“It’s gonna get loud,” Pat Doughty warns as he scoots closer to the mic, the middle finger of his right hand on the mute switch.
He waits to pounce, as a thunderous prerecorded drumbeat resonates through Time Warner Cable Arena. He waits, as prerecorded buzzing sounds and guitar chords light up 20,000 fans’ ears.
Then his booming, growling, very live voice drowns it all out.
“BUUUUUUUZZZZZZ CITYYYY!! Get on your feet AAAAAND greet YYYYYYYOUR CHAAARRLOTTE HORNETS!!” As he says the last word, he hits the button on his VoiceTone processor to produce an echo effect: “HORNETS, HORNETS, Hornets, Hornets … ”
Most people who’ve been to an NBA game in Charlotte since 2004 have been exposed to the 46-year-old man known as “Big Pat” – whether they realize it or not – because “Big Pat’s” has been the voice fans have heard over the public-address system for 11 of the past 12 seasons. (He took a one-year break in 2006-07 for personal reasons.)
But recently, he fell ill. And it wasn’t just any old illness; it was four-days-laid-up-at-Carolinas-Medical-Center-University sick.
An esophageal ulcer, which led to a sudden loss of blood, which led to a bout with anemia, which led to him needing two pints of blood, which led to the Hornets suddenly needing someone else’s voice for the PA announcements for the March 14 game against Dallas and the March 16 game against Orlando.
Amateur reviews of his replacement were not favorable.
“Oh my God, this place was a wreck without you!” a woman says as she hugs Doughty upon his return, before the Hornets’ game against the Denver Nuggets last Saturday night. “This other guy’s like, (she drops into a monotone voice) ‘OK, timeout.’ I was falling asleep! I felt like I’d drive my car off a cliff. He was so depressing.”
Doughty frowns and crinkles his brow: “Ohhhh, he couldn’t have been that bad.”
The truth is, it has nothing to do with his sub being sub-par. The truth is, Pat Doughty is just that good.
Says his boss, Jason Simon, director of event presentation for the Hornets for the past 6 1/2 years (and manager of game operations for the Washington Wizards from 2005 to 2009): “I don’t tell him this too often just to kind of keep him grounded, but he really does have one of the best voices in the NBA.”
Finding his voice
Doughty’s voice was still a few years away from deepening when his father made these remarks to his 8-year-old son, as Doughty remembers it: “Boy, I hope you make some money by running your mouth one day, ’cause if you’ve gotta use your hands, you may starve to death.”
And Dad was right, on multiple levels.
His sophomore year, Doughty was called into Pocomoke (Md.) High School basketball coach David Byrd’s office for a meeting that went something like this.
Byrd: “I think we’ve got to find something else for you to do.”
Doughty: “Why, coach?”
Byrd: “Because you’ve stopped growing this way” – he puts his hand out, palm down, in front of his face, then lets it rise toward the ceiling – “and you’re still growing this way. I don’t need a 5-8 power forward, or a 5-8, 200-pound two guard.”
Doughty: “What am I gonna do? I love being around the team.”
Byrd: “Well, we love having you. … Why don’t you do the announcing or something? Take it out of our vice principal’s hand. That guy is terrible.”
So he did PA duty during games there for the rest of high school; then – after flunking out of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore – he manned the shipboard public-address system during the first Gulf War as a master helmsman aboard the USS Mississippi, a nuclear-powered, guided-missile cruiser (sometimes announcing himself as “Captain Stubing”); then he read wire news reports for the S.I.T.E., the Navy’s onboard closed-circuit TV station, until being discharged in 1992.
Back in the states, he spent eight years working with his hands, for his godfather’s gravedigging business, before someone at Maryland Eastern Shore reached out – someone who remembered the way he worked the microphone at Pocomoke – asking if he’d like to go back to using his voice.
It was a no-brainer. He started working Hawks basketball games in 2000 at $20 per night, and for four seasons, he honed his skill and shaped his style in Princess Anne, Md.
But when he got wind that Charlotte’s new NBA franchise was looking for someone to sit behind the mic, he climbed behind the wheel of his 1986 Lincoln Town Car and drove all night in the rain to take his shot at the big leagues.
The organization loved Doughty enough that it eventually made him one of two finalists, reportedly out of hundreds of candidates. Doughty, meanwhile, loved the idea of the job enough that he commuted from Maryland (yes, from Maryland!) for every home game during the first half of the Charlotte Sting’s WNBA season, which served as his final audition for the Hornets.
