The crowd awaited, the lights dimmed, the anticipation built. Paul Porter, the longtime public address announcer for the Orlando Magic, approached the microphone to introduce the lineup.
First, he announced the bridal party. Then the best man and maid of honor. And finally, the bride and groom. Yes, with one of Orlando’s most recognizable voices, Porter has been asked to be the announcer at a number of Floridian weddings.
“I’ll say something like, ‘At best man, the bachelor’s best friend, he met him in college a Duke University, Tyler Steeeeevennnnns,’” Porter said in a recent phone interview with Orlando Pinstriped Post. “Then I’ll say, ‘At maid of honor, she’s known the bride since elementary school, they’ve been friends for 35 years now, here she is, Sarah Markkkkensonnnn.’ I’ve done a lot of those. And that’s a big compliment that during people’s big day, they want me and my style to be a part of it.”
Porter and his unique style have been an integral part of the Orlando Magic since the organization’s inception, his words echoing inside Amway Center, and before that the O-rena, for a combined 31 years. As the in-arena voice of the Magic, he has made trademarks of sayings such as his pre-fourth quarter rallying cry “Stand and cheer your Orlando Magic!” and his somewhat celebratory opponent turnover calls like “Travelinggggg.”
Before getting to how Porter got the job and forever changed the PA game, there’s one question that simply must be asked:
If Porter could announce his dream Orlando Magic starting lineup, based not the player’s position or talent, but simply on the pronunciation of his name, who would he pick?
- “If I went back to year one, Reggie Theus was always one of my favorites because you could draw out the long ‘Theeee-ussss,’” Porter said.
- “My all-time favorite is Hedo Turkoglu because it was a little bit involved in the name and then I could end it with ‘Turk-og-luuuuu.’ With the long ‘lu’ sound to it.”
- “Shaquille O’Neal, not only because of him being probably the greatest player in Magic history, but his name ‘Shaquilleee O’Neallll’ kind of blended together and I could draw it out a long way.”
- “Dennis Scott I had a lot of fun with because I would interchange that with 3-D. Sometimes I’d say Dennis Scott, or if he hit a long three I’d do a long ‘Threeee-DDDD.’ That was real popular.”
- “Darrell Armstrong because he was always such a fan favorite and I would do the ‘Darrellll Armmmmstrongggg.’ Any name that I could really draw out and emphasize, those were my favorites.”
And for a sixth man, let’s throw in Porter’s favorite from the current Magic team…
- Terrence Ross because he’s an exciting player to begin with but when his name is announced ‘Rosssssss,’ even though it’s short, it kind of explodes and caches everybody’s attention.”
Porter works in Orlando but lives in Tampa.
His commute to work is much easier for his two other jobs: PA announcer for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lighting and press box announcer for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The commute to Amway Center on Magic game days? That’s an approximate two-hour drive each way on I-4.
“I know every bump in the road. I know every sign on the road. I know all the construction zones,” Porter said.
On the ride home, Porter unwinds by putting on orchestra music, Christian rock, or the radio broadcast of other NBA basketball games. It was Porter’s desire to be a radio broadcaster that first led him to the Orlando Magic.
A third baseman on scholarship at Cleveland State University, and then at the University of Michigan, Porter wanted to be a professional athlete. When that dream didn’t come true for the Cleveland-native, he began searching for a new one. Porter’s older brother, at the time and to this day a broadcaster at a music radio station in Canada, told him, “you have a good voice just like I do, you ought to go into broadcasting,” Porter recalled. “I kind of liked the idea and I thought, ‘OK, if I can’t play sports, maybe I can announce sports.’”
Porter began working in radio in 1976 and then took a job with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1980. After one year as PA announcer for the Cavs, he spent two seasons doing the team’s radio play-by-play. During his three-year stint with the Cavs, he got to know a man by the name of Pat Williams, the general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers who would later go on to help bring an NBA team to Orlando. Porter moved to Florida in 1983 to do radio play-by-play for a minor league basketball team in Sarasota. When the Orlando Magic came along in 1989, Williams encouraged Porter to apply for both the radio job and the PA announcer job.
“They hired David Steele to do the radio, and he’s still with the organization, and they hired me to do the public address announcing,” Porter said. “And 31 years later, here I am still doing it.”
Porter patterned his distinctive style of emphatically drawing out player’s names off late 76ers announcer, Dave Zinkoff, and his famous call of “Julius Errrrvinggggg.”
“I took what he was doing with Dr. J and applied it to all the players,” Porter said. “Took a page out of his book and just expounded upon it.”
While Porter’s style has long been adored by Magic fans, and also mimicked in arenas around the country, some prominent opposing coaches during an era of more muted PA announcing weren’t fond of it. That included, Porter said, Phil Jackson and Larry Brown. Brown, he said, was old school and didn’t care for theatrics in PA announcing. Jackson, he said, felt Porter was showing up opposing players by announcing the name of a Magic player who scored with enthusiastic gusto and the name of a visiting player who scored with unenthused haste.
“I think of myself as the voice of the fan,” Porter said of the disparity between the two. “I want to put my myself in the Magic’s fans feelings.”
To prepare his voice to make those calls, Porter always bundles up when temperatures drop below 65 degrees (he’s never had laryngitis in his 44-year career), and he avoids two food groups: dairy products and nuts.
“Nuts can choke you and dairy products can coat your throat so you can’t use it to the best of its abilities,” he said.
