BOB MILLER RETIRES: Also includes selected photographs from Bob Miller’s final games.
LOS ANGELES — On April 10, the Los Angeles Kings relieved President/General Manager Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter of their duties, replacing Lombardi with Rob Blake, who was named as Vice President/General Manager and by promoting Luc Robitaille to President, overseeing both business and hockey operations.
Despite the fact that this should be the big story, Frozen Royalty will wait to publish analysis of the front office shake up until after the Kings press conference on Tuesday. After all, there is one more story about their legendary, now-former Voice of the Kings, Bob Miller, who retired on April 9 after his final two broadcasts over the weekend.
That begs the question: Why am I only getting around to writing about Miller now?
As virtually every fan of the Kings will relate to, this past weekend was a very difficult one for me.
To be sure, on top of the normal things I do in my life, with Miller calling the final two games of his career before skating off into retirement after 44 years behind the microphone, it has been very, very difficult for me to wrap my head around the story you’re about to read, which should have been done after Saturday’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at Staples Center, Miller’s final home game broadcast.
But what did I do instead of transcribe interviews and write? I ended up watching a replay of the game just so I could hear Miller’s call.
Talk about shirking one’s duties.
Under normal circumstances, any journalist worth his or her salt would ignore the circumstances, avoid the distractions, buckle down and get to work. But these were not normal circumstances, so I hope you’ll indulge me for a few moments.
Miller began his Hall of Fame career in 1973. Coincidentally, that same year, a ten-year-old boy who was playing roller hockey (long before the days of inline skates) in a Culver City, California schoolyard, watched his first ice hockey game on KHJ-TV 9 here in the Los Angeles area. The man behind the microphone was National Hockey League rookie broadcaster Bob Miller, who, along with his first color commentator, the late Dan Avey, entertained me, but more important, began the process of teaching me the game and quickly got me hooked on hockey.
Indeed, I’ve been following the Kings and the NHL since Miller’s first season, a 44-year long “relationship.” So when I say that this past weekend was a difficult one for me, now you know why.
That said, along with Miller’s comments after Saturday’s game—he was not scheduled to speak with the media following Sunday’s game at Anaheim—I wanted to bring you some exclusive comments and insights about Miller, including an important reminder from some of his closest friends, so here we go…
After the win on Saturday over the Blackhawks, Miller walked into the media room at Staples Center, which had the most people in it after a Kings regular season game than ever before.
Not long after he walked in, Miller was surrounded by reporters and was asked about the storybook ending.
“They put the [picture-in-picture] on in the last two minutes [of his broadcast] and really, I wasn’t overcome with emotion,” he said. “We had mentioned that the perfect scenario would be for Dustin Brown to score the game-winning goal. He didn’t get the game-winner, but he got the one that tied it. Then, to see it end that way, and I just had the stat that since three-on-three overtime came into being, the Kings have the best record in the NHL.”
“To win it that way—but it wasn’t a sad thing for me,” he added. “It was just the excitement of the game and the excitement of the crowd, seeing them cheering and on their feet, and having them see a Kings win.”
“[Color commentator Jim Fox] mentioned that Dustin Brown had given me the Cup [in 2012]. I also said that Dustin and his wife, Nicole, have always been really good in sending congratulations and everything.”
Miller expressed surprise when asked about the exterior banners, decorations and wall that fans could sign and write messages on to honor him.
“It was a great day for me,” he said. “I didn’t know half of what was going on outside until I saw it on the TV monitors. I said about that autograph wall, ‘is that going to fit into the back of my SUV? I don’t think so.’”
“It’s the right time,” he added. “I’m ready for this. I didn’t want it to be an emotional thing. I just wanted it to be something that I knew I was ready for.”
The player who is closest to Miller and knows how important Miller is to the Kings organization and history better than any of his teammates is Dustin Brown, who talked about his thoughts when he first heard the news about Miller’s impending retirement.
“You don’t really expect it, but given the situation, you kind of connect the dots,” he recalled. “One of the first things I thought about was that he has been part of this organization for 44 years. Those two Stanley Cups—it’s almost like it is for a player. He can leave—we accomplished something great, something that he had been looking forward to. As a broadcaster—I don’t know what that’s like, but I would imagine it was pretty special.”
