Best NBA Commentators of All Time, Ranked
The NBA is all about big names and big markets. Always was, always will be. But where would the association be if Marty hadn’t introduced us to Wilt and Russell, Marv hadn’t elevated Larry and Magic, Chick hadn’t vouched for Kobe and Shaq, and J.D. hadn’t chronicled Michael and his supporting cast? In short: Not where it is now.
Here are the best NBA commentators in pro basketball history based on a combination of substance, style and impact. Candidates were limited to play-by-play commentators and in-game analysts. Charles Barkley, you’re outta luck again.
30. Johnny Most
Career: 37 seasons (1953-90)
Team: Boston Celtics (1953-90)
Bottom Line: Johnny Most
Most was one of the sorest winners in the history of sports, a pompous rear end who whined like a petulant child even though his team got almost all the breaks and won almost all the games.
Unfortunately, he was behind the mic for so many memorable moments in league history, we felt compelled to find a place for him. Yeah, No. 3o out of 30 is about right.
29. Gus Johnson
Career: 17 seasons (1994-2010, 2015-16)
Teams: New York Knicks (1994-2010), Milwaukee Bucks (2015-16)
Bottom Line: Gus Johnson
You either think this screaming commentator is a national treasure or was brought in from the parking lot, but you cannot ignore him, people. The guy can turn a turf repair into breaking news. (YouTube it.)
Watch out! The slipper still fits! Ha-haaa! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
28. Mike Gorman
Career: 41 seasons (1981-present)
Team: Boston Celtics (1981-present)
Bottom Line: Mike Gorman
Somehow,Gorman survived 39 seasons as the faithful caddy for Tommy Heinsohn, the No. 1 cause of hearing loss in pro basketball history.
By our calculation, that’s about 117 years with anyone else. Good enough for us.
27. Sarah Kustok
Career: 7 seasons (2015-present)
Team: Brooklyn Nets (2017-present)
Bottom Line: Sarah Kustok
Some might argue that it’s a bit premature to include Kustok on an all-time list, but her career trajectory suggests otherwise. Nets telecasts have been the best in the Association for years, and she’s the straw that stirs the Brooklyn cocktail.
The perennial Emmy Award candidate has athletic roots — she was a DePaul hoops team captain — and they shine through in her engaging personality, depth of knowledge and adroit news sense.
26. Buddy Blattner
Career: 5 seasons (1955-60)
Team: St. Louis Hawks (1955-60)
Bottom Line: Buddy Blattner
Not only was Blattner the first voice of his hometown team, which had no league rival within five hours, but he also taught and sold the pro game to an entire region. His call of Game 6 of the 1958 NBA Finals still reverberates there. “
They’re grabbin’ (Bob) Pettit! They’re tearin’ him loose! They got Dugie Martin up on their shoulders! Easy Ed Macauley being hugged! Ten thousand fans in a frenzy now, as the Hawks have won the world’s championship! They’ve beaten the (Boston) Celtics!”
25. Joel Meyers
Career: 24 seasons (1991-93, 1999-2011, 2012-present)
Teams: Los Angeles Clippers (1991-93), San Antonio Spurs (1999-2003), Los Angeles Lakers (2003-11), New Orleans Pelicans (2012-present)
Bottom Line: Joel Meyers
If Joel Meyers doesn’t own the best set of pipes in sports broadcast history, then he’s on a very short list. Yet there’s substance here as well.
It’s like the voice of God has spoken the gospel of roundball, and how can anyone not pay attention to that? (The flightless Pelicans for one.)
24. Reggie Miller
Career: 17 seasons (2005-present)
Network affiliate: TNT
Bottom Line: Reggie Miller
Miller is one of the few ex-star players who shoots from the lip on any number of topics. One day he nails it, the next he steps on a rake.
Because he’s more unpredictable than Dennis Rodman’s hairstyle, hoops junkies have no choice but to hear him out.
