Jim Durham was as natural at broadcasting sports as anyone who ever did games in this town.
That was my first memory when news arrived Monday that the former Bulls play-by-play announcer had died.
Too many eulogies have become necessary lately for too many media giants. Writing them is a bummer even when the deceased is in his or her 90s, 80s or even 70s.
Jim Durham was 65 and still in his Hall of Fame prime. A week ago today he did the NBA season opener between the Celtics and Heat for ESPN.
Last year Durham was in the basement corridor of the United Center, where he stood with his wife, Helen. As we chatted he appeared to be healthy, happy and vital.
Now he’s dead? Doesn’t make sense, but that’s life, isn’t it?
Anyway, so many guys behind the mike today sound contrived. I mean they couldn’t be like that in real life.
Descriptions are replaced by exclamations, one after another, each louder than the previous.
Sorry for turning this into a criticism of sports broadcasters because that isn’t the intention. The intention is to express how good by comparison Jim Durham was at what he did: He was really, really, really good.
Durham means so much to the history of Chicago sports broadcasting. The shame is that despite being here for 18 years it wasn’t nearly long enough.
Perhaps the best measure of Jim Durham is that he kept ticking after losing in 1991 a great Bulls gig that he likely figured he would have the rest of his career.
Durham knew he was good. He wanted to be paid like one of the best. When that didn’t happen here he predictably was welcomed elsewhere.
The Bulls couldn’t come to financial terms with Durham and his agent. That would have been the end for a lot of announcers who fit a niche, were displaced for whatever reason and weren’t nearly the same in any other place or any other job.
Durham went on to do both basketball and baseball in Texas. Since 1996 he formed a legendary team with former NBA coach Jack Ramsey on ESPN radio.
Together they were so engaging because they were informed and entertained and informative and entertaining. They could get excited and raise their voices but not constantly or gratuitously or annoyingly.
Jim Durham respected the games he broadcast and enjoyed them and appreciated working them.
Durham was enthusiastic and passionate on the air and mixed those qualities with energy and humor to present a full-service broadcast.
Like most of the great ones, Durham wasn’t much different from you, me and any other fan, but he had a rare ability to tell the audience what took place on the court.
A listener listening to Durham on the radio knew where the ball was, who had it, what the score was and when on the clock it was happening.
That’s the professional side of Jim Durham; the personal side was just as endearing to those of us fortunate enough to have known him.
No matter how important the person Durham was with, he would introduce that person to us little guys like we were just as important.
After Jim Durham left the Bulls I missed seeing him regularly; now that he has died I’ll miss seeing him occasionally.
However, millions of us at least will have that natural delivery of his to remember.
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