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Blazers play-by-play man was bit early by broadcasting bug

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Mike Barrett (left) goes over pre-game graphics with his producer, Jeff Curtin, in the production truck at Moda Center. Barrett, the television play-by-play broadcaster for the Trail Blazers, and Curtin have been friends since their days at Oregon State working on Beavers sports events.There are plenty of rewarding things about being an NBA play-by-play man. None means more to Mike Barrett than the feedback he receives from fans of the Trail Blazers.

“Best part of my job,” says Barrett, a Tualatin resident in his 11th season as Portland’s television voice. “To be able to be a small part of the love affair this fan base has with the team, that’s an honor. I don’t ever want to forget what a blessing it is.”

Barrett and broadcasting partner Mike Rice often are approached at fan events and games by Blazermaniacs who relay their appreciation for the job they do.

“They want to take pictures or tell us stories,” Barrett says. “They feel like they know us. We’re their bridge to the team. What an honor to do that, even for a lot of people we’ll never meet.

“At road games, I’ll have somebody come up and tell me he’s been gone from Portland for 25 years, but we’re his link to the Blazers. That means more to me than almost anything.”

Barrett, 45, may not have been born for the job, but it’s pretty close.

A West Albany High and Oregon State grad, he grew up the son of a basketball coach (Duane Barrett, for 18 years the Bulldogs’ mentor) who loved the sport, followed the Trail Blazers and, oddly, had an affinity for broadcasting.

“Growing up, my mom would drop me off at my dad’s practice every afternoon,” he says. “I would hang out at the sideline and shoot baskets. The gym was my baby sitter.”

Local radio play-by-play man Larry Gordon “was the guy who initially got me interested,” Barrett says, “and I was one of those kids who grew up listening to Bill Schonely on the radio, under the covers before I went to bed.”

“We’d come to a few Blazer games at Memorial Coliseum every season, and I’d watch the game, but I’d watch the Schonz at work, too,” Barrett says. “I followed other announcers, too. I’d watch NBA games on Sundays and even pre-game shows for NFL telecasts, paying close attention to every bit of the business. And there were times when I’d make up games in my head and do it with a tape recorder.”

Barrett got his broadcasting start at Oregon State, ironically under the direction of fellow student Jeff Curtin, now the Blazers’ director of broadcasting. Barrett was working as an intern in the school’s sports information department when Curtin began as manager of the student TV station, KBVR. Curtin called on Barrett to broadcast some local high school football and Beaver baseball games. They worked together as runners for CBS during the 1989-90 NBA playoffs at Memorial Coliseum, “and we hung out together even more,” Curtin says. “He looked great on camera, knew sports and was good at it right away.”

Both graduated from OSU in 1991. Curtin was hired by Blazer Broadcasting as an intern in 1995 and gradually moved up the ladder, assuming his current position this fall. Barrett, meanwhile, started out calling high school football games for $50 a pop on KUIK (1360 AM) in Hillsboro, then was hired as sports director by KXL in Portland at age 23 in 1992.

For eight years, Barrett worked that job, getting additional experience as a sideline reporter for Oregon football games. In 1999, after Paul Allen bought KXL, the Blazers hired Barrett as a studio host on radio and editor of Rip City magazine. He served as play-by-play voice for the WNBA’s Portland Fire from 2000-03, then replaced Pete Pranica doing play-by-play for the Blazers. These days, Barrett also serves as host for the Trail Blazers’ radio/TV “Courtside” show and writes a blog for the club’s website.

“The most special part of doing this job was that I grew up going to the coliseum watching the Blazers,” Barrett says. “It gives you a good perspective on the history of the team. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t call games for another team, but it’s so much more comfortable.”

Barrett worked his first two years with veteran analyst Steve “Snapper” Jones.

“Steve taught me a lot,” Barrett says. “He was terrific. It was difficult to get a compliment from Steve, but if you got one, you felt good. I remember the first year, the Blazers won at Golden State when Zach Randolph hit a reverse layup at the buzzer. We got on the plane afterward, and Steve said, ‘Good call, kid.’ I still remember where I was standing on the plane when he said that. It meant the world to me. Steve knew how to humble you in a loving way. He did that with me.

“He was no homer. He’d always go overboard to show you at times it didn’t matter to him who won. I’d like to say the same thing is true with me, but I find it difficult because of the relationships you build. How can you spend an amount of time with the players and coaches and get to know them and not want them to win?”by: TRIBUNE PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - Before the Trail Blazers take to the court against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland team broadcaster Mike Barrett interviews coach Terry Stotts.

