Bob Miller: The Los Angeles Kings’ Greatest Ambassador
September 6, 2009 6 Comments
LOS ANGELES — A highlight of the Los Angeles Kings HockeyFest 09, held at the Nokia Theatre at LA Live, August 28-30, 2009, was Bob Miller’s One-Man Show, which featured the long-time “Voice of the Kings,” who kept the crowd engaged, entertained and laughing throughout with story after story from his 36 years with the team.
To be sure, Miller could go on and on with stories about the Kings. He is such a great storyteller that boredom is not an option.
On this day, he captivated fans with stories involving eccentric former Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke. He spoke about the exploits of former players and reminisced about many of the greatest moments in Kings history, along with a few that some may prefer to forget.
When the session was over, about thirty minutes after it was scheduled to end (no one complained), the crowd roared with applause and gave their beloved play-by-play announcer a standing ovation.
Miller, who is entering his 37th season broadcasting Kings games, is clearly working at his dream job.
“I’ve loved it,” said Miller. “This is my 49th year in radio and television. It’s just been great. There are nights like when [Wayne] Gretzky passed [Gordie] Howe in points and goals. It’s nerve-wracking because you want to get it right, but then you say to yourself, ‘where would you rather be than in that position calling that game?’ You don’t want to be anywhere else.”
But after 36 years with the Kings, the question on the minds of many is how many more seasons will Miller, who turns 71 in October, continue to be behind the microphone?
“Every time, this time of year, late August, early September, I get anxious to get the season started,” said Miller. “I still feel good, I still feel I can do the job. People now ask, after so many years, ‘how many more years are you going to be doing this?’”
“As long as I get that feeling every August and September, ‘let’s get going, let’s see what’s going to happen,’ keep going. Why would you quit then?”
Although Gretzky was not a broadcaster, he gave Miller some insight as to when the time to step away from the microphone might be.
“Wayne Gretzky always said that he would know it was time for him to retire if he didn’t play up to his expectations,” Miller explained. “Obviously, he was scoring more points and was better than everyone else. But if it wasn’t up to what he expected of himself, he would call it quits.”
“I think it’s probably the same way here,” Miller elaborated. “If I can’t keep up with the pace of this game, I’m making mistakes—and I think it’s a lot more difficult now than it was years ago with free agency and [so many] players changing teams every year. But it’s still enjoyable. There are nights in anybody’s job when you don’t feel that good, I’d rather not be here. But there are other nights when it’s so exciting you think ‘where would I rather be than right here?”
Miller also sought the advice of another Hall of Famer who works on the other side of Downtown Los Angeles.
“I went out [to Dodger Stadium] one night and talked to Vin [Scully] in the booth,” said Miller. “I wanted to know…so many years. I said, ‘Vin, you’ve seen so many great teams, championships and everything.’ At that time, the Dodgers were not in the playoffs and I said, ‘you’ve seen some lean times. What keeps you going?’ I just wanted to know, for my own satisfaction, what keeps him going as well as he’s doing the job and for so long?”
“He said, ‘first of all, I still love the game. Second, I’ve cut down on my travel.’ He doesn’t go past Denver,” added Miller. “He said, ‘that makes such a big difference. You’re not in the hotel at 3:00 AM with the game the next night and that kind of travel and by the time they get back home, I’m anxious to get back out there.’”
“He said, ‘what would I do if I was home? Sit there and stare at four walls?’ He still sounds great, his voice and everything is as good as always. So I guess the meeting with him—I take that advice. That’s the way to do it.”
But unlike Scully, Miller does not seem to like the idea of cutting down on traveling with the Kings.
“I remember [another all-time great play-by-play announcer] Dick Enberg [who was the play-by-play announcer for UCLA Bruins football and basketball and then-California Angels baseball] told me once that the Angels wanted him once to just do home games,” Miller noted. “He said, ‘you know, that’s more work than if you’re with the team every day because you’ve got to keep up with what went on. You don’t know personally what went on in some of those other games so that you have the opportunity to draw on those and tell a story. I don’t want to do that. That’s a tough thing to do.’”
