When I was 12 years old, Charles Barkley, along with new coach Paul Westphal, joined Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle and others to form the greatest Phoenix Suns team of all time. The 1992-1993 Phoenix Suns season cemented me as a basketball fan for all eternity – thanks in great part to the fellows above, but perhaps just as much because of Al McCoy, the voice of the Phoenix Suns all those years ago.
From “Heartbreak Hotel” to “Shazam,” McCoy’s catchphrases and – as he calls is – “Midwestern Style” of calling games brought every second of every game to life for me no matter where I was at the time.
All these years later, McCoy is in his 42nd year with the Phoenix Suns, just as brilliant as ever.
Last week, as part of my role as a founding member of Phoenix Suns Charities 88, I had the chance to not only hear “war stories” and words of wisdom from McCoy, but to hang out and ask him some burning questions.
So, without further ado, today’s #MediaMonday is officially #McCoyMonday!
Did you know that McCoy was a professional piano player? In fact, he played with jazz and dance bands professionally starting at age 14. Fun story – as he tells it, while trying to be cool at his first real “gig,” when a pretty cocktail waitress came up to the band and asked for their drink orders, he ordered a Tom Collins to try to fit in. In fact, he went so far as to coolly ask the waitress to “keep ‘em coming all night long.” To this day, he still cannot drink a Tom Collins, thanks to how sick they got him that night!
When asked to share his most outrageous Charles Barkley story, McCoy had the room in tears (not tears of laughter) as he told a story of how Barkley narrowly missed a game one night…because of Make-a-Wish Arizona. You see, an ill child had been visiting the Phoenix Suns practices as part of his “wish” for a couple of months. One night, McCoy got a call from the Make-a-Wish folks with same bad news – the child was in the hospital with limited time left, and all he wanted to do was see Barkley one last time. Now, this was just hours before the game, and McCoy had no idea of how to get a hold of him, nor did he think it would be humanly possible to get him over to the hospital in time. Amazingly, Barkley happened to be upstairs picking up his mail at the exact same time a couple of secretaries were discussing the child. Without a word to ANYONE, Barkley disappeared from the arena – and no one could find him until tip-off. He snuck himself to the hospital to be with the boy without any fanfare or press. And he didn’t want anyone to know or get in the way.
The “Voice of the Phoenix Suns” was almost…the Voice of the Arizona Diamondbacks AND the Voice of the San Francisco Giants! Funny enough, McCoy always thought he would be a baseball announcer – and on two occasions he considered making the move. First, a dear friend of his owned the Giants, and many years ago McCoy announced their Triple A games. The owner wanted McCoy back, but never quite got him to make the move. Then, in the late 1990s, Jerry Colangelo offered McCoy the chance to become the Dbacks’ voice. And, while he did fill in from time to time, McCoy eventually suggested they instead go with Greg Shulte – who has been the voice of the team ever since.
McCoy’s biography, The Real McCoy, almost didn’t happen!
It started very organically – author Rich Wolfe was writing a sports book on McCoy’s home state of Iowa and wanted to include a chapter on McCoy. A few months after the book published, Wolfe visited McCoy in Arizona, where he pitched McCoy to co-write his autobiography, noting it would be a simple process where Wolfe would tape a series of interviews with McCoy about his life and have them transcribed. All McCoy would need to do was answer questions and review materials.
But is anything ever that easy?
Just before starting, Wolfe sadly had an accident, which left him hospitalized and eventually paralyzed from the waist down. Given all this, McCoy had to move forward with interviewing himself, recording himself and sending recordings to Wolfe’s transcribers – often doing so in hotel rooms before and after games for months on end.
Speaking of his book – it is wonderful. But guess what?
McCoy gets exactly $0 from the sale of it!
Instead, all monies that would be paid to McCoy go directly to a library in Williams, Iowa (popular 600) – his hometown. The library lost most of its funding, so proceeds from the book – available here – are being granted to the library for new software, a computer lab, a new teen section and much more. He even did his first book signing there!
Bonus Fun Facts
McCoy’s catchphrases were so popular with fellow broadcasters, many have “borrowed” them from time to time – including ESPN’s legendary Brent Musburger, who did credit McCoy whenever he used them.
Ever wonder how McCoy ended up with his most famous catchphrase – SHAZAM? As a child, he was a huge fan of comics, especially Captain Marvel. In the comic, mortal Billy Batson would have to say “SHAZAM” in order to become Captain Marvel. The word, it turns out, is not a word at all, but an acronym for the six various legendary figures who had agreed to grant aspects of themselves to a Billy: the wisdom of Solomon; the strength of Hercules; the stamina of Atlas; the power of Zeus; the courage of Achilles; and the speed of Mercury.
The greatest compliment he ever got from a fan was from a man who was blind – who noted that McCoy gave him the ability to visualize every single second of a Suns game. He’s gotten similar comments from people confined to hospitals and those unable to ever attend a game in person. That is a big part of why he is still doing this so many years later.
The first time the Phoenix Suns traveled to Memphis to play the Grizzlies (an expansion team), they stayed at the Peabody Hotel. The last time McCoy was there – his band had a gig there! Similarly, the first time he stayed in New Orleans to play the now-Pelicans, they stayed at the Roosevelt, another of his many show venues!