David Steele has made a Hall of Fame career of talking about others. Here, we asked him to talk about himself.
Steele, the Magic’s longtime play-by-play announcer who will be inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame on Friday, was nice enough to speak with Orlando Pinstriped Post over the All-Star break about his career.
We concluded the interview with a rapid-fire Q&A session, asking everything from his favorite moments, calls he’d like a re-do on, the three former Magic players he’d most want to have dinner with, the time the Magic were snowed in at a hotel with Marilyn Manson, and much more.
As he has been for the last 30 years as the voice of the Magic, Steele was both eloquent and entertaining…
Top three Magic games or moments you’ve called?
Steele: “Beating Chicago, that would be number one. Because in Game 1 of the 1995 second round against the Bulls, I just think if Michael Jordan and the Bulls had won that game, I have a feeling that series would have gone in a totally different direction and that young Magic team wouldn’t have made it to the Finals. Nick Anderson stealing the ball from Michael Jordan, I think that was probably the biggest play in franchise history. So, I’d put that at the top.
Then a lot of great moments, hard to rank. The play Dwight Howard made on an in-bounds against San Antonio always stands out because I don’t think I had ever seen that before and haven’t seen it since. That much athleticism. Less than one second on the clock. Hedo Turkoglu was a great in-bounds passer, and that was probably the best pass he has ever made. Throwing it up to the rim for Howard to dunk it on top of Tim Duncan and that great San Antonio team. That game and that finish, that’s stands out. After that, Penny’s performance in the playoffs in 1997 after Rony Seikaly went down. He put the team on his shoulders and had consecutive 40-point games. That was really something to watch him do it, the downside is they didn’t win the series. Darrell Armstrong made plays that were amazing. Stealing a pass and running down court for the winning layup against Philadelphia. Shaq bringing down the baskets. I’d put those up there because it’s something you’d never see, both in Phoenix and New Jersey.”
Most heartbreaking Magic losses?
Steele: “I remember being devastated when the team won 41 games and didn’t make the playoffs in Shaq’s first year. We were watching the scoreboard, I may not have this right but, Miami lost a game and if they had won against Indiana, we would have been in the playoffs. But they didn’t, so there was a tie and Indiana went to the playoffs and we didn’t. But then we got Penny in the Draft that next year, so that actually turned out well. But I remember that disappointment. Losing to the Lakers. The disappointment of Courtney Lee missing the shot. Not an easy shot, not saying anything about Courtney. That was a great disappointment. Those are the ones off the top of my head.”
Most interesting off the court moment? Can anything possibly beat the Marilyn Manson incident in the Pennsylvania hotel during the blizzard of 1996?
Steele: “There’s nothing that beats it. Between first and second there is a wide gap. When ESPN was doing the 30 for 30, I had to go back and ask other people to make sure that really happened because…Did I dream that? It was so bizarre because the cast of characters was so outrageous, and we were there for such a long time it was just a crazy scenario. With no social media. If that happened today, it would be the top story for days. Stuff coming out of a hotel in Allentown, Pennsylvania. On social media it would have been crazy.”
Is it true you saw Shaq and Marilyn Manson play pool that night?
Steele: “It’s true. It’s crazy.”
Do you keep any mementos or memorabilia from your career?
Steele: “I keep all my scorebooks. I’ve got 30 years of the broadcasts that I’ve done. I keep a scoresheet for every game. So, I’ve got about 2,400 scoresheets. Kind of interesting to thumb through. Last summer I did go through those and thought I would make notes at the bottom of the page of things that happened during the game or interesting things surrounding the travel or something like that. If I ever write a book I’ve got a lot of resources to dig back into.”
Something that most people don’t know about you?
Steele: “I don’t talk a lot about my personal life. I’ve been married to my high school sweetheart for 44 years. We have three children and seven grandkids. Got a dog that is jumping on me right now out here. His name is Coach.”
Favorite sports teams and players growing up?
Steele: “I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. I was a big Cincinnati Reds baseball fan in the 1960s. Pete Rose, Frank Robinson. Kentucky basketball, my dad was a Kentucky grad. Football, I liked the Washington Redskins as a kid growing up.”
Favorite Magic season?
Steele: “The obvious answers would be 1995 and 2009, the two championship seasons. And those were great, those were at the top. But the underrated one was the ‘Heart and Hustle’ year of 1999-2000. That team was not supposed to do anything. They were supposed to win 10 games I think was the prediction. I loved Darrell [Armstrong] and Bo [Outlaw]. They had so much heart, and such great guys. Two of my favorite people, two of my favorite players. That team was a lot of fun to watch.”
If you could have dinner with three former Magic players, who would they be?
