Some people have really cool jobs: astronauts, actors, racecar drivers. I’ll add play-by-play announcers to that list, too.
John Ireland has had that job for nearly nine years. Ireland is the play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Lakers and a sports radio show co-host for the Mason and Ireland show on ESPN Radio. A former campus radio sports director at UCLA, Ireland was a radio sideline reporter for Clippers and Lakers before nabbing a coveted play-by-play gig. He called Clippers games for five years before joining the Lakers in 2011.
As Ireland told me during our interview at the Staples Center in April, “Most people pay to come and watch the games, but I get paid to be at the games.” Pretty neat, right?
Ireland grew up in California as a big time Lakers fan. When he was young, he knew that he wanted to pursue announcing as a career. “[I] used to turn the sound down on the TV and announce the games,” he recalled.
He was greatly influenced by his role model in announcing, Chick Hearn. Ireland used to put his transistor radio under his pillow and listen to Hearn announce Lakers games. Hearn announced for the Lakers for almost 40 years and came up with what people call “Chick-isms.” These are phrases that people use all the time to talk about basketball, like “air ball,” “give and go,” “triple-double,” and “slam dunk.” If you have used any of these phrases, you’ve been influenced by Hearn, too.
Ireland has his own approach to announcing too, which includes giving frequent “resets” of the game score, time remaining, and players on the floor.
To prepare for games, the four-time local Emmy Award winner uses a system called Broadcaster’s Edge. This helps Ireland organize information about the players and the teams. The system allows him to add interesting facts to his notes when he talks about the game. For example, he can mention the player’s height, where they went to school, or their favorite sport growing up. Ireland’s partner in announcing the games is former Laker Mychal Thompson, who is also the father of NBA star Klay Thompson.
This cool job comes with cool perks, too. Ireland not only calls the homes games, he gets to travel with the team and do play-by-play on the road.
Being a radio announcer and TV broadcaster, Ireland has experienced his fair share of bloopers.
At halftime of a Lakers game against the Toronto Raptors in February 2012, Ireland was applying makeup before going on air. He didn’t know that the guys sitting one row in front of him were streaming live, and the live camera caught him putting on face powder. He was pretty embarrassed, but luckily he is good at laughing at himself.
This season was tough for Lakers fans, with LA going 21-61. But Ireland looks at the bright side of covering his favorite team.
“We’ve been kind of spoiled, so I don’t get too down when we’re bad because it tends to swing back the other way,” he says. “Plus, I get to announce for my favorite team. We never complain about our job because we’re getting paid to watch basketball.”
Photo courtesy Isabel Gomez