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John Tong: Fan Moments VII

Let’s place the blame for the current state of shrieking PA announcers at the source.

Famous Philly 76er mouth at the mic, Dave Zinkoff.

“Here’s Juuuuuulius Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrving!!!!”

As Louisville Cardinal fans who have been around for awhile know, It didn’t have to be like this in this age of “Who wants a Kroger t-shirt?”, and “ThreeeeeEEEEEEEEEE!!! by Whomever.”

Once upon a time, there was John Tong, inviting the assembled to the thrill and excitement of college basketball in Freedom Hall, adding allure to games at what still stands as one of the most iconic basketball venues in all the land.

Tong was dapper. Always wearing a double breasted blazer with a pocket square that matched his cravat.

Tong’s hangout was KT’s, where he considered himself a ladies man, and his libation of choice was gin and tonic. Or, so I’m advised.

I do know he brought his own personal microphone to use. In a velvet-lined box, if memory serves.

And, being somewhat OCD, he would line up a row of perfectly sharpened pencils to keep his stats during a game.

His resonance and tonation are what set him apart. Unique. A bit quirky. Never overbearing. One fan remembers how his voice had a rise and fall, the distinctive pauses. An “uh” or “ah” to slightly elongate a syllable. He tended to emphasize the first syllable of a name, as well as provide the entirety of a situation.

The foul is number three on Johnson. At the line, HOLDen will shoot one . . . and the bonus.

Or, “From this point on, both teams will shoot the bonus.”

He was never a homer.*

*Unlike the fellow in Carbondale for Southern Illinois. Especially during their glory season of ‘67. After timeouts, he’d scream into the mic, “LET’S BRING THE SALUKIS BACK ON THE COURT!

John Tong is fondly remembered even by some UK fans, though, from his stints when the State Tournament was held at Freedom Hall.

One fellow at one of the Big Blue chat rooms, remembers a Georgia Tech game, when Tico Brown played for the Ramblin’ Wreck.

At the line, Tico for two.

To announce a stoppage in play.

Time is out-uhh on the floor.

Who but John Tong would so succinctly understate a traveling offense?

Steps called.

His greeting to fans before the game was always the same, welcoming, and went something, if not exactly like this:

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center and Freedom Hall Stadium for the thrill and excitement of college basketball as your University of Louisville Fighting Cardinals take on the Tigers of Memphis State University...

When it was time for the Star Spangled Banner:

Now please rise as the University of Louisville pep band plays our national anthem. This is everyone’s song, please join in and proudly sing...

When the game was concluded:

You clock operator is the veteran Richard “Rosie” Rozelle and this is your stadium announcer John Tong bidding you a very pleasant good night and reminding you to please drive home safely…

Of course, the assembled had already been advised, “All exits are open.”*

*Except for in later years of his tenure, the Bradley Avenue exit, which was closed to autos, after the vehicle of national anthem coordinator Bob Adelberg was hit by a train at that crossing after a U of L football game. Which, parenthetical as it might be, I suppose is Fan Moment VIII.

* * * * *

My singular personal story with John, whom I really knew just to say hi to before heading to my seat before a game.

It was during Tong’s final season behind the mic, when I was penning “Rumor & Innuendo” for LEO. I had leant somebody my copy of the best hoops book, Terry Pluto’s hilarious, anecdotal history of the ABA, “Loose Balls.” I’d forgotten to whom.

So, in my column, I sent out an SOS, in case the guy, whoever it was, happened to be reading.

*As if my pals, tired enough already of my BS, read my columns.

At the next game, John Tong walked up to me, book in hand, and said, “I read where you no longer have a copy of ‘Loose Balls,’ here, have mine.”

* * * * *

Louisville legend John Tong always seemed to have the right number of words, properly enunciated, except for evening he said his goodbyes after four decades at the final game of the 98-99 season.

This is the one time I can’t say anything.

Like Bear Bryant, another legend who died very soon after retiring, John Tong passed away not long after his Freedom Hall farewell.

— c d kaplan