Hot Rod Hundley: My Gateway To Utah Jazz Basketball


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Ryan Stanton

On Friday, March 27th, 2015, West Virginia Mountaineer legend, the NBA’s No. 1 overall draft pick in 1957, a two-time All-Star and longtime Utah Jazz play-by-play man Hot Rod Hundley passed away. He was 80.

With his passing, the basketball world lost one of its most dynamic and colorful contributors. Moreover, I, like many among the Utah faithful, lost my gateway into the NBA and Jazz basketball.

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At the risk of dating myself, I remember a time before the internet, League Pass, and blockbuster TV deals with mass distribution via cable and satellite. A time when, even while living in Utah, there were many instances where the only way to catch Jazz basketball was to tune in to Hots on the AM radio.

As a fledgling basketball junkie, the countless hours spent listening to Hundley paint his game night portraits with whimsical style and esoteric mantras were crucial to developing my understanding of the best game the sports world has to offer.

From a young age, I was enamored with the various forms of statistical evaluation that existed in basketball. You could even go so far as to say that I’m an early adopter of hoops analytics. Given my fondness for such things, I took it upon myself to develop my own rudimentary method for evaluating players during the 1993-94 season.

Hot Rod Hundley, photo from The Monticola (University of West Virginia yearbook), 1955, page 96

Each time the Jazz were on, I would listen to Hot Rod’s thorough description of what was transpiring and do my best to notch each point scored, every rebound grabbed, each assist dished and every steal nabbed into a notebook.

Using my statistical notes, intuition and the broadcast analysis of Hundley and his partner-in-crime, Ron Boone, I would give each player a score from one to five.

The conclusions reached during this process provided the basis for every basketball-related stance I would take for the next year. Hot Rod Hundley was my basketball guru and his words provided the raw data for my special brand of basketball science.

Even today, Hundley’s opinions and idiosyncrasies on the call inform my experience of an NBA game. Every time we’re forced to sit through the agony of the NBA’s new replay process, my mind races back to Hot Rod’s desperate pleas for officials to keep the game moving.

As the action is brought to a screeching halt and the seconds become minutes while we’re force-fed a silly, superfluous split-screen shot of, well, not much going on at the league’s Seacacus, New Jersey replay center, Hundley’s voice echoes in my brain. I can’t help but wonder what he would think of the sordid affair.

When Derrick Favors drops a monster jam or Rudy Gobert rejects the opposition at the rim, I imagine what his call would be in much the same manner as I did with my own exploits as a child.

I recall the many instances of donning my Isiah Thomas pajamas (the folly of youth), bouncing a foam ball off of the frame of my brother’s top bunk, going between the legs and throwing it down on the nerf hoop that hung atop our bedroom door.

“Hammer dunk! Isiah scores two and you gotta love it, baby! Time out, Seattle!” Hundley would declare. He’ll never know it, but he was always there with just the right call as I complied my bedroom ball highlight film.

In the aftermath of his passing, media, fans and former players alike took to social media with kind words and fond memories of Hot Rod. For me, none hit home like those of the Booner:

I never met Rod Hundley, but his words made an impact in my life and the lives of countless other Jazz fans. His connection with all of us was special and the memories of his contributions to the game of basketball and one-of-a-kind personality will last forever.

Rest in peace, Hots.

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