Two words. Five letters. It’s such a brief declaration and yet, said with the right inflection, it can summon to mind four decades of Boston Celtics highlights.
Brevity has always been Mike Gorman’s super power. The long-time television voice of the Celtics has long had a knack for saying so much with so little. Then, when the moment requires it ...
A parade of Hall of Famers have had their “Got it!” moments. Bird, McHale, Garnett, Pierce. On Friday night, Gorman will carve out his own tiny spot in the Hall when he receives the 2021 Curt Gowdy Award during a celebration at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
Gorman marvels while looking at the list of Gowdy Award winners, which started with its namesake in 1990. Legendary Celtics' radio voice Johnny Most won it in 1993; Gorman’s long-time Big Monday sidekick Bill Raftery in 2006; and Joe Tait, the voice of Cleveland sports, in 2010.
Each of those announcers played a role in “Got it!” emerging as Gorman’s most well-know calls.
On summer nights, a pre-teen Gorman, after listening to Gowdy call the Red Sox game, would set the AM radio inside his Dorchester bedroom to any other baseball broadcast he could find. Some nights, the clear conditions might allow the dulcet tones of Ernie Harwell to deliver a Detroit Tigers game as Gorman drifted to sleep. Further down the road, he’d listen to Tait on the call for Indians and Cavaliers games from high-watt towers in Cleveland.
Fast forward to Gorman’s first year as the play-by-play voice of the Boston Celtics in the early 80s and famed radio voice Johnny Most suggested that Gorman should pick a signature call of his own.
"Score it!" Nope, didn't work.
"Count it!" OK, but Gorman felt like he could do better.
"Bang!" No, that belonged to Johnny.
Then he, well, got it.
"I can remember talking to Johnny Most, who was very, very good to me, and probably one of the biggest fears I had when I got the job the first time was John was going to say, 'Who the hell are you? What are you doing here?’” said Gorman, before invoking Most’s famous rasp. "Instead he was like, ‘Sit down, sit down, sit down. We gotta talk. You gotta get yourself a handle. You need something that people identify.’
Most was content to sip his coffee and smoke cigarettes while handling radio duties from high above the Garden floor. He was eager to help the new TV guy find his way.
"So he said try some different things and let me know what you like,” said Gorman. "I don’t know whether, ‘Got it!’ is totally mine because I used to listen to -- and this was before I ever thought I would be doing it as an occupation -- late at night when I was 10, 11, 12 years old and falling asleep [to game broadcasts] if your parents allowed an AM radio in the room ...
"I just listened to these guys as I was falling asleep. [Tait] used to use, ‘Got it!’ I’ve heard tape of some of his old games. Maybe I stole it from him. I didn’t steal it from him consciously. 'Got it!’ worked. I went to John and somebody made a tape for me. Johnny listened to it and said, ‘Use that, keep that.’ I don’t think it’s exclusively mine. But I use it a lot."
It’s not Gorman’s only familiar call -- "Takes it, makes it," and "to the basket!" are at the top of his play-by-playbook -- but "Got it!" is the one that jumps to mind when you think of Gorman punctuating a big late-game bucket.
"McHale ... got it!"
"Ainge ... launches a 3 ... got it!"
"Pierce ... difficult shot ... got it!"
Gorman chuckles now if you suggest he has a play-by-play style. “You really think so?” he shoots back. At the advice of his father, Gorman prefers to allow the crowd be the third man in the booth and he likes to give that partner ample airtime.
"My dad said to me when I got [my first radio] job in New Bedford, you never pass up the opportunity to say nothing," said Gorman. "And I’m thinking, that’s a great piece of advice if you don’t want to be on the radio. I don’t want to be sitting there passing up every question that goes by because Dad said it’s a good idea.
"But I think what he was trying to tell me was: Less is better. And I’ve always believed less is better. The guys I would steal from -- Ray Scott, I would steal from, Pat Summerall ... football announcers typically have a lot of stuff in between where it’s dead air, if the color guy fills it in, fine, but the play-by-play guy doesn’t. Pat Summerall would be like, "[Quarterback] ... back to throw ... Nope." He’d say nope, that was it. He’d say nothing. Ray Scott was another one who just really had a minimum amount of words. I guess if I stole something then I stole the silence that they used as an advantage."
But "Got it!" helped put Gorman on the national map. In addition to his Celtics duties, he’d call Big East games as part of Big Monday on ESPN. His late-game calls would routinely land on SportsCenter and even non-Celtics fans started to say, "Hey, you're the 'Got it!' guy."
Gorman downplays the idea that 'Got it!' is his. But he undeniably took ownership. He likes to playfully chide his buddy Mike Breen, the last Gowdy recipient, about how his signature, "Bang!" call belongs to Most.
"I give him a hard time about stealing Johnny’s stuff ... but everybody borrows," said Gorman. "Anybody who tells you that everything they do is original is a liar. We all steal to one degree or another. It’s not coming in the dark of the night. It’s like, 'Can I use that?' I haven’t heard anybody say to me, ’No, you can’t say ‘Got it!’ because my grandfather said that.’ So you just do it."
Gorman suggests a lot of his good fortune was beyond his control. Friday’s speech at the Hall of Fame ceremony will open with a story about shaking down a security guard at WBZ just to get a meeting with Gil Santos, which opened the door to his first radio gig in New Bedford (as did a good outing as a spot starter in a beer-league softball game). His next gig in Providence spawned from a local host hearing Gorman on air while driving back from a vacation in Cape Cod.
But we’ll say it because he can’t: Gorman is elite at his job and has distinguished himself from his peers. He was the perfect sidekick for Tommy Heinsohn with a knack for setting up his boisterous color man, and subtly working in his dry one-liners.
If Gowdy was the soundtrack to a New England summer then Gorman is the voice of the New England winter. For multiple generations of Celtics fans, he is the voice they associate with basketball.
Yes, when it came to knowing how to call a basketball game, Gorman just got it.