Word of the new play-by-play hire for Celtics broadcasts on the cable television channel Prism didn’t steal the headlines in the Nov. 1, 1981, editions of the Globe.
The news warranted 31 words in the second deck of the Sports Log on Page 83: Mike Gorman will join color commentator Tommy Heinsohn as play-by-play man for the Celtics on the New England Prime Cable Network. Gorman is currently sports director of Ch. 12 in Providence.
Gorman was 23 days shy of his 36th birthday. Cable television was in its fledgling stage, and who would choose to pay for television anyway? And Gorman and Heinsohn were scheduled to call just 25 games, the rest airing for free on Channel 4, with Gil Santos and Bob Cousy on the call. It was no sure thing.
Forty-two seasons later, there will be considerably more fanfare around Gorman’s retirement, which is coming at the end of this season, than there was for his arrival. He’s 77 now, a Curt Gowdy Award recipient and Basketball Hall of Fame honoree, and — takes it, makes it — the voice for generations of Celtics fans.
NBC Sports Boston — a descendant of Prism — plans to celebrate Gorman all season, particularly his near four-decade run with Heinsohn, who died in November 2020. Gorman will call home games alongside analyst Brian Scalabrine, with 25-year-old Drew Carter handling the road broadcasts with Scalabrine, then taking over as the full-time play-by-play voice next season.
Gorman is at peace with the decision, which both he and Kevin Miller, NBC Sports Boston vice president of creative content and strategy, say was entirely his.
“I thought about leaving before last year,” said Gorman. “Heck, even 42 years scares me. So many people preface conversations by saying, ‘I’ve listened to you my whole life.’ ”
He laughs. “All I can say is, ‘I hope that wasn’t wasted effort on your part.’ ”
Of course it wasn’t. Though he may make, oh, a player identification mistake or two now that he wouldn’t have in his heyday, Gorman must rank among the best play-by-play voices, nationally or locally, in NBA history. How do you say goodbye to someone like that, and how do you ever go about finding the successor? As it turned out, Gorman’s decision to work just home games in his final season left NBC Sports Boston with a chance to plan a proper farewell — and a couple of potential routes toward finding his successor.
“One path was, ‘Can we find someone that could call all the road games this year and then potentially be the person to call all the games starting next season?’ ” said Miller. “Path 2 is if we didn’t find that person, could we fill in with maybe a couple of voices this season, kick the can down the road, and then establish who would be the full-time person next offseason?
“And really throughout the process, both of those paths were alive really toward until kind of the end. At every step of the way we kept coming back to Drew as a person that just seemed to be the right fit for us for not only this season, do the road games, but moving forward into next season.”
Sean Grande, who has been the Celtics’ radio voice since 2001-02 and has called numerous NBC Sports Boston broadcasts in recent years, was a candidate for the job, and many fans assumed he would get the position.
“I have a ton of respect for the way that he calls games,” said Miller. “He certainly has a great connection to Celtics fans and has been around the organization for 20 years. He was definitely given the utmost consideration. But just as we got down to the final stages, it just became more about Drew and less about anyone else.”
Carter, who said he auditioned for the job during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Celtics and 76ers, made a positive impression during the preseason. He impressed Gorman with his willingness to learn and friendliness to behind-the-scenes Garden personnel.
“He told me, ‘Look, I just watch you and I try to just mimic what you do,’ ” said Gorman, who introduced him to Celtics fans on the first preseason broadcast. “I laughed and said, ‘OK, but you need to get 4 feet behind me and to the right.’ ”
Carter, who attended Syracuse with the intent of becoming a writer before receiving broadcasting encouragement from excellent play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti, understands the prestige of his new role.
“The magnitude is not lost on me,” said Carter, who says he’s loved working with Scalabrine. “And I also know that there are people who will be skeptical and I understand that. I’m a young guy. The Celtics and NBC Sports Boston could have gone after a much bigger name and certainly a local. I know a lot of fans probably wanted that and they’ve had that with Mike for over four decades. So, there are a lot of reasons why I understand people might be kind of dubious out of the gate.”
Gorman, the accomplished and supportive teammate, said he’s pleased Carter got the job.
“This is not directed at anybody, but I’m glad they chose somebody I didn’t know,” said Gorman. “That way I can get to know Drew and he can get to know me, and I can tell him . . . here’s what I’ve learned over the past 40 years. I want to be able to pass that on to somebody. I didn’t want somebody who was in this marketplace or right outside this marketplace who came in and was like, ‘I’m ready to go, I know that, I know that, I know that.’ That wouldn’t have worked out well.”
For 42 years, Celtics broadcasts have worked out beyond well with Gorman on the call. He knows what he would like to see happen before the final buzzer.
“This is the time to win a championship,” he said. “The window is right, the roster is right, the age of the players is right. I have a vested interest in that. That would really make me feel I made the right choice, to have them win a championship in my last year of doing the games.”