06 May ‘You’re not going to quit’: One step at a time, Nets radio voice Chris Carrino continues to walk tall
Originally appeared in The Athletic
By Frank Isola
PHILADELPHIA — There are approximately 15 steps that Chris Carrino will need to navigate in order to reach his broadcast position
inside Wells Fargo Center. It may not seem all that daunting, but a small flight of stairs is physically challenging and potentially dangerous for someone living with muscular dystrophy.
For the next three hours, Carrino, the radio voice of the Nets, and long-time partner Tim Capstraw will use their voices to tell the story of Game 5 between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Nets. Their style is simple yet effective; they’re two friends at a bar letting us eavesdrop on their basketball conversation. Carrino provides the nuts and bolts. Capstraw,
the former college basketball coach, gives you the Xs and Os. Their chemistry is authentic, their opinions are strong, and their humor is self-deprecating.
“Doing the games,” Carrino says, “is the easy part.”
The mechanics of broadcasting does come naturally to Carrino, who as a 12-year-old was calling games into a tape recorder that his father
purchased for him. Like so many aspiring broadcasters of his generation from New York, Carrino grew up idolizing Marv Albert. And now here he is 18 seasons into his run with the Nets – from East Rutherford to Newark and now Brooklyn — about to call his 105th postseason game.
“I love playoff games,” Carrino told The Athletic. “I hadn’t done it in four years. Game 1 in Philadelphia reminded me of how much fun the
playoffs are. These are the games you want to call.”
But first, he’s got those 15 steps to manage. The toughest part of the job for Carrino is just getting from Point A to Point B to perform the job. And it keeps getting harder.
As Carrino was just beginning his broadcasting career after graduating from Fordham University in 1992, he was dealt a blow that could have derailed him. Instead, it made him stronger and gave him a purpose in life beyond calling basketball and football games.
In 1993, Carrino was diagnosed with Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy or FSHD. According to website for The Chris Carrino
Foundation, FSHD is “the most prevalent form of muscular dystrophy affecting men, women and children. It is an autosominal dominant type of muscular dystrophy that causes progressive muscle wasting and weakness. The disease initially affects the muscles of the face (facio), shoulder (scapulo), and upper arms (humeral). The degeneration of muscle can also spread to the back, pelvis and legs.”
The genetic disorder is a progressive disease without a cure. Carrino’s condition will gradually worsen, and he understands that one day he may require the use of a wheelchair.
“When the doctor said ‘muscular dystrophy,’ I said, ‘Are we talking about the Jerry Lewis Telethon? Isn’t that little kids in wheelchairs?’”
Carrino added. “At the time, I knew the way I felt. I thought I could exist the way I am for a long time. But this is more than 20 years later.
Year from now, maybe I’ll need help to get around. I always wonder how I’ll be viewed. I’m 6-2 and I think I look pretty good in a suit,
walking around shaking hands. But at some point…I’ll face that.”
Each day presents a unique set of challenges for Carrino. Think about what most of us take for granted; getting out of bed, getting dressed,
brushing your hair. For Carrino, there is nothing basic about it. He requires help to simply rise from his seat. Climbing steps is nearly
impossible. Walking down a small flight of stairs is manageable with help.
“He’s really courageous,” Capstraw said. “I’d be bitching every day. He doesn’t complain. He may fall and he’ll go chin first. We’ve spent time in emergency rooms.”
There are 29 NBA arenas and only a handful still reserve a spot on the court for radio broadcasts. Most radio positions are located in the lower bowl, and only a few of those positions are easily accessible for anyone with a disability. While every broadcaster does prep work before each game, Carrino also takes into consideration the logistics of getting from the press room to the booth.
For example, prior to Game 2 of Sixers-Nets, Carrino exited the press room in the bowels of Wells Fargo Center to find an elevator to take him to the suite level. Carrino’s walk is deliberate, and because FSHD affects the muscles in his shoulders and upper arms, his gait is neither relaxed nor smooth. His strategy is to be in a position to walk down a small flight of steps because climbing steps is extremely difficult.
At Barclays Center, Carrino only needs to take the elevator to the main concourse to get to his broadcast location. No steps to climb. But that’s not the case at Wells Fargo Center. Using Capstraw’s shoulder to lean on and a hand rail to provide addition balance, Carrino slowly makes his way to the booth. This routine is common for Capstraw and Carrino, and it also heartwarming. When you witness Capstraw’s kindness and see the trust Carrino has in his friend, it brings new meaning to the term “radio partner.”
“I’m not doing anything anyone else wouldn’t do,” Capstraw says. “My job is talking about basketball. Helping Chris is the least I could do. This is a team effort. The Nets organization is always willing to help. None of it fazes anyone in the organization. But just know that this doesn’t define Chris. It’s something we all know but nobody thinks about it because all we think about is his ability as a broadcaster and who Chris is as a person.”
