Q&A with Sean Grande

I had a chance to sit down with Sean Grande, voice of the Celtics... Ok, that's a lie. Truth is, I had a chance to send an email to Sean Grande, and he was kind enough to answer back. Here's what the wonders of email made possible:

What kind of preparation do you do to get ready for a game? (Let me guess, you stand in front of a mirror and say names like Araujo, Varejao, and Tskitishvili over and over again)

It depends on the amount of time between games and where we are in the season but for the most part, I like to watch the opponent's previous game. The internet has changed the game in terms of prep. I've usually read the next day's paper before I go to sleep around 3 am. That's a big help on back to back games. Since I've switched to radio, and we do that fairly elaborate pre-game show, I put alot of time into the Around the NBA segment, reading papers from all around the country and talking to different people in the league, alot of which can be done now by e-mail. I'm a big believer in prep (some would say excessively so). See below on advice for those who aspire to PBP. And while the excessive amount of time I spend in front of a mirror has no correlation to game prep, there is actually something I started doing a couple of years ago vocally before games. I haven't talked about this in interviews before, so for what it's worth, this is a CelticsBlog scoop. About three years ago my wife, while becoming somewhat fed-up with my fascination with hip-hop, made the observation that there was a similarity between play-by-play, particularly on the radio, and rap. About that time I started listening to CD's in my headset at the table two or three hours before the game, Jay Z, Eminem, Notorius B.I.G., etc. and I realized what a great warmup rap is for elocution. So there you have the secret to my vocal game prep, rap.

How did you get your start in broadcasting? Any advice for wannabe play-by-players?

I'm pretty sure it started when I could no longer hit 15-year old pitching. And once it became clear that second baseman for the New York Mets wasn't going to happen, I was looking for another way to the major leagues. I'd been fascinated by play-by-play from a very early age. (Somewhere, there's an audio tape of me calling a Thanksgiving NFL game off the TV when I was five. I'll know I made it when it ends up on EBay.) I had a tough college decision between Boston University and Syracuse, which is a breeding ground for sportscasters (Costas, Albert, McDonough, Tirico, etc.). And I decided on BU in part to carve out my own path (80 inches of annual Western New York snowfall kind of nudged me towards BU as well). For those aspiting, I stress two things; repetitions, and preparation. There is no substitute for either. First, reps. Find games to do. High school games, AAU games, little league games. Take a tape recorder out there and just do it. I did a whole season of North Atlantic Conference baseball on WTBU (BU's student station) with a Marantz tape deck sitting in the stands with two dozen people around me. Second, I have my own lame anagram, pyramid theory of Play-by-Play, the 3-P theory. Preparation, passion and poise. The good ones have passion, they deliever the games with energy and import. The great ones have the poise to deliver the special moments without letting that passion get away from them. But preparation is the base. It's 80 percent of the game. You cannot call a good game without being properly prepared no matter what your skill level. And it is very, very hard to do a poor job calling a game if your preparation is immaculate.

Did you ever meet Johnny Most? Any favorite Johnny stories?

I only met Johnny once, on a visit to WEEI shortly before he passed. We didn't overlap that much, I started working at the Celtics' flagship station, WEEI, in 1991, about two years after Johnny stopped calling games regularly. I did get to spend some time with Mike Carey, who wrote Johnny's long overdue auto-biography, as it was being published. But the majority of Johnny stories I have cataloged, have been passed on to me from the generation of media that worked with him, most notably a guy I worked with every day for five years, Johnny's ten-year partner Glenn Ordway. My favorite of which, easily, is the time Larry Bird called Johnny's room incognito and convinced him that the smoke detector in his room was really a camera placed there to monitor his smoking. Tom Keegan, the longtime visiting radio engineer in Philadelphia, always reminds me Johny's first question to him upon arriving at the arena, was whether or not the game was being televised back to Boston, so he'd know exactly how much, shall we say liberty, he had with his description.

What's it really like working with Max? Best Max story?

