Retirement is treating Steve Martin very well.
For the first December in a long time, he hasn’t packed on 20 pounds of winter weight from traveling with the Charlotte Hornets. He’s up around sunrise each morning, probably checking off a honey-do list from a wife who hadn’t seen him much the prior 30 winters.
Martin called the first season of NBA basketball in Charlotte in 1988-89 and every one since. He moved to New Orleans when the original Hornets received permission to relocate, then returned when the league started a second expansion franchise, then called the Bobcats, in 2004.
Last spring the Hornets announced Martin’s decision to retire after the 2017-18 season. He will be honored Friday at halftime of the Hornets-Brooklyn Nets game. The Hornets are giving the first 10,000 fans in attendance a Steve Martin bobblehead that plays audio of Martin’s call of Alonzo Mourning’s jump shot in 1993 that won the franchise’s first-ever playoff series against the Boston Celtics.
Martin spoke with the Observer Wednesday, reflecting on his 30 years in the NBA and 50 years of broadcasting in radio and television:
Q. So what have you been doing in retirement?
A. When you get into retirement, you are kind of reacquainting yourself with people you have been with all your life, but you leave them for seven months a year (during the Hornets’ season). My wife has made sure I’ve gotten into how to live in the house again: The dishwasher needs to be cleared and vacuuming needs to be done from time to time. Now I have more time to do that stuff.
Then, I can sit back and just go to some games, and not worry about them. That’s been good, too.
Q. What, if anything, was difficult about your job at the end?
A. The thing that was difficult was to do a game broadcast, where you are all pumped up, and then go down into the locker room (to do video for the Hornets’ web site) - when you’re on the road, especially, when you’re the only one out there. We’ve got a videographer with us. I’d have to go into the locker room and do interviews, and sometimes after you’ve lost, those interviews can be tough. It takes a lot of time. You try not to constantly ask the same players the same questions, but sometimes over 82 games that’s a little hard.
Q. You mention seven months of the year when your life rhythms were significantly changed by an NBA season. For people who wouldn’t know, what’s it like to be living on an NBA team’s schedule?
A. It’s not only when the team is playing or traveling to play. The responsibilities you have even when the team is home (are draining). You’ve got to be at most practices, you’ve got to be at shoot-around. Your day is all plotted around what the team is doing at that time. When you’re around a team that much, you get to know the thought process they’re going through.
As busy as we are, getting our stuff done, you can only imagine how hard it is on the players to run around the court for 2 1/2 hours (for games) and then do it the next night. That’s a demand that I’ll never know, and I’m glad I don’t because our demand is enough.
Q. Is it a relief now not to be on the odd hours that job required?
A. Oh, yeah! You can’t maintain that schedule and (follow through on) ‘I need to drop 20 pounds.’ There is no way. Your are on the four-meal plan. Your body clock says it’s time to eat and you’re awake (on a late-night charter flight) and you’re not going to sleep for a while, so (your brain says) ‘feed me.’
It’s just hard to maintain a (healthy) lifestyle of any sort. I always made room to gain 15 or 20 pounds during the season and spend the rest of the year trying to take it off. It’s physically demanding, it’s mentally demanding, and it’s even gotten more so as we’ve gone along. Compared to 1988 (the original Hornets’ inception), it’s a year-round racket. The teams have more for you to do. More teams control their own media, so they (need content) for social media and whatnot. There are a lot of arms pulling you in different directions to do stuff.
I’m an early riser. I do it now because I don’t have to (anymore). I don’t have to absorb the schedule that I had.
Q. It’s obvious you have lost a bunch of weight since the end of last season. What did you do?
A. When I got back from Maine (where the Martins have a camp) in August my wife and I decided, ‘Let’s try this Keto Diet thing.’ I dropped about 22 pounds. You can eat fatty foods, but no carbs. Fat and carbs mean weight. Fat without carbs mean you burn the fat. So that’s what we’ve been doing
Q. What were the hardest things in that diet to give up?
A. Bread, cereal. Milk was actually the hardest for me. My daughter, who is nutritionally aware, told me if you have to drink milk, then drink whole milk and no more than six ounces per day. And french fries, if it must be known.
Q. How did you know last winter it was time to retire?
A. I wanted to make sure I had enough life left in me (entering retirement). I had my eyes set on 30 years in the NBA and 50 years in broadcasting. About two years ago I set my sights on that. There are some guys in radio and television who are still broadcasting in their 70s and 80s. You’ve got Al McCoy in Phoenix (calling Suns games on radio at 85).
You just feel sometimes like the time is right, and I had accomplished what I set out to accomplish.
Q. Do you have an all-time favorite person you worked with in this organization?
A. Dell Curry would be that guy. The thing about Dell that I really appreciate after all these years is that he is a down-to-earth person. He is very grounded and his family is very grounded. He is probably the most approachable athlete you will ever find. And then I got into a different sort of relationship with Dell when he looked to me for guidance on pursuing his next career (in broadcasting). Watching him grow from our first game together in 2007 - how he’s grown in his commentary, in his comfort in this business - is really something else.
Q. You have attended some Hornets home games this season. Have you felt any pangs of ‘God, I wish I was calling this game right now!’
A. In a great finish, you wonder what you would say. But there have been times where I’ve left (the arena) early and listened to (Martin’s successor) Chris Kroeger on the radio and I’m very confident he’s doing a great job. I couldn’t do it any better. So that tells you it was time to go.
Q. What are your impressions of this year’s Hornets team?
The coaching staff has done an outstanding job of re-purposing players and refocusing lineups. Where I think Mitch (Kupchak, the first-season general manager) has really put his hand on the organization was the draft. I thought they had an exceptional draft this year (ending up with Miles Bridges and Devonte Graham).
Q. I like that word ‘re-purpose’ Could you elaborate?
A. Re-purpose really strikes a cord with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (as a reserve power forward). He’s the type of player who can step into any situation. He knows the game, he knows what he can add, what he can bring.
When we talk about (starting shooting guard) Jeremy Lamb, yes, he’s been re-purposed, but that is a young man who works on his game incessantly. Every year that I was there and he was there, he was the first one in to the office. He would take maybe a week off (after the season) and be (back in the practice gym) along with Marvin Williams, working on his game. When no one else was around, he’d still be there.
Q. Play-by-play announcers don’t always get honored by teams. What will Friday mean to you?
A. They don’t usually get a bobblehead that talks, that’s for sure. For me, it will be emotional because there is something about being the first in franchise history. I became the first voice to describe a Hornets game in 1998, to bring pro basketball to an area that was saturated with college basketball.
This is a market that has gone through expansion twice. It’s a very basketball-knowledgeable community. To have played a role in that is something that means a lot to me.