'He Can Do That': Intimate Donuts With Bob O

The night is winding down, Bob Ortegel having absorbed a day of concerned questions and well-wishing backpats. With the figurative klieg lights dimmed, he is no longer required to be pithy or witty or to display any sense of humor. But as I visit with the 23-year Mavs broadcasting fixture about his separation from Mark Cuban's team, Bob O goes ahead and does ‘pithy,' ‘witty' and ‘funny' anyway.

DONUT 1: "It's his team. He wanted to make a change. It's his baby,'' Ortegel says before taking a pause for comedic timing. "He can do that!''

DONUT 2: "He can do that.'' Bob's awareness of that unintentional catchphrase is a little surprising … as is his use of post-ironic humor, at least to anyone who views the 70-year-old's work as the Mavs' TV analyst as "old-school'' or "straight-forward.''

Or whatever it is that Cuban viewed it to be, whatever it is that nudged the owner into parting ways with Bob after 23 years on the job.

DONUT 3: Twenty-three years, and 27 overall as a basketball analyst, if you count his early contributions everywhere from Missouri Valley Conference Game of the Week to ABC and ESPN. (And don't forget his contributions to DallasBasketball.com!)

"It's been a wonderful run, and the thing that's made it wonderful – the thing I'm going to miss – is saying hello to the coaches and the players and the ushers. The thing I'm going to miss is the people,'' Bob says.

As is the case with most people who talk that way, Ortegel's got it backwards. He doesn't have thousands and thousands of warm relationships in basketball and beyond because of them; those relationships exist largely because of him, his warmth and intelligence and passion and devotion to a Mavericks team that needed warmth and intelligence and passion and devotion during a time (pre-2000's) when his favorite NBA team's record lost more than five games for every two it won.

On behalf of the Mavs, Bob Ortegel has shaken countless hands, given countless speeches, persuaded countless fans to keep the faith … and taught the game of basketball to a couple generations of North Texas followers.

"And now this franchise is working on an 11th straight year of winning 50-plus games, an amazing turnaround,'' Bob says. "That's all a credit to Mark Cuban.''

Typical Bob. Respectful to the end. So "old-school'' and "straight-forward.''

DONUT 4: Ortegel will not confirm the details of the breakup as I understand them to be, but here they are: Leading up to the Jan. 29 home game against Atlanta, Mark considered an "experiment'' with former Mavs star (and Ortegel pal) Derek Harper in the analyst chair next to play-by-play man Mark Followill. Bob O was out – for at least a game … what did it mean big-picture?

Ortegel and Cuban were supposed to meet. In person? Via email? Is there a good way to do this? Then came the inclement weather, and then an Eastern road trip (that Harp couldn't make, forcing Brad Davis from radio to TV) … and Mother Nature put the relationship deeper into limbo. On Monday, two weeks after the initial "experiment,'' was there a clear directive from the top.

DONUT 5: Bob Ortegel on the radio? It's a nudge Cuban has tried before, in 2007. Bob and Chuck Cooperstein are close friends. Bob O would've been great at it. It would've been a chance to continue his legacy, to remain with the club, to maintain the relationships. …

"The door is always open to him to return,'' Cuban says.


But I think Bob stands for something. And I don't think he was comfortable standing for this. Nothing against radio and certainly nothing against Coop.

"Let me tell Mavs fans something,'' Bob says. "We, this organization, are blessed with two of the very best play-by-play in America. The best. They are absolutely brilliant.''

So Bob's decision was, I think, a stand against "limbo.''

DONUT 6: What is Mark Cuban attempting to accomplish here?

"Sometimes you've just got to freshen things up and try some different things," Cuban explains in an email to Tim MacMahon.

The Mavs owner is visionary in the sense that he always attempts to be ahead of the curve. (And is generally successful.) So maybe he sees something here that the rest of us cannot. Something younger, more cool, more hip?

More "fresh''?

Derek Harper is a good friend of mine. I've known Brad Davis for a long time, too.

Harp is 49. Brad is 55. One of the few people around here who think of Harp and Brad as "young and hip and cool and fresh'' is me. That's ‘cause I'm 51.

DONUT 7: Did Bob O do something wrong? Say something too critical? Wear one too many corny neckties clearly given him by one of his four grown daughters over decades of Father's Days?

Nah. The parting isn't the result of anything anybody did wrong. Stick with the idea of "freshness'' … even as Bob O's many fans wonder what the heck that word even means.


DONUT 8: I said this on the radio yesterday when I sat in for Greggo co-hosting with Richie Whitt on 105.3 The Fan. (Thanks, everybody for the kind words!): This sort of this is an eventuality. If the Rangers think they have somebody better than Michael Young, Michael Young is out. If 105.3 The Fan gets a chance to hire Rush Limbaugh, Richie and Greggo are out.

So "change'' isn't the issue– even if it's only for change's sake. No, the issue is whether there are "good ways'' to do this.

We can argue about that. But inarguably, there ARE "bad ways'' to do this. I know that because this just happened … without a real announcement, with two weeks of worried people wondering if Bob O was ill, without a classy farewell.

Maybe a classy farewell is coming. I know Bob O doesn't want a "retirement tour'' or anything; you know, the on-court celebration where they roll out a cake and a rocking chair. (Or a banner hanging from the rafters that simply reads "He Can Do That''?)

But some way would be a "good way,'' right?

DONUT 9: A lifetime of basketball – three lifetimes, really, as a college player at Bradley, then a college coach, then a broadcaster – and you find yourself intertwined in history. You look back at having coached future NBA star Doug Collins. You look back at working alongside Illinois State's Will Robinson, the first black coach at a Division I school. You look back at becoming a head coach yourself at Drake, and then for a time using your skills and personality and education (Bob has a Masters Degree in education) in the corporate world …

And then you are drawn back to the game, to the point when even your extracurricular "dream'' activities feature basketball.

Want to make an appearance in a Hollywood movie? Yes, you do. So if you are Bob Ortegel, you get a role in "Glory Road.'' A basketball movie.

DONUT 10: There is more time now to play with the eight grandchildren and to spend time with his sweetheart Kerre. Maybe they'll travel a bit. Ortegel is 70 going on 40, in fantastic physical shape – I caution you not to challenge him to an arm-wrestling match – and I see to recall that he and Kerre recently went on a trip that included long bicycle rides.

"Yeah, but it's going to have to be a bicycle-build-for-two, so she can do all the pedaling,'' Bob jokes. "I am getting older.''

DONUT 11: It is Ortegel's considered view that this year's Dallas Mavericks "have a shot at winning it all.''

"Sometimes people don't understand what that means, ‘a shot,''' Bob continues. "If they stay healthy, they are in the conversation. That's all you can ask. To have a shot.''

And thoughts about travel have to wait, because Bob O will be watching every step of the way.

"I promise you, I will not miss a moment,'' he says. "I'll be watching Mark and the guys on TV, and I'll flip over and listen to Chuck, too. I will not miss a moment.''

Typical Bob. Respectful to the end. So "old-school'' and "straight-forward.''

DONUT 12: Despite his warm relationship with the players, Ortegel has never been one to hang out in the locker room. That is their domain. He is not one of them, and he is not a jock-sniffer and he is not a sycophant.

But he is a fan – maybe even a "homer.'' And he has his favorites, as I know, because last year, Kerre asked me to help present Bob O with a birthday present. I created a painting of Bob surrounded by four of his all-time favorite Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley, Jason Kidd and Derek Harper. They players signed the painting. It's pretty cool and hip and fresh, if I say so myself.

Bob will miss them. But they will miss Bob, too. He has that affect on people … coaches and players and ushers and viewers.

He Can Do That.


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