Justice Is Served

May 12, 2010 1:18 AM

Radio voice of Cavaliers deserves his Gowdy Award


Joe Tait stood with his back against the wall Tuesday, taking friendly fire from a band of male journalists who were there to celebrate his successes and not lob verbal broadsides the man's way.

But what criticism could any of them level at the easy-going Tait, the longtime radio voice of the Cavaliers?

"How much longer are you going to do this?" one of them asked.

"Do this?" said Tait, a wry smile accompanying his words. "I don't wanna do this ever again." 

No, he didn't misunderstand the man's question. He was just playing Joe Tait, the quick-witted play-by-play guy who was fielding questions about his selection as the 2010 winner of the Curt Gowdy Media Award.

He was having fun with it all, even as he basked in this semi-serious moment, a moment that Tait looked as comfortable in as Shaquille O'Neal riding coach. Self-effacing as Tait was, he endured it more than enjoyed it. He would have preferred to have been behind the mike than to have a half-dozen of them shoved in his face.

It was Tait's work behind the microphone, however, that has brought Tait his acclaim, and he is famous here, surprisingly so for an announcer in a sports market as small as Cleveland is. This gig has been good to him. He's held it for 38 years, longer than any player on the team's roster, aside from Shaquille O'Neal, has been alive.  

And if you ask Cavaliers fans, they want Joe Tait to keep announcing the games for another 38 years. His voice has been as reassuring to them as Ernie Harwell's was to Tigers fans and as Vin Scully's is to Dodgers fans.

Announcing might be the only thing that God put Tait on this earth to do, and he does it for the same reason that many people who are good at something do it: "Money," he said. "The need for it."

He drew laughter with those words. He sounded serious when he said them, and it's hard to dispute the value of money. Bills do have to be paid, right?

"You need money to survive?" Tait said, posing it as a question more than as a statement. "You bet you! I'm in the same rowboat with you guys."

No, Joe, you're not. Your rowboat has taken you place that most of the men who surrounded you in the corridor at The Q can only dream of. You have played hopscotch across the globe, visiting more cities in a season than most people visit in a lifetime.

"The travel is what runs you down and out more than anything else," Tait said.

So it must be the money that keeps him chasing the game, right?

Money, what money? Tait says to the band of journalists in mock surprise. A play-by-play job doesn't bestow the wealth of Carlos Slim or Bill Gates on someone in Tait's shoes.

"They don't pay the play-by-play announcer like they pay the 10-day-contract guys, let alone like the full-timers," he said.

Then if not the loot, what keeps Tait behind the microphone?

That's a question with an uncomplicated answer: the game itself. Joe Tait loves basketball. He loves his job calling the game. It's all he's known the past four decades, a period of Tait's life in which he has seen mediocrity and greatness, two new arenas and one of the finest athletes to ever make a living at games.

But even Tait, 72, can't call Cavs games forever. Even for Tait, who walks with a cane, the travel will wear on him, sapping him of his will to continue this never-ending grind. All the adulation that come Tait's way and all the awards can't trump age. Father Time wins this, and Tait realizes it as well as anybody else.

The realist that he is, he decides not to play coy about what lies ahead of him. Retirement is in his plans, as sad as that thought might be for Cavs fans.

"I'm gonna retire at the end of next year," he said, "if I can physically last another year."

A Member Of