Talking basketball with the voice of the Philadelphia 76ers, Marc Zumoff

Talking basketball with the voice of the Philadelphia 76ers, Marc Zumoff

When the Sixers got off to their ridiculous 3-0 start the season, the people I was happiest for (besides myself) were our long-suffering TV announcers, Marc Zumoff and Malik Rose. Zoo and Malik, who wear their hearts on their sleeves as much as any other announcing team in the Association, seemed to take the anguish of last year's disappointing season harder than anybody, and that made their elation at this year's improbably exciting opening stretch all the more palpable and gratifying.

I had the chance to catch up with the incomparable Zumoff, who's in his 20th season as the Sixers' play-by-play announcer, before the Sixers' game against the Cavaliers on Friday. We talked about those first three games, about the leadership potential of Nerlens Noel, and about his own celebrity as the voice of the Sixers, and much more.

Check out our conversation below, and wish Zoo, Malik and the rest of the 76ers luck tonight at home against Malik's old team (and the defending Western Conference champions), the San Antonio Spurs--they might need all the help they can get. And if anyone does have any good Zumoff drinking games to share, please let me know, otherwise we here at the Level might have to invent one.

So, I think you had my favorite line of the season so far, when Spence hit that shot late in the Bulls game: "Malik Rose, can you stand it??"

And he said "No, that's why I'm sitting next to you!"

Was that just off the top of your head, or was that a long time coming?

No, I mean, it was off the top of my head. Just about everything we do is off the top of our heads. That's what's great about working with Malik, is that if something flies off the top of my head, he's there to grab it and slam dunk it.

What was going through your head when you came up with it?

Nothing in particular. I think this was the third straight game...first of all, they were already 2-0, threatening to go 3-0. This was the second good team they were on the verge of beating. And they came back in every game. So the surprise start, the third straight comeback potential win, and just the way that they were doing it. You know, the Michael Carter-Williams thing...just a lot of surprises through the first three games. So I'm looking at Malik, saying..."What's up with this? Can you stand it?"

You've been covering the team for about 20 years now. Have you ever seen anything like this before, the 3-0 start? Anything this surprising?

[Pauses]. Well...just trying to think, you're asking me to go through a lot of years! Uhh, no, quite frankly. I would say those first three games were about as much fun for a three-game set--good team, bad team, average team--that I've ever experienced.

Was there a moment in the Miami game where you thought "Wow, this could actually happen?" With the fast start, and the Heat come back...you must have thought it was over.

Well, I actually thought throughout the entire game that Miami was going to be Miami! That they were gonna win! And there's no reason to think not, because except for that one playoff game on Easter Sunday, the Sixers had never beaten the Big Three in a regular season game, so I'm just sitting there, like a fatalist, thinking "All right, this is exciting, this is fun, they're playing great, they're hanging in..." And they were I think down nine at the end of three, so...but what a wild game, when you think, up 19-0, they'd made their first eleven shots, then they're suddenly down nine after three, then they come back and win.

Did you see any of this coming with Michael Carter-Williams? I'm sure you got to see a bunch of him in the pre-season, but I don't think any of us really saw him getting of to the start that he did.

Well, I'll tell you that I'm the wrong guy to ask, because I don't watch college basketball. [But] the conventional wisdom was that he needed help with his shot, that he was turning the ball over, that he only had a couple years in college and...you know, he wasn't the top pick of the draft, he wasn't in the top ten, he was the 11th pick. So I think everybody was going to be patient with him, and let him learn the program. The fact that he came out and did what he did was a real special moment.

Evan has gotten out to a hot start this year. Do you see anything different in this game, or do you just think he's hot right now, and he'll come back to earth in a little while?

Yeah, I think his shot selection has been a lot better. I think he made it a point during the off-season to get all the way to the rim, he's been getting a lot of points in the paint. He's been using his body, fortunately he's been taking a lot fewer threes...I think that's really helped him a lot, and that's why he's shooting the way he is.

Have you gotten a chance to spend much time with Coach Brown? Gotten a sense of how he's trying to change the culture around here?

Well, it's funny, we had a talk about that even before the pre-season started, and I'll just quote him saying "It takes a while for that to happen. It takes players, it takes commitment, it takes a certain kind of player that you have to begin to get in here." And I'm not saying that these guys can't be part of that, what I'm saying is that's a process that has to evolve over some time.

So when you look at the situation where [Coach Brown] came from, with the Spurs, that culture was established by two guys who have been there for almost a generation. They've won four titles together. So that is the culture.

