I met Chuck Swirsky once in my life. It was a few summers ago, back when he was still the voice of the Toronto Raptors, and “Balls” had not yet reached its pinnacle as the number one sports blog in the universe.
With the NBA smack in the middle of its offseason, the Swirsky clan headed to Detroit for a leisurely weekend of Wolverine football and Tiger baseball. It was the fourth inning (or my fourth pint; I can’t quite remember) when Chuck’s bald head strolled past my seat at Comerica Park. I immediately yelled his name, and for a moment, he was understandably stunned. What was a Raptors fan doing in Motown, wearing a Tigers jersey?
We chatted for a few minutes. He introduced his young son, who was with him at the game, and then he talked a bit about how the pressure was on coach Sam Mitchell to prove himself to Bryan Colangelo, the newly installed G.M. He was funny, modest and nothing but polite, and before he headed up to the concession stand, he shook our hands and wished us a safe trip home.
I couldn’t help but think of our brief encounter last night, when Chuck—now the official voice of the Chicago Bulls—returned to Toronto for the first time as an enemy broadcaster. I watch the Raptors here and there (anything to pass the weeks between the World Series and Opening Day) and needless to say, all is not well with the Dinos. Mitchell has been canned, Jermaine O’Neal doesn’t deserve that “O” in his name, and after yet another late-game meltdown, the Raps are a disappointing 16-24, good for dead last in the Atlantic Division. As Swirsky would say, “Onions, Baby!” As in the stinky kind.
But as bad as the Raptors are this season, it’s not the lack of wins that I miss. It’s Mr. Swirsky. I’m sure he’s happy in the Windy City. And I’m sure his replacement, whatever his name is, is a helluva guy. But I just can’t help but think: if Swirsky was still screaming from the A.C.C. sidelines, would the Raps be in playoff contention? Would a regular dose of “Are you kidding me?!” and the odd “Sick, Wicked and Nasty” wake these guys up—especially in the fourth quarter?
Maybe not. But at least listening to the losses would be more bearable.
We miss you, Chuck. Pass the salami and cheese.