Possessing a vast knowledge and passion for basketball, for the last 20 years, Jack Armstrong has kept fans in the know with what’s going on both on and off the court as TSN’s Basketball Insider. In addition, Armstrong is a game analyst for all Raptors broadcasts on TSN, is featured in regular segments on SPORTSCENTRE, and writes a weekly NBA blog for TSN.ca.
With the city still reeling from our triumphant win last summer, we caught up with the three-time Canadian Screen Award winner to say “Helloooo” and ask him about his experience as a sportscaster.
What made you decide to get into broadcasting?
Well, I got fired… haha. That’s what happens to coaches, you know? You don’t win enough games and they tell you to hit the road. You’ve heard the song, Hit The Road Jack? That’s what the folks said to me. So basically, it was one of those scenarios where I had a year left on my contract in Niagara and I had an opportunity to take a year off from coaching. I was a little burnt out and needed a refresher — something new to challenge me. Honestly, when I got into broadcasting, I thought I’d probably do it for a year and then get back into coaching. Here I am 22 years later still doing it … It’s been a fun ride and a super enjoyable experience.
Did you fall in love with it right away?
Yeah! Because you’re not worrying about all the stress of winning and losing anymore. You have an opportunity to just talk about the game you love, and really try to break it down for people and give them a sense of what you think and how you see the game. You can try to provide them with some insight and tell them why and how things happen. Our job is to inform and entertain, I mean it’s show biz after all … my job is not only to talk about the game, but to do it in an upbeat and enthusiastic way. I love the game and I’m a passionate person. You can’t fool people; you’ve got to be yourself. I just really enjoy it and have fun with it.
Did you go to school for broadcasting?
When I was head coach at Niagara, I had my own radio and tv show. So, I had experience there. Prior to that, I had been a college coach as well and I had my Master’s in Communication from Fordham University in New York. I honestly never thought I was going to use it. My whole goal in life was to be a coach. People say, “Oh my goodness, you have a master’s degree from Fordham.” But that wasn’t my reason for doing it. I got my master’s because it fit our practice schedule. I just fell into it, you know. But I’m glad because it’s become a second career.
What a great career! How many people get to do what they love for a living?
I say that all the time. When I speak to kids, I say to them, “When I was six years old growing up in Brooklyn, I started playing basketball and I fell in love with the game. Here I am, 50 years later and I can’t thank that orange ball enough. It has given me the opportunity to meet incredible people that have become lifelong friends. If I start taking account of the people in my life, a big percentage of those people are because of my association with playing basketball, coaching basketball, and broadcasting basketball. Even my marriage. I was the basketball coach at Niagara University and my wife, Tina, was the women’s soccer coach. That’s where we met!
For somebody it might be a paint brush, for another it might be the piano, or dance, or law, or medicine… Whatever it is, define the thing that really gives you that feeling of satisfaction. Obviously, there will be stress, there will be ups and downs and twists and turns, there will be adversity. But if you’re doing something you love life is really fun.
As a jogger, what are some of your favourite running spots in Toronto?
I live in Lewiston, New York right on the Niagara River. Every day I run along the Niagara River across from Niagara-on-the-Lake, literally looking over at Canada. So, when I am in Toronto and running outdoors, I run along Lake Ontario. I love running along the lake. I just find it relaxing and peaceful… though it can be quite windy in the winter. Too often in society now we are always plugged in, sometimes we forget to plug out. I find that running allows me to do that. It’s a way to unplug and relax, breathe in the fresh air and collect my thoughts for the day…or for a game. It’s a hobby I’ve had for a long time and I hope to be able to continue to do it.
How do you think the Raptors are going to do this year?
If the team is healthy, I think it’s one of the better ones in the Eastern Conference. I still think they have that residue of winning and there are a lot of people here with organizational knowledge and know-how to figure out how to win a game. I think there are enough guys here, and coaches, staff members, and executives that they have a sense of what winning looks like, what the demands are, and what it takes. So, I think they have a good foundation in place. Like any other team, health is such an important factor. It’s just a matter of staying healthy.
Do you have any pet peeves in basketball?
I don’t ever want to see an athlete out there take things for granted. It’s a great opportunity and you never know when it’s going to end. So, when I see someone with great talent that doesn’t give it their all or doesn’t play to his full potential that really disappoints me. But those guys usually
don’t last long. The ones who do are truly professional. They show up night-in and night-out, prepared to play and to compete. Those are the specials ones. The ones that understand and appreciate the fact that people pay their hard-earned money to watch the game, so you have to show up and produce.
How does it feel to watch basketball in Canada grow and see the Raptors triumph?
It’s been an amazing journey to see how basketball has taken off nationally. Canada is now number two in the world in terms of representation in the NBA, behind the USA. Seeing the Raptors win the NBA title last June was incredible! It’s been a remarkable journey with a lot of ups and downs and a lot of twists and turns, but nonetheless, when I look at where the Raptors are, and where basketball is in Canada today, I’m so thrilled to have played a small part in it as an ambassador. I was so happy for our players, coaches, owners, and executives. But most of all, I was happy for the fans. They are so loyal and passionate — what an amazing national following the Raptors have created. I look at the Raptor organization and it is one of the first-class franchises, not only in the NBA, but in pro sports in general. It really is a unique franchise. I don’t think you are going to find a more welcoming or diverse audience than you would in Toronto. Sport has a way of bringing people together, and I think it was a great source of unity and pride this past spring and summer. It reflects the welcoming nature of this country, and I am happy and proud to be part of that.
Visit hellojack.ca for custom apparel featuring his famous, funny catch phrases.