"You friends with Bill?"
The question came as a bit of a surprise to me. I was at the Toyota Center for a game waiting for long time announcer Bill Worrell for a part of an interview I was doing with him. Minding my own business, swiping through my phone, the voice came from the floor.
Barely looking up, I said, "Oh, I'm interviewing him." The man stretched out his arm to shake my hand and said, "I'm Pat." It was Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing.
This is perhaps the best way I can describe what it was like to hang out with Worrell. He is not just respected. He is beloved.
On Tuesday, Worrell, 76, announced this would be his last season doing television play-by-play for the Rockets though he will do some in studio work for the network next season allowing him to complete 40 years of broadcasting for the Rockets and 50 years in Houston sports.
It's a remarkable accomplishment and while Worrell says he wants to leave before he goes on too long, it will be tough to imagine the Rockets without him. After radio announcers Gene Peterson and Jim Foley called it quits a number of years ago, Worrell was the lone remaining voice from the Rockets championships in the '90s.
For several seasons, he has only called home games with road trips reserved for Craig Ackerman. Former Rockets forward Matt Bullard has become entrenched as one of the better color commentators in the game for both home and road games.
And while Worrell has been great on camera with Bullard and some of the others who have joined him, he is best known for teaming with Calvin Murphy for many years on the sidelines. He and Murphy formed a perfectly paired duo of a quick witted professional broadcaster and an outlandish, larger-than-life commentator.
It appears certain that Ackerman will now assume full time duties with Bullard and the team is in really good hands. Coming up in radio, Ackerman is not only professional but personable and funny on air. He and Bullard are an excellent pairing that could anchor those spots for years.
For Worrell, no doubt this means more time on the golf course and more opportunities to catch games at his alma mater University of Houston where, much like at Toyota Center, he is treated like the celebrity he is.
As someone who has been fortunate enough to interview Worrell on several occasions, I can truly say he is one of the most engaging, generous and kind people I've met in broadcasting or anywhere for that matter. Whether he was chatting up hall of famers or cracking jokes with popcorn vendors inside the Toyota Center, he always had a wide smile and a flash of his bright blue eyes for everyone.
In truth, everyone is his friend because that is how he treats everyone. Including me.
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