“There’s something special about him,” he added. “As a player, you don’t really hear him, but he is how pretty much all the fans get to know us, as a team. Through all the eras of Kings history, he’s been the one constant, despite all the changes on the ice and off the ice, he’s been here from pretty much the beginning.”
“Especially for the older Kings fans, he’s been how they got to know their team, through his voice. He’s been a big part of growing the game, as well. He’s just been a huge part of the franchise.”
For Brown and his teammates, they’ll miss Miller, but in a different way.
“It’s different for us, as players, because we’re working at the same time [he is],” said Brown. “We’ll miss seeing him around. Fans know him in his professional capacity. We know him in a personal capacity, around the rink, here or there, chatting with him on the plane. You get to know his wife, Judy. That’s what we’ll miss, as players.”
The personal touch is what Miller’s friends who were also colleagues always talk about first.
“I feel bad because Bob means so much to so many people,” said Rich Marotta, who was Miller’s second color commentator, following Avey. “I’m sure that there are many, many people who have the same personal feeling for Bob that I do. That’s the thing. We’re all feeling that sense of loss.”
“I mean, the guy is here,” added Marotta. “He’s going to be around. But there’s something about Bob. You want to be around him, you want to see and hear him on TV. But I’m not alone in feeling this way. This is how everybody is feeling.”
Marotta pointed out that Miller gave him his big opportunity as a sports broadcaster.
“Bob Miller is not only important to broadcasting and important to Los Angeles, but he’s important to me, on a personal basis,” he noted. “He got me started. I sent him a tape when I was broadcasting college hockey in Colorado. I asked Bob for a critique. At the time, Dan Avey had resigned. Bob brought my tape in to [original Kings owner] Jack Kent Cooke and Jack said, ‘my God, Bob. He sounds wonderful.’ The next thing I knew, I got a call and I was hired.”
“That was the beginning for me and Bob, but the important thing was that Bob was so good to me,” he added. “I was only 26 years old. I walked into the Forum and I didn’t know anybody there. Bob was already established and loved. I was a complete unknown, but Bob was so great at making me comfortable in that broadcast booth with him. He was so great at being generous with his time and we would talk about the broadcast a lot, but he was also generous on the air and he made sure that any point I wanted to make, he’d respond to it. That makes a broadcaster, especially in my position, feel really good.”
Marotta noted that Miller wasn’t going out of his way to help him. Rather, it was just how Miller was, and still is.
“He’s such a genuine human being that it was much more comfortable for me than a lot of guys had with established announcers and believe me, for some of those guys, they really had it tough,” he emphasized. “That was never the case for me with Bob.”
“[Kings radio play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson wasn’t starting [his broadcasting career], but this was his first major league job,” he added. “It was my first major league job. Jim Fox—he brought him along. It’s not a big trauma for Bob to do that. That’s him.”
Nickson worked as Miller’s color commentator on the Kings’ simulcast—television and radio—for nine seasons before the Kings separated the broadcasts.
Former Kings and Los Angeles Lakers public relations director Mike Hope is one of Miller’s best friends.
“The guy has accomplished more than anyone could dream about, but if you ask anyone or look on social media, you find out very quickly that he’s a better person than he is a Hall of Famer,” he said. “That, to me, means more than what he’s done, professionally.”
Hope recalled that from the beginning, Miller’s focus was the Kings.
“One of the first things was when we started, [former Los Angeles Lakers superstar play-by-play announcer] Chick Hearn was there,” he noted. “I would go to Bob and say, ‘do you want me to call the studios? Do you want me to get you commercials?’”
“Chick was doing Bowling for Dollars and he was doing all the different kinds of things,” he added. “But Bob said, ‘no, that’s not my thing.’ I had studios calling me, asking if he could do stuff for them. But that wasn’t what Bob was looking for and I think that goes to the quality of his person.”
Hope indicated that Miller set an example of integrity and professionalism from the very beginning.
“He was a consummate professional,” he said. “I remember the first week that we got to know each other, since we started together in 1973, I asked him, ‘what’s your goal, as a broadcaster?’ He said, ‘my goal is to say, he shoots, he scores, before the roar of the crowd.’ Through his entire career, he maintained that. To him, that was the most important thing—to be able to say that he was so on top of the game that the crowd heard him say, ‘he scores!’ before the crowd drowned him out.”
As so many have said about Miller, he set an example within the Kings organization for others to follow and emulate.
