The Charlotte Hornets have been one of the surprises of the 2020-21 NBA season. With the league now in the second half of the campaign, the Hornets hold the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference and third place in the Southeast Division with a 20-20 record.
A key to Charlotte’s success thus far has been the emergence of rookie guard LaMelo Ball. The Hornets picked Ball with the No. 3 selection in last year’s NBA Draft, so he was viewed as an impact prospect. But the 19-year-old (he’ll turn 20 in August) has made more of a difference than was expected by many.
Play-by-play broadcaster Eric Collins has had a courtside seat for the Hornets’ resurgence and Ball’s quick ascendance as an NBA star. He recently talked to Sports Illustrated‘s Michael Pina about calling games in empty arenas, his ambition to stand out from his broadcasting colleagues, and being witness to LaMelo.
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“Thirty years from now, it will probably be one of the things that will define what I do professionally,” Collins told Pina. “I did a lot of games when Michael [Jordan] played. I was the sideline reporter for the Chicago Bulls and I saw what that was like.
“I don’t know if I want to go that far yet with LaMelo, but it’s pretty cool to be there when he’s just starting, and to get an opportunity to do his games when he’s 19. If he ages well and stays around in Charlotte, and I get a chance to do his games for 10 years or 15 years, whatever, I think it’s gonna be pretty cool.”
Forty games into his rookie season, Bell is averaging 16 points, six assists, six rebounds, and nearly two steals per game, while shooting 38 percent from three-point range. He began the season as a reserve, but has been even better since Hornets coach James Borrego put him in the starting lineup.
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Collins’ candor about wanting to stand out as a broadcaster was a surprising aspect of his interview with Pina. The veteran announcer says he doesn’t listen much to his peers because experience has told him that many of them don’t put in the preparation that he does.
“I go around the league and I ask my standard questions every single time I’m in a new building,” he said, “questions that I want answered from the other play-by-play guys (because it’s always guys), and inevitably no one knows the answers to my questions.
“It kind of annoys me that they don’t know their team as well as I feel that they should. Like, to me, you’ve gotta know your team like the back of your hand. But it also reaffirms my belief that I don’t need to listen to anyone else, because I don’t think that they do the research, or I don’t think that they take the time that I do.”
NBA fans are sure to become more familiar with Collins’ broadcasting as the Hornets develop into a playoff contender and Ball establishes himself as must-watch TV. He hopes that viewers eventually recognize him for his signature style and respect him for being one of the few Black play-by-play announcers in the league.
“I think it’s important for people to know I’m not cookie-cutter. It’s by design. I don’t look like anyone else. I don’t have the same background as anyone else. I’m biracial. I consider myself Black. And it was hard for me to get a job, probably because I didn’t look like everyone else and I didn’t sound like everyone else. So I think it’s important for people to realize that different doesn’t have to be scary. And that different, more often than not, is good.”