When you're a flamboyant, bon vivant media personality, the name "Rodney Hundley" isn't going to get the job done. But "Hot Rod Hundley," that's a keeper.
And since the first peach-basket pitch of Dr. James Naismith rattled home — or so it seems — Hundley has been a part of the game of basketball; first as a excellent athlete and even better showman at West Virginia. Then into the pros to play, and eventually on to Salt Lake City — where he has literally been the "Voice of the Utah Jazz" since the first group of "cagers" bearing the Jazz moniker hit the floor.
Among aging sports adages, one of the truest says, "You've got to keep your head in the game."
Good players know it and live by it. So do the great coaches and managers. Sadly, however, more and more broadcast personalities seem unable to maintain the focus. They drift off into stories or half-funny jokes about each other. But not Hot Rod. A radio man at heart, his head was always in the game — even when he did television broadcasts. As a former guard he had learned to keep his eye on the full court. He watched for miscues and saw missed opportunities. But most of all, he called out lazy play. (He often referred to former NBA player Joe Barry Carroll as "Joe Barely Cares").
Hundley could play the "let's see some effort" card because, like coach Jerry Sloan, he played the game that way and lives that way. Hundley's motto might be, "Life's too short to telephone it in."
His replacement will have his hands full.
As Hundley steps aside, everyone will step forward with a favorite Hot Rod story, of course. But more than a roast, it will be more like a reading of Utah Jazz folklore. As with the legendary announcers associated with particular teams — from Harry Carry in Chicago to Jack Buck in St. Louis — Hundley has become as much a part of the Utah Jazz franchise as any player or coach.
He has earned a spot in the all-time Jazz starting lineup. And he did it without ever tossing a ball at a hoop.
That's talent you gotta love, baby.