23. Doris Burke
Career: 15 seasons (2007-present)
Network affiliate: ESPN (2007-present)
Bottom Line: Doris Burke
Many call Burke a trailblazer. The one-time Providence star is well-prepared, insightful and asks pertinent questions.
Oh, and as she fessed up on the air one night, “I do like being right. Just ask my ex-husband.”
22. Chris Webber
Career: 13 seasons (2008-2021)
Network affiliate: TNT
Bottom Line: Chris Webber
Too many ex-jocks-turned-broadcasters think they never left the court. The bigger the name, the worse the self-aggrandizement.
Thankfully, Webber didn’t receive the memo. Whether at courtside or in the studio, C-Web was bourbon smooth — his words went down easy — content to make a timely assertion then get the heck out of the lane.
21. Jeff Van Gundy
Career: 16 seasons (2002-03, 2007-present)
Network affiliates: TNT (2002-03), ABC (2007-present)
Bottom Line: Jeff Van Gundy
Van Grumpy is the ideal analyst for the world we live in these days. He doesn’t suck up, has an opinion on everybody and everything, packs some cred as a former New York Knicks coach and is right about 50 percent of the time.
So, what if the other half of the audience believes that he’s the village idiot? Just don’t touch that remote, baby.
20. Steve Kerr
Career: 8 seasons (2003-07, 2010-14)
Network affiliates: TNT (2003-07), ESPN (2010-14)
Bottom Line: Steve Kerr
Of all the hats that Kerr has worn in his career, this one fits the best. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he broke in with Marv Albert, who could make a mannikin sound intelligent.
Seriously, it was like being with Michael Jordan in the same backcourt. Wait — you mean Kerr did that, too?!
19. Dick Enberg
Career: 4 seasons (1990-94)
Network affiliate: NBC (1990-94)
Bottom Line: Dick Enberg
Enberg was the jumbo sports buffet of sports. He was so proficient at so many things, from game shows to motion pictures to baseball/basketball/football/golf/tennis, oh my, it was difficult to pick a favorite.
Some of his best work came as a play-by-play voice with the NBA on NBC in the early 1990s, the start of the Michael Jordan dynasty when ratings went through the stratosphere. True to his Midwestern roots, he was one of the few stars of the profession who didn’t act like one.
18. Eddie Doucette
Career: 31 seasons (1968-99)
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks (1968-1984), Los Angeles Clippers (1984-85), Indiana Pacers (1985-88), Denver Nuggets (1988-92), Portland Trail Blazers (1992-1999)
Bottom Line: Eddie Doucette
Doucette was an unabashed homer from the first jump ball. Yeah, the excitable Bucks voice was exactly what the expansion team and its fans needed in the pre-Lew Alcindor days. The Milwaukee legend talked a mile a minute, firing off catch phrases like so many Jon McGlocklin jump shots.
The guy even had nicknames for his nicknames. As Eddie D. would remind you, he created the term “sky hook”, which Lakers voice Chick Hearn frequently borrowed after Big Lew bolted to the West coast.
17. Steve Jones
Career: 22 seasons (1975-77, 1980-84, 1987-89, 1990-2002, 2004-06)
Network affiliates: CBS (1975-77), USA (1980-84), TBS (1987-89), NBC (1990-2002), ESPN (2004-06), ABC (2005-06)
Bottom Line: Steve Jones
Anyone who spent this much time with goofball Bill Walton on the air had to be on the list.
“Steve Jones saved my basketball career,” Walton conceded. “He made my broadcasting career. An incredible spirit, an incredible soul.”
16. Bill King
Career: 21 seasons (1962-83)
Team: San Francisco-Golden Warriors (1962-83)
Bottom Line: Bill King
King was widely known as a football guy, but the first voice of the Warriors was every bit as good with the less heralded Bay Area team. Few painted better word pictures of the action.
He also had a unique feel for the game and special affinity with referees. We still have visions of him at courtside on the road, accompanied by little more than an unmistakable voice and a pack of cigarettes.
