Growing up the son of a boys high school basketball coach, gymnasiums became Chris Denari’s second home at a young age.
As Denari grew older, jump shots gradually gave way to a different type of pregame preparation.
The Carmel resident is winding down his 10th season as the play-by-play voice for Indiana Pacers telecasts on Fox Sports Indiana. He previously served as the radio play-by-play announcer for Butler University men’s basketball for 17 seasons.
Employment at Pacers Sports and Entertainment has allowed the 1979 Westfield High School graduate to add his voice to a Pacers’ TV tradition. What began in the 1972-73 season with Jerry Baker on the old WTTV-Channel 4 eventually gave way to Don Hein, Bob Lamey, Al Albert and others.
Denari is an Indiana kid living an Indiana dream.
“I was at home watching a (Cincinnati) Reds game recently and watching Thom Brennaman and Chris Welsh do the call, and I said, ‘It’s a little weird sitting here because I’m a big Reds fan, and there are people that sit on their couch and watch us,’ ” Denari said.
“Just the fact that over the years I’ve watched Marty Brennaman do the (Pacers) games. Jerry Baker, Al Albert … and now I’m the guy sitting there. I’m the person with Quinn Buckner and J.J. (Jeremiah Johnson) that people are getting their Pacer fix from. It’s a little surreal at times.”
Named the 2003 Broadcaster of the Year by the Indiana Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association, Denari earlier this month was named to its Hall of Fame.
He was able to share the latter honor with his father, Bob, 82, who coached Chris at Northfield High School near Wabash before taking the job at Westfield High School in 1977.
The younger Denari knows no offseason.
He is the radio/TV voice of the Indiana Fever of the WNBA, is a member of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network and in the fall can be heard announcing college football games for the Big Ten Network.
Denari recently sat down with the Daily Journal for a Q&A interview:
Q: What do you remember about the first Pacers game you ever attended?
A: It was sometime when I moved to Westfield. I followed the Pacers when I lived up in Wabash, but I never got down to a game. It was sometime my junior year of high school (1977-78) when I saw them play at Market Square Arena.
Q: What differences, if any, are there between announcing college basketball as opposed to the professional game?
A: For me there’s not a difference in broadcasting. It is a different game. A faster game from the standpoint of when I made the transition the shot clock was a big factor. The college shot clock at the time was 35 (seconds) and the NBA shot clock was 24. I think what really helped me was having already done at least some WNBA games that I understood the pro rules and those types of things.
Now I’ll say this, the difference is this is my full-time job. When I was doing Butler games I had a full-time job, so I had to do my preparation on the side. Now this is what I do for a living, so I can spend a lot more time on preparing for a game and for the season.
Q: Where do you draw the line between being critical when the Pacers aren’t playing well?
A: The one thing you can always do is use numbers to sort of tell the story. If the numbers are bad, I think most people realize they’re bad. The one thing Quinn and I try to do is be as objective as we can, but people know we want the Pacers to win. They know we’re employed by the Pacers, but at the end of the day they have to trust us.
If we sugarcoat things too much then fans aren’t going to trust us, and they’re not going to believe anything we say. There is a line there, no question about that. There are certain things you’re not going to say, but at the end of the day you have to be as objective as you can, full well knowing that you’re a Pacer person.
Q: Is being on the road for no less than 41 games per season the most difficult aspect of your job?
A: It is easier now than it was early in my Pacer career because I did miss a number of their (his own children’s) games. That was a struggle, there’s no question about that. But my kids were always great. They said, ‘Dad, we can’t see you doing anything else. And the opportunities that you’re giving us because of what you’re doing.’
You wonder how the travel will affect you as you get older, but we travel so well. We charter planes, so I can’t complain. You have to understand that games also are nights and weekends. There aren’t a lot of games at 10 in the morning. You’re going to get back late at night.
I will say that during January and February this year we were on the road a lot. There are just certain things you have to adapt to, but I’m fine with it. That’s part of the job.
Q: From Season 1 working with the Pacers until now, where do you feel you’ve most improved as a play-by-play man?
A: The one thing I realize is everything that you prep you don’t have to use. The one thing you have to make sure you do is bring out the best in your analyst. That’s your responsibility.
The one thing Quinn and I have become is a lot more conversational over the years because we have a comfort with each other that we’re just two guys sitting on a couch talking about the game. I’m always trying to improve. I’m always watching or listening to a number of my games to find out if I’m using a certain word as a crutch. If it bothers me, it probably bothers other people.
Q: Because your broadcasting styles are so different, was it difficult building on-air chemistry with Quinn Buckner?
A: Quinn is the consummate leader. You think about how successful he was at IU, with the (1976) Olympic team, in the NBA, so … the most difficult part for me was for the first four or five years when I would do 25 or 30 games a season with Clark Kellogg and then games with Quinn. You’re dealing with two distinctly different personalities.
I would do a game on Friday with Quinn, Saturday with Clark, Monday with Quinn, Tuesday with Clark. But I’ve always felt I can work with anybody. Part of my philosophy is within the first few minutes of working with somebody I can sort of tell what I need to do. Do I need to talk more? Do I need to listen more?
Quinn and I in the last three or four years have really found where we need to be as we work together.
Q: What is it about working with the Pacers organization that makes your job so special?
A: They do things the right way. A first-class organization. They take care of their employees. They’re an employee-first organization. Here’s the thing for me as the play-by-play guy … I’ve never had one day where Larry (Bird) or Kevin Pritchard or anybody in the organization come and tell me what to say. Ever.
I think there’s a trust factor as they hire people to do their job. They trust us. And I think that’s the best part of the organization. We’re all in there wanting to succeed. Our goal is to win an NBA championship, but we also know that our job is also to serve the community. That’s one of the things that this organization does the best is the outreach they do on a daily basis.
THE DENARI FILE
Name: Chris Denari
Born: Dayton, Ohio
Family: Wife, Terry; sons, Evan, 26, Wilson, 23, and Max, 19
High school: Westfield H.S. – 1979
College: Wabash College – 1983
Favorite TV show: “Anything on HGTV”
Favorite food: Italian
Favorite movie: “Hoosiers”
Favorite athlete: Joe Morgan
Favorite team: Cincinnati Reds