Mark Jones loves Sacramento for one very important reason: It’s where he met his wife, thanks to a serendipitous encounter after wrapping up an interview with track and field legend Michael Johnson.
More than 25 years later, Jones was introduced as the Kings' new play-by-play announcer. He’ll join Doug Christie on the broadcast team for the 2020-21 season, and already is making plans to relocate from Miami, Fla., to Sacramento.
The broadcast veteran, who has spent the last 30 years working for ESPN, is a huge addition for the Kings. He’ll continue to work some college football and basketball games on the national stage, but his primary home will be as the voice of the Kings.
Capital City’s newest adopted son sat down with NBC Sports California for a Q&A to explain why Sacramento is a great fit, his friendship with Christie and a track meet at Sac State that changed his life forever.
Q: You’ve been an NBA broadcaster going on 30 years, but this is one of those times where you’re shifting gears. What is it about Sacramento that drew you to this city and this opportunity?
MJ: When you look at the Sacramento organization, they have tremendous lineage, great history. I’ve seen when the franchise has been successful, and to look at what they have right now, all the pieces they have in place -- management, personnel, coaching staff -- I think they’re on the precipice of doing something big right now.
For me, that was exciting to be able to have a home team behind the microphone. To be the play-by-play guy of a home team that you’re emotionally invested in. To be part of a team on the upward arc is something that, man, after 30 years of being in the business, that really gets me geeked up.
Is it true you met your wife at a track meet at Sac State?
OK, so I’m doing the 1994 World Track and Field Championships. I was on the infield just finishing interviewing Michael Johnson after he came close to beating the world record in the 200 meter. I finished interviewing him, and I turned around and I see this beautiful, beautiful young lady standing there, and we just made eye contact. I took out my IFB [earpiece] because I had to get back to the production truck to talk to my producer, and met her along the way and struck up a conversation and we exchanged phone numbers, and that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship that exists to this moment, to this day. She is the love of my life, and we met at a track meet. She was watching her friend compete in the middle-distance race, the 1500 meter.
So, every time I think about Sacramento, I think about meeting my wife there.
You are going to continue to do some work nationally, so how do you see yourself handling those obligations with the Kings job?
You know what? Life as an NBA broadcaster, as a college football broadcaster, as a college basketball broadcaster, which I’ve done over my 30 years at ESPN, has always been about airplanes, hotels and stadiums and arenas. So, it will be busy from time to time, but I enjoy being busy. I enjoy being in that dynamic situation where you’re always being challenged, always being stimulated by the next game, and I enjoy preparing, I enjoy meeting the people that I work with every day.
It’s going to be busy, but it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
During the interview process, you got to sit down and actually call part of a game with Doug Christie. What is it about Doug that’s intriguing to you, and you guys even have a little bit of history, right?
Yeah, Doug’s awesome. I met Doug for the first time when he was with the Lakers and then he got traded to the New York Knicks. I was living in Connecticut at the time, in Stamford, where he lived as well. A lot of the Knicks players lived near the practice facility, so Doug’s agent and I were good friends, and Doug and I got together a few times, and we’d go out for chicken wings and hang out a little bit at Bobby Valentine’s sports bar, the famous baseball player and then manager. We’d shoot pool and hang out. I got to know Doug really well during the two years he was with the New York Knicks.
How do you see that pairing going? He brings a lot of energy. You bring a lot of energy. Are you guys going to be able to control yourself? You do know that we have an announcer cam, right?
Hey, man, we’re 10 toes down with each other right now. It’s going to be easy. Doug and I have a natural chemistry. It has lineage to it. It goes back to the mid-90s. I know all about his history. He’s got a wonderful family. I’ve seen his kids since they were literally babies.
We’re both passionate guys, and we both love the NBA. My role is to document the game, and present it in an educational and entertaining way. Doug is fantastic. I’ve listened to him on broadcasts since he’s been behind the microphone. He does a great job of giving insights into tactics and X’s and O’s, what players and coaches are thinking, plays, what defense and offenses are thinking. He brings a unique vibe as well in how he presents it in an entertaining way. I’m looking forward to working with him.
They’ll be no holding us back. I think when you’re passionate about things, you’re always going to win.
The NBA is the most progressive league in professional sports, and the Sacramento Kings have been at the forefront of movements like Black Lives Matter. What is it about this organization that drew you to it?
You know, there was a real profound and seminal moment for me back in 2018. I’m on NBA League Pass every night, and I stay up late here at home on the East Coast in Miami, soon to be on the West Coast in the Sacramento area. I was watching League Pass, and it was the tragic moment when Stefon Clark was shot in his grandparents' yard by local law enforcement, and there was a group of people outside of Golden 1 Center that were upset, and there were conversations between the Kings and the people outside. And Vivek [Ranadivé] took the microphone during a game and addressed the crowd. It literally brought me to tears that night to see and hear his heartfelt outpouring of connection with the local community. It was organic, and it’s something that really moved me and inspired me.
It made an impression on me that this is an organization that from the top down is aligned with doing the right thing in the community, having a connection with the people that support them and just being humane. I think sometimes that gets lost in professional sports, and that really stuck with me, that boy, the Sacramento Kings have their stuff together. That is a team that you want to root for. That is an organization that you want to root for, and now I’m a part of it. I feel honored and privileged to be a part of it.
You are moving to Sacramento, and you’ve got some big shoes to fill. You’re a national guy, but you know that local voices have huge power in a community. How is that transition going to be -- moving here and jumping feet first into the Sacramento community? What do you want Kings fans to know about you?
I would want them to know that Mark Jones, their play-by-play guy, is going to let them know about their team from its roots on up. That they are going to get a broadcaster that is passionate about the Sacramento Kings, that is going to give you a unique window into the Sacramento Kings' players. That is going to let you know why they should care about their players and why they should root hard for their players. What they are going to know is their players' why. It’s going to go beyond basketball. They are going to care about their players as people and as basketball players and as people who are pursuing excellence to bring a championship to Sacramento.
That’s who they are getting as a play-by play guy. Somebody who will love their team, somebody that will always portray their team in a favorable light, somebody that will always care, somebody that will always be at practice, somebody that will always be at shoot-around, somebody that will always hope the best for the Sacramento Kings organization.