Kevin Harlan has one of the most recognizable voices in professional sports. NCAA Tournament, yup, he’s calling games.
NFL Football games on Westwood One?
NBA on TNT on Thursday nights? Check!
He’s also the voice of hit video game NBA 2K. Harlan and I had a quick Q&A on a variety of things like name pronunciations and the first game that he ever called.
Check It Out!
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: Do you remember your very first game?
Kevin Harlan: Yes, I was 14, high school radio station… Green Bay, Wisconsin… student-run 10 watt radio station, doing a football game and during the broadcast one of the fellow students was in the studio and he was playing a dog barking… my parents were listening to the broadcast and said “what was that dog barking?” I said “I never heard a dog barking?”… this guy was screwing around in the studio and putting a dog underneath the play-by-play broadcast, anyway I came home, my dad had about 3 pages of notes I got the bug and that was it. So I was about 14 years old, 14/15 years old when I did my first broadcast.
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: How many times do you think you messed up?
Kevin Harlan: Oh, how many times do I mess up now? It never leaves you, you’re constantly trying to have the perfect broadcast, no one ever has. At that time I didn’t know any better, I didn’t know what was good and what wasn’t I was trying to work my way to make things right… I got plays right, players right, score correct… but as you go on and listen to yourself the more critical you become, take your notes, try to improve… that’s the only way to get better I think. So I probably screwed up a thousand times and I can tell you that it probably doesn’t change much now. I can find a thousand different things that changed about broadcasting to now.
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: Have you ever come close to calling your perfect game? – Ok what’s the closest you’ve came?
Kevin Harlan: I don’t know if I’ve done a perfect game, there’d been games I felt my voice had been especially good for whatever reason, there’d been games I felt like my rhythm had been especially good for whatever reason, you try to duplicate that because you try to put yourself in the same frame of mind the next game and it’s hard to do because it’s the performance business… sometimes you hit a play, I think there have been super bowl plays I’ve been fairly accurate on, well most recently there’s been the catch by Alshon Jeffery and the touchdown pass in last year’s Super Bowl; the Eagles and Patriots, first touchdown throw in that game and he was in the back of the end zone leaping, falling backward, back peddling, outstretched, two handed, helmet-high, back of the end zone catch, heavily covered. And I kind’ve did that kind of a rhythm as it was going on as I was trying to paint the picture on radio, I thought that- I’d have to go back and find something I’d want to do different there, but I thought that was pretty good so I never give myself too much of a pat on the back… I give myself things I aspire to, to be perfect. And that’s one of the great things about this business is the challenges of trying to be perfect are always there and kinda keep you going and hopefully keep you evolving.
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: I’ve been playing 2K since the first game came out, curve ball… do you actually play 2K?
Kevin Harlan: I do not. My son does… I do not play, I don’t know how to play, I don’t know if I would wanna do with that little game controller that you hold in your hand. I’ve watched guys play, I’ve watched my son play but he turns down the volume because he doesn’t want to hear my voice (laughs)
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: I did that with Madden when I was in college, I was like “shut up Madden”
Kevin Harlan: I’m sure there are thousands and thousands of kids who turn it down, but who says it most to me are parents that are going by a kid’s room, or a parent that might be listening down in the basement as their child is playing, and they say “I hear your voice every night” you know? “I hear your voice every day” and I say “Oh you watched that game?” and they go “No no no, they’re playing 2K downstairs or my son is playing 2K in his room”. But I’ve never played, and they know that I’ve never played.
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: Do you ever listen to the game while someone is playing or you hear them and you’re just like ‘what the hell did I just say’?
Kevin Harlan: Well if I hear a snippet and I don’t like the way it sounds I know the next time I go in the recording studio that I’ll try to work on that. I’ll keep a mental file, I’ll say “you know I didn’t like the way I called that layup” or I didn’t like the way I said that guy’s name or I didn’t like the way I interacted with Shaq or whoever I’m doing that particular game with so I make mental notes.
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: Can you give me an example, of things you said and went back and made a mental note of?
Kevin Harlan: Well, Valanciunas when he first came in the league with Toronto was not saying his name that way… it was- I forget now.
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: Voon-ci-un-es (jokes)
Kevin Harlan: It was something like that and what happens is these kids say their names into a microphone and I listen to it and then I’ll go on and record a segment of them playing, my recollection is he did not say it “Valanciunas” when he first came in the league he said it how you said it. So I said it that way, and then when he had come out after the team had gained some prominence and he was playing well and they were making the playoffs… all of a sudden now it was “Valanciunas” and I made a mental note of that one because I heard it when my son was playing the old version and I said ‘Oh I can’t hear that!” so I made a point that when we came back we recorded everything Valanciunas that I had ever recorded Valanciunas, I said I wanna do every one of them over again… it’s not fair to the kid granted he changed his name which we can’t help so we went back and changed everything with Valanciunas.
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: Has a player ever came to you and said ‘you said my name wrong on 2K’?
Kevin Harlan: I don’t think- I don’t recall, but there have been kids that have come up in the tournament and say “When I’m in the pros you gotta make sure I sound big and you gotta make sure I sound good” I say “Well give me something to say then gimme something”, the Johnson kid who played at Arizona who was drafted by Detroit; he came up and said that to me.
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: Stanley Johnson.
Kevin Harlan: Stanley Johnson. And he was a high school player of the year in LA and was a freshman under Shawn at Arizona and he said “I’m getting ready for my 2K debut, I’m getting ready for my 2K debut”, I said “Well give me something to talk about” he said “I’ll give you something to talk about” as he was walking by on the floor so yeah the kids play it all the time. College kids play it all the time, and sometimes they don’t know it’s me but we’ll be in the meetings before the games with them and I’ll ask a question and the kid will kinda go back like this, lean back in his chair and laugh and I go “Is that a bad question?” and he goes “No I just figured out who you were because all they do is the voice and not the name”,
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: Where’s the weirdest place you’ve been in public where people say “holy crap thats Kevin Harlan from 2K”?
Kevin Harlan: If we’re ordering food and I’ll be with my family and a waiter will come by and I say “I’ll take a hamburger and french fries and a coca-cola” and they’ll kinda smile and they say ‘I play your game’
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: (laughs)
Kevin Harlan: And that is from waiters from Washington to Florida, from California to Massachusetts I mean it’s just funny who plays the game.
Brandon ‘Scoop’ Robinson: I had Ronnie 2K, Ronnie 2K the marketing guy from 2K on Scoop B Radio, he said that the weirdest place was when he was waiting in line at an airport and somebody recognized him and let him cut the line.
Kevin Harlan: Let him cut the line because of that?
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: Yeah! The TSA line.
Kevin Harlan: So that has been the weirdest when people you just kinda, you wouldn’t expect like you’re just, like if you’re gonna check a bag and you start talking to the gate agent and they’ll kinda smile and they’ll mention that so yeah.
Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson: Enough said. Brother, thank you.
Kevin Harlan: Thank you! Congratulations on everything.