October 18, 2005

Bill King: Holy Toledo

I was having a busy day today. The last thing I wanted to do was write a requiem for one of my favorite people in or out of broadcasting.

Bill KingBill King passed away this morning at San Leandro Memorial Hospital. He was in for hip surgery. He died after suffering a pulmonary embolus. He never had the opportunity to enjoy a long, sweet retirement of ballet and opera and great food and travelling the world.

He was only 78 years old.

Bill King was truly the Man For All Sports Seasons. Baseball (first the Giants, then the A's), football (Raiders, Cal), basketball (Warriors, Cal) and even hockey (the old Seals of the WHL, back in the day). He did nightly sports reports on two different stations back in the 1960s. More so than anyone else, he was the voice of sports in the Bay Area. Whomever was in second in this category was a distant second.

Bill King was perhaps the most interesting human being to work in a press box, ever. A beautiful voice, magnificent command of the language, able to make you feel as if you were watching the game with his words.

He had to keep working years beyond the time he wanted to retire because his business manager cleaned him out. He lived on a houseboat in Sausalito. He worked barefoot in the press box. What more would you need to know about him?

The Warriors had to hire Hank Greenwald to do the "stand up" on their telecasts in the early 1960s because Bill King had a Van Dyke beard, and it just wasn't right to unleash such a "horrible vision of beardedness" (Bill's words) on the viewing public.

To this day, so many years after he stopped being the voice of the Warriors and Raiders, I have trouble listening to their games on radio because — no matter how good Tim Roye and Greg Papa may be — without Bill King, it just isn't the same. Listening to him on the air made me a fan of those teams, and I still associate his voice with not only my fondest memories but the best years of the Raiders and Warriors.

Warriors president Robert Rowell had this to say today about Bill King:
"Bill King was an icon in this market and established himself as one of the greatest broadcasters in the history of sports, not just the NBA. Those of us who had the pleasure to enjoy his distinctive work — ranging from the Warriors' 1975 championship team to one of the A's or Raiders title-winning squads — will be forever spoiled. He was talented, versatile, enthusiastic and, most importantly, a class act and a great man. He will be sorely missed by everyone he touched, including those who never had the opportunity to meet him, but still benefited from his presence in their homes."

Oakland A's President Michael Crowley:
"He was arguably the most recognizable voice in the history of Bay Area broadcasting. One would be hard-pressed to find an announcer who served as the lead play-by-play voice for three major sports franchises for as long as Bill. He was a broadcasting icon and true renaissance man in every sense of the word whose loss will be felt in many circles."

Al Davis, Raiders managing general partner:
"I and the Davis family are deeply saddened by the news of Bill's passing. Bill was a great friend, a brilliant performer and an exceptional man. I say this with great admiration and love that Bill becomes one of the people that I give the CLOAK OF IMMORTALITY - Time never stops for the great ones. To his children Kathleen and John, we'll always be there. The Raiders were proud to have Bill as their radio play-by-play man for four decades and he was the voice for many of the greatest games played in the history of professional football. His Commitment to Excellence was unparalleled. Bill will be sorely missed."

One of the best examples of Bill King at his absolute finest was his call of the Raiders "Holy Roller" play against the Chargers back in 1978:


"Madden is out on the field. He wants to know if it's real ... they said yes -- get your big butt out of here! ... There's no time left ... there's nothing real in the world any more! ... A man would be a fool to ever try and write a drama and make you believe it!"

Donations in memory of Bill King may be made through the Smuin Ballet, 300 Brannan Street, Suite 407, San Francisco, CA 94107 or the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, P.O. Box 809, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.