Greatest Sports Announcers of All Time
What's better than watching sports? Listening to great broadcasters talk about them. There's something soothing about turning on a game and hearing the familiar voice of an announcer we know, love and trust.
That feeling doesn't just happen. It's the result of talent and dedicated work by announcers working on their craft to reach the top of their profession.
But only a chosen few reach the peak. These are the greatest sports announcers of all time.
30. Kevin Harlan
Born: June 21, 1960 (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Sports: NBA, NFL, college football, college basketball
Primary networks: CBS, ESPN, Westwood One
Bottom Line: Kevin Harlan
Kevin Harlan can call any game — doesn't matter the sport — and make us happy. Maybe it's because Harlan, a University of Kansas grad, just always seems like he appreciates how cool his job is.
Sometimes the weight of sports can get a little too heavy, with equal guilt shared between fans and broadcasters. But Harlan is adept at injecting humor whenever he can. Especially if someone runs on the field.
Harlan entered the conversation as an all-time great with his call of this LeBron James dunk in the 2008 Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. It's truly one of the greatest dunk calls of all time.
29. Bill Walton
Born: Nov. 5, 1952 (La Mesa, California)
Sports: NBA, college basketball
Primary networks: CBS, ESPN, ABC, NBC, Pac-12 Network
Bottom Line: Bill Walton
There is no greater success story when it comes to sports commentating at a high level than Hall of Famer Bill Walton, one of the greatest basketball centers of all time.
That's because Walton overcame a debilitating stutter after his NBA career was over to become one of the preeminent NBA color analysts for most of the 1990s and 2000s.
There's no doubt Walton will be the most controversial selection to this list because he infuriates fans as much as he entertains them. Which is what a good color analyst should do.
28. Bill Raftery
Born: April 10, 1943 (Orange, New Jersey)
Sports: College basketball, NBA, golf
Primary networks: CBS, ESPN, Fox Sports
Bottom Line: Bill Raftery
Bill Raftery held the title as the greatest prep basketball scorer in New Jersey history for 35 years and was a star at La Salle and a coach at Fairleigh Dickinson and Seton Hall before he moved into the broadcasting booth, where he seemed to find his true calling.
Raftery's voice has become synonymous with the NCAA tournament and college basketball, as have his catch phrases like "A little kiss," "Onions!" and "Send it in, big fella!"
That last one was a derivative of his most famous call of all time — "Send it in, Jerome!" after Pittsburgh's Jerome Lane shattered a backboard in 1988.
27. Gus Johnson
Born: Aug. 10, 1967 (Detroit, Michigan)
Sports: College football, college basketball, boxing
Primary networks: Fox Sports, Showtime, Big Ten Network, CBS
Bottom Line: Gus Johnson
Former Howard University baseball player Gus Johnson shot to fame in the early 2010s because of the sheer joy he displayed broadcasting games at the NCAA tournament.
We think Johnson is one of the more underrated broadcasters of all time. Why his star hasn't risen even further in the industry is more of a knock on the industry itself than Johnson's talent.
At just 53 years old and with the average career arcs of elite sports broadcasters, it's not a stretch to say Johnson will be calling games for at least another 20 years.
26. Harry Caray
Born: March 1, 1914 (St. Louis, Missouri)
Died: Feb. 18, 1998 (age 83, Rancho Mirage, California)
Primary networks: WGN
Bottom Line: Harry Caray
It's sad that a new generation of baseball fans don't know Harry Caray. Can you imagine what the reception for the longtime Cubs announcer would have been like in the era of social media?
If you grew up watching baseball in the 1980s and 1990s, Caray's voice was as famous as any in the world of sports broadcasting thanks to his 16 years leading WGN broadcasts of Chicago Cubs games.
This is how good Caray was. In an era of truly terrible baseball with the Cubs, he was still a must-listen. And he was the subject of one of SNL superstar Will Ferrell's greatest impersonations.
25. Frank Gifford
Born: Aug. 16, 1930 (Santa Monica, California)
Died: Aug. 9, 2015 (age 84, Greenwich, Connecticut)
Sports: NFL, Olympics
Primary networks: CBS, ABC
Bottom Line: Frank Gifford
Frank Gifford was a true renaissance man. An eight-time Pro Bowl running back and former NFL Most Valuable Player, Gifford became even more famous after he transitioned to the broadcasting booth.
Gifford was at his best on "Monday Night Football." The classic combinations of him in the booth paired with Don Meredith and Howard Cosell, then with Al Michaels, are simply some of the greatest announcing teams of all time.
