(MCT) — The world knew Jim Durham as a dynamite play-by-play announcer and a longtime voice of the National Basketball Association. His work with the Chicago Bulls and later in the NBA at large earned Durham the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Curt Gowdy Media Award in 2011.
Before all of that, he was sports director at Bloomington’s WJBC Radio in the early 1970s during the Doug Collins era at Illinois State. And while then-WJBC co-workers Don Munson and Steve Vogel realized how skilled Durham was at a courtside microphone, they knew a gem of a man who laughed easily.
“He had a good sense of humor,” Vogel said of Durham, who died Sunday at his home in Tomball, Texas. “He never took himself too seriously.”
Munson called Durham “a colorful guy and just a joy to be around.”
“I can still hear him laugh. He had a very distinctive laugh,” Munson said. “He was the best basketball play-by-play man that we had during all the years I was there (1964 to 2000). He was just outstanding.”
Durham, who was 65, began doing ISU basketball games in 1970. Collins was a sophomore guard who would go on to become an Olympian, an All-American and the first pick of the 1973 NBA Draft.
It was Durham who dubbed him “Doug the Jet” while working for WJBC until 1973, when he was hired by the Bulls.
“He walked into my office one day and said, ‘I have a job offer and I’m going to take it,’” Munson recalled. “I said, ‘What’s the job?’ He said, ‘The Chicago Bulls,’ and I about fell out of my chair.”
Turns out Durham had gone to Chicago to interview for the position and, Munson said, “He finished the interview and was very nervous about it.”
“They said their goodbyes in a hallway, he got on the elevator and realized he was on the freight elevator,” Munson said. “He loved to tell stories like that about himself.”
Durham worked Bulls games from 1973 to 1991, reuniting with Collins when the former ISU star became Bulls’ head coach from 1986-89. Durham was at the microphone for the first of the Bulls’ six NBA titles during the Michael Jordan era.
Durham started at WJBC part time while in college. He eventually had an afternoon show in addition to his sports duties.
“He was a good guy to work with,” Vogel said. “We worked together for two years. We knew he was a very good play-by-play guy. He was very knowledgeable. We weren’t really surprised when he made the big leap from WJBC.”
Vogel recalls Durham claiming that if he stepped outside the front door of WJBC and could smell magnolias in the wind, “We were going to have tornadoes in the afternoon.”
“I don’t know if he was serious or not,” Vogel said. “But he seemed to believe it.”
Munson said Durham had another unique talent unrelated to sports.
“He did the greatest impression of a John Deere tractor I ever heard,” Munson said. “You could hear the thing going to the end of the row, getting softer and softer, then hear it turning around and laboring. He was the best there ever was at that.”
Durham called NBA games on ESPN Radio since its inception in 1996, including Tuesday’s season opener between Boston and the Miami Heat. He also worked baseball games for the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros. He was Illinois Sportscaster of the Year in 1979, 1989 and 1990 and won two Chicago Emmy awards.
ESPN announced Durham’s passing on Monday. No cause of death was released.