Well, it helps to have Tim Duncan to start with.

Well, that. And you know what really helps? When you get a guy in, and maybe that's Michael Carter-Williams, maybe it's the next guy, who's the alpha male or close to it, who helps him with that locker room. That's going to be key, and I think Gregg Popovich will tell you that with all the players that have come in and out, the fact that he can yell at Tim Duncan, and you're a free agent or a rookie saying "Wow, he's yelling at a hall-of-famer! Well..." THAT'S the culture. And that's something that it's gonna take Brett Brown a while to establish.

Have you gotten to see Michael off the court at all? Do you think he's going to be that kind of leader?

You know, I wasn't quite sure. I have to be quite honest with you, and...he's a while away, and he hasn't even played a minute yet, but Nerlens Noel. When I spoke with him during the off-season and I remarked at the fact that he was going to be traveling with the team, kinda working out and rehabbing on the side. He said "Yeah, it's really important for me to be with the team, because I watch Oklahoma City and Miami, and those guys are together off the court, and I think that's really important." And I'm saying to myself, here's a guy who hasn't played a second in the NBA, who's 19 years old, and he's already...

He gets it.

Right! And he's trying to figure out what makes [these teams] good, other than their talent. And to me, that was something special. Now, can Michael Carter-Williams do it? Well, I love his leadership style on the floor, in that he doesn't seem to be the prototypical kind of scoring guard. He can score, but it seems like he's looking for other guys, he's got great court vision, and I think if he can continue to show that, be unselfish with the ball, that will make him in some ways the de facto leader.

Do you have any idea where the team goes from here? .I think most people before the season assumed that they'd be piling up the losses in an attempt to do better in the draft next year, but do you think this has changed the course at all?

Well, I think it does from the standpoint that if you're a young player, you can hopefully seize on to the fact that you came back against Miami, you came back against Chicago, you came back against Washington on the road, you've done some positive things. Because what happens is that confidence, even in good players, will ebb and flow. So when it's ebbing, a lot of times what they'll do is show you footage of you succeeding so you can kind of remember what it is that you did.

So hopefully they'll be able to latch onto that stuff, and so in those moments when maybe there's a losing streak, or they're struggling, or maybe there's a 5-20 down the road for Michael Carter-Williams, he can say "Yeah, but I played really well against the Heat, I played really well against Derrick Rose, I was able to win a game on John Wall's home court, and hopefully I can recapture that."

Did you get the chance to spend much time with Andrew Bynum when he was a Sixer last year? Get much of a sense of him as a person?

You know what? He seems like a really bright guy. And I would like to think that had he been able to play, he could. I think a lot of Sixer fans were put off by the whole bowling thing. And I think that's what turned a lot of people off, saying "Well, if this dude can go bowling, he can certainly give it a try on the court!" I think the fact that he did get surgery, that he seems to be trying with Cleveland, is some indication that he might have something left, but if his knees cause his problems..here's a guy who's had knee problems coming out of high school, the fact that he has them now does not bode well for him.

Last year was pretty hard for all of us, but I felt like it was especially hard for you guys, because you had to watch all these games, with all this expectation, and it was so disappointing. Was that the hardest year you can remember covering?

Well, I've had some difficult years. You have to remember that my first two years, there was a 24-win team and an 18-win team with John Lucas. One year we had 24 players....at least last year, the problem with last year was that Andrew Bynum was a huge distraction the entire year. And because of that, it really cast a pall over the entire season. And people were saying, "This guy isn't going to play!" Which he didn't. "You've really torn up your team!" Which they did, giving up Andre Iguodala, Nik Vucevic turned out to be a really good player, a young guy in Moe Harkless...it really made it rather difficult.

But you know, we kinda hung our hat a little bit on Jrue Holiday, that he was an all-star, we were hoping that Evan Turner would eventually turn the corner like he is this year. But I would have to say quite honestly, that those first two years here with John Lucas were some of the toughest, if not the toughest, that I've had in my career.

So I had a theory that I wrote about, and I'm curious for your take. Which is that all in all, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the Andrew Bynum trade was actually a good thing for this team, because it kind of allowed them to hit the reset button. Whereas they had kinda been spinning their wheels for the last six or seven years, since the Iverson trade, and this forced them to bottom out, take a good hard look at themselves and say "Is this really where we wanna go?"