Gifford did what many couldn't do in the booth when it came to ex-athletes. He could transition easily between play-by-play and commentary. His career came to an unceremonious end following tabloid headlines of an extramarital affair in 1997, and he never returned to broadcasting.
Gifford, who was posthumously diagnosed with CTE, died in 2015, at 84 years old.
24. Billy Packer
Born: Feb. 25, 1940 (Wellsville, New York)
Sports: College basketball
Primary networks: NBC, CBS
Bottom Line: Billy Packer
Billy Packer helped lead Wake Forest to the 1962 Final Four as a player, and a decade later began broadcasting games as a color analyst for ACC games first, then on the national level in 1974 for NBC.
Packer, who won a Sports Emmy Award in 1993, covered every NCAA tournament, including the Final Four, from 1975 to 2008, most famously calling North Carolina State's last-second upset of Houston in the 1983 NCAA championship game.
Packer's eccentricities off the court rubbed people the wrong way sometimes — including when he hired a psychic to find the weapon in the O.J. Simpson murder trial and when he started a legal defense fund for falsely accused Olympic bomber Richard Jewell.
23. Marv Albert
Born: June 12, 1941 (Brooklyn, New York)
Sports: NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB, tennis
Primary networks: NBC, TNT, MSG Network, YES Network
Bottom Line: Marv Albert
Marv Albert's career was most closely associated with the NBA, where he served as the voice of the New York Knicks for 37 years after serving as the team's ballboy as a child.
Albert called some of the biggest moments in NBA history, but no recap of his career, regardless of his talent, should go without mention of his arrest for sexual assault in 1997, to which Albert eventually pled guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery.
Albert was fired by NBC after the arrest but rehired three years later.
22. Ian Darke
Born: Exact date unknown, 1954 (Portsmouth, United Kingdom)
Sports: Soccer, boxing
Primary networks: BBC/Sky Sports, ESPN, BT Sport
Bottom Line: Ian Darke
The most recognizable British sports announcer of all time is Ian Darke. And his work ethic alone gets him on the list.
Darke began his career covering soccer (big surprise) but found a road to riches by becoming Sky's main boxing announcer as the sport exploded in popularity with British audiences in the mid-1990s, thanks to the rise of future heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.
We know this for sure. No British broadcaster is as beloved in the United States as Darke, who endeared himself to us with moments like his masterful call of Abby Wambach's legendary header in the 2011 Women's World Cup.
21. Lesley Visser
Born: Sept. 11, 1953 (Quincy, Massachusetts)
Sports: NFL, college basketball, NBA, MLB, Olympics, Tennis, Horse Racing
Primary networks: CBS, ABC, ESPN
Bottom Line: Lesley Visser
In an industry dominated by white, male broadcasters and bosses who have never given much room for women or minorities, Lesley Visser was a trailblazer.
Visser spent a decade as a reporter with The Boston Globe before making the jump to television work, where she's the only broadcaster, male or female, to work the Final Four, NBA Finals, World Series, Triple Crown, Monday Night Football, Olympics, Super Bowl, U.S. Open and World Figure Skating Championships.
That Visser spent a majority of her career doing sideline reporting and didn't get a chance in the booth until 2001 as a color analyst for NFL games is more of a testament to the inherent sexism in the business. Her talent should have had her there much sooner.
20. John Madden
Born: April 10, 1936 (Austin, Minnesota)
Primary networks: CBS, Fox Sports, ABC, NBC
Bottom Line: John Madden
John Madden began his career as an announcer in 1979, following a decade as a coach for the Oakland Raiders, and would eventually become the first broadcaster to work for all four major networks.
Madden was so good in the booth that wherever the NFL's biggest television contract went, Madden usually followed. One of the great corporate pitchmen of all time, Madden was reportedly earning around $5 million per year for the last decade of his career leading up to his retirement in 2009.
He's also got his name on the best-selling video game series of all time.
19. Dick Vitale
Born: June 9, 1939 (Passaic, New Jersey)
Sports: College basketball
Primary networks: ESPN
Bottom Line: Dick Vitale
No single person has done more to spread the popularity of college basketball — or keep it at the level it was at — than ESPN's Dick Vitale, a successful college coach and failed NBA coach who gained more fame calling the game than anything he ever experienced walking a sideline.
You can't tell the story of college basketball from 1980 on without Vitale, whose gregarious personality and willingness to engage with fans has endeared him to and equally enraged college basketball aficionados the world over.