Courtside show

For the past nine seasons, Barrett has been partnered with Rice, a former coach at Duquesne and Youngstown State who also had experience broadcasting for ESPN.

“When they moved me to host the ‘Courtside’ show Rice and Jones were on it together,” Barrett says. “They just argued for two hours, and they’d get off topic. They wanted somebody to referee this wrestling match. But it was really cool, because I listened to both as a kid and had a ton of respect for them.

“Mike is much more emotional than Steve was. Mike sees things on the floor that most people don’t. He’s so good at what he does. He loves the game. He knows it very well. There have been Blazer coaches in the past who have taken him aside on road trips and picked his brain. He’s one of the best in conveying what he sees.”

Rice is also a character, given to delivering quips and more than occasionally mixing up names and facts and figures. Barrett is the straight man in the “Mike and Mike” act, making corrections when necessary and playing off Rice’s personality.

“Mike can be wacky, but that’s part of his charm,” Barrett says. “He has a brilliant basketball mind. He has charisma on the air.”

“They play off each other so well,” Curtin says. “Rice knows basketball, but he can be kind of goofy. Barrett brings out the best of Mike’s knowledge of the game, doing a great job with the play-by-play as well as setting up his partner. I can count on him to get the sponsor reads and the game score in, handling the fundamentals of sports broadcasting and letting the knowledge of Rice support that.”

Curtin says in a poll conducted by the NBA of viewers in each of the league’s 30 cities last summer, the Blazers’ broadcast team ranked among the top five in terms of popularity with the local audience.

“The biggest compliment I hear is when people say, ‘You guys sound like a couple of dudes watching a game,’” Barrett says. “That’s what I want us to be. We laugh a lot. We have a good time. That’s the way to be. What’s there to get angry about? This is entertainment.”

“Mike has a quick sense of humor,” Rice says. “The crew we work with, I don’t think there’s a moment where we’re not laughing with each other over something.”

Most important, Rice says, is Barrett doesn’t take himself too seriously.

“There are a lot of play-by-play guys in the NBA who are really ego-driven,” Rice says. “Mike’s not that way at all. We do a job, but it ain’t like brain surgery. It’s NBA announcing. That’s the way we both look at it.”by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Mike Barrett (left) and Blazers analyst Mike Rice discuss the particulars of the upcoming Portland-Minnesota game Saturday night at Moda Center.

‘Complement to the story’

Barrett and Rice have become good friends, going to dinner and playing golf and tennis together often on road trips.

“We shouldn’t be able to get along as well as we do,” Rice says. “I’m a liberal, and he’s a conservative about everything we do. But it’s a match because we respect each other as far as knowing about the NBA and wanting to do a good job.

“Mike is very professional. He really cares. He wants to make every broadcast the best broadcast, whether we’re playing Milwaukee or Oklahoma City. I enjoy working with somebody who cares that much. It makes it a challenge each night to do the best job we can.”

Barrett says he prefers doing TV over radio.

“I don’t have any trademark catch phrases,” he says. “Nothing against anybody who does, but that’s not my style. I don’t want to be the story. I just want to be a complement to the story. TV is set up perfectly for that.

“You’re not the viewers’ eyes and ears, like radio. There will be times during a game where I’ll stop and think, ‘Jeesh, Mike, you’ve been talking too much. Shut up.’”

Barrett has never missed a game in his 11 years.

“I don’t know what the streak is,” he says. “I just know that you show up for work and do your job every single night.”

Barrett has had overtures about other jobs in the NBA market as recently as last summer, but would prefer to stay put. He and wife Shelly have two children — son Jack, 8, and daughter Gabby, 7. They live in Tualatin, not far from the Blazers’ practice facility.

“I can’t see myself at this point going anywhere else,” Barrett says. “If it’s up to me, I won’t. I like Portland. It’s home. God willing, it will be home for a long time. I don’t have leaving in my blood.”

Barrett works on a year-to-year contract but would love to have a lifetime deal.

“I may be old-fashioned, but I’ve never had an agent and don’t plan on getting one,” he says. “I’ve always had the attitude, let somebody else decide what I’m worth. I have everything I need — a great family and the greatest job in the world.”by: TIMES PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ - At home in Tualatin, Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett helps his daughter Gabby, 7, shoot a basket as his wife Shelly and son Jack, 8, observe her technique.

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