Well, I think that's a great point, and I'll take it a step further and say that not only do I agree with you, agreeing ostensibly with what Sixers management did, but the fans have bought into it. To the point where they're saying, you know...this "Winless for Wiggins" stuff, and all that, which I don't necessarily advocate, but they understand that this is a rebuilding year, that they're going to have to make some sacrifices.

And that's why Brett Brown has been so great through all of this, because all he's really talked about is culture recreation and player development. So if they can accomplish those two things, where you're seeing some baby steps with some of these young guys, and you see the evidence that culture has been changed, it'll be a successful year.

It seems like Malik has really caught on. You had a revolving door there with the color spot for a while...what is it about Malik that you think has made him stick?

Well, there are a lot of reasons. I think first and foremost, he and I have a nice vibe. He's a great guy, without ego, and I'm sitting here saying "This guy played 13 years in the NBA, won two championship rings...what does he care about a 50-year-old guy from Northeast Philly?" But it just so happens that he does, that we connect on a lot of different levels. That's the first thing.

The second thing is that he knows the game, he's very smart, and he's got a marvelous sense of humor. When he comes up with some of the stuff that he comes up with, he lights up Twitter, because people can't believe that he's said some of the stuff that he's said. So I try to just let him be him, because quite frankly I think that if he's successful, then our broadcast is good. And the thing that I like the most is when people come up and say "You and Malik sound good together." I'd rather hear that phrase from somebody than anything else.

And it's clear that you guys really care. You can hear the pain in his voice when the Sixers miss a defensive rotation, don't get out to a three-point shooter, stuff like that.

Right. And I think a lot of that is the fact that he's a Philly guy. And even though he never played for the Sixers, I think the Sixers have always held a special place in his heart. And you know, I go back to the first year of the team. I mean, when I was a kid, my father took me to Convention Hall, and I saw a game when they first arrived from Syracuse, in 1963. So I've seen Sixers games every year, I've followed the team every year, so for me....it pulses through my veins.

Do you get a lot of people coming up to you, reciting your own catch phrases? People asking you to record things on their answering machine?

You know, I do, and it's kind of otherworldly. You have to remember, I was a kid who grew up in Northeast Philly and I had kind of like a low self-concept, and I got picked on by kids, and wasn't the world's greatest athlete...so what I did was, I would announce games on TV, or  announce games from the stands, and a lot of what I did just sitting by myself in my room, I do now before 50,000 or 100,000 people a night. So to have people coming up to me saying "say this" or "say that," it's surreal.

What's the most frequent request that you get?

Uh, I'll give you the top several. I'll say a lot of people like "We're running tonight!" A lot of people like "[Somebody] for three! YES!"  "Lock all windows and doors" is a very big one, "Hang on Malik, we're coming in for a landing..." So, again, these are just things that are coming off the top of my head, and to think that people are latching onto this is really bizarre.

Have you heard about any drinking games? Anybody ever say "Well, anytime you say [this], take a shot"?

[Laughing] No, none of that! None of that.

Phillies beat writer promises to 'eat his shoe' if Tim Tebow ever plays in MLB

Phillies beat writer promises to 'eat his shoe' if Tim Tebow ever plays in MLB

The Philadelphia Phillies are among the teams who will go give Tim Tebow a look during his baseball workout for roughly 20 MLB teams.

That's according to Phillies beat writer Jim Salisbury who writes that the chances of Tebow making it to Major League Baseball as "extremely thin."

Then, when appearing on Philly Sports Talk on Tuesday evening, he tossed in the added bonus of shoe eating.

"I think this is more of a due dillegence thing just to say that you were there," Salisbury told Michael Barkann. "This guy hasn't played baseball in more than a decade. Before that it wasn't like he was a standout. He was more of a tools plalyer, a good athlete."

"If he ever plays a day in the big leagues I will eat my shoe," Salisbury said.

I think it's safe to say we are all pulling really hard for Timmy to make it now.

Phillies-White Sox 5 things: Can Phils pound James Shields like rest of MLB?

Phillies-White Sox 5 things: Can Phils pound James Shields like rest of MLB?

Phillies (58-68) at White Sox (60-64)
8:10 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies' brief two-game series with the White Sox ends tonight at U.S. Cellular Field. The Phils were pounded, 9-1, on Tuesday as they lost for the fifth time in seven games. They've been outscored 50-20 in those seven games.

Let's take a look at the series finale:

1. Get 'em through six
The Phillies turn to Jerad Eickhoff, who has been the most consistent of their many young right-handers. Eickhoff is 8-12 with a 3.91 ERA, and he's pitched at least six innings in 16 of his 25 starts.

