Truly The Real McCoy: How an Iowa Farm Boy Became the Greatest Phoenix Sun

Greg EspositoContributor IIJanuary 8, 2010

Originally published on

If you were to tell someone outside of Arizona that the greatest Phoenix Sun of all-time and one of the greatest sports figures in the city’s history was an unassuming 5′ 7″ white man with large glasses, you’d probably be greeted with looks of confusion and arguments to the contrary.

Mention it to anyone who has called the Valley of the Sun home, and they’d know exactly who you were talking about. As a matter of fact, most could even think of their favorite moment and the soundtrack he provided for it.

Al McCoy, a short farm boy from rural Williams, Iowa, has a been a fixture in Phoenix sports media for over fifty years. Known as “The Voice of the Suns,” he has become famous for his dulcet tones that have entertained throngs of basketball fans in Phoenix and around the state for almost 38 years.

Although he has been synonymous with Phoenix Suns basketball, his legacy runs much deeper. The journey to his courtside position at the U.S. Airways Center began in 1958, before major sports leagues even considered Phoenix a destination.  His resume includes announcing jobs with the Phoenix Giants (Pacific Coast League), Phoenix Roadrunners (Western Hockey League), ASU football/basketball, boxing, and even roller derby.

Last month, McCoy gave fans the opportunity to get an inside glimpse at what it took to make it to the "big-time," as well as a chance to see the history of Phoenix sports through his eyes with the release of his biography, The Real McCoy .

The 250 page book follows his life from his family's farm in Iowa, college at Drake University and radio work in Buffalo, to radio jobs in Phoenix, minor league announcing stints, and his time with the Phoenix Suns .

As the author of this piece, I must be forthcoming before I move on. Growing up as a young boy in Phoenix, my parents didn’t believe in paying for things such as additional television channels.

As a result, I didn’t have cable until I went to college (I know, poor me). I didn’t grow up on ESPN’s SportsCenter or even see ASPN, the local cable home of the Suns when I was growing up. My only lifeline to Suns home games was the old clock radio in my bedroom.

From as young as the age of seven, I can remember sequestering myself in my room, firing up the old black Emerson clock radio complete with built in cassette player (yes, very fancy) and listening to Al McCoy describe the action. On those winter and early spring nights, between the static of the AM radio, phrases like “swish-a-roo for two,” “heartbreak hotel,” and “you can put this one in the old deep freeze” became part of my lexicon.

While sitting on my bed, I would become fixated on every word emanating from that little box that was placed on the nightstand, similar to the way some get fixated on a preacher during a truly moving sermon. No longer was I sitting in my room. No, that little box opened my mind to a large world in which I was seated in the “Purple Palace” as member of the church of "Shazam".

McCoy’s colorful descriptions of the action were my gospel and Suns victories my salvation. After years of listening to the “good word” (and some tough ones in the post Barkley ’90s), I aspired to be in sports media thanks to McCoy’s dedication to his craft.

As I grew older, my routine changed, but two things remained constant. First, I always listened to Al call Suns games, whether it be on a Walkman in middle school, to a car stereo in my teens, or the internet in college. Second, I had a lifelong, unceasing desire to become a sports journalist.

If you are reading this — which obviously you are — you’ve probably figured out that I’ve somewhat accomplished my goal.

When I received the press release announcing The Real McCoy , I knew I had to take the opportunity to talk to, thank, and honor a man who was influential in my career path and, more importantly, so influential to Phoenix sports fans.

Luckily enough, with the help of the Phoenix Suns public relations staff, I was able to get an interview with Mr. McCoy to discuss the book. Even during the interview, I wasn’t capable of calling him Al out of respect.

In preparation for the interview, I poured through each page, fascinated with the stories held within them. Although I was of the belief that he was one of the most famous figures in Phoenix sports history prior to reading it, I didn’t realize just how truly remarkable his life and career has been.

The book revealed things about his personal life, like how he met his wife, and that he is an accomplished pianist who used to play dances and events to help pay for college. It shared facts about his professional life that I had never heard as well, like the fact that he hosted the first opinion-based radio talk show in the Valley, and that he originally turned down the Suns broadcasting job.

It was discussing stories like these and the time it took to compile them, that McCoy described as being one of the biggest challenges to writing a book during our interview.

“I think when you finally make a big decision to do a book, you never imagine how long it’s going to take,” McCoy said. “Sometimes it gets a little difficult for you to think, hey, am I going to tell all these stories so that everyone knows about things that happened and the decisions that were made?”