14. Bob Blackburn (Tie)
Career: 25 seasons (1967-92)
Team: Seattle SuperSonics (1967-92)
Bottom Line: Bob Blackburn
As the first play-by-play guys in the Pacific Northwest and with remarkably similar careers, Bob Blackburn and Bill Schonely tie in the 14th spot because they’re attached at the hip forever.
When Blackburn finally was told to quit, the Sonics didn’t retire a jersey number in his honor. They did something better — retired his microphone.
14. Bill Schonely (Tie)
Career: 28 seasons (1970-98)
Team: Portland Trail Blazers (1970-98)
Bottom Line: Bill Schonely
Schonely gave Portland far more than 28 seasons of service. He provided a much-needed identity with his signature “Rip City” call. As he put it decades later, “Who knew those two words could mean so much to so many?”
The Schonz fun fact: He blurted out the term for the first time after Jim Barnett hit a buzzer-beater in the debut season of the franchise.
13. Kevin Harlan
Career: 36 seasons (1982-83, 1989-present)
Teams: Kansas City Kings (1982-83), Minnesota Timberwolves (1989-98), TNT (1996-present)
Bottom Line: Kevin Harlan
Harlan is like a freight train with no regard for human eardrums. The closer it comes, the more you brace for the roar. Unlike too many excitable types, though, he doesn’t spout cliches and wornout phrases to dot the exclamation point.
He goes off the tracks at times, but his power, passion and LOL humor can do the impossible — turn a Minnesota Timberwolves game into a must-listen broadcast.
12. Bud Palmer
Career: 11 seasons (1949-56, 1958-62)
Teams/network affiliates: New York Knicks (1949-56), NBC (1958-62)
Bottom Line: Bud Palmer
Palmer is a voice of the distant past, all but forgotten now. Not here, though. The broadcast trailblazer had it all — Princeton smarts, native Hollywood looks, athletic genes and boundless energy.
The first New York Knicks captain also was the first pro jock to embark on a successful network television career. Some of his best work came as the voice of weekly NBC telecasts, among many varied assignments.
11. Mark Jackson
Career: 14 seasons (2005-11, 2014-present)
Network affiliates: YES Network (2005-2007), ABC (2007-2011, 2014-present)
Bottom Line: Mark Jackson
We have this theory on why point guards make the best basketball analysts. Because their primary roles as players are to share the rock and elevate those around them, they’re more inclined to do the same in their second careers.
Jackson has made the transition as well as anyone. The poor soul who can co-exist with Jeff Van Gundy all these years deserves to be here.
10. Walt Frazier
Career: 23 seasons (1998-present)
Team: New York Knicks (1998-present)
Bottom Line: Walt Frazier
Frazier calls the games like he played them — at a calculated pace and with a flourish at the finish.
His pet rhymes are a bit overdone, but they don’t interfere with his reason. The guy knows his stuff.
9. Rod Hundley
Career: 44 seasons (1965-2009)
Teams: Los Angeles Lakers (1965-69), Phoenix Suns (1969-73), New Orleans-Utah Jazz (1974-2009)
Bottom Line: Rod Hundley
Hot Rod was a complex man with well-chronicled challenges off the court, but he was very much in his element with a microphone in hand. It’s not a stretch to say that, in 31 seasons as the television voice of the Jazz in two markets, he became the most impactful figure in franchise history.
His homespun style produced popular terms such as “leapin’ leaner,” “good if it goes” and “Stockton-to-Malone, of course.
8. Doug Collins
Career: 26 seasons (1981-87, 1989-95, 1998-2001, 2003-10, 2013-17)
Teams/network affiliates: CBS (1981-86), TBS (1987), TNT (1989-95, 2003-10), NBC (1998-2001), Philadelphia 76ers (2003-04) New York Knicks (2005-06), ESPN (2013-17)
Bottom Line: Doug Collins
Because Collins knows the game as well or better than anyone, he’s often two steps ahead of the pack.