18. Brent Musburger
Born: May 26, 1939 (Portland, Oregon)
Sports: NFL, MLB, NBA, college football, college basketball, tennis, auto racing, golf, soccer, horse racing
Primary networks: CBS, ESPN, ABC
Bottom Line: Brent Musburger
Brent Musburger's voice and presence on the biggest sports broadcasts in the world over three decades made him a household name — fame that jumped into a new generation of fans in the 2010s thanks to his love of gambling and the internet era's obsession with that.
Musburger's penchant for understanding the gravity of situations made him a welcome presence in the homes of sports fans for a long time — the man invented the term "March Madness" for God's sake.
It wasn't all gravy with Musburger, however, as he never backed off some controversial comments on Olympians Tommy Smith and John Carlos and once got in a fistfight with "NFL Today" gambling expert Jimmy The Greek.
17. Doc Emrick
Born: Aug. 1, 1946 (La Fontaine, Indiana)
Primary networks: NBC, NBCSN
Bottom Line: Doc Emrick
Michael "Doc" Emrick got his nickname for earning his Ph.D. from Bowling Green State, and he carried it with him for a lifetime.
Emrick did broadcasting and public relations on the radio for minor league hockey teams for most of the 1970s until earning his break with the New Jersey Devils in 1982. By 1986, he jumped to the national stage and was the lead play-by-play announcer for The NHL on NBC before going international as the play-by-play announcer for hockey at the 1992 Winter Olympics.
Emrick's mix of encyclopedic knowledge of the game and humor is what endears him to fans. He ended up covering nine Olympics, including covering water polo at the Summer Games in 2004 and 2012.
16. Chick Hearn
Born: Nov. 27, 1916 (Aurora, Illinois)
Died: Aug. 5, 2002 (age 85, Northridge, California)
Sports: NBA, boxing, college football, college basketball, bowling
Primary networks: N/A
Bottom Line: Chick Hearn
Chick Hearn was the Iron Man of sports announcers. He became the play-by-play man for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1961, and after missing a game in November 1965 because he was stranded after doing radio for a college game, he didn't miss a Lakers game until Dec. 16, 2001, an amazing streak of 3,338 consecutive games.
Hearn was the first broadcaster inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and is credited with inventing the terms "slam dunk" and "air ball" as well.
Hearn died from injuries sustained in a fall at his home in 2002. He was 85 years old.
15. Dick Enberg
Born: Jan. 9, 1935 (Mount Clemens, Michigan)
Died: Dec. 21, 2017 (age 82, La Jolla, California)
Sports: NFL, college football, MLB, NBA, golf, boxing, Olympics, tennis
Primary networks: NBC, CBS, ESPN
Bottom Line: Dick Enberg
Dick Enberg's epic career as a play-by-play man lasted a stunning 60 years and, to borrow one of his catchphrases, "touched 'em all" when it came to the sports he covered.
Enberg was great in whatever he covered, but what set him apart from his contemporaries was his ability to call sports outside the mainstream, most notably in tennis.
Enberg died of a massive heart attack in 2017, at 82 years old, and just one year after his official retirement.
14. Doris Burke
Born: April 11, 1965 (West Islip, New York)
Sports: NBA, WNBA, college basketball
Primary networks: ESPN, ABC
Bottom Line: Doris Burke
Former Providence College basketball star Doris Burke finished her career with the Friars as the school's career assists leader before transitioning into a broadcasting career in the early 1990s covering Big East women's and men's basketball.
Burke began to gain fame in the early 2000s as the first woman to work on a broadcast for a New York Knicks game, then as one of ESPN's lead commentators on men's college basketball.
Burke's talent saw her rise to ESPN's NBA coverage in the late 2000s, and she became the first woman given a full-time analyst job on NBA coverage in 2017, which is a testament to her rare, amazing talent.
13. Peter Alliss
Born: Feb. 28, 1931 (Berlin, Germany)
Died: Dec. 5, 2020 (age 89, Surrey, England)
Primary networks: BBC, ESPN, ABC
Bottom Line: Peter Alliss
The greatest golf announcer of all time is Peter Alliss, who had a respectable career as a player with five top 10 finishes at the British Open in the 1950s and 1960s. He began commentating while his career was still going and famously taught Sean Connery how to play golf for the James Bond film "Goldfinger" in 1964.
Alliss became the BBC's lead golf commentator in 1978 and earned a reputation to where he was called the "voice of golf." He also worked for ABC and ESPN throughout his career.
In a sport well known for prickly, sensitive players, Alliss earned acclaim for calling out players for what he thought was poor behavior, which didn't always make him the most popular guy in those circles. But it made him beloved by fans.
