Column: Following legends is more than just talk for these L.A. sports announcers
The Kings were playing well enough to stay close to the Columbus Blue Jackets but not well enough to win, a familiar pattern. Fans at Staples Center were quiet, probably numb after seeing so few goals and so many losses lately.
A few levels above the ice, TV play-by-play announcer Alex Faust maintained his energy and a comfortable conversation with analyst Jim Fox. Faust’s voice was vibrant and clear as he mentioned big-picture trends and small nuances. When Trevor Lewis cut the Kings’ deficit to one, Faust handled it smoothly. “The Kings have a life here in the third,” he said with cautious excitement, offering hope without being a cheerleader.
Broadcast executives recognize his precocious talents: Faust, who turned 31 on Jan. 14, works on national hockey, college football and college basketball telecasts, and for the Tennis Channel, including the upcoming Australian Open. The Kings gave him an extension through 2022-23.
But three seasons after taking over for the retired Bob Miller, he hasn’t won full acceptance from Kings fans. Social media users have sometimes been savage: When Faust tweeted that he was scheduled to work a national broadcast in Anaheim, one person replied: “Just stay there forever.”
Another, speaking of forward Ilya Kovalchuk, tweeted, “Any truth to the rumor you are being included in a trade with Kovalchuk? I am hoping you will be shipped off to Ottawa.”
Why the hostility? It’s not easy to constantly tell fans their team is losing, and it’s even harder to follow a Hall of Famer.
In the latter category, at least, he has company in Los Angeles with Dodgers TV voice Joe Davis, who succeeded Vin Scully, and Clippers TV announcer Brian Sieman, who succeeded Ralph Lawler.
Kings prospect Rasmus Kupari tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Finland’s first game of the 2020 World Junior Championship.
“I think those guys are doing a fantastic job,” Davis said. “I think they probably looked at it the same way as I did, which, I think, is the only way to have a fighting chance to have it go OK, and that is not look at it as you are the guy replacing this legend. I don’t think that that does anybody any good. And it’s really hard to be yourself if you’re too focused on the legend that you’re following, and I think that’s going to come across on the air.
“Plus, it’s just not possible. You’re not going to be as good as the guy you’re replacing or that you’re following simply because, in these cases, these are some of the best ever to do this job.”
Miller, Faust’s predecessor, called Kings games for 44 years. Miller wanted the Kings to win but scolded them if they weren’t playing all-out, and his eminence gave weight to his criticism. He was there almost from the start. Faust hadn’t been born when the Kings acquired Wayne Gretzky in 1988.
Faust was hired to bring vigor to calling a fast game, and he does it well. He can’t tell stories of the old days and he can’t play the role of the indulgent but sometimes stern uncle, as Miller did.
“I think there’s an expectation from announcers to either play it right down the middle or to lean in a little bit more to being the team guy. I’ve tried to straddle that line as much as I can because I feel I need to build up credibility with the audience and I still haven’t accomplished that to the extent that I want,” Faust said. “That will take a long time.
“Understandably for fans that had heard one voice, one style, one way of having rapport with a partner for so many years, it’s a bit of a jolt. I think I understand that a lot more now than I did when I first started and can appreciate a little bit more, with that time under my belt, just how good Bob was.”
Davis had a year’s break-in period, calling road games that Scully skipped. Davis, 32, also brings vitality. It helped that he forged an immediate bond with analyst Orel Hershiser, who shares his obsession over detail and sense of responsibility about figuratively occupying Scully’s seat.
“I think the two biggest things for me have been: No. 1, the team has been good, and so I’m delivering good news, and No. 2, Orel is one of my best friends in the world and you couldn’t fake that, especially in baseball, when it’s 162 games,” Davis said. “It’s really hard to manufacture genuine friendship.
“Right away, even before we were friends, he took me under his wing and made sure that I was comfortable and gave me some credibility even before I went on the air, because if Orel Hershiser is saying that I’m OK, then I think there’s a faction of Dodger fans that’s going to say, ‘That’s good enough for us.’”
Davis’ point about delivering good news is significant.
“I really believe if the team had been averaging 100 losses in my three years it wouldn’t be going nearly as well as it is, winning 100 games a year,” Davis said. “The ends have been really disappointing for everybody involved, but we’re not doing those games. We’re attached to the regular season, so the winning the team has done in the regular season, that’s no small thing for this going OK.”
Faust thought the Kings were on the rise after his first season, 2017-18. They made the playoffs and were swept by Vegas but he expected they’d be a perennial contender. Instead, they collapsed and badly missed the playoffs last season and likely will miss them again this season.
“So now I have to recalibrate the entire message that I’m delivering,” he said. “And some of the losses, last season in particular, were brutal. Down 5-1, 6-1. There’s no way that you can spin it. You can’t.”
As he told fans things they didn’t want to hear, he absorbed their misdirected anger over the Kings’ failures.
“I hope that I’m not associated with it, but inevitably I will be,” he said. “But part of being associated with delivering bad news is that there will be an upside at some point. If I’m there for the ride and if I’m loyal to the organization, which I plan to be, then I’ll get the upshot of that too. I’ll have the benefit of fans thinking that I’m there delivering good news because I’ve seen the bad times.”
Sieman, 44, was the radio voice of the Clippers for 12 seasons before he succeeded the retired Lawler on TV. Sieman had the advantage of knowing the team’s history and of fans knowing him.
“I think that does go a long way, especially with this fan base. And I’m going to use the word ‘we,’” he said. “We’ve been through so much with this team. I’ve been with the team since Elton Brand played, so I have gone through the highs and lows with them.”
But he faced some tricky adjustments. He worked alone in radio but on TV sits alongside one of three analysts — Corey Maggette, Chauncey Billups or Mike Fratello. That could be confusing, but he likes the varied elements they bring. Also, Sieman had to adjust from making a radio-style call to doing a TV call. After a while, it became second nature.
“It’s dramatic. It’s a 180 in every sense. I embraced the opportunity to do it,” he said. “It goes from being a solo guy on radio where I am the eyes, the ears, the narrator, the analyst, and not a very good one, where on television I just make sure you know who has the ball and I try to get out of the way and let Chauncey, Corey and Mike Fratello have the stage.
“And it really is all about them. I have no ego. Go, do it. It’s not me worried about how many words I’m getting in. The show is a better show when my analysts talk more than I do, by a longshot.”
Sieman doesn’t know Davis or Faust but admires them.
“Joe Davis has what I would call the toughest job in any sport for any broadcaster, period. Vin Scully is the greatest to ever do it. There will never be another guy better than Vin. And Joe walked in,” Sieman said. “People still love Vin, but when you hear Joe you don’t go, ‘I miss Vin.’ You appreciate what Joe has done.
“Both the Kings and the Dodgers, it’s a grand slam or a hat trick, if I want to stay with analogies of their respective sports. I think Alex had a really challenging situation to follow in Bob Miller’s footsteps. Anyone who doesn’t think he’s killing it every night is a fool.”
Faust said he hears fewer negative comments now than he did at first, when he tried responding by explaining he and Fox were doing the best they could but they couldn’t control the team’s record.
“But if it’s just, ‘Hey, stop calling the game this way, you suck,’ what am I going to say?” Faust said.
He’s prepared to stick this out. He can’t copy Miller’s style but he can be inspired by Miller’s ability to rise above bad teams and bad times and last long enough to enjoy triumphant moments.
“He’s there every step of the way,” Faust said, “so I’m kind of going through a miniature version of that roller coaster.”
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