It's what, as an only child, I can only imagine it's like for kids who grow up in big family fighting for scraps at the table every night. With a partner like that to fight with all the time, who needs a wife? A lot of people of course know the real story by now. I had turned the job down three times in the Spring of 2001, and it wasn't until Max called me in Minneapolis and really pitched me on the idea, and what a good combination we'd be, that I really considered it. I haven't forgiven him since. Our best story together? I think we have to go back to Game One of the Conference Semi-Finals in 2002. We're in Detroit, and Max had left the table for whatever reason during a time out. Now the time outs in the playoffs are longer than the regular season to accommodate national TV. So it comes back to me while the players are still in the huddle and Max, not realizing we're back, is off headsets. I start reading a commercial, or running down the last sequence of the game as the stat crew is coming by handing out updated box scores as of the last time out. He hands one to me and snubs Max just as both Max is putting his headset on and I'm finishing a sentence. Max, not realizing we've been back for quite some time, turns to the guy who snubbed him and says, sarcastically; "Thanks a lot, you **** ****." Now that usually gets the big laugh at the banquet podium, but what people don't realize is that the truly funny part is that now I have to communicate to him that we're on the air, without saying "Hey, you bleep, we're on the air!" I think all I said was "Sean Grande and Sam Kinison back at the Palace..."

What kind of interaction do you have with the players, coaches, Ainge, Red, etc.? Who is the funniest (current) Celtic?

More than I used to. And that was by choice. When I first came into the league in 1998, I tried very hard to keep my distance from the players, for fear of it compromising my commentary. But the older I get, the more I realized that you miss out on a lot, as a human being, with that approach. The players and coaches are the people I work with, no different from the co-workers you have at your job. (I assume most of your co-workers make eight-figures and drive Bentley's, right?). No seriously, we work together, we travel together. And you'd be surprised and how the relationships are similar to any work environment. Danny hasn't been around as much this year, which I take as a sign of his comfort level with Doc and what's happening with the team. Funniest Celtic is a wide-open field, I might give the edge in a narrow vote to Raef or Paul. But in the long-run, I have a hunch that's going to be Delonte West's title to lose.

Is this a .500 ballclub? Is this a playoff team?

I think it's both, but not by a very wide margin. It's January 15th as I write this and my opening-night-of-the-preseason prediction on the air is holding true. That come March 1, the Celtics will be a threat both to win the Atlantic Division, and also to miss the playoffs. While there have been ups and down you couldn't possibly predict, I still think they're fine (17-20) in terms of both the division and the playoffs right now. But the asterisk on that is that they can't be three or four games under .500 at the end of this month, or next. They're OK because the schedule has been very tough, but they don't have a very big margin to give away these upcoming games with the Bulls, Hawks, Nets and Bobcats over the next three weeks.

What are the biggest missing ingredients to raising the next banner? Should the next move be subtle or drastic?

A dominant post-presence. But you could say that about 20 teams. I mean, put Shaq on this team right now. Do they win the East? Probably. No one reading this site needs me to explain to them just how many different ways this year's draft was a grand slam. But Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, Delonte, Marcus, etc., these guys need 3-5 years in this league to even have the chance to take that next big step. I don't think Danny's next move needs to be anything except another logical step. People ask me if I'm in favor of trading Paul Pierce. I don't understand the question. For what? Ray Allen? No. Shaq and Dwayne Wade? Sure. I guess what I'm saying is I don't believe in making moves for the sake of making moves. Stability is an incredibly overlooked asset in the NBA.

Danny doesn't talk about trades, but do you have any feel for what they would like to do at the trade deadline?

Get better. I hate to be innocuous, but that's the reality. Here's the point, what Danny has done in 18 months is load the cupboards which had really been stripped bare by the end of the 2002-03 season. (Do people remember that where there once was JR Bremer, Bimbo Coles, Kedrick Brown, Grant Long, Brono Sundov and Ruben Wolkowyski, there now is Marcus Banks, DeLonte West, Tony Allen, Jiri Welsch and Al Jefferson? Not to mention the very valuable expiring contracts of Tom Gugliotta, Yogi Stewart and Gary Payton (although let me be the first to say here, I would love nothing more than to see GP stay a few years and finish his career here.) That's the name of the game now, roster and cap flexibility. Just ask the Pistons, who parlayed that into an NBA title seven months ago.

With rule changes, the influx of foreign players and high schoolers, SportsCenter, etc. how do you see the game evolving? Are we headed in a good direction?

I'd say we're 2 for 4 on those. I think the game is absolutely headed in a good direction, this has been, competition-wise, the best year by far of the seven I've been in the league. The foreign players have brought fundamentals back and even the high schoolers have helped raise athleticism to an unprecedented level. I love the young players in the game today (Lebron, Amare, Wade, Bosh, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, etc.) I think the league is in good hands that way. I'm not a fan of the rule changes, particularly the crack down on defenders which is one of the two big reason for the scoring increase this year (the shift away from three-point shooting is the other). And I could spend hours on this, but ESPN, while without question has become the ultimate sports destination in the universe, has been no friend to the NBA in its coverage, or the sport in general with what it glorifies. But in fairness, there's something of a supply/demand issue there.

