By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Sandy Grossman, the Emmy Award-winning sports director who died Wednesday at 78 at home in Boca Raton, Fla., was best known for his work in pro football, including 10 Super Bowl telecasts and more than two decades in the TV truck supporting announcers Pat Summerall and John Madden. As CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said, “For many years, Sandy Grossman’s name was synonymous with excellence in NFL coverage.”
But Grossman’s roots ran deep in the NBA as well. In fact, he was lead director on The Finals 18 times, nearly double his work on the NFL’s premier event. And a full quarter-century ago, Grossman had an answer for what some consider a looming headache to this day: a championship series without big markets to drive the huge audience numbers sponsors like to see.
But based on what Grossman told a reporter from the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel back in April 1989, he wouldn’t have been wringing his hands over the prospect of a Finals pitting, say, Oklahoma City against Indiana. In his mind, the presentation and the individual star power could transcend market size or the absence of legacy teams:
“We found a strong phenomenon last year ,” Grossman said. “We had Los Angeles and Detroit, and we set all kinds of records. We were concerned that only an L.A.-Boston final could attract such a large audience. That’s significant, when the quality of the event matters more than who plays in it.
“You have to prepare for the fact you could have Utah-Cleveland at the end. But by that time, people will be familiar with the characters. We’ll be banking on the Mailman [Karl Malone] and [Cleveland’s] Brad Daugherty to provide drama.”
Grossman, who started at CBS as an usher working The Ed Sullivan Show in 1957, knew drama. He told the Sun-Sentinel in that 1989 story that his most fulfilling NBA telecast was Game 5 of the 1976 Finals between Boston and Phoenix, the famous “Gar Heard” game that went to triple-overtime.
The accolades poured in for Grossman, who was raised in Newark, N.J., then studied at the University of Alabama, hoping to become a sports announcer. Instead, he wound up behind the scenes and had an even greater impact, from the tributes in the Associated Press story on his passing:
“He was a brilliant director and a thoughtful colleague,” Fox Sports President Eric Shanks said. “He mentored many of us here and throughout the sports TV industry, and we learned more from him than he could imagine.”
His innovations included using music to go into the break during basketball games. After Grossman played “The Hustle” by Van McCoy, his son recalled, sales of the song skyrocketed, so the musician sent him gold records as a thank you.
Visitors to his TV truck over the years included Richard Nixon and Oliver Stone, Dean Grossman said.
“If there wasn’t an envelope to push, Sandy would create one,” said former Fox Sports Chairman David Hill, a senior executive vice president for News Corp.
As Madden put it, “He had guts.”
A piece on the Alabama Media Group’s Web site offered details into Grossman’s creative process and some of the innovations he tried and helped popularize:
Grossman became most famous for his legendary pairing with producer Bob Stenner on Fox and CBS for more than four decades. Grossman and Stenner revolutionized how broadcasters approached games, such as the now-standard production meetings with coaches and players before the telecast.
Those funny comments Madden would make from the booth upon seeing a random fan in the stands? Grossman found those shots, knowing that Madden’s sense of humor would produce funny spontaneous and funny TV.
Grossman has been credited for other contributions in the industry. Among them: music going to commercial breaks (ABA coverage in the 1970s); miking coaches during games (1975 NBA Finals); and having low cameras at half-court and under the baskets.
Grossman is survived by Faithe, his wife of 51 years, and their four children and eight grandchildren.