His voice marks the unofficial commencement of the evening. The game might begin when the the ref tosses the ball in the air, but the experience begins when John McAdams takes the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the University of Pennsylvania Palestra, college basketball's most historic gym." McAdams started using that greeting during the 1986-87 season when the Palestra was celebrating its 60th birthday. Now he'll never start calling a game before delivering his special welcome. It's a simple statement, one that often goes unnoticed by fans still trying to find their way to their seats. But, like streamers and Big 5 doubleheaders, it is now part of the history and lore of Philadelphia's hoops cathedral. When Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky decided to renovate the Palestra this fall to give it the feel of a basketball museum, a picture of McAdams went up on the wall in the east concourse. A fixture at the center of press row since 1981, McAdams has become part of the Palestra's history as well. "It makes me feel tremendously important," McAdams said. "Important in the sense not that I'm an important person, but that I've been able to contribute something to this building and to think that people look at me as being part of the Philadelphia basketball tradition." Penn Sports Information Director Carla Shultzberg and Larry Dougherty, the SID at St. Joe's, are two of those people who know what McAdams has contributed to Philadelphia basketball. Several months ago when The Sporting News was planning its "Best of College Basketball" issue, the magazine contacted SIDs throughout the nation, as well as numerous head coaches, assistant coaches and writers. Shultzberg and Dougherty had no doubt on who to vote for in the "Best PA Announcer" category. "I grew up with his voice," Dougherty said. "It's not flashy. It's just so professional." Dougherty and Shultzberg obviously were not alone, as McAdams took home the honor as the nation's best. According to TSN basketball editor Jeff D'Alessio, McAdams probably received three votes for every vote received by anyone else. "There are 319 Division I programs, probably another 400 Division II and III programs around," McAdams said. "To be judged number one overall is really great." Like his simple greeting to the Palestra, there is nothing over-the-top about McAdams' announcing style, and that is what makes him stand out as the best. "He doesn't have a big ego. He's not one of those PA announcers who thinks he's the star," said author John Feinstein, who called McAdams "one of the great PA announcers in the world" in his most recent book, The Last Amateurs. And that is what McAdams prides himself on. In an age in which announcers often get carried away screaming and hollering, the level of McAdams' voice varies little. He has a job to do, and it's not to jump out of his seat and go wild after a Ugonna Onyekwe reverse slam. His job is to present information and to present it as clearly as possible. "What I try to do is to give all the information that the guy sitting around in the stands needs to know what's going on in the game," McAdams said. "I do it in a way that people can understand me." McAdams knows that there's a good chance that there is someone is in the crowd who has never attended a basketball game. As the man behind the mic, he feels it is his job to make sure that person knows what is happening on the floor. It's a serious job and something McAdams performs with care. "It's not my job to be a cheerleader," he said. "Will I sometimes put a little more emphasis on the Quakers when I'm announcing [the starting lineups]? Sure... You might play up their names a little more, but not to the point where you're yelling and screaming and acting like a complete idiot. To me, that is unprofessional, and I've always wanted to be as professional as possible." It's an attitude he takes into all of his endeavors. In addition to Penn, McAdams also does games at Drexel, St. Joe's, La Salle and Philadelphia University. In fact, he is one of the few full-time PA announcers in the nation. In the summer, he does every home game for the Wilmington Blue Rocks minor league baseball team. He's also an official scorer for the Phillies, doing about 20 games each season, and the pressbox announcer for the Eagles. He calls Penn baseball and sprint football games, as well as football games for Widener and La Salle. To fill out his schedule, he makes guest appearances at numerous colleges throughout the area. This season, he has already done games at Cabrini, Ursinus and at a high school holiday tournament in Reboboth Beach, Del. Next month, he'll take the mic for the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the First Union Spectrum. Then, he'll move over to the First Union Center to announce the NCAA East Regional Final, just as he did 10 years ago when Duke's Christian Laettner sunk Kentucky with one of the most famous shots in college basketball history. No matter the event, however, McAdams approaches it with the same careful preparation. Whether it's the NCAA Tournament or a Penn JV hoops game, he goes through his own warm-ups, just as the players do. He looks through the opponent's media guide, matching names with faces and checking on pronunciations. "Brown foul on number thirty-four, Alaivaa Nuualiitia." He'll check to make sure there have been no changes to the starting lineups. "At the other forward, a sophomore; six feet, seven inches from Pasadena, California, Koko Archibong." He'll go over the commercials he must read during timeouts. "Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to announce the Baskin Robbins seats of the night." And he'll place three cups of water close to his seat, so that he doesn't strain his voice during the evening's game. "Please direct your attention to center court where the University of Pennsylvania will honor its Collegiate Sprint Football League champion sprint football team." The precise attention paid to each small announcement is an indication of the care McAdams takes to doing a good job at the Palestra and for the teams that play there. "John McAdams is a great announcer, but if you ask anyone who knows him, they'd probably say he's an even better human being," Penn men's basketball coach Fran Dunphy said. John McAdams makes his living with his voice, and after 20 years, it is a voice that has become synonymous with the Palestra. But when he was growing up and attending Big 5 doubleheaders with his father, he had no idea he would one day become part of the place or even that announcing was in his future. Always a sports nut, McAdams got the first inkling of his talent when he was working in public relations for the minor league New Jersey Devils of the Eastern Hockey League in 1969. One day, when the play-by-play man could not make it in to work, McAdams was pressed into duty. He had no idea how much he would enjoy it. "I made a tape of the broadcast," he said. "After listening to it, I said, 'Hey, this is pretty good.'" His days in public relations were numbered. After stints as a play-by-play guy for both the Philadelphia Blazers of the World Hockey Association and the Philadelphia Firebirds of the North American Hockey League in the 1970s, McAdams got the break before the 1981-82 season that would define his career. Then-Big 5 Executive Secretary Dan Baker offered McAdams the job of Palestra public address announcer, and McAdams has no intention of giving up the position anytime soon. In many ways, the Palestra has become his home. He has many jobs, but none compares to sitting at center court in "college basketball's most historic gym." "This place is something special," McAdams said. "To me, after 20 years of working here, walking through that door, you still get a little bit of a thrill. "This place just reeks history. There's history in every corner. That's why, to me, a game played in the Palestra is something special." And to many, a game in the Palestra would not be the same without McAdams. "The building has so much tradition, and there are certain things you expect to see when you walk in the door," Feinstein said. "To me, John is part of that landscape." Many aspects of the Palestra give the building its character. For the past 20 years, John McAdams has given it its voice.Comments powered by Disqus
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