Steve Buckhantz had a pretty dreamy NBA offseason. He got married on Mother’s Day, in a ceremony attended by several D.C. sports luminaries including his Comcast SportsNet on-air partner and best friend, Phil Chenier. He and his new bride bought a house in Herndon. They took a vacation this month in the Bahamas.
Saturday night, Buckhantz was inducted into the Silver Circle of this region’s branch of the National Association of Television Arts & Sciences, honoring significant contributors to area broadcasting over at least 25 years.
And next? Well, who knows. Buckhantz’s job is to call Wizards games, and there aren’t a lot of those on tap.
“I’m going out of my mind,” he told me in a recent phone conversation. “I’m ready to work. That’s what we do. I’m in the mode right now where I would have most of my preparation done. We’d be at training camp right now, we’d be going to every practice on every day. We live basketball. I’m going through a little bit of withdrawal.”
There’s been only one comparable break during Buckhantz’s 27-year career in this city, that being the 1998 lockout, when he called as many college basketball games as he could for what was then Home Team Sports.
Of course, Buckhantz’s career was in a different place then. He was just a year removed from his decision to step away from the WTTG anchor desk, and was already bored two weeks into his offseason.
“I’m thinking, dude, I don’t know what to do with myself,” he recalled. “Not only do I have my first summer off, which was five months, but then they don’t play again until February.”
The NBA and the Wizards eventually returned, and Buckhantz has been with them ever since, through Michael Jordan’s return and four playoff seasons and a whole bunch of losing campaigns.
He had worked in four cities before coming back to WTTG — doing sports and weather in Harrisonburg, moving to stations in Chattanooga and Nashville, and then going big-time with the ABC affiliate in Atlanta. The Arlington native then spent 13 years at channel 5, famously sparring with Joe Gibbs for years and eventually breaking the news of Gibbs’s first retirement.
Buckhantz, who had grown up watching Bullets games in the Baltimore Civic Center, loved the adrenaline rush of anchoring in his home town. But he said if you asked 100 sports anchors, 99 would admit to harboring play-by-play ambitions. So after Mel Proctor’s departure, he never hesitated.
“It’s just the best job you can have,” he said. “Even today, I pinch myself. I realize that I’m doing the play-by-play for the team I grew up rooting for, in the city where I grew up, with the best, most talented professionals in the business.”
Except that, right now, he isn’t. Buckhantz might be in a different income bracket than arena workers and beer vendors, but like them, when there are no games there are no paychecks. (He was scheduled to do all 82 regular-season Wizards contests, plus three preseason games.) He’s again planning on working a college basketball schedule, and said he’d stay out of the labor battle between owners and players.
“I tell people, listen, this is big business, but it’s none of our business,” Buckhantz said. “This is a labor negotiation between very wealthy people. And the people who make their living from the NBA or the fans who watch the NBA, we have to do something else until they play again. And we will. Everybody will.
“If the NFL didn’t play, you’d miss it, but you’d do something else. It’s not like you wouldn’t wake up tomorrow. The point is, it’s out of our control. As a fan — and I’m a fan — I have no say in it. The owners are not gonna come to me and ask me what I think. The players are not gonna ask me what I think. We have nothing to do with it. It’s not our business.”
Still, when the games return, so will Buckhantz, extending his 27-year run in this market. He’s 56 now, and said he could easily see himself doing another decade with the Wizards if his voice holds up. He wants to see the team winning again, wants to call playoff games in a packed arena. And he wants to remain part of the tradition of George Michael and Glenn Brenner, Frank Herzog and Tim Brant and Johnny Holliday.
“I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to be in this market, which is not only the news capital of the world, but for me, it’s my home,” Buckhantz said. “It’s gratifying to be a part of that.”