You don’t get named “the Cathedral of Basketball” if you don’t have a long and storied history — nine decades worth to be exact. And you don’t get nicknamed “Palestra Voice” if your history isn’t almost as robust.
For the past 12 years, every game that’s tipped off inside the Palestra has been called by none other than Richard Kahn. But if you hadn’t noticed, he wouldn’t be offended.
“The best compliment you can get is if nobody notices you,” he said. “I’m just providing the information, a little bit of entertainment and giving you what you need.”
Although he tries to make his commentary unobtrusive to fans’ basketball experience, it’s hard to forget his voice. He has that kind of grandiose timbre, the kind that makes the word “wonderful” sound like “won-dah-ful.” You can practically hear the twinkle in his eyes when he calls plays.
It’s easy to spot him on game night: he’s the man on press row with the silver hair and the biggest grin on his face.
“It just feels like I was meant to do that,” he said. “The basic call of the game really stems from me going to Madison Square Garden as a young kid...even when I was in middle school and high school I kind of knew [announcing] was what I wanted to do.”
Kahn first arrived in University City in 2005 after working as an announcer for the New Jersey Islanders from 1982-85 and the New York Jets from 1983-2002. His move coincided with the passing of John McAdams, Penn basketball’s announcer from 1980 to 2004.
“My first time I walked in the building was probably about 15 years ago,” Kahn recalled. “I walked down that hallway, and the first thing I saw was a picture of a former Penn coach who had coached some of their more successful teams in the seventies. And I just broke into this big smile.”
The picture was of Bob Weinhauer, coach of the Quakers from 1977-1982 who won five Ivy League titles and led Penn to its last Final Four appearance in 1979. Coincidentally, Weinhauer coached Kahn’s high school baseball team in the sixties.
“I had that instant connection,” Kahn said.
In the decades since Kahn’s homecoming of sorts to the Palestra, he’s developed a strong appreciation for Penn athletics and now announces games for field hockey, sprint football, football and softball, among others.
“I just love doing it here. It’s just a special place,” he said. “Most of the pro athletes today are very entitled, overpaid brats. That’s why I love this — these kids aren’t like that.... It’s just a nice adjunct to their academics, which to me is the right fit.”
When Kahn first started announcing at the Palestra in 2005, the traditions and rivalries associated with Penn basketball were foreign. Over the years, he’s come to appreciate the passion fans, alums and players bring to those match-ups with hated rivals.
The most hated of them all, of course, being Princeton.
“The line they like to use is you can tell a Princeton man, but you can’t tell him much,” Kahn said with a laugh. “It’s perfect because I think in essence there’s just a genuine dislike there. So when you play them, you feel it. You just want the kids to win.”
This year’s iteration of the Penn-Princeton game is the first Kahn will call in February since the 2010-11 season, as the game was played as an Ivy League finale in March for the past five years. Like always, Kahn will have just one shot on the big night.
“It’s live, you either do it right or you don’t do it right. When I was younger I remember I used to get all nervous and used to be deathly afraid of making a mistake,” he said.
Kahn says he doesn’t get nervous anymore. Instead, he knows that his place is on press row.
“When I sit down and put the headset on and have the mic in my hand, it just feels like I belong there.”