That's notable at the moment because the Phillies aren't getting much length from any of their other young starters. Jake Thompson has averaged fewer than five innings in his four starts. Vince Velasquez is averaging 5.1 innings over his last four. Adam Morgan has averaged 4.3.

Unlike the others, Eickhoff has progressed rather than regressed this season. He hit a rough patch in April and early May and the struggles taught him to use his slider more. He went from being a three-pitch pitcher to a four-pitch pitcher, and the success of his slider made his fastball, sinker and curveball more effective.

That's the kind of adjustment a young pitcher needs to make. The adjustments for the others are pretty clear: Velasquez needs to mix his pitches better and get outs earlier in counts, while Thompson needs to throw more first-pitch strikes and get his slider below waist level.

Games in AL parks are always tougher on pitchers because of the DH, but Eickhoff has thrown well in both of his interleague starts in AL stadiums this season. He allowed one earned run in six innings at Target Field in Minnesota and pitched six shutout innings at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

It should benefit him that these White Sox hitters have never seen him. Players who don't have experience against Eickhoff tend to be frozen by his big hook.

2. Benefit of fresh arms
The Phillies' bullpen has been taxed lately because of the injuries and ineffectiveness of the starting rotation. Phils relievers have pitched an average of 3.9 innings per game in August. The starters have accounted for only 57 percent of the innings pitched. Not good.

Thankfully, the Phillies have been able to turn to somewhat fresh relievers. 

Edubray Ramos has made 23 appearances in July and August and shown flashes. He's struck out 29 and walked just six in 25⅓ innings this season. 

Michael Mariot, who missed the first six weeks of the season with an ankle injury, has a 3.24 ERA and has allowed just four baserunners in 8⅓ innings.

Manager Pete Mackanin spoke last week about wanting a few more relievers when rosters expand on Sept. 1. It would allow the Phillies to give Hector Neris more rest. Neris hasn't exactly been overworked — he's made 63 appearances and is on pace for 81 — but it could only help to lessen his load as the season nears its conclusion.

Neris continues to dominate, by the way. He's pitched 7⅔ scoreless innings in a row with 14 strikeouts. In 64⅓ innings this season, he has a 2.24 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 82 strikeouts and 18 walks. His opponents have hit .195.

3. Not the same James
The Phillies face veteran right-hander James Shields, who is having by far the worst year of his career. Shields, who began the year with the Padres before being traded at the beginning of June, is 5-15 with a 5.98 ERA. 

His numbers are even worse with Chicago — 3-8 with a 7.62 ERA and 1.82 WHIP. Everyone's pounding him — lefties, righties, good teams, bad teams. Shields' opponents have hit .297 with a .902 OPS. It's caused him to shy away from contact more and his walk rate has risen from 2.3 per nine in his previous 10 seasons to 4.3 this year.

Most teams stayed away from Shields in free agency prior to 2015 because of all the wear and tear on his arm. He was about to turn 33, and he had pitched an average of 223 innings over an eight-year span heading into that offseason. (He also pitched 60 total innings in the playoffs during those years.)

Those concerns appear to have been warranted, as Shields' stuff has declined in his mid-30s. Shields' fastball averaged 92.3 mph from 2012 to 2014 and is down to 90.4 this season. 

His changeup has always been his best pitch, even in recent years. From 2012 to 2015, his opponents hit .215 in 1,044 at-bats ending in a changeup. This season they've hit .263 with 14 extra-base hits, six of which were homers.

The Phillies saw Shields in the 2008 World Series. That was his third big-league season. A few Phils have hit him well — Odubel Herrera is 4 for 6; Peter Bourjos is 5 for 10 with a double and a homer.

4. Platooning Herrera?
Herrera has sat against most left-handed starting pitchers recently. Mackanin and the Phillies are trying to get him back to hitting the way he was earlier in the season, when he was seeing a ton of pitches and utilizing the opposite field. He hit .294 with a .378 on-base percentage in the first half but has hit .252 with a .321 OBP since the All-Star break.

Interestingly, Herrera fared well last season against lefties. He hit .293 against them in 123 at-bats as a rookie. In 2016, he's hit .225 against them in 120 at-bats. But a lot of those failures have come against left-handed relievers, who by nature are stingier against same-handed hitters because that's their specialty. 

Herrera, whose bat was missing from Tuesday's lineup against tough lefty Carlos Rodon, is actually hitting .309 (25 for 81) with a .398 OBP this season vs. left-handed starters. Against lefty relievers, he's 2 for 39.