12. Jack Buck
Born: Aug. 21, 1924 (Holyoke, Massachusetts)
Died: June 18, 2002 (age 77, St. Louis, Missouri)
Sports: MLB, NFL
Primary networks: ABC, CBS
Bottom Line: Jack Buck
Jack Buck got his big break in the early 1950s, calling St. Louis Cardinals games on the radio in a booth that included him, Harry Caray and Joe Garagiola. Which is pretty amazing.
Buck was eventually fired, then rehired by the Cardinals in 1969 after Caray was fired, and gained his first measure of fame covering the team. Even though he's closely associated with MLB and the Cardinals, he was also a brilliant NFL commentator for decades. Few have ever been better on the play-by-play side of things.
Buck died in 2002, at 77 years old.
11. Curt Gowdy
Born: July 31, 1919 (Green River, Wyoming)
Died: Feb. 20, 2006 (age 86, Palm Beach, Florida)
Sports: MLB, NFL/AFL, NBA, Olympics, college basketball
Primary networks: ABC, NBC
Bottom Line: Curt Gowdy
Curt Gowdy is best known for his baseball coverage. He was the voice of the Boston Red Sox for 15 years, but that kind of undersells how great he was at covering other sports as well.
It was Gowdy, in fact, who nicknamed the Rose Bowl "The Granddaddy of Them All," which he took from Cheyenne Frontier Days in his Wyoming hometown.
Gowdy was on the call for some of the famous moments in sports history — Ted Williams' home run in his final at-bat, Super Bowl I, the Jets' historic upset in Super Bowl III, the infamous "Heidi" game and, most famously, Hank Aaron's record-setting 715th home run in 1974.
10. Pat Summerall
Born: May 10, 1930 (Lake City, Florida)
Died: April 16, 2013 (age 82, Dallas, Texas)
Sports: NFL, golf, tennis
Primary networks: CBS, Fox Sports
Bottom Line: Pat Summerall
Pat Summerall was a star kicker at the University of Arkansas before playing a decade in the NFL, where he even won an NFL championship with the Detroit Lions in 1952.
After his retirement, he went directly into the broadcast booth and carved out such an illustrious career that later generations would have to be reminded that he played the game at one point.
How good was Summerall in the booth? He was the announcer for 16 Super Bowls for network television — more than anyone else in history. It wasn't just football, either. He was just as good at golf and tennis, announcing the Masters 26 times and the U.S. Open 21 times.
9. Foster Hewitt
Born: Nov. 21, 1902 (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Died: April 21, 1985 (age 82, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada)
Primary networks: CBC Television
Bottom Line: Foster Hewitt
Foster Hewitt was a giant in the world of broadcasting. He began working as a radio announcer in the 1920s and was thought, along with his father, to have broadcast the first horse race, ever, alongside his father in 1925.
Hewitt had something needed desperately in that era — vision. When Maple Leaf Gardens opened in 1931, it came replete with a then-unheard-of broadcast booth, called a "broadcast gondola" specifically made for him by Toronto Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe.
Hewitt was the leading voice of Canadian hockey for 40 years and hosted Hockey Night in Canada for most of the 1950s and early 1960s as well. He died in 1985, at 82 years old.
8. Brian Moore
Born: Feb. 28, 1932 (Kent, England)
Died: Sept. 1, 2001 (age 69, Greater London, England)
Primary networks: ITV, Sky Sports
Bottom Line: Brian Moore
Perhaps the greatest soccer commentator of all time, Brian Moore began his career in newspapers before moving to radio broadcasts for the BBC in 1961, then shot to fame as part of the broadcast team for England's 1966 World Cup victory.
Moore moved from radio to television as London Weekend Television became ITV and remained with the company for the next three decades. In all, Moore covered nine World Cups and over 20 FA Cup Finals.
He retired after France's win in the 1998 World Cup final and died of massive heart failure in 2001, at 69 years old.
7. Vin Scully
Born: Nov. 29, 1927 (The Bronx, New York)
Sports: MLB, NFL, golf
Primary networks: CBS, NBC
Bottom Line: Vin Scully
Vin Scully is the greatest pure baseball announcer of all time, and it's not even close. Scully grew up in the shadow of New York's Polo Grounds and fell in love with the game for the first time after he experienced his first real sports heartbreak when the New York Giants lost in the 1936 World Series.
Scully began broadcasting for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950 and became the youngest person ever to do play-by-play in the World Series at 23 years old, which is a record that still stands to this day. He moved west with the team to Los Angeles in 1958 and delighted Dodgers fans for decades with his golden voice and poetic storytelling.
