As a former UCLA basketball manager and then announcer, Tony Luftman has been a part of a great deal of Bruins hoops history.
He was on the court when Jim Harrick's squad won the 1995 NCAA title, he was there for the ups and downs of Steve Lavin's tenure and he has been in and around Pauley Pavilion for Ben Howland's highs and lows.
He even had a front-row seat on sports history with the legendary John Wooden, taking a special tutorial which gave him a self-described "Sunday's With Morrie" experience with "The Wizard of Westwood" during his salad days, talking for endless hours with the legendary coach about life in and around the business of sport.
But these days, the 35-year-old actor and announcer is spending his time on the media's biggest stage, New York, working broadcasts for St. John's University and this month serving as the public address announcer for the World TeamTennis New York Sportimes during their July season, calling matches both at their state-of-the-art $19 million facility on Randall's Island or later this month in upstate Troy, N.Y.
Regardless of the locale in and around Gotham, the lifelong Bruin and self-described sports junkie is having the time of his life enjoying sports back east after a career that has seen him on the NBA sidelines in Portland and Memphis in addition to his work in and around L.A.
"It's all fun and one experience builds on the other, so what's not to enjoy?" he said recently as he readied his notes to call the Sportimes match with the Philadelphia Freedoms. "New York has been a great experience for me, and I can't wait to see what's next."
What's next for him this week will be a very unique experience, calling the Sportimes-Boston Lobsters matchup on Thursday, when New York captain John McEnroe meets fellow legend Andre Agassi in a special match to benefit the Johnny Mac Tennis Project, the not-for-profit arm of McEnroe's two-year-old Academy that provides tennis coaching for aspiring athletes from New York's five boroughs.
The match will be the centerpiece of a star-studded night that Luftman, who grew up idolizing McEnroe the player and personality, will call for a sold-out crowd.
"It is a great opportunity that comes with being in New York," he added, "and something I probably would have never had a chance to do had I stayed in L.A."
The Southern California native is coming up on his one-year anniversary in New York, where he relocated on the advice of now-St. John's head men's basketball coach Steve Lavin, whom Luftman has stayed close with since both of them were at UCLA.
Lavin urged Luftman, who has also had a number of roles on TV, to come to New York and put his talents to the test in the world's biggest media market, and thus far it appears to be working out.
Last year, he helped launch St. John's fledgling digital cable network, calling everything from hoops to soccer while hosting The Red Storm Report on SNY TV. He also tried his hand at the public address for the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones for some games before getting a tip to try calling some tennis, a chance he jumped at.
"I have always loved tennis, and I remain in awe of the talent of pros like Martina Hingis (who plays for New York) and all the other pros when you get to watch this close," he added. "It's a perspective you don't get sitting in the stands."
WTT, he admits is also a departure from what calling other tennis on the ATP or WTA Tours might be like. It is part minor league baseball, part cheerleader and part pro tennis, a unique mix he had never experienced before.
“I had seen ATP events at UCLA with some of the biggest names in the game, but WTT is a different animal for sure,” Luftman continued. “It is much more involved and a great deal of fun, and I really enjoy the constant action, you have little time to rest and always have to be on top of the action on and off the court.”
It is that action, compared with a widening and diverse resume, that Luftman hopes will keep him even more busy as 2012 goes along. However, for now, getting to be courtside to see two legends duke it out on the tennis court is a welcome perk to a life that has seen a great deal of time in and around the limelight.
“I have loved all the places I have worked and the things I have done, and WTT is a welcome addition. Who could have thought calling tennis in New York would have been what was next? You never know, but it is all great.”
And a great next step for a former Bruin. Coach Wooden would be proud.
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