Think about what makes March Madness not just any other tournament but March Madness. A month of excitement, unpredictability, jaw-dropping moments, heroes, almosts, Cinderellas, heartbreak, and magic. Now try to think about March Madness without Bill Raftery.
Not that easy, is it? Raftery has been broadcasting games since 1982, and covered his first NCAA Tournament for CBS in 1991 (doing radio). He’d been responsible for the radio broadcast of the Final Four for more than 20 years. But it wasn’t until 2015 that Raftery got his first chance to do the Final Four on TV for CBS. It seems like a misprint. Raftery is so tied to the intrinsic culture of college basketball and the tournament that he must have done the Final Four for CBS sooner. But now that he’s here, and he’s seemingly here to stay as long as he wants, it just fits.
“All the rest of the world has gotten a little bit older, but Raftery is this timeless guy who continues to see things very quickly, very crisp in his commentary, this whimsical approach to dropping in a quip here and there — I just laugh.”
Raftery has this incredible ability to resonate with multiple generations of college basketball fans. Older fans (and coaches) remember him as a player, or a coach, and a tether to the way basketball once was. Younger fans gravitate toward Raftery for the way he exudes enthusiasm and authenticity out of every broadcast. They’ve never known March Madness without him, and they can’t imagine a college basketball world where he isn’t in it. And fans in between can remember specific Raftery calls, plays or games that wouldn’t be the same without him. His voice and the play are married. They are one. And those fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
Before I spoke with Raftery for a conversation with Uproxx, I thought about my dad. He fits squarely in that middle generation of college basketball fans. And like I assume many parents, he does his best Raftery impression while he and I watch games together. He always has. Those memories of the tournament are just as important to me as the memories of games I attended in person.