Can Shaq win a title in Miami? How long till LeBron gets his first? Who will lose to the Spurs in the title game this year?

LeBron is a year and a couple of pieces away. Shaq, if he's healthy, will get an Eastern Conference title this year, and I'd be surprised if it wasn't the Spurs they end up playing, and losing to in the Finals. But this is a great year for the NBA in that the other six Conference Semi-final teams are really anyone's guess right now.

After 30+ games, who is the league MVP? Who is the biggest disappointment?

I think it's a very tight Lebron, Duncan., Shaq 1-2-3 right now. Kobe;s injury will set him back and it will be very hard for KG to repeat if the Wovles are not a home court playoff team. I think the Wolves are the biggest disappointment right now, especially with the Rockets having righted their ship. Top seed last year, and there was a moment last Friday after Memphis won, that the Wolves dropped out of the top 8. Denver's fallen short as well. I think it's more of a year of great stories than disappointments (The Suns, Sonics, Wizards, Grant Hill, Steve Nash, the post-brawl Pacers, the 20-something Bulls, Charlotte winning 8 games with all those Okafor double-doubles.)

Who is the early team MVP? Disappointment? (If you say anyone but Gary and Mark, I'm calling Shenanigans)

Great question right now, I think Paul had actually had a better year to this point than he had last year. I've always been a Gary Payton guy, and on four of five nights he's atill a top guy in the league, but as great as he's been, it's almost unfair to ask him to be the MVP. My off the board choice here might be Ricky. He's been so much better than people are giving him credit for. Obviously, offense will never be a problem. He's one of the top ten pure scorers in the league, I think. At least he will be when he starts getting star-calls that lead to free throws. But his defense, and general attitude about coming off the bench has been so much better than anyone could possibly have known. (Except for Danny, I have to say. How good does that trade look right now?). Now maybe I'm being contrarian, but I'm not on this throw Mark Blount under the bus bandwagon that's been sweeping New England. Can he play better, be more productive? Sure. But I think people are judging him by the contract. He signed a fair NBA market-value deal in the off-season, he didn't take a magic pill that would make him Bill Russell overnight. He still runs the floor and hits the 15 footer as well as any center around. And while he's hasn't gotten as many rebounds as he did last year (and yes, he can get more), I'd remind you that Walter was the guy he was playing with last year, not Raef and Al, two much better rebounders.

What is your take on Paul's frustrations this year? Is it stress, missing old friends, not on the same page with new management?

This is probably a better topic under the banner of disappointment. My take is about dysfunction and how things can get away from you if you're not careful. I think Paul feels a lot of pressure. He feels like he's the max guy and things are on his shoulders. But while he had to do things himself last year, the biggest adjustment is that he's not out there with JR Bremer, Walter and Vin Baker at the end of games. He's got GP, Ricky, Raef, etc. Guys who are capable of making plays and taking some of the burden off him. His best games this year (and the Atlanta game was probably his best out of 37 this year), have been the ones with the high rebounding and assist totals. You have to remember both he and Antoine Walker had unprecedented freedom from Jim O'Brien (which was, by the way, what O'B had to do to win) and it's hard when some of that gets taken away. But Paul wants to win, and as long as the team isn't winning, he'll be frustrated. You wouldn't want it any other way.

When you talk to other announcers, who is the guy (or guys) you tell them to look for?

I usually find myself in such conversations trumpeting Ricky, because I think that's the biggest disparity between perception and reality when it comes to the Celtics. I realize there's an element of the fan base, and particularly the media, that will always be uncomfortable with cornrows and players who have extra sizzle in their game (I still don't think Iverson for example gets full credit in the mainstream media), but anyone who knows the game, knows Ricky can play, and play the right way.

Any other words of wisdom for Celtics fans?

Lust for Banner 17. Go ahead, it's great. But don't overlook the fun of the journey. I'd point you to Detroit. Think they were having much fun the last three months? And that was right after winning it all. The chase, the pursuit, the journey towards a championship is often more fun that what comes afterwards. (Just listen to the talk shows after the Sox lose a couple of games this year.)

Update: FYI - You can reach Sean and Max via email at grandeandmax@celtics.com

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