Dear Joe Tait: Thank You for Making Me a Better Cleveland Cavaliers Fan
Sixteen seconds to the playoffs!
It was April 9, 1985. That's what you were supposedly calling between plays as the Cavaliers counted down the seconds until the Cavs and their fans would reach the postseason, completing the recovery from the Ted Stepien Era.
Unfortunately, I never heard you call that until I found the recording of it on the Internet. See, I was there at the Richfield Coliseum, in disbelief that the NBA Playoffs were actually coming...here?
I remember Phil Hubbard, Tim McCormack even World B. Free as a young coach named George Karl ended our playoff drought. But every now and then, I'd look down and see this chubby guy with a beard, and remembered him even more than the team.
As a youth, I was diagnosed with ADHD. Later, it was learned I was just a kid who got easily distracted, much like another local boy...Calvin from "Calvin and Hobbes." But at night, sometimes I stayed up with a quiet radio and listened to Cavs games.
One was even in Seattle...way past my bedtime. But I listened to every word as Jack Sikma and his SuperSonics get an early lead and slowly built it until the end of the game.
Think about that. School psychologists, teachers, my parents and peers didn't even keep my interest for five minutes. You kept my interest, solo, for over two hours.
Later, I learned how you kept my interest. I took many road trips growing up, and had a chance to watch many basketball games by other (often) two-man homer teams who did nothing but spin the on-court play for their employers more than a crappy politician.
But you didn't. You, to continue overusing the cliche, kept it real.
You told us when the Cavs were doing horribly. You also told us when the opponent was unstoppable.
Hell, a quick review of your greatest hits online (where I found the call I started this piece with) even showed me that you called out refs (Garrison wouldn't call a technical even if DeBuscherre had a gun! C'mon!).
But you also praised when things went our way. When a call that went our way shouldn't have and we got lucky. When the team was at it's best.
Or as The Who put it, "From you, I got opinions; From you, I got the story."
Fox Sports Ohio put together a special about you, titled after your signature sign-off line, "Have A Good Night, Everybody!"
As no surprise, it showed many of your younger peers saying that they looked up to you in your career.
As I'm not on the radio, I can't really argue their inside perspective about their respect for you. But as a fan, I can say that as a fellow fan, you also set a benchmark for us all to follow.
Above all else, it's your expertise on the game that really went unheralded. Many broadcasters relied on the two-man teams with one keeping up with the action and the other interpreting it. You did both, and you did both with professionalism.
This season began with a focus on the much-heralded departure of LeBron James. To tell a long story short, it brought out the worst in many fans.
Fairweather fans fled, fans arrogant against Cleveland piled on ruthlessly and even Cavs fans got vengeful, spiteful and self-martyring.
If you think about it, if anyone had the chance to "quit," it was you. Hospitalized with pneumonia, then the heart surgery, you could've easily hidden behind that knowing there was a 26-game losing streak ruining your final season.
But you didn't. And if you didn't quit after all that, then there was no reason we should either.
And you still called it like you saw it, perfectly lacing the play-by-play with the right explanation of why it happened.
You weren't fairweather. You weren't a "homer." You called it right down the middle, when we lost and when we won.
So many of us wish we could be in your shoes; getting to know the players, seeing all the NBA arenas from the inside, and especially having such a great seat for every single game.
But think about what would've happened if some of us were. We can be just as much a fairweather, homer, self-martyring/self-glorifying fan as anyone. But you weren't.
I learned that if you truly love the game, it's best to have a respectful relationship with it like the one you showed us every night on the air.
I think the most replayed call was the call against the Washington Bullets in the Miracle of Richfield of 1976. So, it was fitting that your last game was against Washington.
FSNOhio had the class to simulcast your feed over the TV broadcast, as I looked at the clock and thought...
Sixteen seconds until Joe's gone...
Your departure was an ironic bookend to this turbulent season. It was selfless. The only way we would've known it was from the voices on the air with you Wednesday night, congratulating you on your career with the Cavs.
Okay, maybe it was your alteration of your sign-off: "Have a nice life, everybody."
Well, thanks to you, we were all one step closer to that happening.
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