Those decisions lead him from his family’s farm in Williams, Iowa, to a degree in Drama and Speech from Drake University, post-graduate work at the University of Iowa in broadcasting, radio work in Buffalo, New York and eventually to a job with the Phoenix Giants baseball club of the Pacific Coast League 51 years ago.

In 1958 McCoy and his new bride, Georgia, ventured west from Niagara Falls, New York to Phoenix, with no guarantee of work, all based on a tip. The tip paid off. With the New York Baseball Giants relocating to San Francisco, their Triple-A club made the move west from Minneapolis to Phoenix and a young McCoy got his first professional play-by-play job.

The words, “move west young man” never rang truer.

In his time with the Giants, he saw a bevy of things. In his first season, the team won the PCL championship and, according to McCoy, set a league record for home runs. In the ’60s he called a game that ended less ceremoniously than that first season.

“For a couple of days the city of Phoenix was literally invaded with grasshoppers,” McCoy reminisced. “It was like drifts of snow. As you were driving down the street you’d slip and slide. That night it looked like everything was going well until about the fourth or fifth inning and all of a sudden a swarm of grasshoppers surrounded the lights. You could hardly see. There was nothing you could do. No one was going to climb up that pole to try and get rid of them. It was the first time in the history of the national pastime that a game was postponed by grasshoppers.”

In 1972, McCoy traded in the diamond for the hardwood, as he became the voice of the Phoenix Suns . The decision didn’t come without contemplation though, as his time with the Phoenix Giants made him a logical choice to be the next voice of the big club in San Francisco.

“You know, it was a great decision to stay in Phoenix. Obviously my association with the Suns over the last 38 years has been just fantastic. Although I originally was a baseball broadcaster and thought that I would take the San Francisco job, I really am happy that I remained in Phoenix. At one time, San Francisco looked inviting. It doesn’t look that inviting anymore.”

Over his thirty-eight years behind the microphone for the Suns, McCoy has been invited into Phoenicians' homes via radio for many big moments. Two of the most memorable moments for fans also happen to be a few of the memories McCoy holds closest to his heart.

“The two memories that always will be a big part of my broadcast history with the Suns will be the two years the Suns were in the NBA Finals. The team of course did not win those series so they don’t have an NBA championships to claim but they both were tremendous playoff events. It’s kind of ironic that in the history of the NBA there had not been a triple-overtime game in the finals until the Suns-Boston series in June of 1976. Lo and behold, in 1993 there was another triple-overtime game when the Suns played the Bulls. Probably those two triple-overtime games were highlights of my broadcast career.”

No matter who you are, if you are a Suns fan, you have a favorite moment called by Al McCoy. Maybe it’s a moment from the Suns "Seven Second or Less" era, or when he shared the booth with the Lakers’ Chick Hearn during the 1975 All-Star game in Phoenix. Maybe it’s Kevin Johnson’s dunk over Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994, or Rex Chapman hitting a circus three-point shot in the playoffs versus Seattle.

For me, the defining McCoy call was Charles Barkley’s 18-foot jump shot over David Robinson to send the Suns to the 1993 Western Conference Finals. No matter what your moment is, his voice and the call of those moments will forever live in our minds as vivid as the second they were uttered.

That is the true mark of greatness for any play-by-play man.

Although he may be small in stature and most of the players he’s covered have had to look down at him, those who have known him and those who just had the privilege of listening to him over the years look up to him.

I’m proud to call myself one of those people.

Al McCoy has lived a remarkable life and had a remarkable career. So remarkable that these few pages can’t come close to doing it justice.

The Real McCoy is filled with anecdotes, tidbits and stories that will leave you amazed and certainly prove that he is indeed the greatest Sun of all time. The best part of the book? All the proceeds from the book will go to the public library in his hometown and Suns Charities.

“I’m from a small town in Iowa. Williams, Iowa—population 600. I grew up on a farm near by and went to high school there. We have a nice small library there, as you can imagine. It’s a library my parents supported and that I’ve always had a great deal of respect for."

"Obviously they need financial help in these trying days. When I made the decision that I was going to do a book, I decided I didn’t want to make any profits from it. I’m hopeful in the next few months I’ll be able to present a big check to the library in Williams. I know it will mean a lot to them and it will mean even more for me.”

How do you sum up a career that has spanned over 50 years and seen as much as McCoy’s? I won’t even try to put it into words. Instead I’ll use the words McCoy himself summed it up with.

“It’s been a good ride.”

I think I speak for most of Phoenix when I say, thanks for letting us come along for it Mr. McCoy.