On Dec. 13, 2016, Adam Amin called his first NBA game, working alongside Doris Burke on an ESPN broadcast. The occasion: Tom Thibodeau’s first return to the United Center as a visiting coach.
Thibodeau’s Timberwolves, led by Zach LaVine’s 24 points, wiped out a 21-point deficit to prevail. In other words, storylines overflowed.
Befitting his reputation as a humble, hard-working pro, Amin kept the focus on those rather than his personal story.
Even with Monday’s news that Amin, 33, will succeed Neil Funk as the Bulls’ primary TV play-by-play broadcaster alongside analyst Stacey King on NBC Sports Chicago, the Addison Trail High School product kept the proper perspective.
In a phone interview, he alluded to the conflicting feelings of wanting to celebrate amidst both a global pandemic and widespread national protests stemming from the latest instance of a white police officer killing an unarmed African-American.
Amin’s father immigrated from Pakistan to the United States in 1978. He left his job as a vice president of a bank to work manual labor at a factory. He didn’t see his wife or Amin’s three older brothers for seven years until he made enough money to send for them.
Amin was born in the U.S. a year later in 1986. Just in time to bond with his father — who had been a semi pro cricket player in his homeland — over a budding Bulls dynasty.
“So this connectivity has a lot of branches to it. It runs pretty deep,” Amin said. “He’d be pretty tickled by this. To have an opportunity to be a Chicago voice and for a team like this, he would’ve thought that was pretty cool.”
Mohammed Amin passed away in March 2018 at age 80. He lived long enough to see Amin call that Bulls-Timberwolves game but not for this honor, which, on the heels of Fox Sports signing Amin away from ESPN after nine years, continues Amin’s swift upward trajectory in a competitive business.
But in all the important ways, Amin’s father is still with him.
“I’m flashing back to being the kid in the basement of my parents’ house, sitting on the floor with the TV in front of me and my Dad on the couch behind me,” Amin said. “We watched every Bulls game and watched (Michael) Jordan and (Scottie) Pippen and Stacey and Bill (Wennington) and (Toni) Kukoc and (Steve) Kerr and (John) Paxson and every name you can remember during all those formative years of Bulls fandom for, I imagine, a ton of people. The little kid in me who remembers that team and was connected to it, he’s freaking out in the most positive way possible.
“My Dad and I got to grow our fandom for that together. And we got to celebrate a lot. The ‘96 title was one of my favorite memories. It has a lot more meaning now that my Dad is gone, because that was the first title Michael won after his Dad had passed. I remember sitting on the couch holding my Dad’s hand watching the celebration of them beating the Sonics.”
Funk called that championship, just as the retiring legend did for four other titles. Jim Durham served as the primary play-by-play announcer for the first championship.
“Succeeding is the word I prefer. There’s no replacing Neil,” Amin emphasized. “I love Jim Durham, too. To me, he’s still maybe the greatest radio play-by-play guy in the history of basketball. I grew up on Jim Durham. He kind of shaped how I call games.
“But Neil is the voice of my fandom. He was the one that I was listening to with my Dad. He was the one whose call I went back and listened to over and over again when Jordan hit the last shot in 1998. He shaped a lot of my friends’ styles. His influence is so heavy, not just for me but for so many of us who grew up in Chicago.”
Amin said Funk called him over the weekend to congratulate him.
“He was so gracious and so friendly,” Amin said. “That says volumes about him.”
As Funk scaled back his travel schedule over the last two seasons, Amin served as one of the regular fill-in broadcasters. That allowed him to establish a chemistry with the colorful King.
“Everything we did in those little spurts translates to working together all the time,” Amin said. “It’s being able to laugh. It’s being able to connect. And being able to talk intelligently about the league.
“I was happy I came into the fill-in opportunity with experience in the league. I had been calling NBA games, including a couple conference finals series, by the time I started doing games with the Bulls. I had a good baseline knowledge of the NBA and also had the connectivity of being a Bulls fan growing up. I think Stacey appreciated that.
“Stacey is engaged and intelligent and enthusiastic. I want to be those things. The fact we click on those levels translates when people are listening. I want to believe that. I hope that’s the case. That’s what it feels like.
“I’m an excitable guy. I think I let passion come out during these games. I feel like it’s good for the NBA. It matches the league. It’s at such a great point in terms of starpower and peak athleticism. It’s conducive to being passionate about it.”
This passion stood out to Bulls president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf.
“We knew replacing Neil would not be an easy task, but as we got to know Adam over the last two seasons and became even more familiar with his work, he rose to become our top choice,” Reinsdorf said in a statement. “Adam knows our fans because he grew up a Bulls fan. That was important to us. We wanted to find someone who not only had the talent, but who also understood our history and the role the Bulls play in the lives of our city and our fans.
“When he and Stacey worked together, we received so much positive feedback that I know our fans are going to really enjoy the work of this new broadcast duo. Adam brings strong credentials to this role, as well as an energy, charisma and innate storytelling ability that help him immediately connect with his audience whether he’s behind a microphone, at an event or on social media. He’s a perfect fit.”
Kevin Cross, senior vice president and general manager of NBC Sports Chicago, which is the exclusive home of Bulls basketball, agreed.
“Adam is a rising star in the sports broadcasting industry and, even though he will have big shoes to fill in replacing a legend like Neil, he will be an excellent addition to our Bulls telecasts beginning next season,” Cross said in a statement. “Adam is a proud Chicagoan who has a deep understanding of the team’s history and the enormous impact they have on their local, national and global fan base. We look forward to having Adam on our team.”
Amin, who graduated from Valparaiso University, has come a long way from calling minor-league baseball in Gary, Ind., and Joliet. That’s where he met Joe Davis, another young, rising star who is now the Dodgers’ primary TV play-by-play broadcaster for Spectrum SportsNet in Los Angeles and also works for Fox Sports.
“We met in 2009 in the Independent Northern League. Both of us dreamt of doing what we’re lucky enough to be doing now. We bonded very quickly because of that shared dream,” Davis said by phone from Los Angeles. “We’re also pretty similar people. We value the same things.
“He’s been as important for me in my career as any person. Just to have that person who you can relate with on every step you’re going on in a very specific field. Just about every experience we’ve gone through, the other one has shared it vicariously.
“I think we would both tell you we think the other one was better. We critiqued each other’s work early on. We’d always give honest feedback. And I’ve told Adam many times that I think he will absolutely love being associated with a team. It’s just completely different from what we do on the national side. Which is parachute in, learn about two teams for a week, have both teams’ fans think we’re rooting against their team and then leave. You miss out on what becomes such an indescribable connection with the fan base.
“Especially for Adam as a Chicago guy. He was born there. He’s taking over a job of a team that he grew up watching. That’s beyond special. I know he’s going to kill it. He’s as talented as anybody in the world. And he’s going to appreciate it as much as anybody in the world.”
That became immediately apparent as Amin talked about the opportunity he never thought he’d have, the one of which his father would be so proud.
“He and his brother chose to come to Chicago from Pakistan for a reason. And they stayed in Chicago for a reason. It’s the diversity of this place. He felt accepted here. He felt like this was home,” Amin said. “There’s such a large community of South Asian people here that I’ve always felt this was going to be my home regardless of where I worked. And now this job is definitely one of those dream-come-true moments.”