To say that John Walton had never done basketball play-by-play during his distinguished radio career would be inaccurate. In fact, the voice of the Capitals once broadcast three basketball games. Featuring Batesville (Ind.) High. In the mid-’90s.
“I’ve done more hockey games in one week than I’ve done basketball games in my life,” Walton pointed out this week.
But with the Capitals still silenced by a lockout and Wizards radio voice Dave Johnson busy covering the most important D.C. United match in five years, Walton was asked if he had any interest in doing Saturday’s preseason NBA game in Milwaukee.
“I’m a little bit more available these days than I might be otherwise,” he said jokingly. “So I said, you know what? Absolutely. I thought it would be a lot of fun to try, because I’ve never done anything like that.”
Walton, 39, has been doing hockey play-by-play since 1991, his freshman year at Miami University in Ohio. As a full-time employee of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, he hasn’t had to scramble for freelance broadcast work during the NHL lockout, and
has instead been covering the Caps’ minor league affiliates in Hershey (Pa.) and Reading. And with the Caps and Wizards under the same corporate umbrella, Walton was a natural choice.
With only a few days to prepare, he studied names and numbers the same way he would for any hockey broadcast — except that this time, he was memorizing the rosters of both teams. Walton had briefly met his one-night partner, Glenn Consor, but hadn’t met men like GM Ernie Grunfeld or Coach Randy Wittman until he boarded the plane to Wisconsin.
He went to the team’s Saturday morning shoot-around, studied NBA officiating signals, and managed to refer to the basketball as a puck within the first minute or so of the game.
“Glenn chopped at my knees right away on that, and he should have,” Walton said. “He was like, ‘You’ve got to get yourself mentally into this thing,’ but I got over that pretty quickly.”
The pacing of the game, he said, “surprisingly wasn’t that different from hockey.” His call seemed to carry some of the cadences of a hockey broadcast — “UP off the glass!” Walton said after the game’s first score, and it could have been Nicklas Backstrom flipping the puck off the boards instead of Trevor Booker using the backboard. But by the time the first quarter ended, Walton had settled into something like normalcy.
“I absolutely loved it,” he said. “I mean, it’s obviously not something I had done in a long time, but I had a blast. And it was very cool to step outside the comfort zone and do something new.”
There was one more question, involving Walton’s signature victory call. For nearly 10 years — first in Hershey, and then in D.C. — Walton has marked wins by wishing “Good morning, good afternoon and good night” to the vanquished team.
The call “just kind of came out one night” in the hockey minors, and Walton liked the way it sounded. When he forgot to use the phrase two games later, some fans wondered “why didn’t you say that thing,” and so it became a permanent part of Walton’s repertoire.
He brought the call to Washington, and it gained national prominence during last year’s playoffs, when Backstrom scored the Game 2 double-overtime winner, and again when Joel Ward knocked off the Bruins in Game 7.
Some Caps colleagues requested that he introduce the catchphrase to the NBA should the Wizards win on Saturday, and when A.J. Price hit a three-pointer in the final minute, Walton figured, why not?
“Like we say on the hockey side, good morning, good afternoon, and good night Milwaukee!” went the call.
“I don’t know if Glenn really understood the reference, but it was fun,” Walton told me with a chuckle. “The whole evening couldn’t have gone better. I think it worked out well for everybody. I would definitely do it again.”
Audio, including Walton’s signature call at the end, is below: