Rod Hundley Has Dementia

Jazz Announce Hundley Illness: However Long “Hot Rod” Has Left, His Voice and Passion Will Have Made Him Immortal

By Ken K. Gourdin

The Utah Jazz have announced that longtime play-by-play announcer “Hot Rod” Hundley has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s-type dementia.  For years, “Hot Rod” was the only reason I tuned into Utah Jazz basketball broadcasts.  (I like to say he made me a Jazz fan before the Jazz deserved any fans.)  While the TV broadcast of any NBA game anywhere is available today to anyone willing to fork over the dough for NBA League Pass ™, in those days, seeing the games on TV was much less the rule than the exception (particularly in small-market Utah).  That made “Hot Rod” and his detailed descriptions of the games indispensable to anyone willing to suffer through those early years, and he has always been woven into the fabric of the Utah Jazz, for me and for many others.  In my autobiography, I write:

I began to follow Utah Jazz basketball in 1980, the year after the Jazz first moved to Salt Lake City from New Orleans.  . . . [T]here wasn’t much to cheer about in those early years.  The one thing that kept me tuning into the broadcasts, though, was the colorful, jargon-laced announcing of the Jazz’s play-by-play man, “Hot Rod” Hundley.  No matter what was happening on the court (and what usually happened is that the Jazz got killed) Hot Rod, with his calls of “yo-yo” dribbles, leap-and-leaners, and “from the parking lot” three-pointers, somehow managed to make it sound interesting.  Thankfully, by the 1984-85 season the Jazz were finally starting to put a product on the court which was as interesting to watch as Hot Rod’s calls made it fun to listen to.

For years, it had been a fond “closet dream” of mine to succeed Hot Rod as the Jazz’s play-by-play announcer—until I realized that he, being irreplaceable, would never retire; he’d die first.  In late elementary, junior high, and high school, I often regaled my classmates with calls that attempted to imitate his inimitable style.1

Elsewhere in the book, I describe in lurid detail my unfortunate, unsuccessful early encounters with medical science and how I felt an odd kinship with the Jazz because we were both such huge underdogs in their early days in Utah.  On one occasion, I suffered the post-operative complications of an imperfectly-sutured, bleeding wound and a loss of feeling in my left foot which didn’t return for a year.  After I had been cut out of the original cast and was waiting to be wheeled into the operating room to be resutured and recasted, I describe a level of pain the likes of which I have never experienced, before or since.  I write:

Once free of the cast, for some reason a particular spot in my lower abdomen didn’t take kindly to losing the support the cast had offered.  The pain was excruciating.  I have experienced nothing like it, before or since. I didn’t appeal for relief because I thought surely it wouldn’t last.  I was wrong.  They wheeled me to just outside the operating room where I waited to be resutured and recasted.  I was alone, and there was no one to whom I could appeal for relief.

Eventually, a nurse did come along.  For some reason I didn’t appeal to her for relief, but she could sense I was in obvious pain.  We exchanged introductions and engaged in aimless chit-chat, eventually focusing in on a common interest in—of all things, the National Basketball Association’s Utah Jazz—the pre-John Stockton, pre-Karl Malone, pre-winning-season, pre-Midwest-Division-winning, pre-Western-Conference-winning, pre-playoff-contending, pre-championship-competing, woeful Utah Jazz.

Eventually she excused herself to attend to other business, and it was shortly after that—thankfully—that I was wheeled into surgery.2

“Hot Rod’s” distinctive voice, cadence, and jargon form the soundtrack for most of my significant Jazz memories: “The Mailman” dropping a career-high 61 on the Milwaukee Bucks the night after he was left off of the All-Star team that year; Adrian Dantley hitting seemingly every shot he threw up en route to a career-high 57; the Denver Nuggets having a game against the Jazz all but won and needing only to inbound the ball to secure the victory, only to have “The Fastest of Them All,” Rickey Green steal that inbounds pass and pass it to Darrell Griffith: “Inbounds pass . . . stolen by Green!  To Griffith!  Three pointer . . . The Jazz win the game!  The Jazz win the game!” “Hot Rod” must have repeated that final, five-word line at least twenty times in disbelief; the Jazz coming back from a 34-point halftime deficit to beat the Nuggets; and of course, who will ever forget John Stockton and “The Shot”?  And there are so many more I could mention.

Thank you for sharing your passionate love of the game for so many years, “Hot Rod.”  While I know there’s more to life than basketball, and while I know that it’s just a game, there are so many things it can teach us: teamwork, perseverance, courage, character, hard work, sportsmanship, humility in victory, grace in defeat . . .  Former Brigham Young University Athletic Director Glenn Tuckett once said, “People say the trouble with athletics is that they’re not enough like life.  I say the trouble with life is that it’s not enough like athletics.”  Thank you, not only for being a part of all of that, but for allowing me to be a part of it, as well.

However long you have left, your legacy—that passion for the game and the joy you expressed in making it come alive for others—will make you immortal.  Succeeded, but never replaced; imitated, perhaps, but never duplicated.  Godspeed to you and yours.

END NOTES

1. Ken K. Gourdin (2003) My Story: Lots of Good, Some Bad, and a Little Ugly in the First 32 Years, Collierville, Tenn.: Instantpublisher.com 60-61.
2. Id. at 37.
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About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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