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Happy Sad Anniversary

Courtesy of Wellstone Books
Courtesy of Wellstone Books

If you're like me there are a few moments, and not many, in your life that are etched so deeply you can always instantly put yourself right back in that moment.

For example, I recall an ordinary morning in mid-September 13 years ago when I awoke to the clock radio playing not music but rather DJs talking. An accident maybe, car, bus, hard to know in those first bleary seconds as you transition from slumber to a wakeful state. A plane? OK. Seemed important, so maybe a commercial airliner. Into a building, what? Planes? And then that instant when I realized it wasn't just a Tuesday, but rather that I had woken up to an historic day and not in a good way. Just a handful of moments will linger in this way.

On October 18th, 2005, I remember that moment I checked my email and saw a message from my friend. First I just saw the subject line: "Re:" OK, no subject line. Whatever. I opened the email and read:

Bill King has died. I am in shock.

I must have been too because I had to read the email three times before I could take in, or perhaps accept, the simple content. I don't know if you have had this experience, where you feel as if you have caused someone's death by reading about it but until the moment I read those lines, as far as I knew and thus as far as I was concerned, Bill King was alive and well. And then the moment I read those words he wasn't. If only I had waited until after dinner to check my email I could have had Bill King for a few more hours.

What I remember most about the last broadcast of the 2005 season is that I turned the radio off before the end of the wrap-up. The A's had given it a shot but had ultimately fallen short of the playoffs and I didn't need to hear the wrap-up to know how the season had gone. I'm not much of a "pre-game or post-game show guy" anyway, as I invest about three hours each day into listening to A's baseball as it is.

So I never heard Bill's last words live on the air, and can't really recall the last words he said that I did hear. Perhaps saddest of all it did not occur to me, at the time, to appreciate Bill's last broadcast. I figured he would live, and broadcast, forever; in hindsight, that was probably naive.

I will always maintain that Bill King was the best basketball play-by-play announcer in the history of the game. I was a Warriors fan growing up, but mostly that was because I was entranced by Bill's ability to almost literally paint the action on the court with his words. It was pure poetry to listen to him combine an economy of words with a wealth of detailed information. His simulcasts, in which he concurrently broadcast for audiences watching on TV and listening on radio, were brilliant.

As I mention in Ken Korach's book, Holy Toledo Lessons From Bill King: Renaissance Man of The Mic, outside of my immediate family there was probably no one's voice I heard as a child more than that of Bill King. Over the past 9 years I have still continued to hear it often, just not live.

Note: If you've never ordered a copy of "Holy Toledo," consider this anniversary to be an opportunity. It's a good read down memory lane.