Porter arrives at the arena on game days at around 5:30 p.m. and immediately goes over the pronunciations of visiting players’ names. He tries to memorize names and numbers to avoiding looking down at the roster during the action. With the influx of international players, the names can be more challenging than they once were.
“It’s not all Smith and Robinson and Harris and Johnson,” Porter said with a laugh. “You’ve got some unique names out there that you have to work on.”
Porter will often ask the players directly how best to pronounce their name. On occasion, they’ll approach him. Much like Nikola Vucevic once did.
“We’d been calling him Nik Vucevic, kind of Americanizing his name, and he actually came up to me and said, ‘Hey if you don’t mind, I’d prefer Nikola as opposed to Nik,’” Porter said. “And I said, ‘Absolutely. Whatever you want is what I’ll do.’”
28 years ago Paul Porter became the voice of the Orlando Magic!— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) May 1, 2017
Make some noise Magic fans, for Paulllllll PORRRRTERRRRRR pic.twitter.com/CfrpxfjhRU
Mistakes will happen, whether mispronouncing a name, saying the wrong name, or inadvertently firing up the opposing team. In 2007, the Magic needed a win over the Boston Celtics to clinch a playoff spot and led by 19 after the third quarter. Porter tweaked his famed call by saying, “Alright Magic fans, it’s the fourth quarter, we’re 12 minutes away from the playoffs, stand and cheer your Orlando Magic!”
The Magic’s Grant Hill did not like what he heard.
“Hill came over to me and said, ‘If you were ever trying to fire up the Celtics, you just did it,’” Porter said.
The Celtics cut the Magic lead to one.
“I was really sweating it out thinking, oh boy, am I gonna take the blame for this if Boston comes back and wins?” Porter said.
The Magic held on to win by two.
That was one of many player interactions Porter has had over three decades while sitting front row center. Among his favorites was when Turkoglu approached the scorer’s table for an inbounds when the Magic were up by one point late against the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
“You could hear the tension in the crowd, see the tension on the players’ faces and Hedo looked over to us and said, ‘Are y’all having a good time?’ Porter said. “Just kind of broke the ice and broke the tension, everyone started laughing. He had this big smile on his face and he said, ‘Yeah, we are too.’”
As the second longest tenured PA announcer in the NBA behind the Lakers’ Lawrence Tanter, Porter has long had a front row seat to watch countless visiting legends. LeBron James would do his famed talcum powder routine right in front of Porter. One time, he said, a broadcast engineer seated nearby was concerned the powder LeBron tosses would get into his equipment and cause damage. The engineer took out a pocket fan and when the powder was thrown, he turned it on so the dust blew back towards LeBron.
“LeBron wasn’t very happy at all but the guy was really concerned about his equipment,” Porter said.
Porter over the years had some short exchanges with Kobe Bryant. One of the few times Porter was nervous behind the microphone was in January when he had to announce Bryant’s tragic death and request a moment of silence.
“I just did not want to make a mistake and it was so important to me to get it right,” Porter said. “It was difficult to measure because you wanted to stay somber, yet you wanted to pay tribute to Kobe.”
Porter said between 31 years working for the Magic and 27 years for the Lightning, this April he will announce the 3,000th game of his career. His favorite Magic game during that span? When Orlando beat the Indiana Pacers to advance to the 1995 NBA Finals. His favorite shot? The game-winning, buzzer-beating alley-oop by Dwight Howard in 2007. His favorite moment of his career? Well, that was on the ice, not on the hardwood.
Porter’s dream was to be part of a championship-winning team. That came true when he was behind the arena’s microphone for Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals when the Lightning beat the Calgary Flames. On that night, Porter introduced the Stanley Cup.
In return, the Lightning gave Porter a championship ring.
“I wear the ring for special occasions,” Porter said. “Not very often because it’s so precious to me that I don’t want to get it damaged or lose it or something.”
How much would it mean to add a Magic championship ring to his collection?
“That would be the ultimate,” said Porter, who has been PA announcer for two NBA Finals and two Stanley Cup Finals. “The Magic have come close. I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime, but I would sure love to see it.”
With 41 home games for both the Magic and Lightning during the regular season, he splits his rare scheduling conflicts based on the opponent and allure of the game. And with three jobs, Porter doesn’t get much of an offseason. From football preseason through the NBA and NHL playoffs, he’s typically occupied from August to May. During those off months in the summer, Porter and his wife enjoy going to the beach and the theater.
“For me,” Porter said, “fun is to get away from sports and just do something that is totally different and totally out of the ordinary.”
Turning 66 years old this month, Porter says as long as he feels he is doing the job well, and as long as the Magic will have him, he doesn’t see an end in sight for his time behind the mic.
“I’m fortunate that I have the type of work that I’m not digging ditches or doing landscaping or roofing or something that’s really rough on your body,” he says. “As long as my voice holds out, I can keep doing this.”
Credited as being one of the pioneers in public address announcing, Porter says the biggest compliments he receives come on a daily basis in the form of imitation. He’ll walk by kids at the playground as they shout “Threeeeeee.” He’ll be leaving a Magic game and hear “Orlandooooo Magiccccc.”
“I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’” Porter said. “That imitation, that’s the biggest compliment people can give me.”
Compliments also come in the form of requests. In addition to announcing private events, Porter has been asked by fans to make recordings for their voicemail greetings, or to simply announce their names as if they just scored a basket for the Orlando Magic…and yes, I asked him to announce my name.
“It happens all the time,” Porter said. “If people want to hear me say their name to see how it would sound, I’m usually more than happy to oblige.”
Even if it’s at their wedding.