Jim Nantz has one last shining moment in the city he loves

Jim Nantz hugged and shook hands with well over 100 people before he walked off the court one final time as his time calling college basketball games came to an end on Monday night at NRG Stadium. | James Mueller/The Cougar

Jim Nantz hugged and shook hands with well over 100 people before he walked off the court one final time as his time calling college basketball games came to an end on Monday night at NRG Stadium. | James Mueller/The Cougar

The task was nothing new. Jim Nantz, the veteran of all veteran broadcasters, prepared to do something he had already done 31 times before — call the NCAA Division I men’s basketball national championship game. Yet, Nantz felt something he hadn’t felt in a long time when Monday, the day of the national championship game, arrived.

Nantz began the day by attending an event at the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at Houston Methodist Hospital, which he helped open in 2011 as a way to honor his father, whom he shares his first name with, who battled Alzheimer’s for 13 years before his death. 

The emotions started flowing from there.

“It tore me up,” Nantz said. “I knew I needed about two hours by myself just to kind of gather myself because I felt like my emotions were right there at a tipping point.”

After spending some time alone, Nantz headed to NRG Stadium to put on the headset and call his 32nd and final national championship.

With him, Nantz brought three pictures. The first was of Nantz alongside Bill Raftery, Grant Hill and Tracy Wolfson, the crew he has called countless NCAA Tournament games with. The second came from the vault as it pictured Nantz and the base crew he worked the first 20 years of his career at CBS with. The last was of himself and his longtime courtside partner Billy Packer, who died in January.

He placed the pictures on the table in front of him, where they remained throughout the course of the night.

“I wanted them to be sitting with me at the table tonight, symbolically,” Nantz said. “Because all of them were on that journey (with me).”

As tipoff drew near, the lights inside NRG Stadium went down and Nantz got on the public address microphone and opened with his patented greeting.

“Hello, friends,” Nantz said.

As a student at the University of Houston, Nantz was the public address announcer for the Cougars basketball games at Hofheinz Pavilion.

It was there that his great love for college basketball was born. It has continued to this day.

“I’m hopelessly in love with it,” Nantz said. “It’s a love affair that will take me all the way to my grave. No one can love college basketball more than I do. There will be people that love it as much, but no one can love it more.”

Sitting just a few miles down the road from where his career started, Nantz grabbed the microphone one final time on Monday night.

As he has done for years, Nantz proceeded to announce the starting lineups for Connecticut and San Diego State. One by one, Nantz called off each player’s name with perfect pronunciation, yet inside he experienced an emotional rollercoaster as the 63-year-old thought back to the way he kick-started his career.

“Maybe the hardest thing for me was doing the starting lineups. That really got back to my roots,” Nantz said. “I’ll never do them again. I’ll never do the PA again. It seems probably pretty easy but for me, I don’t know, it wasn’t. Because that’s how I first worked with a microphone right inside Hofheinz Pavilion.”

Feeling the love

From Birmingham, Alabama, to Kansas City, Missouri, Nantz had been showered with love throughout his farewell tour.

Blaine McCallister, Fred Couples and John Horn, Nantz’s college roommates, all reached out to their good friend. Colleagues, including former Dallas Cowboys quarterback turned CBS color analyst Tony Romo, gave Nantz a call. Even legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski reached out to extend his congratulations to Nantz. Those are just a few of the many names Nantz said he had heard from.

“I felt a lot of love,” Nantz said. “And that love was swelling up my heart to the point I was afraid that it might spill over.”

All of it led to Monday night in Houston, a city near and dear to his heart.

“This was the perfect place, as I had hoped it would be,” Nantz said. “It meant a lot to me to do this in Houston. I felt the love of the community.”

While appreciative for all the love he had been shown, Nantz once again reiterated that he didn’t want the broadcast to be about him. He wanted the spotlight to completely be on the student-athletes on the court.

As soon as the ball was tipped it was business as usual for Nantz.

Internally, Nantz realized his time calling college basketball games was winding down with each second that ticked off the clock. But he didn’t let it affect the way he called the game, keeping the focus of every word he spoke on the two teams on the court.

Late in the game when it was clear that UConn had the title secured, Raftery brought Nantz’s name into the conversation on the broadcast.

He was quickly shut down.

“I just didn’t want this to be about my farewell,” Nantz said. “Raft brought it up late in the game and I said, ‘I love you but with all due respect this a moment that belongs to UConn.’”

Once the final buzzer sounded, Nantz finally took a moment to bid his farewell and express his gratitude for the journey college basketball had taken him on.

With his emotions flowing, Nantz signed off one final time with a riff on his famous Hello friends” greeting.

“To you, to everybody in the college game, to the CBS family, my family, all the viewers, thank you for being my friend,” Nantz said.

The ritual

After the confetti had fallen, Nantz took the platform at midcourt to conduct the postgame ceremonies one last time. 

Nantz congratulated UConn on winning the national title and interviewed Dan Hurley, the head coach of the Huskies, and several players.

Then came the sweetest moment of all.

While UConn went to cut nets, Nantz stepped down from the platform and went to find his oldest daughter, Caroline. Moments later, Nantz put his left arm around her. Caroline put her right arm around her father. Then, the two shared a ritual that goes all the way back to when Caroline was just 11 months old.

They both looked up at the big screen and watched “One Shining Moment,” the annual montage of highlights from the tournament set to the iconic song written by David Barrett in 1986. Sharing this special moment with his eldest daughter from the court one final time, Nantz, visibly emotional, cherished every second of it.

Typically, Nantz would bolt out shortly after the conclusion of the iconic video and get on a plane to Augusta, Georgia, to prepare to call The Masters. But Nantz could hardly take a step without hugging someone or giving out a handshake. All Nantz could feel was gratitude. 

He summed up the magical night by borrowing a line from his favorite Christmas carol, “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

“Tonight for me was joyful and triumphant,” Nantz said.

Heading home

Nantz will still call golf’s greatest tournament later in the week, but he decided he will do something he has never done before. 

Instead of heading straight to Augusta, he will not arrive until later Tuesday or sometime on Wednesday.

There’s another pressing matter Nantz feels the need to take care of first.

He wanted to go home and hug his kids.

“I realized I’m running on empty, and I need to get refueled,” Nantz said. “To do that, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before between the Final Four and The Masters. I’m going home. Back to the place where I belong.”

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