From the days of black-and-white televised games with no more than 10 teams in the league all the way to today’s stepback threes and Twitter beefs, one thing has remained the same: Chuck Swirsky loves the NBA and the game of basketball.
“The Swirsk” graciously gave some of his time to have a discussion with me on life, basketball, and how the heck he came up with his catchphrase, “Get out the salami & cheese.” The enthusiasm Chuck has for basketball shines through even when there’s no game in front of him to call. Swirsky recalled tales of his times at DePaul University in the 1980s just as vividly as his interactions with Vince Carter & Tracy McGrady on the 2000s Toronto Raptors. He recently authored a book, “Always a Pleasure,” detailing the dedication to his craft and all the experiences that led the Bulls play-by-play announcer to where he sits today. Chuck and I had a great time diving into his past, his present, and why the hell the Big 10 conference has so many teams these days.
Getting His Start & the Three-Ball
I began the conversation by asking how he decided that broadcasting sports was for him and what his ultimate goal was. Swirsky said he always dreamt of calling NBA games for a living. From the olden days of Oscar Robertson to the bitter rivalry of the New York Knicks and Baltimore Bullets, a young Charles Swirsky had nothing but admiration for the art of basketball. The sport was a huge aspect of his upbringing in Bellevue, Washington.
Swirsky adds, “I love the league. There was a friend of mine who was a grade behind me in school, and his dad was the high school basketball coach, so we went to all these games, whether it be high school or college… then the Seattle SuperSonics became an expansion team, so it was like to me I had died and gone to heaven.”
Ask anyone to describe Swirsky in a sentence or two, and they’re almost certain to talk about truly how enthusiastic he is about the game. After I mentioned how he seems to call games the same way he would have as a youngster, Swirsky couldn’t agree more.
“I still have the same enthusiasm I did 40, 50, even 60 years ago. I love what I do, I love the sport, and why the sport was created by James Naismith himself.”
The mention of Naismith goes to show how long Swirsky’s been in the business, yet also reveals his beliefs as a basketball purist. Three-pointers? Chuck thinks it’s gone a bit overboard with the three-ball. Creative dribble moves, athletic drives to the basket, and inside-the-arc passing are more his style.
“You know the dribble weave hand-off, where a player comes from the elbow with a handoff to clear on a side screen for a three? Really doesn’t do much for me. But I get it…this is the way the game is being coached everywhere, from high school to AAU to college to now the pros, and you have to adjust. Not only as a broadcaster and as somebody who loves the game, you’re gonna have to adjust as a fan too.”
Swirsky mentioned how a 3-on-1 fastbreak used to result in a shot at the basket almost 100% of the time, but now you’ll get a kick-out pass to the corner instead. “Like when a guy hits the three, it’s like, alright, I get it. When the guy misses the three, you say to yourself, I’d like to have those two points back.”
Had an amazing conversation with the legendary Chuck Swirsky (@ctsbulls) this morning. Here’s us both demonstrating a kick out pass to the corner on a fast break 🪙
Full interview to come soon! pic.twitter.com/aW2RVSdZ2T
— Andy (@ndyDiederich) August 22, 2023
Pressing further, I wanted to see if even a great commentator like him has had trouble adjusting to the game-changing so drastically:
“I wouldn’t say trouble adjusting. I would say that as a basketball purist, I had to work through the beauty and the artistry of a dribble drive and then the kick out.”
Swirsky mentions the beauty of how James Harden‘s Houston Rockets operated with such a scheme and compares the strategy of the present to what he saw years ago. Like the true sports nut he is, he equates the change to moving the game further from the hoop to the diminishing value of the running back in today’s NFL. A true student of the game indeed.
The College Experience
We then dove into some of his experiences from long ago. Swirsky’s very first game at DePaul University saw him calling the matchup between John Stockton‘s Gonzaga Bulldogs against Mark Aguirre and the Blue Demons. That was the golden age of DePaul basketball, during which Swirsky admits that “DePaul owned this town.” After 14 years with DePaul, Swirsky’s next big gig was broadcasting both football and basketball games at the University of Michigan, coming in at the very end of the “Fab 5” era of Wolverine basketball.
“The thing that I took away from Michigan is how big the program is, not only business-wise but on the field and with the alums across the country. The four years I’ve spent at Michigan calling their games were four of the best years professionally I have ever experienced. I’ve never seen such intensity in a game than I have during football games in the Big House against other Big 10 opponents.”
Never one to be behind on the news, Swirsky also voiced his concern regarding conference realignment in the NCAA. “I don’t know if they’re going to keep the name of the Big 10 conference because how many teams are there now in the Big 10? Maybe 18? That would be like if you were to bring on three or four more people in your household, and someone asked you how many people you have in your family, and you responded with four,” he joked. “And I mean, I don’t think anyone’s going to get really excited over a USC vs. Rutgers football game.”
Calling The Pros
Next, I finally prodded Swirsky into talking about his time at the professional level. He began in Toronto, where he had a courtside seat in the tandem of Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady. When I asked what he remembered most of that time in Canada, he, of course, spoke about his relationship with the fans and organization, but the players as well.
“I had a relationship with Vince (Carter). We kind of had a falling out when he got traded because he wanted out. He was frustrated with management. I get that. But he had a great career, Tracy ended up having a great career, and (Chris) Bosh had a great career, and I love Chris, so that’s what I take out of that period of time is my relations with all of those guys.”
Swirsky even became close with several non-Raptor players, including his good friend Kobe Bryant. Swirsky was courtside when Kobe scored 81. “The game, of course, that I recall the most was Kobe (Bryant) scoring 81. That, to me, is the single most reflective game I’ve ever witnessed in my life.” He went on to reflect upon the impact of the late Kobe Bryant and his incredible legacy both on and off the court. It’s truly amazing to see how deep of a relationship Chuck developed with so many players who never played on a team he commentated for.
Final Thoughts From Swirsky
We finished on a more light-hearted note, discussing some of the broadcast analysts sitting beside him when he is wearing the headset. He’s had Rob Pelinka at Michigan, Jack Armstrong with the Raptors, and now Bill Wennington with the Bulls. Swirsky couldn’t have been more fond of his partners over the years and laid out how despite talking almost the entire time, the most important aspect of his calls is the ability to listen.
“This isn’t about me, this is about the game, and while I get passionate about the game and get excited and all this stuff, it’s about the game. But I would be doing a disservice to the person sitting next to me if I just had them sit there and not contribute… the only way that can happen is by listening.”
Finally, I asked about some of his famous catchphrases, most notably, “Get out the salami and cheese, mama, this one’s over!” You’ll have to check out the full interview to hear it explained by the mind of Swirsky himself.
I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with one of the all-time legends in sports media. Chuck Swirsky is a gift to not just the team he calls for but the sport of basketball itself. I would like to thank Mr. Swirsky one last time for taking the time to have this discussion. I’m sure I won’t be the only one ready to hear him on the call come October.
Check out the full interview with Chuck Swirsky here!
Andy Diederich is a contributor on Back Sports Page. He received a degree from The Ohio State University and now resides in Chicago, covering the Bulls and all things NBA. You can find Andy on Instagram at @tryspellingdiederich and on Twitter at @ndyDiederich.
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