But Miller will be the first to tell you when the time has come for him to turn off the microphone for the last time.
“There will come a time when I’m going to say that I’m not doing as good a job or I wish [the season] wasn’t starting,” said Miller. “There’s going to come a time when, either in my mind I’m not able to keep up with the sport or I’m making mistakes that I shouldn’t be making.”
“If that happens, that’s the time to say that’s it,” added Miller.
One thing is certain. No matter when Miller retires, Kings fans will mourn the fact that they will no longer be able to have him call the action and perhaps equally important, the Kings will lose their greatest ambassador.
Indeed, no one with the Kings, including fan favorite Luc Robitaille, has been better in terms of building relationships with the fans than Miller, who has always made an effort to engage them.
“I’ve always enjoyed talking with fans,” he said. “It goes back to when I was a sportscaster in Wisconsin. I went down to Wrigley Field [in Chicago] to do some interviews. It was early in the morning and I was walking through the stands and Lloyd Pettit, who [was the play-by-play announcer for the [Chicago] Blackhawks and the [Chicago] Cubs, was sitting there. I had never met him. I went up and introduced myself. He said, ‘great! Nice to meet you. You want to come up to the booth in the seventh inning? I do the seventh and eighth innings. Come on up. Sit down with me.’”
“I said, ‘yeah! I’d love to do that!’”
Miller then told the story about how Pettit took the time to explain how they did the Cubs broadcasts.
“I’ve never forgotten how nice he was to somebody in the profession,” Miller emphasized. “He could’ve just said, ‘hi, nice to meet you, I’ve got to go.’ That’s always left an impression with me.”
“I grew up watching and listening to the Kings because my Dad was a fan ever since they became an NHL team [in 1967],” said the 22-year old Iwata. “So I was watching hockey before I even knew what hockey was.”
“At home, everything revolves around the LA Kings games,” added Iwata. “It’s always been like that, so you can say the LA Kings and Bob Miller have played a huge role in my family.”
“I thought that he was one of the best sports announcers I’ve ever heard or watched, mainly because I grew up watching him,” Iwata explained. “I would compare other sports announcers to what I know about Bob.”
“You associate the LA Kings with Bob,” Iwata elaborated. “You can’t have the LA Kings without Bob Miller.”
As the day when she would meet Miller approached, the anticipation grew.
“Everybody in my family is an LA Kings fan and given the opportunity, I wanted to meet someone who I watched and listened to for most of my life,” said Iwata. “It was anticipation. ‘Oh my God…am I really going to meet him?’”
Iwata was expecting to meet the typical distant celebrity.
“I thought it was going to be like meeting a celebrity, that we’d have to go all sorts of security clearances,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect.”
“But when I actually met him, I was really surprised at how down to Earth he was,” she added. “My mind kind of went blank and I thought, ‘Oh my God…I am meeting Bob Miller. This is probably one of the coolest moments of my life.’”
Little did she know, Miller had more up his sleeve.
Indeed, not only did Miller meet and talk with Iwata and her family and autograph a copy of his recent (and his first) book, Bob Miller’s Tales Of The Los Angeles Kings, but he gave them the grand tour of the broadcast booth, explaining how everything works and what he does to prepare for each broadcast.
Given that celebrities and professional sports figures often distance themselves from fans, Iwata was surprised, to say the least.
“I thought that was really something special because how often do you get to see his procedures and methods for explaining the game and keeping everything together? I know my Dad got a kick out of that,” said Iwata.
For Miller, that is exactly the point.
“I love talking to Kings fans about hockey,” he said. “The other thing in my mind, you don’t ever want to treat someone poorly and have them walk away and tell their friends, ‘what a jerk he is,’ because you never know who they are or where you’re going to see them.”
“I’ve always had fun with the fans and they’re just great. They’ve always had nice compliments and everything. So I really enjoy that.”
Audio of Interview with Bob Miller
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