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Sunderland Reels In Dream Job

September 27, 2002|LARRY STEWART

Paul Sunderland knew an offer was forthcoming from the Lakers because his agent had called the night before. So what did Sunderland do? He went fishing.

Sunderland is not an avid fisherman, but he and longtime KLAC engineer/producer Frank Polak had planned the outing for some time. Polak works Laker radio broadcasts from the KLAC studios in Los Angeles, so he was only a voice Sunderland heard in his earpiece when he announced 56 Laker games last season.

Now the two were going to get to spend some quality time together.

Sunderland was at Polak's home in Van Nuys by 5 a.m. last Friday. They went to Pyramid Lake north of Los Angeles.

"I caught only one striped bass all day," Sunderland said.

Even though the most important decision of Sunderland's career was about to be made, he went fishing. But that was because he had made a commitment, not because he wanted his agent to handle everything.

"I was very involved," he said of negotiations that led to Tuesday's announcement that Sunderland is the Lakers' new play-by-play announcer--and only the franchise's second since it moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis in 1960.

Sunderland said things worked out very much to his liking. The Lakers stuck with their offer of only one year, but came up on the salary. According to sources, they went from a little over $200,000 to more than $300,000, which compares favorably to what other NBA announcers make.

Sunderland's agent, Martin Mandel of San Francisco, said one thing that came through loud and clear during negotiations was that the Lakers wanted Sunderland to be satisfied.

Jeanie Buss, the Lakers' vice president of business operations, said, "It was important to us that Paul feel comfortable with the offer, and obviously he did. We wanted both parties to be happy."

Sunderland certainly was. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime," he said.

Sunderland, who grew up in Southern California and attended Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High, called it a dream come true. But he also said, "This was never part of any grand plan, and it's hard to believe it has actually become a reality."

Laker play-by-play announcer is a long way from volleyball commentator. That was Sunderland's first job in broadcasting--in 1985 with Prime Ticket. Since then he has done about every job one can do in sports broadcasting, from college basketball commentator to sideline reporter to news desk anchor to pregame show host to play-by-play announcer.

Sunderland, 50, went to Oregon on a basketball scholarship and, after transferring to Loyola Marymount, became a national volleyball player of the year. He was a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. volleyball team at the 1984 Olympics.

Sunderland says Don Corsini, current general manager at KCAL Channel 9 and KCBS Channel 2, and Pat McClenahan, Corsini's right-hand man, gave him his first opportunity to try play-by-play when those two were at what is now Fox Sports Net. And NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol and executive producer Tommy Roy gave him the opportunity to do NBA play-by-play on regional NBC telecasts.

Sunderland has worked for both Fox Sports Net and NBC in recent years, and his Laker contract allows him to still work for those entities, just not on the NBA.

A Pleased Partner

Stu Lantz, entering his 16th season as the Lakers' television and radio commentator--and first without Chick Hearn--said he is pleased that Sunderland will be his new partner, particularly since they had worked those 56 games together last season when Hearn was out.

As for Sunderland being given only a one-year contract, Lantz thought that wasn't a big deal.

"I'll tell you the same thing I'll tell Paul," Lantz said Thursday. "A one-year deal means nothing if you're good at what you do. And a 10-year contract means nothing if they don't like you."

Lantz said he thinks (but isn't sure) that his first contract was for one year. The Lakers say Hearn worked under one-year contracts for more than 30 years.

Someone else pleased with the Sunderland hiring is Hearn's widow, Marge.

"I think he'll do a really good job," she said. "And now that the job is his, and he's not just filling in, he'll be able to let the real Paul come through. I think maybe he was a little nervous last season.

"He certainly knows the game, and he is a very fine gentleman."

One thing that impressed the Lakers about Sunderland was the public's reaction to his work last season. There were no complaints, even though Sunderland was filling in for a beloved legend.

The Lakers' decision to continue to simulcast games on television and radio may make things a little more difficult for Sunderland. It's not easy calling a game for the two mediums, although Sunderland said he enjoyed doing it last season.

Update on Marge

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