Yet he doesn’t preach to the choir like the many know-it-alls who crave to be the smartest person in the room.
7. Joe Tait
Career: 41 seasons (1970-2011)
Teams: Cleveland Cavaliers (1970-1981, 1983-2011), New Jersey Nets (1981-82), Chicago Bulls (1982-83)
Bottom Line: Joe Tait
The most influential figure in Cavaliers history? It’s Tait from here to Akron. (Uh, got that, LeBron?)
His call of the 1976 Eastern Conference semis (also known as The Miracle of Richfield) was so off the charts, it should be part of every sports radio-TV curriculum in the country. Oh, and his rapid-fire recitation of the boxscore was the best post-game wrap-up ever, too.
6. Jim Durham
Career: 37 seasons (1973-91, 1993-2012)
Teams/network affiliates: Chicago Bulls (1973-91), Dallas Mavericks (1993-2001), ESPN (1996-2012), ABC (2005-06)
Bottom Line: Jim Durham
Working in the same circles as Durham throughout the Michael Jordan era, one of our few regrets is never telling J.D. what we assumed he knew all along — he was the best radio play-by-play man ever.
The guy was a master storyteller, the rare talent who could paint a vivid picture with his voice and words like no other. Were we lucky to have him call much of M.J.’s career or what? Here's Michael at the foul line … The shot on Ehlo … Good!
5. Jack Ramsay
Career: 34 seasons (1989-2013)
Teams/network affiliates: Philadelphia 76ers (1989-92), Miami Heat (1992-2000), ESPN (2000-2013)
Bottom Line: Jack Ramsay
Other than actually play in the Association, there was nothing that Ramsay hadn’t seen or done over his seven decades in the sport. He also had a memory that wouldn’t quit even into his 80s.
It was that unparalleled combo of smarts and experience that made Dr. Jack the most widely respected pro basketball analyst of all time.
4. Brent Musberger
Career: 19 seasons (1975-90, 2002-06)
Network affiliates: CBS (1975-90), ABC-ESPN (2002-06)
Bottom Line: Brent Musberger
A newspaper man by trade, Musberger was among the scant few who communicated as well on the air as he did in print.
Mix a concise, upbeat delivery with keen insights and an occasional catchy phrase (March Madness, anyone?), and we have him as the best TV hoops play-by-play broadcaster ever in his prime.
3. Chick Hearn
Career: 42 seasons (1960-2002)
Team: Los Angeles Lakers (1960-2002)
Bottom Line: Chick Hearn
Good thing that Hearn’s partner didn’t get paid by the word. Poor dude might have worked for free on some nights. But who needed a color man with a GOAT at the controls?
He was clear, concise, creative and in complete control. (You know where “dribble-drive,” “finger roll”, “garbage time” and “matador defense” come from, right?) A city, a sport, league and a franchise still owe the man.
2. Marv Albert
Career: 55 seasons (1963, 1967-2021)
Teams/network affiliates: New York Knicks (1963, 1967-04), NBC (1990-97, 2001-02), TNT (1999-2021)
Bottom Line: Marv Albert
We’ll skip the bad toupee joke and, well, you know, just say the Voice of Basketball is the most accomplished hoops broadcaster to ever breath into a microphone. Was his ability to make a seamless transition from media to medium, sport to sport beyond amazing? Yesss!
Will the NBA be the same now that its most recognizable voice has retired after 55 years in the biz? Nooo!
1. Marty Glickman
Career: 21 seasons (1946-64, 1969-70)
Teams/network affiliates: New York Knicks (1946-64, 1969-70), NBC (1954-61), New York Nets (1970-72)
Bottom Line: Marty Glickman
Glickman wasn’t the best play-caller or color commentator in history, although the broadcast pioneer did much to set the standard for both. The first NBA voice on network television was more than that — the most significant one.
He wrote the unabridged basketball dictionary in the early days of the league. And he mentored several entries on this list (most notably Marv Albert) plus a bunch who aren’t listed here.