Buckhantz Calls Out Wizards Ownership Over TV Ouster
Former longtime Wizards play-by-play voice Steve Buckhantz implied on DC-based WJFK-FM yesterday that team ownership "OK’d replacing him in his role at NBC Sports Washington," according to Adam Zielonka of the WASHINGTON TIMES. When WJKF's Grant Paulsen said mid-question that the team presumably had “some say” in replacing Buckhantz. Buckhantz said, “Team has all say in this." More Buckhantz: "If somebody from our company had gone up to Ted and Zach (Leonsis) and said, ‘Listen, we’re thinking about changing the hockey announcers, because I’m just not sure about them,’ you don’t think he would have looked them right in the face and said ‘that’s not happening'? ... I have not heard from Ted or Zach at all since this has happened." Buckhantz went on to call his ouster "hurtful." NBC Sports Washington GM Damon Phillips later in the day "gave a statement to the radio station to refute what Buckhantz was claiming" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 7/18).
NEW MAN IN TOWN: Buckhantz' replacement, former Fox Sports announcer Justin Kutcher, said, "I know that everyone’s going to be like, ‘Who is this Justin Kutcher guy?’ I get it, I totally understand it, and, frankly, I’d be the same way. If it were my team and I had this allegiance to a broadcaster for over 20 years, change is tough. I’m not looking to be [Buckhantz]. I have the utmost respect for what he’s done.” Phillips said he “left the door open” for Buckhantz’ possible return and Buckhantz expressed interest. But Phillips then "ultimately decided" to hire Kutcher after an audition process that "included 12 candidates." He said, "In Justin, we have someone who has called big-time games and is able to rise to the occasion." Phillips added that he was "aware of the reaction on social media from Wizards fans about Tuesday night’s news that Buckhantz would not return for a 23rd season, most of it negative" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/18). Kutcher described himself as a "fan who’s calling the game." He added, "When I have a reaction, it’s a genuine reaction. So, I’ll keep everything professional, but I’ll get excited.” Kutcher has 17 years of experience as a play-by-play announcer, having "spent the last seven years at Fox Sports where he led national coverage of NCAA basketball and football, the NFL and MLB" (NBCSPORTSWASHINGTON.com, 7/17).
DIDN'T HANDLE WITH CARE: THE ATHLETIC's Eamonn Brennan wrote, "From start to finish, NBC Sports Washington -- and, let’s not be naïve, Monumental Sports Group itself -- have strung along Buckhantz, let him dangle in professional purgatory, refused to give him a definitive answer on his future, and always shrunk from, and hoped to minimize, public backlash to a decision that appears to have been made months ago." Brennan: "The entire process has been, in a word, cowardly." The way Buckhantz was treated is "not the way a beloved longtime professional should be treated, because it’s not the way any professional at any level in any field should ever be treated" (THEATHLETIC.com, 7/17).