A very fond farewell to Jim Durham

Jim Durham has passed away. He died on Sunday at his Texas home.

It’s possible younger readers don’t know who Durham was. And that’s a real shame.

Durham was the voice of the Chicago Bulls for nearly 20 years — on both radio and television — an era of excellence that lasted from 1973 to 1991. He was there when Bob Love, Chet Walker, Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier led the Bulls to the conference Finals in 1975. He  talked us through the years of Artis Gilmore, David Greenwood, Orlando Woolridge and Reggie Theus. His voice ushered in the Michael Jordan era and accompanied us on that first title journey.

Perhaps Durham’s most famous call was when Jordan hit The Shot over Craig Ehlo in 1989:

In addition to covering the Bulls for so many years, Durham also called White Sox games (1989-90), served as a TV announcer for the Houston Astros (1983-85) and Dallas Mavericks (1993-2001), and spent time working for CBS, ESPN, NBC and Turner Sports.

Talk about storied careers. Durham was the Illinois Sportscaster of the Year in 1979, 1989, and 1990, won two Chicago Emmy awards, and was named the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Award winner in 2011.

Some announcers emphasize flash over substance — current Bulls broadcaster Stacey King sometimes edges into that territory — but Durham was definitely a case of substance with very little meaningless flash. I grew up on a steady diet of Durham’s on air commentary. I don’t know how to explain the experience of listening to him other than to say he made the game of basketball feel meaningful. Even a regular season game in which the Bulls played, for example, the dreadful Los Angeles Clippers. Listening to Durham, you felt like these events mattered. Even a Dave Corzine turnover.

No less a man than Michael Jordan said: “The voice of champions. I will miss him.”

Bulls vice president of business operations Steve Schanwald said: “I am stunned. Devastated. I loved that man, we all did here, and of course Jim was the best in the business at his craft. No one brought the game more to life, brought more energy and humor to the broadcasts or painted a more vivid picture of what was happening on the floor than Jim did. I will miss his company and our conversations a lot. But I will always be grateful for our friendship and the times we shared together. Heartfelt condolences to Helen and his family.”

Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf released the following statement: “I was so sorry to learn this morning of Jim Durham’s untimely passing. Jim was the voice of the Bulls for 18 years and he was the best at calling a basketball game I ever heard. I loved the energy he brought to our broadcasts, the way he painted a word picture of what was happening on the court which made you feel like you were there, and his sense of humor. Most importantly, Jim was my friend and I will miss the conversations we had about the NBA, life in general, and his favorite baseball team… the Chicago White Sox. On behalf of the entire Chicago Bulls organization, my deepest condolences to Helen and his entire family. He will be greatly missed.”

Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson added: “Jim was a true professional and class act and I’m sad over the news of his passing,” Paxson said. “Over the years when he would broadcast one of our games for ESPN, he never failed to spend a little time catching up on life with me. He did the games as a simulcast with Red (Kerr) when I first came to the Bulls in ’85 and through the first championship season here. They were a terrific team but both were better people and great to be around. J.D. was an outstanding announcer with a steady voice and he knew how to call a game with the right balance of emotion and information.”

Click here for more personal stories about Durham from various ESPN personalities.

Goodbye, Jim. You’ll be missed.

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