| Akron Beacon Journal
Beloved Cleveland broadcaster Joe Tait, the radio voice of the Cavaliers for 39 years, died Wednesday at age 83 after a long battle with kidney disease and liver cancer, the team confirmed.
“The Cleveland Cavaliers mourn the passing of one of our beloved founding fathers and the original, long-time voice of the franchise — Joe Tait,” the Cavs posted on Twitter.
Tait took the job during the franchise’s inaugural season in 1970-71 and after two years working elsewhere in 1981-83, called Cavs games through the 2010-11 season. He was inducted into the media wing of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
“From the team’s inception in 1970 through the next four decades, the Basketball Hall of Famer informed, entertained and inspired generations of Cavs fans — painting a picture of the game with an unmatched mix of passion, precision and humor,” the Cavs wrote in a statement.
“A dedicated husband and father — generous with his talent and spirit — Joe received every major sports broadcasting award there is over the course of his career in Northeast Ohio. And like some of the most legendary Cavaliers he chronicled, Joe joined them with his own banner hanging in the rafters of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
“A friend and mentor to many over the years, Joe Tait wasn’t just a member of the Cavaliers family; he was a part of the Cavs story like no one else and his voice and unique, candid perspective reverberates throughout the team’s history. He will be dearly missed.
“Joe was also famous for his dry wit and his pragmatic view of life and probably wouldn’t have wanted a big, sentimental sendoff. So, to paraphrase the legend, himself — Let’s not say: ‘goodbye.’ Let’s just say: “Have a GOOD night, everybody!’”
Tait’s banner hangs alongside the retired numbers of Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, Bobby “Bingo” Smith, Larry Nance, Mark Price, Brad Daugherty and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. All had their remarkable feats described by Tait.
“We may not have won any championships, but we had some great times and good people and excellent years,” Tait said on April 8, 2011, when that banner was raised. ”I can walk away from the Cavaliers with nothing but positive feelings. I am much the better for having spent so much time here.”
His final season was limited to five games, cut short by heart surgery and pneumonia after he fell ill during a preseason game at Houston.
Tait also did radio and television play-by-play for the Cleveland Indians for 16 seasons. As Ohio Governor Mike DeWine noted in a tweet offering condolences to Tait’s wife Jean and family, Tait called Len Barker’s perfect game in against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 15, 1981 at Cleveland Stadium.
Also on Tait’s resume were games called for the WNBA’s Cleveland Rockers, Cleveland Crusaders hockey and Mount Union football.
Former Browns owner Art Modell tried to lure Tait when Modell was an influential leader of the NFL’s broadcast committee, but Tait reportedly wanted no part of the national spotlight.
Except for his exile during the era of former Cavs owner Ted Stepien, when Tait spent one season calling the New Jersey Nets and another doing the Chicago Bulls, Tait remained loyal to Cleveland. He lived in Lafayette Township near Medina.
Tait was 33 years old and had seen only one NBA game when he was hired by the Cavs in 1970 for $100 a game. He had met then-Cavs coach Bill Fitch when Fitch was a coach at Coe College and Tait was a broadcaster at Monmouth College. Tait was working at WBOW in Terre Haute, Indiana, that year and reportedly took a pay cut to join the Cavs.
Growing up in Amboy, Illinois, Tait played three sports, but loved to write. He planned to attend Monmouth for three years and then transfer to the University of Missouri to study journalism, but never followed that path.
He spent every minute with Fitch for four seasons, eating together and watching film together. Tait told the Akron Beacon Journal in 1994 that he knew the plays better than the players.
That was the start of a career that saw Tait call the “Miracle of Richfield” season in 1975-76, when the upstart Cavs beat Washington in seven games and reached the Eastern Conference finals. He also called “The Shot,” Michael Jordan’s iconic jumper over Craig Ehlo in Game 5 of a 1989 first-round series against the Chicago Bulls. Tait was at the mic for LeBron James’ first seven-year stint in Cleveland.
Tait received honors from Monmouth College, the Sports Media Association of Cleveland, Cleveland Sports Legends, Lorain Sports and the Cleveland Press Club. He was named Sportscaster of the Year in Ohio in 1974, 1976, 1978, 1991, 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2004.
Former Cavs general manager and President Wayne Embry told the Beacon Journal in 1994, “Joe is the most popular guy in the history of this franchise.”
That was before James arrived. But those who grew up listening to Tait’s calls still hold him with that same reverence.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @MRidenourABJ.