The longtime broadcaster dishes on his excitement for the team’s Home Opener, reflects on his favorite Kings memories and much more.
Throughout his 25-plus years with the organization, Kings TV Play-by-Play Announcer Grant Napear has called some of the most exciting moments in team history, from Sacramento’s unforgettable first game in its current arena to legendary Playoff heroics. With the 2013-14 “Purple-Out” Home Opener on the horizon, the KHTK Sports 1140 afternoon sports talk show host puts tip-off on Oct. 30 near the top of his most anticipated experiences.
“I’m probably looking forward to this Home Opener maybe as much as any one that I’ve done, with the exception of my very first game ever at the new ARCO Arena back in ’88,” says Napear.
“(With) everything that we went through as a community and everything that the organization is putting into it, I really can’t imagine a better night of celebration.”
In a recent Q&A with Kings.com, the Syosset, N.Y. native provides his perspective on the team’s new front office and coaching staff, assesses the talent on the current roster, looks back at his favorite Kings memories and much more.
How would you characterize the atmosphere in Sacramento as the Kings Home Opener approaches?
“Kings fever is spreading – let’s put it that way. I’d have to say the last time I’ve seen our community this excited was in the early 2000s. You see people now wearing all their Kings gear out, people are talking about the Kings, people are buying tickets – people are coming back to the Sacramento Kings. When you talk about the Kings now, you do it with pride. People are excited, people are reenergized and this going to be a phenomenal start to the season.”
What have been your impressions of the team’s new front office and coaching staff?
“(They’re) awesome, professional, they have a plan (and) seem to back up their plan with knowledge and experience. I love it – I’ve been reenergized myself. The front office is phenomenal, and this coaching staff (is going to bring) a wealth of experience to this team. I think the fans are going to see what I see in the coming weeks and months. I’m really excited.
“I think what’s been most impressive to me is the staff that (Head Coach) Michael Malone has assembled … Just being around these guys for a couple of days, seeing how they interact with the players, but more importantly, seeing the respect that the players have for these coaches has been great.
“Michael Malone is a different type of coach than we’ve had here in the past – he’s a fiery guy, he has a lot of moxie in him. I like that change. Even in the preseason games, seeing how he talks to his players in the huddles and during the timeouts, I’m looking at the guy and I’m saying to myself, ‘Boy, it looks like he’s been doing this for 10 years!’”
How does this Kings team compare to years past?
“It’s better than it was last year, without question. The Kings have a franchise-type player and a potential All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins, and I think if he can be that type of player this year, this team can make some really big strides. I think this team in the backcourt is going to be the best we’ve seen in many years. They have great depth and they have guys who can play multiple positions. I know the fans are going to love Greivis Vásquez – I think he brings a lot to this team.
“When people ask me how many games this team is going to win this year, this is the way I answer it. ‘I don’t know – I don’t think anybody can answer that – but the one thing I do know is, I’d be very surprised if this team is not much, much, much better in April than it is in November and much closer to (being) a Playoff team in the near future.’”
Entering your 26th season as a Kings broadcaster, what have been some of your favorite memories over the years?
“I’d say my No. 1 memory – other than opening night in 1988 – is the Playoff game in ’96, when the Kings played George Karl’s SuperSonics. The Kings had won Game 2 (on the road), and other than the first season when the Kings moved here from Kansas City, it was the first time the team had made the Playoffs. I’ve been blessed to go to all the big events in the country – Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup – and I’ve never experienced an atmosphere like when the team came out and ran onto the court in Game 3. It’s something I’ve never seen in any other building in the NBA.
“No. 2 is the Mike Bibby shot in Game 5 (of the 2002 Western Conference Finals), after the Kings had lost (on) the Robert Horry Game 4 shot. That was a moment that is right up there. John Stockton’s last game ever in Sacramento – when the Kings were eliminating the Jazz in the Playoffs (on April 30, 2003) – that was one of the great moments I’ve experienced in that building, just to see the respect and admiration for him.”
Who have been some of your favorite Kings players to watch and cover?
“I’d have to go back to the ‘80s and say Reggie Theus and Vinny Del Negro – they are also very good friends of mine. Spud Webb is a marvel, someone for whom I have the utmost respect and who became a good friend of mine, too.
