One of the most distinguished voices in sports, Jim Gray, shares his insight on what it takes to be an Emmy award-winning broadcaster and retells some of his favorite moments. Gray was named Sports Television Reporter of the Year by USA Today 12 times. He has won 12 Emmy awards, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Gray is the recipient of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Insight Award. He has covered three Olympics, twenty-two Super Bowls, and over 700 championship boxing bouts. Gray recently released “Talking to GOATs: The Moments You Remember and the Stories You Never Heard” about his iconic career.
Some highlights of Gray’s career include breaking the Ben Johnson and Barry Bonds steroid scandals, announcing Michael Jordan’s surprise retirement, interviewing Mike Tyson after he bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear, speaking to Ron Artest when the “Malice at the Palace” melee erupted, and being on-site at the bombing of the Atlanta Olympics.
“I was an intern from the University of Colorado School of Journalism in my freshman year. I was in my editing booth real early in the morning editing the Broncos with Red Miller show they were getting ready for the draft or whatever we were doing. The assignment editor came running in and she said, ‘You know something about sports, don’t you?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And she said, ‘You were the sports intern.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And she said, ‘Muhammad Ali’s two and a half hours early at the airport.’”
Gray met with Ali and his entourage at the Stapleton International Airport and conducted his first interview with the boxing star.
“By the third or fourth question, he said to me, ‘You sound like the local Howard Cosell.’ That was the greatest compliment I’ve ever had in my life,” Gray said.
Gray says he loved listening to Curt Gowdy but wasn’t set on becoming a sportscaster. Gray was an intern from the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism working at Denver at KBTV, first as an intern and later as a videotape editor.
“I was very lucky to be a videotape editor. Not only did it let me into the station, it allowed me to learn so much about reporters and anchors because you would edit them in their questions, and you would edit their interview. So you’d hear good, you’d hear bad, you’d hear what needed to be taken out. I started to process all of that,” Gray said.
He admired Ted Koppel who was covering the American hostage crisis in Iran and Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.
“I started watching these guys, and they were two totally opposite. Two totally opposite fields. But they had two things. One thing really that they had in common. They could listen, think, and react all in a blink of an eye,” Gray said. “I watched them all those years that I was sitting in that edit booth and it was such a big help. It crystallized for me how to do an interview.”
After speaking with countless world-class athletes, Gray has noticed a common theme in the GOATs.
“The common thread would be hard work, dedication, and a myopic vision to achieve that pursuit of excellence,” Gray said. “That’s kind of the common theme is to get to that final place. Kobe dedicated his whole life to trying to be the best basketball player ever. He modeled his whole life after Michael Jordan, who’s considered the greatest basketball player ever.”
“Perfection and excellence come at a big, big price,” Gray said. “Julius Erving said this to me many years ago, ‘Do you know anybody who truly is at the top of their profession, or as a big success that doesn’t have one major quirk or flaw in their personality?’”
Despite this drive to succeed, Gray and Bernstein acknowledge that the pursuit of perfection comes at a high cost, as detailed in “The Weight of Gold,” a recent documentary about the mental health challenges Olympians face.
“Look at Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps dedicated his life to staring at a black line underwater so that he could figure out how to hit the board a fingernail before somebody else did. And it tormented him,” Gray said.
Gray is known for asking tough but fair questions of his subjects and has broken many stories. In addition to covering historical sports moments, Gray produced “First Pitch,” a documentary about the first baseball game played after 9/11.
Both Bernstein and Gray are known for building relationships with their subjects and have covered many great athletes throughout their careers.
“A true relationship is reciprocal,” Gray said. “I always think this of Tom Brady. He trusts other people because he trusts himself. I’m confident and he trusts himself.”
Gray was also the first journalist to interview Kobe in his Lakers uniform and also the last person to interview Kobe after his final press conference. Bernstein captured the final interview in a photo.
“He was wise, he was dedicated, and diligent,” Gray said. “He was loyal. He went out of his way to help others through thousands of acts of kindness that he didn’t want acknowledgment for.”
Hear Gray share never-before-heard stories about what it was like to be live on camera when the Bay Area earthquake struck during Game 3 of the World Series and some of his favorite memories of covering the Masters Tournament with his Dad.
“You don’t anticipate a lot of things that happen in front of you but you have to be able to react and you have to be flexible enough to understand that there’s no script in any of this,” Gray said. “There’s no script in life.”