It would have been easy enough for Kyle Draper to pass. He was happy working at NBC Sports Boston the past 11 years, the last seven as the studio host of the network’s Celtics broadcasts.
But he also knew that if he didn’t take this shot, right now, he might never get a better look.
“This became home, man,’’ said Draper, a few days after the Sacramento Kings announced that he would be joining their broadcast team as a play-by-play announcer this season. “Even though I’m a Philly guy, this is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I have an 11-year-old. I have an 8-year-old. I love the community we live in. We love the schools. It was a great job.
“So it’s not like I was, ‘We’ve got to go, I’m ready to leave.’ It was, ‘All right, I’m 45.’ It’s either stay and host the next how many or so years, which would be great. Or see if you can do something even greater. My thought was, ‘It’s either now or it’s not going to happen for me.’ My wife was on board, the kids were, reluctantly. I think they’re more accepting now. So this is a hard decision.”
The driving force was the opportunity to do play-by-play. The Kings recently named ESPN’s Mark Jones as their primary play-by-play voice, but he is expected to miss upward of 30 games because of his national network obligations.
While Draper has filled in on a few Celtics games as the play-by-play voice, NBC Sports Boston and the Celtics have one of the best in the business — perhaps the best — in Mike Gorman. The opportunity in Sacramento was one that just wasn’t going to present itself here.
“A few years ago,” Draper said, “I was thinking, all right, I can do the studio host, I can do the sideline reporting. What’s the next evolution in my career? And I thought, let’s try play-by-play. It turned out to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But the only way to get better at it is to do it. And so this is a chance to do it.
“When I got the chance to fill in for Mike for five or 10 games a couple of years ago, I had never done play-by-play in my life. I don’t have the pedigree of a lot of these guys out here that have those guys that have done hundreds and hundreds of games. For NBC Sports Boston to give me that opportunity, it was great. But the only way to get better is to actually do it.
“Maybe I’m not Mike Gorman or the next Marv Albert or [Mike] Breen or something. But at this stage in my life and my career, I thought I should go for it.”
The feedback at this address to the news that Draper was leaving was overwhelmingly disappointed. It’s not always easy for an outsider to build a following in this market, but Draper’s authenticity and easygoing nature built him a rapport with viewers that was similar to the one he had on air with analysts such as Brian Scalabrine and Kendrick Perkins.
“I’m sure it took time for fans to warm to me,” Draper said, “but the thing about it is that how you see me on TV is how I am in person, around my friends and family. How I was in Louisville [where he worked before coming to Boston], how I was growing up. And so I’ve never really experienced, ‘Oh, man, I’m an outsider. I’ve got to make an impression.’ I was just being me, you know? And I think that’s what the Boston fans appreciated.
“It’s not always an easy place, that’s for sure. We’ve seen people come and go. But for me, I was always just myself, and I think the city of Boston accepted that. They could detect that I was real, that it wasn’t an act.
“I hated to leave Louisville 11 years ago, and it’s crushing me to leave Boston now. People have accepted me here. Our community is like a family. No doubt I’m excited. But it’s sad, too. That’s the difficult part, right? The emotional change. I can’t wait to get settled out there and start making new memories.”
A tip of the veteran sportswriter’s hat — a fedora with a PRESS tag on it, of course — to Jim Fenton of the Brockton Enterprise, Bill Doyle of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and Mike Loftus of the Patriot Ledger, all of whom announced this past week that they were taking buyouts after long careers at their respective newspapers. Fenton, Doyle, and Loftus might not have been the guys popping up on the Boston sports radio and television programs, but they were trusted voices in their communities and respected on their beats. Fenton and Doyle (on the Celtics) and Loftus (on the Bruins) possessed irreplaceable institutional knowledge of the teams they covered. Doyle in particular always kept this reporter on his toes with his sports media coverage.
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