Veteran studio presence in college basketball and football also served as NHL studio host from 1993-2004
You have often heard the familiar saying, “Things go in threes.”
Three prominent ESPN voices have left us in just the past year:
Stuart Scott left us after his heroic battle with cancer and prior to that, former longtime Chicago Bulls voice and lead announcer for the NBA on ESPN Radio Jim Durham both left huge voids in the world of key voices describing the NBA.
After veteran journalist Dick Schaap left us in 2001, the familiar ESPN Sunday morning show The Sports Reporters was anchored by John Saunders. He died on Wednesday morning at the age of 61. Cause of death was not immediately released, as first reported by Hannah Storm while covering the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
Saunders came over to ESPN from Baltimore after spending a few years in Toronto playing some semi-pro hockey for a couple of years. After he was hired in December 1986 to do SportsCenter (sometimes working with future CBS and Fox Sports 1 college football announcer Tim Brando), Saunders would branch out doing NBA studio work and also managed to cover baseball’s biggest games each July and October. He also covered hockey like a blanket, especially during the Stanley Cup playoffs when ESPN last held rights to televise NHL hockey.
Several ESPN colleagues, past and present took to Twitter this morning and it may take a while for you to read them all. Even Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari took some time to speak about the man, as well as Erin Andrews of Fox Sports in Los Angeles and Mike Tirico, currently busy anchoring mornings and splitting afternoon duties with another sports broadcasting legend in Al Michaels for NBC down at pristine Copacabana Beach for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The most ironic thing about his passing was on Tuesday night’s Scott Van Pelt late night edition of SportsCenter–there he was, sandwiched between ESPN lifers Chris Berman and Bob Ley during the 30th anniversary show describing Prince Fielder turning a triple play and later in that same game hitting a walk-off home run while playing with the Milwaukee Brewers (this all was because it was several hours after finding out that Fielder was not medically able to play baseball again after undergoing two neck surgeries in three years).
Clearly, this is devastating and tragic news for all college basketball fans.
His chats with Dick Vitale and Jim Valvano (during the early 1990’s), especially from the late 1980’s when ESPN covered the Thursday and Friday afternoon sessions of the NCAA Tournament will live on YouTube forever.
Most importantly, the way he helped so many scores of people become honest and truthful about why they get into this business “for the love of the game” and the passion for what covering sports is all about.
Like current SportsCenter anchor Lindsay Czarniak said during the 6 p.m. hour on Wednesday,
“I gained immeasurable respect just learning from him.”
John Saunders was definitely one of a kind. He will be missed: