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Voice of the Kings Gets Royal Treatment at Last

Hockey: Bob Miller receives media honor in Hall of Fame after years of being overshadowed in L.A.

November 14, 2000|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TORONTO — Listen to the Kings' next telecast.

Don't watch. Listen. And let Bob Miller's voice paint a word picture as vivid as any high-tech, multi-camera production could ever be.

"I've told him many times I could turn my head and know, from the inflection of his voice, where the puck is and if a goal might be scored soon," said Jim Fox, Miller's color commentator for 11 seasons. "From a broadcasting standpoint, I don't know anyone who carries the emotion of a game better than Bob.

"He understands the flow of a game and as you listen, you can't help but pick that up. It's a pleasure listening to him."

King fans have listened to Miller for more than 2,300 games over 28 seasons, the first 17 on simulcasts. He has outlasted four owners, six general managers, five broadcast partners, 13 coaches and one arena.

He has survived the meddling of owner Jack Kent Cooke, the peculiarities of General Manager George Maguire, bad years and good, to become an enduring symbol of the Kings and win the admiration of his peers.

The NHL Broadcasters Assn. on Monday presented Miller the Foster Hewitt Award for outstanding contributions to hockey and his profession, and he will have a plaque in the media wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Named for the broadcaster who pioneered hockey play by play on radio, it's the highest accolade a hockey broadcaster can receive.

"It's a great honor for me," Miller said Monday as he put on his Hall of Fame jacket. "I like the way it fits."

Also honored Monday were Joe Mullen and Denis Savard, inducted into the Hall in the players' category, and Walter Bush Jr., inducted as a builder. Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal received the Elmer Ferguson memorial award for contributions to print journalism.

Miller, 62, isn't under contract for next season, although the Kings have promised him lifetime employment. He's having too much fun to retire.

"I'm often asked how I keep my enthusiasm," he said. "I think it's because when you go to work, you never know what you're going to see. It could be a record of some kind, especially in the Wayne Gretzky era. There are nights you don't want to go, but you get caught up in the atmosphere of being at a live sporting event.

"That's one of the best things: It's a live event. I still enjoy the fact it's live, not on tape, and you can't say, 'Let's stop the tape and do it again.' You can't take it back, so let's do it right."

His dedication and professionalism make him a worthy recipient of the Hewitt award, his fellow broadcasters say.

"It wouldn't be Dodger baseball without Vin Scully, Laker basketball without Chick Hearn or Kings' hockey without Bob," said Jiggs McDonald, the Kings' announcer their first five seasons. McDonald, now the radio voice of the Florida Panthers, won the Hewitt award in 1990 and is a member of the selection committee.

"I remember talking to Vin once, and he said it was his job to take the fan at home and bring that fan to the ballpark. Bob does that," McDonald said. "Bob has endeared himself to fans with his knowledge of the game, his ability, and his knack of bringing the player to the fan, of humanizing the player. He has a sense of humor too, and that's important."

Miller's sense of humor served him well during Cooke's tenure.

Miller, who grew up in Chicago listening to Lloyd Pettit's Blackhawk broadcasts, started calling hockey games at the University of Wisconsin when Bob Johnson's Badgers were an NCAA powerhouse. When a friend in California told him in 1972 that McDonald would soon be leaving, Miller sent some tapes to Hearn, who was in charge of broadcasting for Cooke. Hearn promised to recommend him to Cooke, but the next word Miller got was a friend saying the Kings had hired Roy Storey.

"You never went into Jack Kent Cooke and said, 'This is my pick,' because he wanted you to know he was in charge and he'd pick someone else," Miller said. "I was pretty disappointed, but I stayed in Wisconsin and they won the NCAA championship, so that was fun."

A year later, though, the Kings were looking again. Miller sent new tapes to Hearn and decided to plead his case to Hearn in Chicago, where the Lakers were playing the Bulls. He arrived at the Lakers' hotel three hours before the team, and he almost didn't wait. His patience was rewarded.

"I went up to Chick and said, 'I'm Bob Miller and I just wanted to say hello,' and he told me, 'We may have something for you,' " Miller said. "Chick's the fastest guy in the world from check-in to his room, so the meeting was about a minute and a half. On the way home I was thinking, 'Did I just waste a couple of hours?'

"As it turned out, they had me come out there in June and I signed in July [1973]."

He had no idea what he had signed up for. Cooke, who'd brought the NHL to Los Angeles in 1967, had a finger in every aspect of the club's operations. Perched in his box high above one end of the Forum ice, his transistor radio on and binoculars trained on Miller, Cooke would call Miller to berate him during games.

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