5. Cell tower power 
U.S. Cellular Field is the only active big-league stadium in which Ryan Howard has never played. He sat last night but is expected to start tonight against the right-hander Shields.

Howard, who has taken Shields deep before, has homered in 25 of the 33 parks he's played in. If he hits one out tonight, that would be 26. 

It's not out of the realm of possibility given how locked in Howard has been. Over his last 13 games, he's 16 for 43 (.375) with four doubles, five homers and 13 RBIs. He's third in the majors in slugging percentage (.814) since July 29, behind only Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez and Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon.

Union-Crew 5 things: Still in good position, Jim Curtin's club looks to rebound

Union-Crew 5 things: Still in good position, Jim Curtin's club looks to rebound

Union at Crew
7:30 p.m. on TCN

Despite being dominated by Toronto FC on Saturday, the Union (9-9-7) managed to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, thanks to a handful of fortunate results around the league. But if the club wants to better its odds for the postseason, it needs to take care of business at Mapfre Stadium Wednesday night against the Columbus Crew (4-8-11).

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Playoff push
It hasn’t been a convincing few weeks for the Union. Although the club still sits fourth in the Eastern Conference despite one win in its last six games, it needs points to stay afloat. That quest begins Wednesday against the Crew.

“The focus is getting points,” Union defender Richie Marquez said. “For us, home or away, we need three points because we need to solidify that playoff spot.”

As of now the Union are in snug playoff position with 34 points — one ahead of the Montreal Impact and six in front of D.C. United and Orlando City for the sixth and final playoff spot. On the plus side, the club is one point behind the New York Red Bulls with a game in hand.

“It’s a push to get into the playoffs and try to see how high we can end up in the table,” Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “It’s important we don’t look too much at the standings because anything can happen in this league. It’s all really tight. It’s important we go to Columbus with the right mentality and come back to Philly with three points.”

2. Coming off a loss
Speaking of the playoff push, the Union’s dream of being a top-two seed in the East took a major hit Saturday in a 3-1 bashing by Toronto FC. The loss put Toronto up six and New York City FC up seven on the Union. 

Worst of all, it crushed all Union momentum coming out of a 4-0 win over the New England Revolution a week prior. Still, the club maintains its confidence heading into Wednesday.

“I feel good about this team and the players we have,” Bedoya said. “The goals we gave up were too easy. We have talent on this team, but there’s little things we have to fix. Once we get those right, we’ll be tough to break down.” 

As Jim Curtin explained, the short turnaround from Saturday actually works in the Union’s favor. 

“We were smart with how we managed the past two days in terms of getting the guys massages, taking care of their bodies, eating right and getting enough sleep,” he said. “They’ll be ready to go, they’re itching to get the bad taste out of their mouth after the Toronto game.”

3. Win-starved Crew
With the help of Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain, the Crew took down the floundering Revolution over the weekend. But that’s nothing to celebrate over. It was just the club’s fourth win of the season and second since May 28. 

The Crew are currently closer to having the lowest point total in MLS than a playoff spot.

“It’s been tough,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It’s a team that I believe in deeply but it’s natural that confidence dips when you don’t get the results. It’s about believing in our playing style and fine-tuning things, approving in some areas. I think we did that in the last game.” 

Though the Crew attempt to climb out of the basement Wednesday, they know what they are up against. The Union took the first season meeting against the Crew, 2-1, and the second, 3-2. 

“They added Bedoya, who is a quality player,” Berhalter said. “Other than that, it’s similar to what they’ve been doing all year with [C.J.] Sapong and talented players behind him. Bedoya makes a good difference there, but they are a solid group and they’ll play with intensity. From our side, we’ll have to be smart how we approach the game.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Facing the Crew twice this season, the Union have five goals. Chris Pontius has three of them. The Union forward scored the brace on March 12, then buried another on June 1. 

Crew: MLS rookie Ola Kamara leads the Crew with 10 goals, including one against the Union on June 1. Since May 28, the forward has 10 goals and one assist in 12 games.

5. This and that
• Facing the Crew has always been tough for the Union. Including two wins this season, the Union are 6-10-1 against the Crew all-time.

• The Union have only suffered back-to-back losses twice this season, and both times it happened in the club’s last 10 games.

• Of Kamara’s 10 goals this season, six have come at home. 

• The first-ever meeting between the Union and Crew happened on Aug. 5, 2010, and was a 2-1 loss for the Union. Sebastien Le Toux scored a penalty kick but Steven Lenhart buried the brace.