Ryan Cameron’s title at the Atlanta Hawks games is modest: “public address announcer.” But he takes what could be a dry, clinical job and transforms it into aural steroids.
With his supple voice, he can embody a boxing announcer, elongating the names of the players with a flourish during introductions: “At center, 6 feet 10 inches from Florida … No. 15 … Al HORRRR-ford!
But he’s also a cheerleader, who will elevate a three-point basket by guard Kyle Korver with an exhilarating “Korver for threeeeee!” With Cameron, the “three” takes on a life of its own as he hits a falsetto that reaches the ceiling and provides attendees with a bonus jolt.
Cameron oversees an entertainment team that creates a live TV show for the Philips Arena crowd, which also includes the wild fans in the 6th Man Section, goofy game host Mike King, hip-hop organist Sir Foster and resident DJ Big Tigger.
“He is the orchestra leader for the crowd,” said Steve Koonin, Hawks CEO and a former marketing guru for Turner Broadcasting and Coca-Cola. “It’s one of those jobs that looks very easy when you’re an expert at it. But you can go to other buildings and it’s so bad, it’s noticeable. Ryan? It’s so good, it’s pleasurable.”
The pleasure is mutual. Cameron’s primary job may be morning host on the No. 1 radio station in town, V-103. But working the PA gig is a true labor of love. The compensation is modest, at best, but Cameron says he has “the best seats in the house:” courtside center.
“I’ve always been a fan,” Cameron said before Sunday’s opening playoff game against the Brooklyn Nets as he settled into his seat in front of a mic covered in bright red foam. “I have this button. I can’t talk until I hit this button. (Producers) tell me to calm down because I get so excited about the game.”
Cameron is from Atlanta, born and raised. But he only watched the Hawks on TV growing up. It wasn’t until he was in his 20s that he began attending games. As a successful morning host on hip-hop station Hot 97.5 (now Hot 107.9), he was able to indulge and buy season tickets in 1997.
Four years later, he joined the Hawks entertainment crew as a host, which involved running around the arena and hosting contests.
But when Peter Sorckoff took over as a producer for the Hawks, he hired Cameron for PA duties. He wanted Cameron to be the “one central figure and we’d build talent in orbit around him.”
The goal: make the arena experience fun for the ticket buyers, no matter how badly things were going on the court. And during Cameron’s first year, the 2004-05 season, things were going badly. The Hawks won all of 13 games and lost 69.
“We had to bring humor into the show,” Sorckoff said. “There wasn’t a lot else. That became our calling card.”
Early on, he saw what Cameron could bring to the table when a bench player, Obinna Ekezie, scored a rare basket. Sorckoff said, apropos of nothing, “It’s too easy for Ekezie.” Cameron looked at him, punched the mic and repeated that phrase with a glint of mischief.
“Ezekie was backpedaling by us and was looking at us like we were crazy. We laughed. The crowd laughed,” said Sorckoff, who is now chief creative director and senior vice president for marketing. “That’s when I knew we got the right guy.”
Loyal fans who have stuck with the Hawks through the rough years admire Cameron’s pluck.
“We had bad seasons for a long time,” said Brian Reynolds, a longtime season ticket holder from Marietta. “He kept us going, no question.”
Reynolds tried to imitate Cameron’s “threeeee!” and said he laughs every time Cameron announces which celebrities are “in the house” such as Ludacris or Chris Tucker, then cuts to a camera shot of an usher and says, “Usher is in the house!”
And while Hawks players are focused on getting business done on the court, Cameron’s voice seeps into their consciousness.
“Ryan has the ability to get you a little more hyped or feeling better about yourself,” said all-star Hawks center Al Horford, a team veteran. “He gets the crowd involved to the point it impacts us.” (He clearly meant that in a good way: The Hawks were 35-6 at home this year.)
Horford’s favorite Cameron-ism, for obvious reasons: “Your Hawks take the lead!”
During the pregame warmup Sunday, people were regularly fist-pumping Cameron, from ushers to TV crew to opposing players. Jarrett Jack, a Brooklyn Nets player who graduated from Georgia Tech in 2005, took a break from warmups to exchange a few pleasantries. Before departing, Cameron cracked, “Have a good game but no game winners!”
Fortunately, now that it’s the playoffs, Cameron didn’t have to work too hard to amp the crowd. They lustily booed former Hawk Joe Johnson every time he touched the ball. They voluntarily chanted “DE-FENSE” whenever the Nets were in possession.
And the Hawks team also made Cameron’s job easier, maintaining a decent lead for most of the game. But the Nets closed to within five with 26 seconds left.
“I want everyone in this building to get excited these last 20 seconds!” he bellowed as the DJ played “Eye of the Tiger.”
After the game, Cameron said he was impressed with the way the crowd stood up spontaneously with five minutes left without Cameron needing to prompt them. With victory came a burst of adrenaline.
“Glad it’s an early game,” he texted afterward, “or I’d toss and turn all night trying to calm down!”
Cameron’s dedication is obvious by his attendance record. Over 450-plus home games since 2004, Cameron has missed a grand total of one for a V-103 Disney cruise.
One thing’s for sure: Cameron will be announcing every home game in the playoffs, however far the Hawks go. If all goes right, he said he will be there when the Hawks win the NBA finals deep into June. “I’ll be the guy crying into a towel,” he said. “Happy tears!”
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