There had to be laughter, because no event featuring Bob Miller could be stodgy or not reflect the love he felt for his play-by-play job and for the Kings, whose games he described with exasperation and exhilaration during 3,351 broadcasts over nearly 44 seasons.
And it was appropriate that there was some sadness too, as Miller announced that the effects of quadruple bypass surgery and two strokes within the last year had made it impossible for him to continue with his old enthusiasm and energy.
“I think it’s time to retire,” he said, “and hopefully have some quality time left with my family.”
Tears welled in the eyes of his latest and longest-tenured broadcast partner, Jim Fox, as Miller said he will relinquish his microphone after calling the Kings’ last two regular-season games, on April 8 at Staples Center and April 9 at Anaheim. Miller’s voice wobbled while he told one of his Jack Kent Cooke stories in a fair imitation of the former owner’s sonorous tone, but that was right too, his emotions surfacing in the way that endeared him to generations of hockey fans.
Miller, 78, didn’t get the gift of being able to choose when he would depart, as Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully did last year after 67 seasons. Miller’s doctors essentially made the decision for him. They told him to slow down, take it easy. He knew he couldn’t obey them and uphold the principles of a profession he has graced for 57 years on radio and TV. Nor did he want to risk waking up in distress one morning in a strange hotel room without medical help or Judy, his wife of 53 years, nearby.
“I said, ‘Well, in this sport, in my mind, there’s no taking it easy. When they drop the puck, you’re going. You’re on,’” he said. “And that’s what the fans expect from you and that’s the way you want to do the game. You want to be involved in it, you want to be energetic, excited. You can’t just say, ‘Well, I’ll do two periods really dull and then I’ll get excited in the third period.’
“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take it easy while I’m doing the games. They had the best interest in mind. Just slow down. I kind of knew then that this would be the time, with the exception of doing those two final games.”
He then steered the conversation toward Ralph Strangis, who has been filling in for him and will continue in that role the rest of this season. “I can do those two games and do them well, that’s what I want to do, finish off the season, at least doing a couple of games,” Miller said. “So, Ralph, you can take those two games off. But don’t go too far. Hang around. Stand right behind me.”
This is the end of an incomparable era for Los Angeles sports fans, the last pillar removed from the broadcast trinity of Scully, Lakers announcer Chick Hearn and Miller. It was Hearn who recommended Miller for the Kings’ broadcast job. Thursday’s news conference was held in the Chick Hearn press room at Staples Center. That’s a full-circle journey if ever there was one.
Miller’s peers hold him in the same high regard that his fans do. He was honored with a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame and four other halls and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“Simply put, without being enrolled in ‘The School of Bob Miller,’ I never could have had the career I have had,” said Nashville Predators announcer Pete Weber, Miller’s broadcast partner with the Kings from 1978 to ’81. “Bob absolutely means the world to me, both as a friend and a broadcaster. … He taught me how to prepare, he showed me how important it was to consider each game you do — whether an exhibition in Victoria, [Canada,] or a Stanley Cup playoff game — that it is important to always bring your best. He taught me to have fun doing the games, that we aren’t narrating brain surgery, but to be accurate and ‘on’ at all times.”
The Kings and broadcast partner Fox Sports will search for Miller’s successor this summer. “We’re never going to replace Bob Miller. We need someone to call the games,” said Luc Robitaille, the Kings’ president of business operations and one of hundreds of players whose careers were narrated by Miller. “No one will ever replace Bob, just like you can’t replace the great people that worked for the Dodgers and the Lakers. He’s at that same level.”
Robitaille said Miller can remain involved with the team as much as he wants, but Judy Miller has other plans. “We’ve been married for 53 years and he’s been gone for half of them,” she said, triggering laughter. “We can go to our grandsons’ things at school, just normal things that families get to do that we haven’t been able to do. I think it’s going to be great.”
Miller someday will be honored with a banner in the arena or a statue outside. He hopes to be remembered for being kind to fans and for entertaining them. “That would be it for me,” he said, “just have people say, ‘I had a great time talking to him and really enjoyed the broadcast.’”
Done. And done.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen