Calling the shots

Stacey King calls Neil Funk his mentor, and the two have developed an entertaining on-air dynamic. Courtesy of Chicago Bulls

CHICAGO -- The nickname came naturally for Stacey King. He doesn't practice this stuff, of course.

Earlier this season, Kurt Thomas, playing for the injured Joakim Noah, made a big play, and his old nickname from 15 years ago became public knowledge. With one slip of the tongue, Thomas went from a veteran backup to the man everyone calls "Big Sexy."

"The first time, it slipped out," King said with a laugh during a phone interview. "I gave him that nickname when he was a rookie [1995-96] and we were on Miami. The reason why I gave it is when he was a rookie, he was kind of cocky. He thought he was cute. He was always in the mirror, primping himself like he's your wife.

"He's looking at himself and saying, 'Don't you wish you could be like me. I'm sexy.' So I gave him that nickname, because he was big and thought he was sexy."

Thomas came up to him after the game, according to King, and said, "'You're killing me. I heard you were calling me Big Sexy on TV.' Then the next day, he was like, 'Man, that's a pretty good nickname.'"

The garrulous King is in his third year as the color analyst for Bulls TV games, working alongside mentor Neil Funk. And as the Bulls have evolved into a must-watch team, King's calls have become cult classics.

The Bulls have created a soundboard on their website with his greatest hits, such as "Stop it!", "I want to go higher!" and "Mouse in the house."

My favorite?

When he pronounces C.J. Watson's surname like Arsenio Hall's preacher character does for the singer Randy Watson in "Coming to America." How many guys would think of that?

Currently 8,000 people "like" the soundboard on Facebook, and King says he gets stopped all the time by people who say they listen to it at work.

"I say, 'What does your boss think about that?'" he said.

He started a Twitter account a month ago and has more than 7,000 followers.

That King has become a sensation is not a surprise. After all, Chicago loves its homer announcers. Heck, the city builds statues for its homer announcers. And King is the newest fan favorite, realizing outsized expectations more than 20 years after he first arrived here as a cocky All-American forward.

King, 44, has almost become the narrator of the Bulls' feel-good season, highlighted by his predilection for crystallizing spectacular Derrick Rose plays. The journalism student from Oklahoma has a gift for storytelling.

"Basically, in a nutshell, I kind of say things a fan would say on the couch watching the Bulls game," King said. "There's a lot of energy, a lot of fun and some spontaneity trying to capture the moment. There have been a lot of great moments this year; it really has been a lot of fun for me. When you've got a good team playing great basketball, it makes your job a lot easier."

Rose has become King's muse, and King said he feels like the point guard's "big brother" when he calls games.

When Rose dunked on the Suns' Goran Dragic in January 2010, King's voice was the thing we remembered.

Immediately after Rose's dunk in transition, King bellowed, "What are you doing, Dragic? Did you not get the memo? Derrick Rose can go upstairs!" After the first replay, he yelled, "I want to go higher! Somebody grab Dragic and say, 'Do you know who this kid is; he's from Chicago and he's got a 40-inch vertical.'"

It captured the moment brilliantly.

Now King's most widely quoted line about Rose is "too big, too fast, too strong, too good." It's a "trademark on how he is as a player," King said.

King said he laughs when he hears national guys "borrow" his lines.

A fan of high-energy broadcasters like Dick Vitale, Bill Raftery, Kevin Harland and Gus Johnson, King tries to emulate their enthusiasm while staying true to his job.

"All my stuff is instinctive," he said. "I don't write it down and say, 'Let me say that.' It's fun and the fans get a kick out of it, but I take my job seriously as an analyst. That's what I do before anything."

King was a Bulls lottery pick (sixth overall) out of Oklahoma in 1989. He loved the NBA lifestyle but was immediately unhappy with his status as a role player on the ascendant Bulls. However, he now says, with more than a hint of self-reflection and possibly a healthy dose of selective memory, that he came to accept and understand his fate. He loved playing for a winner.

Of course, his role as a "team guy" was short-lived. Everything changed late in the 1993-94 season when the Bulls traded him to the lowly pre-Kevin Garnett Timberwolves for Luc Longley. King quickly learned what it was like to be on a losing team.

"I remember one time, we were going on a trip to the West Coast and we're waiting for J.R. Rider," he said. "He wasn't a bad guy, but he was always late for everything. So we're waiting for two hours. I was sitting there thinking this is unbelievable. Phil [Jackson] would give you a five-minute grace period. We sat on the runway for two hours like we're waiting for the president. Mike Brown, who played with me, said I better get used to it, because this is how they do it."

I told King he should write a book, like Jayson Williams' "Loose Balls." He said he could write a movie alone on that Timberwolves team.

King's NBA career lasted eight years and ended during the 1996-97 season, when he played sparingly with Boston and Dallas. In his last two seasons, he played only 26 total games. The 6-foot-11 zaftig big man started 63 of his 438 career games, and averaged 6.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and just less than 17 minutes a game.

He said he's thought about what it would have been like to get drafted by a bad team.

"If I would've gotten drafted by, say, the Clippers, I probably would've been an All-Star, scored a lot of points and never won anything," he said. "And I probably would've been frustrated because I love to win more than anything."

After he was done playing, he tried coaching in the Continental Basketball Association, running teams in places like Sioux Falls, S.D., and nearby Rockford.

He said former general manager Jerry Krause approached him there about doing Bulls radio. He didn't take him up on it, preferring to focus on coaching, but when he wanted to spend more time around his three kids, he started doing the Bulls' pre- and post-game shows in 2004.

By 2006, he joined Tom Dore and Johnny "Red" Kerr doing game telecasts. He and Funk are in their third year together, and King said his partner is "a basketball encyclopedia" and a mentor. The four broadcasters -- Chuck Swirsky and Bill Wennington do the radio -- are close, and all but Funk are active on Twitter, needling each other every day.

"Neil's the father of all of us, him and Chuck," King said. "Me and Bill are still young."

The old Bulls are everywhere in this organization: John Paxson is in the front office; B.J. Armstrong, who was being groomed to be general manager, is Rose's agent; Randy Brown is special assistant to the GM; Wennington is on the radio. Norm Van Lier and Steve Kerr were beloved as broadcasters. Sidney Green is a player development assistant, and Bob Love is the director of community affairs.

And most famously now, Scottie Pippen sits courtside as an ambassador.

"One thing about the Bulls' organization that is overlooked is how great they are with former players, how they make sure to give opportunities to former players to come back," King said. "To keep the organization strong, you can't go to the future without the past. You have to remember the past."

As that bridge between Michael Jordan and Rose, King sees history repeating itself on the road. Rose gets "MVP" chants in every building as thousands of Bulls fans are popping up all over the country.

"This kind of reminds you of back in the day," he said. "This team plays home games on the road. When we were in Washington, the fans were cheering the Bulls and booing the Wizards; same thing in Milwaukee."

King is high on this team and naturally thinks it can go far in the playoffs.

He loves Tom Thibodeau and compares him to Phil Jackson in that the players "will run through a wall for him." He can do a pitch-perfect imitation of the coach's deep baritone voice, so I asked why he doesn't do it on telecasts.

"Thibs scares me, baby!" he said. "Did you see that Utah game, when he was playing defense. He was sliding his feet, getting into a defensive stance."

But seriously, he got an inkling of what Thibodeau is like as a man when King lost his mother Christmas day when the team was playing the Knicks. He couldn't fly directly from New York to Oklahoma, so he had to leave early the next day from Detroit.

"It's 4:30 a.m. and I'm in the hotel lobby and I hear, 'Stacey, Stacey,'" King said. "Thibs said, 'I'm sorry about your mother, you have my condolences, let me know if I can do anything for you.' First of all, I'm thinking, what are you doing up? But I think he was sitting there waiting for me. It made me feel 1,000 times better during a difficult time to go through."

King, who has three sons -- one in college at Missouri and two who go to Stevenson High School -- is getting married again in the fall. His fiancée, Kathleen, even comes on road trips, a sure sign of how an ex-NBA player can mature.

"Cupid's arrow got me," he said, laughing.

For now, he's enjoying this ride. He and Funk are getting an additional partner, as Pippen is joining the broadcast team. His first game is this Friday in Orlando, and he's coming on full time for the playoffs. King loves Pippen and thinks he's a future coach, but is there room for him in the playoffs? Sure, King said, mostly because Funk is so good at controlling the broadcast.

"Neil's like Stockton and I'm Malone," he said. "He does a great job setting you up."

Who's Scottie?

"So if I'm Malone, Scottie is Hornacek," he said, laughing. "So he's got to be ready to shoot when he gets the ball. But I'm Malone; get me the ball first!"

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPN Chicago.f