Wednesday’s news that NBC Sports Washington did not pick up the option on the third year of Steve Buckhantz’s contract, leaving the longtime Wizards play-by-play man’s future with the network unclear, was met with shock and outrage on social media from Wizards fans and many of Buckhantz’s media colleagues.
ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, who grew up in the D.C. area and interned for Buckhantz at WTTG-5 while he was a student at Maryland, was among the most peeved by NBCSW’s hesitance to commit to Buckhantz beyond this season, though his return remains possible.
“I can’t say the words I feel about it, even though it is cable television, but suffice to say I think it’s an impossibly idiotic decision from an organization that has made a few of them,” Van Pelt said of the Wizards during his “One Big Thing” segment on Thursday’s “SportsCenter.”
“Buck’s called Wizards games for 22 years,” Van Pelt went on. “Look at what they’ve been over that time. It’s like a prison sentence. They’ve missed the playoffs more often than they’ve made them. They’ve rarely been good; Buck always is. Even if you don’t know him, you likely remember some of his calls, including his trademark.”
(That, of course, would be “Dagger!”)
While Wizards owner Ted Leonsis’s Monumental Sports and Entertainment has an ownership stake in NBC Sports Washington, the decision to explore other options before settling on a Wizards broadcast team for next season was made by the network. Buckhantz has worked the past two years alongside Kara Lawson, who replaced Buckhantz’s original broadcast partner for 20 years, Phil Chenier.
“To Wizards fans, this is a dagger,” Van Pelt continued. “The thing about your local broadcast, if you’re lucky, is you get someone with whom you identify, someone who reflects your investment, your passion. When you spend decades with someone, their voice becomes how you hear the games in your head. They keep you company throughout the season — a comfortable presence, a friend.
“In my case, he actually is. I interned for Buck when I was a student at Maryland, so admittedly, I am hopelessly biased here. He was a great teacher then, and he has been such a loyal supporter of mine throughout my career. I love the guy. His pride in me and my work means the world. If that means you want to strike my testimony here, fine, get rid of it. Just look at the reaction from Wizards fans online. It’s unusual to see such a united voice on anything on social media, but people in the D.C. area are sideways about this. This is a rare moment for a franchise that’s mostly been disappointing to give their fans what they clearly want.”
Buckhantz acknowledged the reaction and show of support of support from fans on Thursday night, tweeting, “I’ve read every comment. I want to thank you all for your kindness and support. My passion has always been for the Wizards and our broadcasts. It will all work out, one way or another.”
Buckhantz’s lawyer, Phil Hochberg, said Wednesday that his client was already reaching out to other outlets but that he would prefer to continue calling Wizards games.
“I look up every night around 7 o’clock on the televisions in our office at the pregame shows, and I see the longtime faces and voices of teams, and I wonder if they’ve still got their fastball,” Van Pelt said toward the end of his monologue. “With Buck, the answer is absolutely. He’s not a relic; he’s a very youthful 63. Now to go in another direction just for the sake of going in another direction would be entirely tone deaf. Your fans, who have rarely been given much to support, are supporting one thing that has helped them endure all these years of mediocrity. All you have to do is listen to them about the guy they want to listen to. But maybe you want someone you think can attract a younger demo. You know what would do that? A team that wins games. Because you know what young people like? Things that are good. Steve Buckhantz is, and he has been for 22 years. Figure it out.”
Read more on the Wizards: