PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In 1999, Kerry Eggers wrote a biography of legendary broadcaster Bill Schonely. This past November, his 9th book, “Wherever You May Be … Now: The Bill Schonely Story,” was published. This new version contains the past quarter-century of the storied life of the Blazers broadcaster.
Kerry Eggers spoke with KOIN 6 News to share his insights on Bill Schonely, who died Saturday at the age of 93.
Question: You’ve obviously known Bill Schonely for a long time. Tell us a little bit about the man behind the microphone.
Kerry Eggers: “It’s pretty much what you might think. He’s very gracious with people, he likes people, he likes attention, there’s a certain ego there that he had that served him well in his job because you have to be kind of a showman. And he was a great showman and person that identified with so many people in the Northwest and especially in the Portland area.”
Q: Did he like his nickname, Schonz?
KE: “I think so. In fact he called himself The Schonz a lot of times. In fact he would tell me a story about when he was doing hockey in the ’60s. Whatever the guy’s name was would call him Schonz. And I said, ‘Wait a minute. You weren’t called Schonz until you got to Portland.’ And he said, ‘Yes, that’s right.’ And yes he did.”
Q: He was Employee Number 6 when the Blazers were born in 1970 and stayed connected with the team for most of the past 52 years. But when he was let go by the Blazers after the 1998 season it was a PR disaster for the team. What was his reaction to being let go and to the public uproar over it?
KE: “Well, A, he was absolutely floored and shocked and it couldn’t have been worse feeling for him. He was gratified by the reaction of the fans and he had to admit that. He loved the fact they stood up for him and a lot of them dropped their season tickets and it became a real problem for the Blazers, as you know, with Harry Hutt and Bob Whitsett. A lot of people forget that there was 3 years there where he didn’t work for the Blazers. From 2000 to 2003 he worked for the Portland Beavers. He did play-by-play. He missed play-by-play, he enjoyed baseball. Then when Whitsett was fired and Steve Patterson and John Nash were brought in they brought him back as an ambassador. And I think he enjoyed being back and the last 19 years as being an ambassador has been a good time in his life. It really was.”
Q: He also called Major League Baseball games and hockey. But it’s basketball for which he’s remembered. He’s in the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. Did he ever talk about the evolution of the game itself?
KE: “No. I don’t think he understood basketball all that well. He was just like you and me. We’re just fans, we know a little bit about it. He didn’t know it like the coaches. But you don’t need to when you’re an announcer. He was a mellifluous talker, the Voice of God is what we used to say, great voice, he carried the game beautifully so he didn’t need to know basketball all that well.”
Q: There are certain announcers who transcended their sport and became intertwined with their city — Chick Hearn with the Lakers, Johnny Most with the Celtics, Vin Scully with the Dodgers, Ernie Harwell with the Tigers, even Bob Uecker with the Brewers. Did Bill Schonely see himself in that category?
KE: “I think he did but he didn’t let it get out of hand. I say he had an ego but he was very good with people. He could walk down the street and somebody would come up, he’d pretend like he knew them and then he’d ask, ‘Who was that guy?’ And really that’s kind of a neat thing that he wanted to make people feel, like, yes, he knew who they were, a friend, and I’d bet thousands of people thought they were friends but he didn’t really know who they were.”
Q: Do you know of any plans the Blazers have to honor Bill Schonely?
KE: “I don’t know yet. I’m assuming there will be a moment of silence at the Moda Center in the game against the Lakers, but I haven’t heard.” (Will the Blazers wear a patch on their uniforms?) I guess that will happen, too but I don’t know, though.”
Q: Will there be a public memorial service?
KE: “I just talked briefly with his wife, Dotty, and I think we’re in the preliminary stages of that. But I don’t know.”
Kerry Eggers latest book, “Wherever You May Be … Now: The Bill Schonely Story,”
is available now through KerryEggers.com.