Steele: “There’s two or three hundred of them. Penny was always one of the smartest guys that I spent time with. The players, it’s changed because I’m so much older than them now. At first, I was almost the same age as a lot of them. Now everything has changed. They’re different. Players don’t communicate as much as they did. Everybody has their headphones on. Social media has changed everything. The relationship that we had with players is a lot different now than it was 10, 15, 20 years ago, for sure. But Penny, I’d love to have conversations with Penny about the things he experienced with the Magic and his relationship with Shaq. I’d love to get those two together. Maybe with Jeff [Turner] because he played with them. That would be the three I’d like to put together: Penny, Shaq and JT. That would be a lot of fun.”
Favorite NBA city to travel to?
Steele: “I love Chicago.”
What is your typical game day schedule like?
Steele: “I get up about 7 a.m. and get breakfast. I have an office in our house. I prep until I come into a meeting at the arena around 11 o’clock. Get through about noon from our production meeting, go get a bite of lunch, get back and finish up my prep work until about 3:30 or 4 o’clock. Lay down for 15 minutes, get a quick power nap, get dressed and go to the game and get home about 10:30. A lot of times I’ll do some prep before if I have the opportunity. There is so much information out there now. I could do a chapter on just how much different preparation is now. You used to get handed game notes from the two teams, from the media relations department, and that’s all you had. That and whatever newspapers in the cities you could read. Now, you could spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week reading. The hardest part is figuring out what to read and what to ignore.”
If you could go back and redo one of your calls, which would it be?
Steele: “I don’t really think that way. I just move on. I’ve never done a perfect broadcast. I always feel like I could have done better. I don’t really like listening to it. It makes me uncomfortable. Nothing that stands out. I haven’t come away and said, ‘Boy, I really messed up!’ Now there’s a college football game I’d like to have a do-over. South Carolina, I had the wrong receiver catching like a 75-yard touchdown pass. Once that’s out, there’s not much you can do about it. When you have the wrong guy, it’s a little embarrassing.”
"I HOPE NOBODY'S HURT BECAUSE THE BASKET CAME CRASHING DOWN!" - David Steele on Shaq bringing down the basket— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) February 22, 2019
(Sound On ) pic.twitter.com/Mq0IdQoY8v
How did you get the nickname “The Commissioner”?
Steele: “Nick Anderson gave me that. He still calls me ‘The Commish.’ That goes back to year one or year two. Michael Ansley was on the team, he was from Alabama, kind of a country guy. We played this game, flying commercial, the bags come down the conveyer belt, and everybody would throw in a dollar. Whoever’s bag came down first got all the money. It was a time-killer back when you traveled commercial and everybody didn’t have headphones in their ears and people talked to each other. We were in some airport, and they were trying to get Michael Ansley to put a dollar in and he didn’t want to. So, he finally said, ‘Is David Stern in?’ And Nick said, ‘Who? David Stern is the commissioner of the NBA. That’s David Steele.’ He thought I was David Stern. So ever since then, Nick has called me ‘The Commissioner.’”
Favorite TV shows?
Steele: “Of all-time, I’d say probably The Office and Seinfeld. I can sit down and watch those at any time and have a good laugh.”
Something that most people don’t know about Jeff Turner?
Steele: “He committed to Florida before he went to Vanderbilt. They changed coaches and Norm Sloan didn’t really think he fit in. So, he went to Vanderbilt and it changed his life probably.”
Orlando Magic Mount Rushmore?
Steele: “Top four players is easy. It’s Shaq, Penny, T-Mac and Dwight.”
If you were NBA commissioner for one day, what would you do or change?
Steele: “I don’t like the way the three-point shot has just taken over the game. I don’t know what the rule would be. And the whole free agent thing, the small markets having difficulty keeping players. That’s a concern. I think the league is comfortable with the three-point shot. The All-Star Game was ridiculous. I was thinking about that. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, they’d be non-factors in the All-Star Game. I went back and looked at box scores, even when the three-point shot first came in, the first five or six years of the All-Star Game there were three, four, five three-point attempts in the games. So, the centers were still scoring and they were part of the game. They played regular basketball. To me it’s not regular basketball, it’s just come down and launch threes. At some point they’re going to have to look at that if it keeps going in that direction. Hopefully it will trend back to a more traditional game of basketball. I sound like the ‘Get off my lawn!’ guy when I say that.”
Advice for aspiring broadcasters?
Steele: “One of the main things I tell them is to don’t just be a sports nerd. Read, be interested, know current events, history. Just have a broad scope of knowledge. I think that makes for better communicators. Because it’s all about communication, telling stories. If you have no frame of reference other that points and rebounds and assists, you’re not going to be a very interesting announcer.”
Defining moment of your career?
Steele: “I don’t think there’s a moment. Just the fact that I’m still around. That’s probably the defining moment. That I’ve lasted this long.”