Greek-American sportcaster Spero Dedes has become a rising presence in the world of TV sports broadcasting in the U.S. and a well-known name to basketball fans everywhere after becoming the radio voice of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2005 at the age of 26, and later the New York Knicks in 2011.
Dedes’ play-by-play announcing can now be heard on CBS Sports’ coverage of the NFL and college basketball – including those heart-stopping few weeks every spring known as “March Madness.”
We spoke with Dedes to find out what it’s like behind the scenes in the unique world of sportscasting, how he started his career, and his thoughts on Greek basketball and rising Greek star Giannis Antentokounmpo. Read the full interview below!
What drew you to sportscasting?
I was probably around 15 years old when I started to become infatuated with the people on TV talking about sports. I grew up in northern New Jersey as a hopelessly diehard Knicks fan, watching NBA games every night, and somewhere along the line I found myself becoming more and more interested in what the announcers were saying. It was around this time that I told my parents I wanted to go to college to purse a degree in broadcasting, and that my heart was set on becoming a sports announcer. I think initially they honestly didn’t know what to make of it. Like most Greeks in the northeast, my father owned a diner in New Jersey and the assumption was that somewhere down the line I would eventually take over the family business. His was the classic immigrant story immigrant story: he left Greece for America in 1965 at the age of 18 in search of a better life. All he knew was hard work and sacrifice. So when I first told him about my dream of pursuing sports broadcasting, I didn’t blame him for being skeptical.
Over the course of a few weeks I continued to wear him down and he eventually agreed to send me to Fordham University (in New York). But under one condition: that I major in business management and study broadcasting as a minor. That was the initial plan. But after a few months I was flunking out of my basic math class, so I told him that broadcasting was my last hope to stay in school. I guess he didn’t have much choice.
How did you get your first break?
One of the broadcasting classes I took at Fordham was called Sports Communication. The professor was John Cirillo, a former communications head at Madison Square Garden who was teaching the class in his spare time. His main profession was running a small PR firm in NY. At some point John saw a demo reel I’d put together and called me. “I think you’re good and I think I can help you” is what he told me. So John starting making calls to potential employers on my behalf and soon became my agent. I was still a senior in college at this point. I can’t begin to explain what a major break this was for me. John eventually helped me get into WFAN in NY, he got me the Lakers job at 26, which is what brought me out to LA in ’05. He did all the heavy lifting early in my career. Before I had a career.
What does your current year of work hold in store?
My main gig now is for CBS sports. I just finished the NCAA basketball tournament — “March Madness.” We worked the games in Spokane, WA – 6 games in 2 days. It’s always toughest week of my year but always the most rewarding. Around this time of year, in late March, things really start to slow down. Next week I’ll be in Houston working an NBA game for TNT. Hopefully I’ll do some playoff games in late April. Other than that, I’ll be off until August when the NFL preseason begins.
What is it that excites you most about the job?
The spontaneity of it. Going to work every day not knowing what’s going to happen. I also love to travel, see different parts of the country I wouldn’t otherwise get to see. We get to meet so many interesting people along the way.
What is your best memory of a game you’ve announced?
Probably my first NBA finals in 2008 between the Lakers and Celtics. To be in the front row for this historic rivalry that was renewing itself after so many years was completely surreal. I’ll never forget being in Boston for that first game. Then, a year later being there in Orlando when the Lakers finally won the title, being in the locker room as the players are spraying each other with champagne. It’s hard to describe something like that. You grow up as a kid watching these celebrations on TV and now you’re in the middle of it. It was incredible.
Is there anything people might find surprising about your job?
A lot of people don’t realize how much prep and research is involved in sportscasting. To this day whenever I’ll have friends or family at the house while I’m preparing for a game, they’ll be surprised at how time consuming that part of the job is. Hours and hours of reading and constructing player and team charts. In football for instance, there are 50+ players on a team – and you have to know them all. Their background, their stories. Not to mention the coaches. Basically you’ve got to become an expert on every team you cover.
I tell people its like cramming for a college midterm every week. It’s intense. But once you get to Sunday afternoon and you’re in that stadium filled with 60,000 screaming fans on national TV, it’s all worth it.
How have your Greek roots affected your life and career?
I tell my father every chance I get that all I have in this life is because of him. The sacrifices he made for us. His story was very similar to most Greeks who emigrated to the ‘States in those years. He was 18 when he left Greece in 1965. He came here with nothing. Literally. But he worked and sacrificed every single day to make a life for us. My mother on the other hand, was always the emotional rock of our family. My pop was the disciplinarian, but my mother was always there to shower us with love and teach us about our Greek culture. She’s the one who took us to Greek school twice a week. She’s the one who took us to Greece every summer. We’d spend 2 months with our grandparents in the same tiny house in the same tiny village where she was born and raised – Domvrena – just north of the Corinthian Gulf. My father came from the exact same village and when he could get away from diner for a few weeks, he’d come join us. Such great memories. I think more than anything else they wanted their kids to understand where our came from. I feel so lucky that they did that for us.
So which Greek teams do you support?
In soccer, it’s definitely Olympiakos. My father is a crazy Olympiakos fan, and the whole family gets together whenever they’re in a big game. And of course the same goes for the Greek national team.
Do you generally follow basketball in Greece? Have you been keeping up with Antetokounmpo’s career?
Every day. I actually got to meet [Milwaukee Bucks’ star] Giannis Antetokounmpo a few years back when I was working for the Knicks. As fate would have it a mutual buddy of ours – who’s a sports journalist for NBA Hellas – arranged for us to meet briefly before a preseason game in Milwaukee. We spoke for a few minutes in Greek and took a picture together. It was such a cool little moment, to be standing in an NBA arena talking with a young Greek player who was just starting his NBA dream. He couldn’t have been nicer.
What do you think of the state of Greek basketball today?
I think gradually every year Greek basketball continues to distinguish itself. The success that Gianni has had in the NBA the last two years has done wonders for us. For the first time ever, Greece has produced a young basketball talent who’s potential looks limitless. I don’t think there’s anyone who doubts Gianni will be an NBA All-Star very soon and that’s pretty amazing.