this game so you better come up with something to keep people around.  Not artificially, not trying to create things to sound cheesy, and that's where Rice comes in because we can just start telling stories and talking about stuff, but this is now becoming the fun part.  The fun and the easy part, where the games and the stories will tell themselves and we've just got to be careful to not get in the way. 

Blazersedge.com: You talk about telling stories and you've now got thousands of new potential fans in the old Sonics fans. I've talked to some of the guys on the business side of the Blazers organization and they have laid out the steps they plan to take to merge those two fan bases.  What does that do for you?  In some ways you are the mouthpiece of the organization... Do you continue to do your same style or do you switch it up to educate these new fans?

It sounds like there's a good chance these games will be shown locally in Seattle. I think the people that will be coming over, the vast majority of them are very familiar with our guys.  They don't need me to tell stories about Nate McMillan, Brandon Roy and Martell Webster.  I don't want to talk down to anyone who is a fan. 

Blazersedge.com: But there are things that only Blazers fans can reasonably know, that only Oregonians can know.  If you've been following the Sonics for 20 years...

[Tom Penn comes in again ready to make lunch plans.  Sorry, Mr. Penn, it could be awhile.]

I think it will be easier for them to come aboard if they are NBA fans, they're going to want a local team to cheer for.  And it's the same thing in reverse. The Seahawks get great ratings.  The Mariners have always gotten good ratings in Portland.  I think that will be the case. I think they will jump right on board because of Nate and Brandon, I mean we're owned by a guy from Seattle.

Blazersedge.com: So you have an open arms approach?   

Absolutely. I'm not going to try to talk them into it, but I don't think we'll have to.  It's an incredibly, easy-to-like team that we have now.  People would be shocked if they went  on a road trip with us, especially now, you go into an arena and see how many Blazers jerseys there are. 

There will be groups of fans from different cities that will go to a couple of games.  There's a group from Canada that always yells at us and we go say hi to them and take pictures.   They went to like the Toronto game, the Indiana game, anything that was drive-able they went to.  So we've gotten these relationships with fans in different cities that's really odd.  A couple of them email once in awhile.  And that's only going to improve now. We are such a young, likeable group of guys. 

So I think that, for Seattle fans, you can't not like this team.  I really feel that way.  That's how it's different from the 2000 western conference finals.  That team that could have, should have won a title. Sure they were selling out and people liked the team, but it's different.  This group is different.  And when they get there.  When they are consistently deep in the playoffs, the window is just starting to open for this team, it's going to get so big.  I don't know if we realize yet how big this is going to potentially get.  Not to put the cart ahead of the horse, but it's going to be huge.   

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-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)

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