“Vlade Divac is my favorite Kings player of all-time – great human, great player. I also became very close with the late Wayman Tisdale – also a classy human being.
“And then, just throughout this past decade, the Scot Pollards, Jon Barrys and Bobby Jacksons of the world. Having Corliss Williamson back in Sacramento is phenomenal. Those are some of the players who stick out and guys who’ve become very close to me. I can pick up the phone and call them at any time.”
With play-by-play experience on both radio and TV, how would you characterize the keys to success on each platform?
“When you’re on radio, you truly are the eyes and ears to the listeners back at home. You are literally painting a picture as you’re calling the game. A lot of times on TV, you’re judged more by what you don’t say than what you do say. I look at myself on TV as more of a facilitator – setting up (color analyst) Jerry (Reynolds), leading him into areas of the game to discuss when I see a trend coming. (I don’t do) as much technical play-by-play – I’m more (focused on) trends, (such as) if someone has just made five shots in a row.”
How much have you enjoyed working alongside Jerry Reynolds and Gary Gerould for much of your Kings tenure?
“Jerry was one of the very first people I met when I moved to Sacramento in 1987, and I still remember meeting him at a luncheon at a restaurant that doesn’t exist anymore. I probably see both Jerry and Gary throughout a calendar year almost as much as I see my own family. I really can’t picture being in this position and not seeing those guys around because they’re really like family members to me.”
How would describe a typical Kings gameday, from preparation to the end of the night?
“A lot depends on whether it’s a weekday or a weekend. If it’s a weekday, my preparation begins in the early afternoon because I have to do my radio show beginning at 3 p.m. In terms of preparation for the game itself, we’re blessed to have so much (data) right at our fingertips by going online and other NBA teams send us stats and information. I look at trends more than anything, because I think it’s something that is a really interesting aspect when you play a team. Are they struggling as a team? Are they red-hot? Are they allowing only x-number of points in the paint? Are they a team that likes to run? If so, how many fastbreak points do they score per game?
“I spend time just talking to the other teams’ announcers – they’ll tell me exactly what’s going on because we have a trust with one another because we’ve worked with each other for such a long time. Normally, about an hour before the game, I’ll go up to the other team’s announcer – whether it’s radio or TV – and I’ll pick their brain for 10 minutes. That’s where I get a lot of my inside information.”
How did you get started in broadcasting?
“It was something I knew I wanted to do at an early age. Back when I was in second grade, I just started turning the volume down on my TV set and announcing games. I used to go to my schoolyard basketball court and actually play basketball and announce the game at the same time. It just evolved that way – just constantly doing play-by-play.
“I was very blessed when I was growing up. We had season tickets to both the (N.Y.) Giants and the Jets, so I was at an NFL game every Sunday. My dad used to take me to a lot of hockey games and Yankees baseball games, so I was around sports all the time. I just kind of fell in love with (announcing) and kept working on it. When I went to college, I started working at the campus station, which led to an internship where I was doing a lot of things on-air. That led to my first full-time job.”
How did you ultimately land the opportunity to cover Kings games?
“I worked in Decatur, Ill., and I took the night off to attend a wedding on July 4, 1987. Someone walked up to me and said, ‘I know who you are!’ To make a long story short, he said, ‘We have an opening in Sacramento – send your tape out. I’m the Vice President of Communications.’ So I sent a tape out, and I was in Sacramento less than two weeks later working at Channel 31. Six months later, we won the rights to televise Kings games. I was in the right place at the right time. My general manager at the TV station wanted me to do the games, the Kings approved me, and that’s where it started. I did my first ever game in November 1988, and I’ve been blessed to be doing it ever since.”
In addition to NBA games, you’ve also served as play-by-play announcer for NHL and NFL broadcasts. How would you characterize those experiences?
“My dream growing up was to always do hockey and basketball, so for me to be able to do NHL games was a dream that was fulfilled. My other dream was to do NFL football, and I was fortunate enough to do Raiders games on TV for five years. I’ve pretty much done that bucket list as far as my career goes.
“I love doing a variety of sports – it’s a challenge. I can’t say that I would put one above the other, but now that I’ve been with the Kings for as long as I have, it’s home for me, it’s my bread and butter and it’s the one thing I hope I can do until I retire.”