Back in college, I was part of a one-act play. It was sort of a “Friday Night Lights” story about a high school football coach under great pressure for reasons I can’t remember. Just pressure to win maybe? Perhaps he was starting his son and dodging nepotism allegations? I don’t remember anymore.
I got a short scene as the coach’s son, but my favorite part came at the end. The “big game” against MacGuffin High had ended in victory, but we had to let the audience know without portraying any actual football.
The solution? Radio. I stood just off-stage, breaking down the game’s action. My Kevin Harlan Voice was like the only choice I could make. It was a knock-off at best, but it was still enough to garner compliments for a “great announcer voice.”
I have an unreasonable love of Kevin Harlan.
Some of it comes from my formative sports years. 90’s NBA was the greatest era of any sport, but it was about as much part of that era as The War at Home was part of the Third Golden Age of Television. Although the hometown Minnesota Timberwolves were terrible, they did have Kevin Harlan calling the action. After all, they’re called your formative years for a reason. If there’s a voice in your ear taking about a thing you love, you’re probably going to love that voice.
And what a voice! It’s that deep, beautiful baritone that lends instant credibility to anything. The sort of voice that if you heard it calling squirrel waterskiing on The Ocho, you’d be like “Whoa…This waterskiing is really important and I immediately buy into the narrative.”
It’s not just “the voice,” however. It’s also what he does with it. When the Wolves were terrible, Harlan did everything he could to be entertaining. Check out his farewell video package for some evidence. There’s also an infamous game where Timberwolf Doug West was guarding somebody with the last name of Wood (Given the period where West played for the Wolves, it had to be either David or Leon. Thanks, basketball-reference!). Harlan couldn’t resist, shouting “Doug West has got Wood! He’s got Wood so bad he can barely move!”
Harlan also has no shortage of catchphrases, and incredible none of which are annoying. “He just sucked the gravity right out of the building!” “Right between the eyes!” Whatever all of this was after a Birdman dunk. My personal favorite, “With no regard for human life!” And of course, “GOOGLY-OOGLY-OOGLY!” after a Tom Gugliotta dunk.
He hits that sweet spot between reverential gravitas for the concept of sport and a childlike excitement for it that never seems excessive or gets old ala Gus Johnson. It feels like Kevin Harlan loves sports as much as I do. Maybe that’s the case with most sports announcers, but no one looks like they are having as much fun as Kevin Harlan.
Sadly, I fear my unreasonable affection for Kevin Harlan will remain unrequited. Maybe if he wants, he can swing by my classroom sometime and I can become his favorite high school educator?