“He always has time for everybody,” said Kings retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers. “He taught me that. Now, when I go to Staples Center since I retired, when the fans come up and want to talk to me or want a photo, I love taking the time to talk with them. If someone says hi to me at a game, I stop, shake their hand, and talk to them. Fans appreciate us. They’re the people who’ve supported us for so many years.”
“I went through a tough time for awhile,” added Demers. “But going to games and interacting with the fans helped me get through that.”
Something that virtually everyone who knows Miller off the ice talks about are his jokes and stories.
“The best thing was that it was a joke a minute,” said Hope. “You were always laughing. He was so much fun to be around.”
Marotta was the victim of more than one of Miller’s pranks.
“He hoaxed me about Jack Kent Cooke hating mustaches,” he reminisced. “When I first came here, I had a big, giant mustache. Bob told me for days that Jack Kent Cooke really hates mustaches. Our first TV game was in Toronto, and Cooke was living in Las Vegas, at the time, because of his divorce situation. Bob said that Cooke had a big, six-foot wide screen in his house, and that my mustache would be six feet wide.”
“I trimmed for three days until finally, the day of the game, I only had a little pencil line mustache left,” he added. “But that was part of Bob and having fun. It was really a fun deal to work with him and to work with the Kings.”
Demers said that he’s going to be able to enjoy Bob’s company even more now,
“We just have that bond from the day he walked in the door,” he said. “I’ve gone on trips with him to Mexico, Arizona, Hawai’i, cruises, dinners all the time. Parties at his house. He’s been to my house many times. It’s a great friendship we have. He’s always got a joke and he can tell a story like no one else.”
“I’m really looking forward to seeing Bob at more events,” he added. “Now he’s going to be around more at our alumni events, where, in the past, he couldn’t make it. I’m looking forward to seeing him just as much now, if not more.”
“It’s the fans who are going to miss Bob more than I’m going to miss him because we’re going to be involved in the alumni stuff and he’s my friend. I’m not missing a step on this.”
Don’t Forget What’s Really Important
While many have expressed concern about Miller and his health, and have congratulated him and wished him well on his retirement, at the same time, many are very concerned about who will replace him in the broadcast booth.
Concern about who Miller’s replacement will be is understandable. But his close friends are looking at his retirement from a very different perspective.
“My first thought was his health, there’s no doubt about that,” said Demers. “For me, it’s not about him working, or having to give it up. It’s about his health.”
“We are so fortunate that he wasn’t paralyzed [after suffering a stroke], that he wasn’t dead, and that he would have a chance to go on living in a way that a normal, functioning person would,” said Hope.
Indeed, Miller’s health is what’s most important.
“I know we’re all going to miss him on the broadcasts,” said Demers. “No one calls a game like Bob Miller. You listen to so many other broadcasts and he just has that excellence. He makes you feel like you’re right there. He’s on top of every detail and he does a tremendous amount of preparation. He always has his notes and his cards on every player. That was his chosen career and he excelled at it.”
“But I’ve got a different slant on it from most fans who are depressed and wondering about who the next [play-by-play announcer] will be,” added Demers. “That’s not on my mind at all. I’m sure Bob’s health is on their minds, but they’re concerned about their hockey, too. I’m not concerned about that at all.”
“He’s a real gentleman, a credit to our game. But I’m not in mourning. I’m happy for Bob. I don’t want him to get on a plane and have an issue at 3:00 in the morning, or in a hotel or on a bus. He needs to be here and get the best care and rehab that he can and have fun with Judy.”
Demers noted that Miller isn’t leaving, never to return or be seen again. He’s just retiring.
“It doesn’t end here,” he said. “This is just another chapter. As long as his health holds up, we’re going to keep this thing going. It’s just turning a new page.”
Selected Photographs from the Final Games of Bob Miller’s Career
Nine photos ©2017 Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net. All rights reserved. Click on any photo below to view larger image and to click through the gallery.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer Bob Miller (center), shown here with his family after the final home game of his 44-year career on April 8, 2017 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Photo: Shelly Castellano/SCPIX.
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Gann, your excused from not writing this article sooner. Do you know what Mr. Miller future plans are? I hope he writes more books. His former books had me cracking up. I pray that he writes more!
He’s just going to enjoy life with his wife and family. I don’t think a book is in his immediate plans.