Scully stayed in that role until 2016, when he retired after 67 seasons.
6. Keith Jackson
Born: Oct. 18, 1928 (Roopville, Georgia)
Died: Jan. 12, 2018 (age 89, Los Angeles, California)
Sports: College football, MLB, NBA, boxing, golf, USFL, Olympics
Primary networks: ABC
Bottom Line: Keith Jackson
In the history of football, there is one voice that stands above the rest. That would be the voice of one Keith Jackson.
Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelly once wrote of Jackson, who died in 2018 at 89 years old: "That voice, low and rumbling, like the first shake of a giant earthquake, told us this game was worth watching. ... His was a throwback voice, deep and operatic. ... That voice warmed a living room on a cold autumn afternoon. His was the sound of autumn, as much a part of the season as the crackle from the first bite of an apple, or the gold-tinged foliage, or the carved pumpkins on the front stoop."
That, my friends, is how you write a sports column about Keith Jackson.
5. Jim Nantz
Born: May 17, 1959 (Charlotte, North Carolina)
Sports: NFL, college basketball, NBA, golf
Primary networks: CBS
Bottom Line: Jim Nantz
Few announcers have made themselves as synonymous with a single event as Jim Nantz has done with the Masters, where it's hard to imagine anything but his voice narrating the action, which he's done since 1989.
Nantz isn't just the Masters, however. He's become just as famous in the last decade-plus as the play-by-play announcer for the lead CBS NFL football game every week. And because of his dynamic chemistry with former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and color analyst Tony Romo.
4. Al Michaels
Born: Nov. 12, 1944 (Brooklyn, New York)
Sports: NFL, Olympics, MLB, NBA, NHL, horse racing, boxing
Primary networks: NBC, CBS, ABC
Bottom Line: Al Michaels
If we're talking about the most famous moments in sports announcer history, Al Michaels owns at least two of the top five and probably has the No. 1 spot if we're being honest. Anybody want to tell us what's more iconic than his "Do you believe in miracles?!" as the 1980 U.S. Olympic men's hockey team upset the Soviet Union in Lake Placid, New York.
The iconic moments of Michaels' career are too numerous to list here, but aside from the "Miracle on Ice" game, it was Michaels who walked audiences through the devastating earthquake in San Francisco before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series.
3. Bob Costas
Born: March 22, 1952 (Queens, New York)
Primary networks: NBC, HBO, MLB Network
Bottom Line: Bob Costas
Bob Costas was only 22 years old when he caught his first break as the radio announcer for the St. Louis Spirits of the American Basketball Association. Then, he hit it big when NBC kingmaker Don Ohlmeyer hired him in 1980, famously saying the 28-year-old Costas "looked like a 14-year-old."
Costas carved out one of the greatest careers in broadcasting history over the ensuing decades. There is literally no major event that Costas hasn't had a hand in covering in that time.
Costas worked for NBC for 40 years and won 29 Emmy Awards, and no game ever seemed too big for the Queens, New York, native. Our personal favorite was his call of the Kobe-to-Shaq alley-oop in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals.
2. Jim McKay
Born: Sept. 24, 1921 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Died: June 7, 2008 (age 86, Monkton, Maryland)
Primary networks: ABC
Bottom Line: Jim McKay
One of the things that get lost in being a sports announcer, sometimes, is the fact that you're still a journalist and your first allegiance is to journalism. That's something Jim McKay never had a problem with.
Perhaps the most respected sports television journalist of all time, McKay covered the Olympics 12 times and is most well-known for his coverage of the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics.
McKay also played studio host to the FIFA World Cup twice — a testament to the respect he held on the international stage. McKay died in 2006, at 86 years old.
1. Howard Cosell
Born: March 25, 1918 (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)
Died: April 23, 1995 (age 77, New York, New York)
Sports: NFL, Olympics, boxing
Primary networks: ABC
Bottom Line: Howard Cosell
Over 25 years after his death, Howard Cosell remains the most well-known sports announcer of all time. The arc and influence of his career is still felt in every sports broadcast we view today.
Cosell turned his back on a law career — he graduated from NYU School of Law — and caught a shooting star by covering Muhammad Ali in his early days. Then Cosell became the face of Monday Night Football and a key part of Olympics coverage for ABC.
Known for his tremendous ego as well as his talent, Cosell's most famous call came during a MNF game on Dec. 5, 1980, when he announced to a shocked nation that John Lennon had been shot to death in New York City.