The Cleveland Cavaliers have had a lot of great players, from Austin Carr and Bobby “Bingo” Smith to Brad Daugherty and Mark Price to Kevin Love and LeBron James, just to name a few. However, no one embodied the franchise more than its longtime radio play-by-play voice, the incomparable Joe Tait, who passed away March 10.
Tait hailed from Evanston, Illinois, and attended Monmouth College in the western part of his home state. It was there he met future Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Bill Fitch, who was at Monmouth scouting for Coe College. Fitch was an assistant football coach as well as the head basketball coach and heard Tait in the press box and was impressed. The two struck up a friendship.
After college, Tait worked a variety of radio jobs, including a stint doing the pregame show for the Indiana Pacers of the then-new American Basketball Association (ABA).
Meanwhile, in 1970, Fitch was named head coach of the expansion Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Tait wrote his old friend a letter congratulating him and wound up trying out to be the team’s radio play-by-play voice, and the rest is Cleveland sports history.
Tait memorably called the Cavs glorious Miracle at Richfield season (1975-1976), quickly cementing his place in the Cleveland sports landscape. An entire generation of Cleveland basketball fans spent many a late night with a transistor radio under their pillows listening to Cavs games. Many others would turn down the TV sound and turn on 3WE (now WTAM) radio to hear Tait call the game.
It is said that a great speaker can read the phonebook and make it sound interesting. Similarly, Tait’s postgame wrap-ups were captivating, even though he was just reading game stats. “Brewer, thirty-six percent from the field, seventy-five percent from the line...”
In 1973, Tait also started doing play-by-play for the Cleveland Indians, switching to the TV side in the 1980s. Also, in the early ‘80s, 1981 to be exact, Ted Stepien bought the Cavaliers. The new owner didn’t care for the way the radio station that carried the team’s games treated him, so he made a deal with another broadcaster. Tait worked for 3WE, not the team (though he would later), but was out of a job nonetheless.
He returned in 1983 when the Gund Brothers bought the team. He stayed until his retirement in 2011. His most famous phrases will forever be in our collective conscience:
"It's basketball time at...” (insert name of the appropriate Cavs home court: the old “Cleveland Arena, The Coliseum, The Gund,” or “the Q!”
"Wham! With the right hand!” or "Wham! With the left hand!” when calling a slam dunk.
“Over the timeline, into the forecourt,” describing the Cavs offense coming up the court.
"Three-ball... got it!" when calling a successful three-point shot.
"Sights it, shoots it, got it,” calling a successful free throw.
And of course his signature sign-off, "this is Joe Tait. Have a good night, everybody!"