All that driving paid off. He’s been with the organization ever since.
Since the 2007-08 season, he’s missed just four games: one because of a snowstorm that stranded him in Maryland in 2009, one because he had a bronchial infection and couldn’t talk above a whisper (in 2011), and then the two this month.
Missing work gives him fits.
“Man, I have anxiety problems with it and everything ’cause I love doing it. I would actually do it for free,” Doughty says, then pauses and grins. “You don’t have to print that. But I love it.”
‘It looks a lot easier than it is’
“Welcome back, Pat. You were missed,” says Stephanie Ready, leaning over the scorer’s table a few minutes before she’s to go on-air as the analyst for the Hornets on FOX Sports Southeast.
“Hey, is your vacation over, or what?” teases James Jordan, the team’s executive vice president of operations, as he strolls by in his crisp gray suit.
“Good to see you. It’ll be good to hear you,” Mary Whitfield, wife of Hornets president Fred Whitfield, says with a warm smile and a gentle tap on the shoulder.
It’s been like this for the past two hours: a steady stream of people – everyone from arena security guards to associate coach Patrick Ewing – popping by to express how relieved they are to see “Big Pat” back in his regular chair on the sideline.
This is kind of new, all the focused attention. But otherwise it’s just a typical game night for Doughty.
Bunched around his mic and the VoiceTone processor are his staples: a pack of Doublemint gum, a bottle of Germ-X, a bottle of Singer’s extra-strength throat spray, a bottle of water and a steaming cup of hot water into which he’s just dropped three bags of Throat Coat tea.
He’s also got his trusty white binder with the night’s playbook, with prompts for the introduction of the standard types – referees, honorary captains, the person performing the national anthem – as well as short scripts that fulfill sponsorship obligations with soft-drink companies and automobile dealerships.
And he’s already gone over pronunciations of tricky Nuggets names with Denver media relations director Tim Gelt: Nikola Jokić is “YO-kitch,” Emmanuel Mudiay is “MOO-dee-ay,” Axel Toupane is “Too-PAWN.”
After he bellows his “Get on your feet AAAAAND greet YYYYYYYOUR CHAAARRLOTTE HORNETS!!,” he introduces all of the home-team starters as if he’s introducing prize fighters: “The maaaan in the middle, standing 7 FEET HIGH IN THE AAAAIIIIIIIIRRRRRRR: It’s COODYYY ZELLLLLAAARRRRRRRRRR!!!!”
It’s as if the “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!” guy from the monster-truck ads has commandeered the PA.
During the game, Doughty announces timeouts, fouls, scoring; the usual stuff. He’s monotone when he mentions anything to do with the opponent, but he springs to life when the Hornets make a big play (if one sinks a 3-pointer, Doughty will ID him and accentuate the “3!” with that robust echo effect).
He banters with the players, too. As Hornets guard Jeremy Lin stands at the scorer’s table waiting to enter the game, forward Nicolas Batum buries a 3-pointer, so Doughty shouts him out and hits the button on his VoiceTone.
Lin pretends to be impressed: “Oooo, you’ve got an echo!”
“You’re interrupting me at work,” Doughty shoots back, sarcastically.
Later, former Bobcat D.J. Augustin – now with the Nuggets – exchanges a fist-bump with Doughty before re-entering the game.
But despite that pleasantry, Doughty’s allegiance doesn’t waver, and after a few moments he can sense the home crowd needs a boost: “We need you to get get loud and bring The Hive ALIVE!” he booms.
It’s a smooth, natural transition. In fact, about everything he does seems seamless.
Yet, while describing his job before the game “Big Pat” says: “It looks a lot easier than it is. When you get in that chair and they switch those lights on and there’s 20,000 people and everything is on you … that’s when it hits you, the enormity of all this. I still get goosebumps.”
As this pregame interview draws to a close, yet another well-wisher drops by, asks him if he’s feeling better, says they’re glad he’s on his feet and healthy again. And for a brief moment, he seems overwhelmed by the enormity of … something else.
“You know what? I don’t know if I’m really that interesting of a guy,” says Doughty, a father of two grown children, a grandfather of one toddler, a man who was scared straight and dropped 90 pounds after suffering from kidney failure a few years ago. “I don’t know. I just want to live for a long time. I’d like to be around for a while.”