Our Q&A series is back as we talk to ESPN play by play man Dave Pasch. This year, Pasch has notably teamed with Bill Walton to produce one of the most entertaining broadcast pairings on television. We asked Dave about the long, strange trip, what his relationship is like with Walton off the air, Pac 12 teams in the NCAA Tournament, and his other work for ESPN and the Arizona Cardinals.
AA: Your work with Bill Walton became the talk of the blogs during the Pac 12 Tournament. How in the world do you prepare to call a game with Bill? What's your relationship like off the air?
Dave Pasch: I really like working with Bill, and we have a good relationship off the air. Bill is just a fun guy to be around. He's pretty much the same on and off the air, and that's one of the things I like about him. Bill has tremendous passion for basketball, history, and life in general. Working with Bill, you have to stay on your toes and be prepared to talk about anything and everything, while continuing to document the game. Timing is everything, and I think we developed pretty good timing over the course of the season. The spontaneous back and forth ribbing, or conversations about music have to be weighed against what's going on in the game. What's interesting is Bill doesn't like to talk too much pre-game about his opinions on specific subjects that might come up during the telecast. He worked with Ralph Lawler for 13 years on Clippers games, and they rarely spoke until they hit the airwaves, so that all of their conversations were off the cuff. I don't think you can practice chemistry, and I think spontaneity makes for good chemistry.
AA: When Bill breaks out into stories about The Grateful Dead or the history of Macon, Georgia during the NIT how are you able to balance the entertainment and unpredictability factor and keeping some focus on the game at hand?
Dave Pasch: I think it all depends on time and score, and how the game is going. Sometimes I respond – either with a serious remark, or a jab – and then return to the action. Sometimes I will even lead him to a non-basketball subject, depending on what's happening on the court. It all depends on timing. I worked a few games with Bill when I started on the NBA in '06-'07, so I had an idea about Bill's style and unique perspective. It's been a fun learning experience working a full schedule with him this year, because I think it takes time to get comfortable balancing the on and off the court topics.
AA: Do you have to adjust your style when calling a game with Walton and embrace that role as the straight man when Bill goes off the script?
Dave Pasch: I think you always have to be prepared to adjust your style as play-by-play announcer depending on who you are working with. One of the great things about ESPN is the diversity of analysts we have. Not everyone sounds the same, and not everyone approaches the telecast the same way. I think you serve the viewer best by adjusting to try and bring out the best in your analyst.
AA: What's the biggest adjustment for you as a play by play man working with so many different partners and so many different sports?
Dave Pasch: I think knowing your analyst is the key. Working with a former player will lead to different questions and topics, than working with a former coach. Some focus more on stats, some on X's and O's, others on stories. I don't think you can go into a telecast saying this is what I'm going to say, and when I'm going to say it. You go in with a gameplan, but you have to be able to adjust.
AA: How do you judge a good broadcast in this day and age of social media when everyone's opinion is so readily available and your work and the industry in general is monitored more closely than ever?
Dave Pasch: I think documenting the game is first and foremost. You can still have fun, be entertaining, address different subjects, and appropriately document what's happening on the court. I'm always open to criticism, because I think that's how you improve. You want to serve the viewer. As the play-by-play announcer, you are the voice of the fan. If you're ignoring the game, or not asking the right questions of your analyst, then you may not be serving the customer. I think the viewer wants to follow the game, learn something new, and be entertained. The viewer wants to be part of the game, and our job is to make them feel like they are.
AA: The Pac 12 didn't get too much respect from the selection committee, but two teams made it to the Sweet 16. (Arizona and Oregon) After seeing those teams up close this season, what kind of chances do you give either to advance to Atlanta?
Dave Pasch: Oregon has a tougher road than Arizona. The Ducks were unfairly seeded. It is as if the selection committee ignored the Pac 12 tournament when it came to seeding. UCLA was seeded too high – especially because of the Jordan Adams injury, and Oregon was seeded too low. I think the Pac 12 is a good league with good coaches. Dana Altman and Sean Miller are two of the best. I think Arizona has a better chance of reaching the Final Four.
AA: We see you work for ESPN calling college basketball, the NBA, and college football. You also call games on the radio for the Arizona Cardinals. What's your favorite assignment?
Dave Pasch: I love all of the sports I cover and each is unique. College football has the tradition and the rivalries. The NFL has the best players in the world. Both are once a week, so each game really feels like an event. The NBA, you are up close and personal watching the greatest players in the world, courtside as LeBron and Blake Griffin fly through the air with ridiculous athletic ability. College basketball, you're up close and personal with the fans and the students, and the venues are unique.
Obviously, calling the Super Bowl was the highlight. It's different when you are doing an event like that as a team announcer. You have vested interest in the outcome, so your emotions ebb and flow. Needless to say, my emotions did a 180 in the closing minutes. I think I lost a few years calling that game!