“I said, ‘I wouldn’t have this job without you,’” Swirsky said.
Like everyone else who knew him, Swirsky was “devastated” by the news that Jim Durham passed away over the weekend. He was 65.
As I wrote in an earlier post, the loss is particularly acute in Chicago. At the age of 26, Durham became the radio voice of the Bulls in 1973. He was immensely popular here, working both radio and TV on their games until 1991.
Meanwhile, Swirsky was in the process of establishing himself at WGN in the ’80s. Among his early play-by-play duties was calling DePaul basketball games with Ray Meyer.
Swirsky never forgot the assistance he received from Durham.
“He would listen to tapes of my games with DePaul,” Swirsky said. “He would say, ‘You need to tell the score more’ or ‘You need to describe where the ball is more.’ He wouldn’t just say, ‘You’re doing fine.’ His advice was very constructive. He was a great mentor.”
In a story he’s never told before, Swirsky said WGN was interested in hiring Durham for the Cubs’ radio booth after Milo Hamilton parted ways with the team in 1984. Swirsky participated in a meeting with WGN executives and Durham at O’Hare. The job, though, never materialized. Perhaps it was because Durham enjoyed the off-season at his ranch in Texas.
It’s probably just as well. Durham and basketball were a perfect fit.
“He was as professional on the air as he was off the air,” Swirsky said. “He was a tremendous communicator. He loved his craft and touched so many people in the NBA. This is really a very empty day for all of us.”
Among the others weighing in:
Michael Jordan at ESPNChicago.com: “The voice of champions. I will miss him.”
Artis Gilmore in the Chicago Tribune: “I absolutely will remember Jim Durham for his contributions to the game and his demeanor. He was a people person. Jim called the game the way it was and the way he observed it on the floor. I never took personal offense to any (broadcast criticism).”
Mike Tirico via Twitter: “Sad day for any of us who have been blessed to cross paths with Jim Durham, Hall of Famer in every way. Great man, great talent.”
Marc Stein at ESPN.com: “Some of the things I will never forget about the one and only Jim Durham: How he made the broadcasts of some really bad Mavericks teams in the ’90s sound as important as the games he called for Michael Jordan’s Bulls. … How patient and helpful he was when he had to nurse me through my first few on-camera halftime “insider” cameos on those same broadcasts. … How much Jerry Sloan always loved seeing him when Utah came to town. … How much we all looked forward to him making it official and announcing that somebody hot had it “stuck on automatic.” … How good he and Dr. Jack were together. … How honored I was to actually get to work with the two Hall of Famers on an NBA on ESPN Radio broadcast last spring with JD tossing to me for updates as a first-time sideline reporter. … How Dr. Jack loved to call him JD several times during every broadcast. … And how, as TNT’s David Aldridge so aptly put it on Twitter: Jim Durham was a better man than a broadcaster. And we’re talking about a Hall of Fame broadcaster. What a voice.”
Doug Gottlieb via Twitter: “My first NBA Draft was w/Jim Durham- treated me like an equal despite having no clue of my abilities-will miss his voice on ESPN Radio.”