Lakers announcer John Ireland learned much from legendary Chick Hearn


When he was a youth growing up in Corona del Mar, Calif., John Ireland would listen to Chick Hearn on this contraption called a transistor radio (look it up, kids). Because the broadcasts often lasted past his bedtime, Ireland had to find a way to hide the radio from his mother. So young John would tuck it under his pillow, where his mom couldn’t see it, but he could still hear it.

Flash forward to today, and Ireland is doing what Hearn once did: connecting with legions of Lakers fans, young and old, as the team’s radio play-by-play announcer. Although he earned the job through hard work and meticulous preparation, sometimes Ireland scarcely can believe his childhood dream came true.

“The word I would use is surreal,” Ireland said in a recent phone interview. “I think about that little kid with his head on the pillow listening to his transistor radio all the time. It’s one reason I will never take this job for granted.”

Ireland, who also co-hosts “Mason &Ireland” on Los Angeles KSPN/710, the Lakers’ flagship station, is a Hearn disciple through and through. Not only did he pick up several of Hearn’s catchphrases – osmosis via pillow – but Ireland had the chance to learn directly from the master in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The thing I like best about Ireland’s play-by-play is that he frequently provides a “reset” – the score, how much time is left in the game, the players on the floor. It’s one of many lessons learned from Hearn.

“Chick told me, don’t forget about that guy who’s stuck in traffic – you’re his lifeline to the game,” Ireland said. “If you ever lose your tempo and rhythm, give the time and the score. No one ever criticizes you for giving the time and score too much. I do that to a fault.”

No such thing. I can’t tell you how often I’m driving around, turn on a game and end up frustrated because the announcer doesn’t provide that vital information. Ireland never disappoints.

The UCLA grad got the play-by-play gig in 2011 after serving as the Lakers’ TV sideline reporter for 10 years. He had done radio play-by-play part time for the Clippers from 1997-2000 – a solo gig for a bad team that helped him learn the value of preparation – and expressed interest when the Lakers shuffled their announcing crew after the 2010-11 season.

After letting Joel Meyers go, the Lakers planned to move Spero Dedes to TV and Bill Macdonald (another Corona del Mar product) into Dedes’ radio role. But when Dedes took a job with his hometown New York Knicks, everyone moved up a notch. Macdonald became the TV guy, and Ireland took over the play-by-play duties on the radio.

At first, Ireland wasn’t sure if he was dreaming. When Tim Harris, the Lakers’ vice president of business operations and chief marketing officer, called to tell him the news, Ireland said: “Please tell me you’re not punking me.”

Harris wasn’t. And now Ireland is passing along the wisdom he received from Hearn to the next generation of Lakers broadcasters.

“John has gone far out of his way to selflessly teach me his many tricks of the trade, without reservation or pause, with only my future interest in mind,” said Mike Trudell, the Lakers’ current sideline reporter on Time Warner Cable SportsNet. “Honestly, John is the best, and I’m very fortunate to have him as a role model and mentor in the industry.”

DODGERS UPDATE

Nothing is official as of yet, but the Dodgers are expected to hire Orel Hershiser and Nomar Garciaparra as analysts for SportsNet LA, the team’s new network debuting in 2014.

Lon Rosen, the Dodgers’ executive vice president and chief marketing officer who’s overseeing SportsNet LA, declined comment through a team employee.

Interestingly, reports of Hershiser, Garciaparra and MLB Network’s Alanna Rizzo joining SportsNet LA could be read on the Dodgers’ website as of Thursday.

Although it didn’t mention Hershiser by name, ESPN announced that Curt Schilling will take Hershiser’s place in the “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcast booth.

REMOTE PATROL

After the Heisman ceremony, ESPN will air “Youngstown Boys,” its latest “30 for 30” documentary. The film explores the triumphs and failures of Maurice Clarett and Jim Tressel, who helped Ohio State win a national championship before encountering hardships. …

Besides the usual suspects such as Bob Costas and Al Michaels, NBC has made some out-of-the-box additions to its Winter Olympics coverage. They include David Remnick, a Pulitzer Prize winner and editor of The New Yorker, and Moscow-based television journalist Vladimir Pozner. …

NBCSN is airing the television debut of “The Good Son: The Ray Mancini Story,” a documentary about the former boxer based on the book of the same name. The doc premieres at 10 p.m. EST on Saturday. …

Slowly but surely, Fox Sports 1 is making progress. November was the network’s highest-rated month since its August launch, buoyed by big audiences for the Oregon-Oregon State and Baylor-Oklahoma football games. It’ll be interesting to see what happens now that the college football regular season is over. …

Michigan State’s upset of Ohio State was the highest-rated, most-watched Big Ten Championship Game ever. The Fox broadcast averaged 13.9 million viewers, more than double last year’s average of 5.1 million for Nebraska-Wisconsin. …

ESPN announced that the new SEC Network will have a two-hour traveling Saturday pregame show called “SEC Nation.” Joe Tessitore will serve as host. The show will debut Aug. 28, when the SEC Network will televise a doubleheader featuring Texas A&M-South Carolina and Temple-Vanderbilt. …

CBS enjoyed its highest average rating for SEC football since the network began airing primarily an SEC-only schedule in 2001. …

Alabama coach Nick Saban will serve as an analyst for ESPN during its coverage of the Jan. 6 BCS title game in Pasadena. …

ESPN (3 percent), ESPN2 (8 percent) and ESPNU (4 percent) recorded respectable gains in viewership for their regular-season coverage of college football. ABC’s viewership was down slightly. …

HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” will wrap its 19th season with a roundtable review of 2013. The episode, featuring correspondents Mary Carillo, Frank Deford, Jon Frankel, Bernard Goldberg, Andrea Kremer and Soledad O’Brien, debuts at 10 p.m. Tuesday. …

CBS Sports Network will profile some of college basketball’s top coaches in a new series entitled “NCAA Men of March.” The series, which blends all-access footage with at-home interviews, debuts Dec. 28 with profiles of Rick Pitino and John Calipari. …

Tuesday’s Heat-Pacers game was the most-watched telecast ever on NBA TV, averaging 920,000 viewers. …

Although it wasn’t competitive in the second half, the Bears-Cowboys game was the highest-rated “Monday Night Football” telecast of the 2013 season. …

The first Pro Bowl Draft will air at 8 p.m. EST on Jan. 22 on NFL Network.

MEDIA MUSINGS

I have absolutely no problem with the way ESPN’s Heather Cox handled her postgame interview with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston on Saturday. Cox asked Winston multiple questions about his off-field issues without seeking specifics on the rape case that was dismissed last week. Cox’s questions were fair and direct. She did her job and did it well.

From a television standpoint, the NFL relishes inclement weather, snow in particular. The Lions-Eagles game Sunday, played in a blizzard, was positively mesmerizing. The question is whether the league really wants snow during the upcoming Super Bowl, the first to be played outdoors in a cold-weather climate. Whether it does or not, expect NFL officials to embrace the possibility leading up to the game. They’ve left themselves no other choice.

Dick Vitale recently celebrated his 35th anniversary as a college basketball analyst for ESPN and told SI.com’s Richard Deitsch that he’d like to work another 15. Assuming Vitale’s health doesn’t deteriorate, I’m all for it. He isn’t as sharp as he used to be, but there’s no better ambassador – with a capital A! – for the sport.

 

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