WASHINGTON (JTA) — Most fans of the usually dismal Washington Wizards would be thrilled to be taking in the team’s rare playoff run from a luxury suite.
But Steve Buckhantz is used to watching the games courtside, with a microphone.
Buckhantz, 58, a member of the local Jewish community center’s Sports Hall of Fame, has served as the Wizards’ television broadcaster for 17 years and endured plenty of putrid basketball. This year’s squad, however, is making some noise, with the team reaching the second round of the playoffs for only the second time in more than three decades.
The cruel twist: Now that there is finally an exciting team to report on, Buckhantz finds himself off the air, with national networks taking over the coverage.
“I feel totally displaced,” Buckhantz told JTA during a playoff game last week against the Chicago Bulls, referring to the unusual experience of watching the action with his family from the suite owned by his employer, Comcast SportsNet, rather than describing the action for viewers.
Now, he added, “I’m totally a fan.”
By contrast, Glenn Consor, the Wizards’ radio analyst, is still in action.
From their separate vantage points, the men both were fraught with glee and wracked with tension as they observed the action unfolding during Washington’s final home win against the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.
It’s all been part of the quantum leap made by the Wizards this season, winning 15 more games than in 2012-13 and reaching the playoffs.
The Wizards languished in sub-.500 terrain two-thirds of the way through the season, but took off following the February acquisitions of forward Drew Gooden and guard Andre Miller, who lent a strong veteran presence to a team built around the youthful backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
“I saw that we had the talent this year,” said Consor, 56. “For us, right now, it’s kind of come together.”
The lean Consor looks ready to suit up and take the court again himself. He first prowled the concrete playgrounds of his native Flushing in the New York City borough of Queens looking for game; played point guard at Boston University for a rookie coach named Rick Pitino (a Hall of Famer who guides the University of Louisville) and professionally in Israel with Maccabi Haifa; and worked as an NBA scout before settling in as a broadcaster.
The stockily built Buckhantz is an area native who has made broadcasting his career. His link to the franchise goes back to his parents taking him to games of the then-Baltimore Bullets; Buckhantz still has the wristband the team’s star guard, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, gave him more than 40 years ago. (Robert and Adele Buckhantz just celebrated their 66th anniversary, Steve noted.)
The men don’t announce games as a unit — Buckhantz is paired with ex-Bullets guard Phil Chenier, while Consor works with play-by-play announcer Dave Johnson. But there was Buckhantz in the tunnel outside the home locker room after the Wizards’ April 27 home win donning a headset after Consor summoned him to join his postgame show to offer insight on the victory.
Buckhantz and Consor share a direct, professional style of smoothly communicating the action to their audiences. Johnson called Consor “amazingly prepared” and someone possessing “the unique ability” to explain plays to the average fan. Chenier said Buckhantz is detail oriented, noting how he coordinates camera shots with producers and asks the players how to properly pronounce their names.
Most striking about Buckhantz, along with able play-by-play descriptions, are his precise elocution and an excitement reserved for opportune times.
The Wizards would blow a big lead in Game 2 against the Bulls, trail by eight points midway through the fourth quarter and rally to force overtime. With the clock ticking down to zero and Washington leading by two, the Bulls’ Kirk Hinrich drove to the basket and was fouled.
Making the two free throws would tie the game and likely necessitate a second overtime.
“Hinrich misses the free throw!” Buckhantz reported, nearly as breathlessly as Boston Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most’s legendary “Havlicek stole the ball!” call in 1965 on a play that clinched the Eastern Conference finals.
The Wizards haven’t been involved in games of that magnitude since 1979, when the team then known as the Bullets reached the NBA Finals but failed to defend their championship of the previous season.
These Wizards would have to pull off some magic to match those runs, but the prospect now seems less far-fetched. They’re playing the slumping Indiana Pacers, who needed seven games to dispatch the sub-.500 Atlanta Hawks in the opening round of the playoffs.
If the Wizards get by Indiana, they could face the defending two-time champion, LeBron James-led Miami Heat, who Washington played to a four-game draw this season. The second win came at home three weeks ago, with Buckhantz and Consor on hand to call it.
That meant missing the first seder night, which Buckhantz said was hard.
Being relegated to a spectator role seems equally difficult, but Buckhantz will have to deal with it. Consor will continue calling games on the radio and hosting his postgame show, but Buckhantz will be relieved of play-by-play duties because of the national network coverage.
But Buckhantz still has the pregame show.
“I’ll have to revert to being a fan,” he said. “It’ll be frustrating not to be involved in calling the actual game.”