Some basketball pairs sync seamlessly. Think of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Bill Russell and Red Auerbach, and Eric Collins and LaMelo Ball.
That last tandem may not be the first that comes to mind. But Collins, Charlotte Hornets television presenter, play-by-play, served as the ideal channel to introduce Ball and his dynamic play to a wide NBA audience.
“He sees the game five seconds ahead of everyone,” Collins said.
Collins calls games with energy and exuberance which seems impossible to maintain for 48 minutes. “Here’s LaMelo Ball with sore hair!” – he exclaimed during one otherwise daily quick break.
Collins was appreciated among NBA League Pass spectators who adjusted to the Hornets to watch Ball and reveal Collins as a bonus. He’s also excited about Miles Bridges’ dunk – “Oh my God! Hum diddly dee! – as an attempt by the center in 3 points Bismack biyombo.
It’s his sixth season as a broadcaster with Dell Curry, a former longtime Hornet and the father of Stephen Curry of Golden State and Seth Curry of Philadelphia. He was a side reporter when Michael Jordan, who owns the Hornet, won a second “tricolor” as a guard at the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.
Collins, who described his style as “unusual” and perhaps “a little intimidating at some point,” recently spoke to The New York Times about his high-energy shows and why he doesn’t listen to other speakers.
This conversation is concise and lightly edited for clarity.
How was it to watch Ball, who recently returned from a broken wrist, progress this season?
I realized he had a follower, but I didn’t realize he had a game that actually deserved the following. And he was just amazing. I have a high scale. I’m always looking for greatness, I’m looking for joy, and I’m looking for a miracle, and sometimes it’s hard to fulfill what I want. And he basically introduced him to Day 1 exactly with that peculiarity he has.
But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it before. It just plays with flair and zeal, and I love it. And at 19 he plays the game as if his game is smiling, but then when he’s not on the floor, his body shows him to smile. He is someone around whom you want to be.
Have you noticed more interest in Hornets this season and more people getting to know your shows?
I have a daughter who is in high school and for the first time in her life notices that basketball actually exists here in Charlotte. She has friends who carry Hornet equipment and talk about hornets and do what kids do on social media about hornets. And so, yes, it started to hit me harder. But I don’t know if it’s just because I have a fifteen-year-old daughter in the house or because the real phenomenon is actually happening.
And that’s partly because you don’t use social media, right?
I have always been a television company that believes in the old school “I want to broadcast to you”. And when you start broadcasting to me, it changes everything I’m talking about. I invested time. I came up with that thought and invested a lot of working hours to bring my brain and my skill level to the point where I feel like I can broadcast outwards with a certain amount of authority. And I don’t want to take any of those shows towards myself because it affects how I do the game. I want to be in my Eric Collins balloon.
I don’t want to give people what they like, I don’t want to give people what they don’t like – I want to give people what I am. And if they like it, then it’s great.
That’s in line with the fact that you don’t listen to other speakers either. Why did you start that policy?
I was a sideline reporter in the NBA for six years, and I knew how to tinker. I would be a side reporter and in-game reporter for the Chicago White Sox. And I started doing more and more play-by-play and I realized I sounded like other speakers that were in my ear while I was playing games. And I said, “This is my absolute death.”
I don’t look like anyone else. I don’t have the same demographics as anyone else. I’m a voter, and that’s a huge part of what I’m like as a broadcaster. I look different from everyone else and I think it’s important to me not to stay away from that. And I don’t want to look like anyone else and I don’t want to sound like anyone else.
Well yeah, I haven’t listened to anyone since probably the late 90s. I watch sports and don’t do plays before games. I’m not going to watch the show at halftime. I’m watching a top show. I form my own opinion. I believe in that.
How are you able to maintain your energy over a long season?
I just think it’s in my body the way I was born and the way I grew up. It’s easy for me to get excited and be full of wonders at a basketball game, sporting event, baseball game, or women’s volleyball. I am a drug addict for competition and if people put so much effort into preparing for a game and playing it, I always invest enough energy and thoughts to prepare for that game. And when the ball goes up, I’m ready to go.
You also worked as a journalist, right?
I spent a year of my life at the CBS branch in Rochester and I did the news. I went to City Council meetings. I did arson. I committed murders. I waited for the blizzards telling people not to go outside. It was really hard. I respect people so much who can do it in the long run, because sometimes it’s not very smart.
I think there are a lot of young broadcasters who spend a lot of time worrying, ‘Okay, I can’t say this’ or ‘I can’t go here’ because they’re not sure what I can do as a journalist. I had that. How many years I spent in business, I understood journalism, rules, ethics and all that sort of thing. And that set me free when I actually got a microphone and could start playing play-by-play, to just concentrate on being me, because I understood the basics.
The Hornets have put on a lot of shows worth highlighting this season. Do you have a favorite call?
I guess maybe it’s the end of the Golden State game that the Hornets won. The one Steph didn’t really play. Terry Rozier hit a nice shot. And that’s one of the things I liked just because game by game doesn’t always refer to the exact words you use. It’s about how you can use your voice and seize the moment. Without fans, I think that’s sometimes one of the things I’d love to play with a little more this year – it’s just my voice and how I can bring it out and bring it down and staccato, and just the rhythm of what I love I’m trying. And I thought we did a good job for that winner in the game by Rozier, just using the voice in the empty arena to make it equally exciting.