I’m working on a story about Phil Chenier for The Washington Post. I have many good reasons for doing this story now.
1) Chenier is beginning his 30th season as a color analyst for the franchise, starting Wednesday night.
2) He’s doing so on his birthday; he turned 63 on Wednesday.
3) He also started his first season on his birthday; he turned 34 on the first regular-season broadcast of his first season with Home Team Sports.
4) Wizards fans love Phil Chenier.
The story won’t be done for a few days, but in the meantime, a couple of outtakes. (And photos. Mostly photos.)
Chenier was recently inducted into the Washington Metropolitan Basketball Hall of Fame, and that meant it was speech time for Steve Buckhantz. Chenier’s longtime broadcasting partner and close friend has told the story many times before — including once in this space — but maybe not at this length. The story takes place in the mid 1970s, a time when Buckhantz idolized Chenier so much he based his sneaker choices on what Chenier was wearing.
“Back then, I was just coming out of high school and going into college, and I was pretty heavy into refereeing,” Buckhantz told me. “So I belonged to the Shenandoah Valley Officials Association in Harrisonburg, doing high school games. A friend of mine at the time who was an NBA referee helped me get into the Urban Coalition League, which was a summer league here in Washington, a pro summer league comprised of a lot of local guys, but also comprised of a team made up of Bullets.
“So the Bullets had a team, and I was refereeing a game that Phil was playing in, which was awesome, because I had been watching him for years and he was really my favorite player. It was down at Roosevelt High on Upshur Street. So I’m working this game, running around, and the next thing you know, I call a foul on Phil. He calls me a stupid [four-syllable bad word]. So I looked at him, and I didn’t do anything. Here’s my favorite player, and I didn’t even know him at the time, so I didn’t do anything. And he looked at me, and he called me a stupid [four-syllable bad word] again. So I hit him with a technical foul. And it killed me to have to do that. Here’s basically my idol, and I had to whack him with a technical. It just about broke my heart. It almost crushed me.”
Then there was the time Chenier and Buckhantz were on a road trip with the team, and Chenier’s first grandchild was born. His youngest daughter Adelle called with the news. More from Buckhantz.
“Phil moves on Phil time, which is usually 10 to 15 minutes behind everybody’s time,” Buckhantz began. “When we set clocks back an hour, we might need to set his back an hour and 15 minutes. So we were in Seattle, and his first grandchild was on the way. Our rooms were across from each other. Now, when you call Phil on his cell phone, he won’t answer, because he won’t hear it. He hears nothing. He could sleep in a tornado. So I guess Adelle is trying to reach him to tell him his first grandchild has been born. She can’t get through to him. His phone is ringing and ringing and ringing; evidently it was three feet from his head.
“It’s 6 a.m. She calls me at my room, wakes me up, says, can you get my dad. I put on a bathrobe, go across the hall. I’m banging on his door. I say, wake up man, you just had a grandchild, answer your phone. And that’s how he found out he had a grandchild for the first time.”
Fine, here’s one more quote. This is from Kevin Grevey, a former teammate who has remained a friend for four decades. I asked about Chenier’s jump shot.
“It still, today, is the most beautiful jump shot I’ve ever seen,” Grevey said. “It was just so soft and sweet. No one that I ever saw before had that, and no one after. You can talk about Ray Allen, J.J. Redick. C’mon. Phil Chenier, just look at the old films. It’s beautiful. The thing that [ticks] me off about Phil Chenier to this day — I always wanted to be like Phil Chenier as a player, and now my wife says, Kevin, I wish you dressed like Phil Chenier. He’s still making me look bad, to this day, and I’m 60 years old. He’s cool as the breeze in the spring.”