At Fordham, Carrino was mentored by the late Marty Glickman, one of the legendary names in broadcasting. It was Glickman who taught Albert the ropes. Fordham, a Catholic and Jesuit school in the Bronx, is a breeding ground for top-notch broadcasters. Vin Scully, considered the greatest baseball play-by-play man, attended Fordham. Mike Breen, Michael Kay, Spero Dedes, Bob Papa, Tony Reali, Ryan Ruocco and John Giannone are all Fordham grads.
Carrino is regarded as an outstanding play-by-play man for both basketball and football. He’ll broadcast 15 NFL games each year as well
as Giants preseason games when Bob Papa, the Giants regular radio voice, moves to TV. Carrino has worked the Summer Olympics and
called a small number of Los Angeles Angels games. In that way, he is no different from than any of the other famous Fordham alums. Except that Carrino is giving a voice to persons with disabilities. It’s a job he never thought he could do.
“For a long time, I buried my head in the sand about my condition,” Carrino said. “I always felt I could do it on my own, but when I got married, it changed my perspective. My wife coaxed me to be more open about it. It helped us both deal with it. We weren’t alone.”
In 2011, he established the Chris Carrino Foundation for FSHD. The foundation provides funding for muscular dystrophy research.
“The story is the money he’s raised and the people he’s touched,” Capstraw said. “He’s given so many kids hope that they don’t have to
give up on their dreams. Yeah, he’s got this thing, but he’s still at great at what he does.”
“I’ve always been a private person so it’s kind of weird for me to talk about it,” said Carrino, who kept his condition a secret for 15 years. “But I wanted to start the foundation. I wanted to help.”
Carrino’s wife, Laura, and the couple’s son, Christopher, a high school freshman with broadcasting dreams of his own, both attended Game 2. They were seated two rows behind the Nets broadcast position as Carrino opened up about his conversations with the NBA to provide more accessible locations for the disabled.
“ADA laws are not made to embarrass people or isolate people,” Carrino said. “They are made to help people live like everyone else. Not limit you because of disability.”
ADA is the Americans with Disability Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas
of public life, including jobs.
“No one has ever raised the issue before,” Carrino said. “I’d like to give the league a chance. It’s becoming more difficult but we’re all working together to make sure we can solve this.”
The NBA prides itself on being at a leader in civil right issues and has been receptive to Carrino’s concerns.
“Chris has been extremely helpful to notify us of the challenges at accessing certain radio locations in our arenas,” Tim Frank, the NBA’s
Senior Vice President of League Operations and Communications, told The Athletic. “We are working closely with him and the Nets to not
only improve existing locations but to also address these concerns in new arena planning.”
With NBA teams moving broadcasters off the floor in order to sell those prime seats to fans, the most logical place in the main concourse. But Carrino says that the first level in most NBA arenas is used as a handicap platform.
“They need those platforms for patrons,” he said. “So I’m not saying it’seasy to fix. But maybe if they had lifts for ramps, things like that.
“I didn’t always think about how difficult it can be but it’s gotten worse over the years. There was something I was able to do that now I can’t do. If I’m hunched over it’s hard to straighten up.”
Carrino, 49, is thankful that his voice remains strong. He noted that FSHD can affect the lips, which would impact speech patterns. He remembers as a 12-year-old his orthodontist telling him he had weak lips.
“In hindsight, it was the first time anybody identified that I had a problem,” Carrino added.
But while his speech is clear, Carrino’s body continues to deteriorate. When Carrino travels with the Nets, he has Capstraw to help him. But traveling to NFL games without assistance was becoming unmanageable; getting in and out of a seat on the plane, carrying
luggage, renting a car. Eventually, the COO of Compass Media Networks, Peter Kosann, asked Carrino if he wanted help on the road.
That was a game changer. Carrino recruited his neighbor to assist him on road trips, including physically lifting him out of his seat on the plane.
It’s the reality of the job and his life. And Carrino will not allow it to slow him down. Last month, Carrino worked the NCAA tournament for Westwood One. His schedule included four first-round games in one day.
“It’s the Ironman competition for broadcasters,” he says. “This is the hardest thing any play-by-play guy will have to do. I’m sitting there
calling four games. But I also have to worry about getting up from my seat to use the bathroom. It is things other guys don’t worry about.
That’s the hard part. Sitting down and doing the games is the easy part.
“There were times when I remember telling Tim, ‘This is getting really hard. I don’t want to be a burden. How much longer can I do this?’ But Tim would say, ‘You’re not going to quit. We’re not going to let you quit. You mean too much to too many people. We’ll figure out how to make it work.’
“This is something I love doing and I want to keep doing. The one thing I realized is that if you ask for help, people will want to help you. It’s amazing how people will help me get to where I want to go.”