No broadcast pairing in the NBA does blowouts like Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong. What started as a duo whose in-game shenanigans felt forced and over-produced — like that time they led the ACC in a cringe-worthy Sweet Caroline sing-a-long — has evolved into a partnership that produces organic and endearing weirdness 41 nights a year.
Their propensity to go off the rails, I think, stems from self-awareness. Matt and Jack both seem to fully understand and accept that they aren’t, at least in the traditional sense of the concept, cool. Ian Eagle’s catch phrases boom from his top one percent vocal chords, the baritone vibrations cancelling out the lame element that comes with having prepped go-to sayings. Devlin, while an absolute pro in his own right, doesn’t quite have the same genetic gifts. Stand Clyde Frazier’s smoothisms up against’s Armstrong’s ear-piercing ad reads and you get a stark juxtaposition of velvety and heavy-handed gruffness. But Jack and Matt seem to realize they’re not winning any suaveness pageants, and it feeds into their ever more hysterical schtick.
It feels like they’ve leveled up this year, too. Sure, we’re still in the throws of small-sample sizes hovering over any and all evaluations of this season, but 20-ish games into Devlin’s 10th season calling Raptors games, it’s beginning to feel like they’ve mastered spontaneous bursts of quirkiness. Already this season, topics of meandering discussion have included Jack’s consternation at the lack of “sauseeege” available on the slices handed out as part of the Raptors’ 100-point Pizza Pizza promotion, media meals around the league and, of course, Jack’s appreciation of going out for beers — not to mention Matt’s persistent trolling of Jack every time a Raptors big shoots a three. Truth be told, I still don’t exactly understand that bit, but damnit it is ever hilarious when Devlin pushes his partner’s buttons with it.
Matt and Jack have mastered the art of weaving together the game’s interesting moments with their offbeat duologue filling in the subdued gaps. I can’t blame you if you’d prefer the hard analytical analysis of Minnesota’s Jim Petersen and Dave Benz or New York’s combo of Frazier and ESPN number one Mike Breen to describe a tense crunch time. But neither of those crews — or anyone else in the league, for my money — brings levity to boring basketball the way Devlin and Armstrong do. During the slog of an NBA season, in which listless second and third quarters and blowouts can add up, that’s arguably a more impressive specialty for a broadcast pair to have.
In honour of Matt and Jack’s killer start to the year, here are transcriptions of their three-most priceless in-game conversations of the first month-plus. Yes, they look even more inane in written form than they sound on TV.
#3 – OG’s Shorts
Game Scenario: Raptors vs. Bulls, October 17th / ~3:00 remaining in the 3rd / Raptors leading by 15-ish
[OG Anunoby enters the game]
JACK: I gotta tell ya… OG, the way he wears his shorts — he’d make John Stockton proud. He’s wearing the old fashioned–
MATT: Short shorts!
J: Short Shorts! I mean like… and then he’s got like these spandex that people wear when they go to yoga in the morning or go to the gym.
M: Well, a lot of guys are wearing those..
J: You wear those?! Would you be caught dead wearing spandex?!
M: Oh, absolutely.
J: We gotta get a picture of you wearin’ spandex like OG… I gotta get a picture of you in spandex.
M: Everybody wears those now.
J: Like me wearin’ spandex … that would be like tryna put two pounds of bologna in a one pound bag, OK? There’d be parts of me that’d be coming out all over the map!
M: Do we … do we need this information Jack? Do we? I know it’s 75-59 but do we really?
J: Think about that!
M: [Reaching a Mariah Carey-level octave] I don’t wanna think about that!! I really don’t!!
J: But I’m just saying! It’s not a good look.
M: [Befuddled stuttering]
J: For him it is cause he looks good! But we’d look awful.
M: [Sounding offended] Well…
J: It’s why we’re broadcasters!
M: That was a foul by the way right there.
J: Alright we’ll get back to the game. I just wanted to point that out.
M: [More stuttering]
J: [Sounding offended, himself] Tryna help the public out.
M: No but that’s not helping the public out!
Some notes — my overarching takeaway from this exchange is that Matt clearly fancies what he looks like decked out in spandex. The one time he cracks from his dismissive tone is when Jack asserts that Matt would not look good in form-fitting clothes. Maybe this is the genesis of Matt’s edgier approach to his relationship with Jack this season. Could there be tension because of Jack’s slight against the bods of broadcaster types? I’ll say almost definitely.
Quite a start to the season for these two. Also, note the time at which this conversation took place.
#2 – Media Meals and Acid Reflux
Game Scenario: November 24th @ Hawks / ~3:00 remaining in the 3rd / Raptors leading by 40
[Tums Fast Break features DeMar DeRozan’s transition lob to Pascal Siakam (by the way, Siakam is currently in the 90th percentile in transition scoring per NBA.com – 1.41 points per possession)]
M: Tums – we’re bringing you the plays Tums fast…
J: Tums fast! Tums’s Fast!! … [prolonged silence] … How fast Matty D?
M: Very fast. Like, Tums fast.
J: Tums fast! Hawks playing a little zone now.
M: By the way, always important to travel with Tums, as you know, because uh … sometimes you have a good meal on the road. Sometimes you don’t.
J: Well we can pop a few tums after the meal tonight here in Atlanta.
M: [Uproarious, first-time-you-saw-SuperBad laughter]
J: [Deadpan] Not only is their team bad. Their press room meal is horrendous.
M: [Still uncontrollably laughing]
J: So the folks at Tums are making some money tonight.
M: Indiscernible — [hysterical laughing]
J: But it’s good! You know, bad food–
M: —It doesn’t matter because we have Tums! You GOTTA travel with Tums.
J: We do! We got the Tums!
M: You never know with the media room. Definitely bring it to Charlotte, Jack.
J: Bring it to Charlotte. Bring it to Atlanta.
M: 94-54 [more uncontrollable laughter]. You got me crying!
J: Yeah Miami! They’re pretty cheap down there too. Miami’s horrible.
Your team’s broadcast could never turn a promo for an antacid into the brightest section of dialogue in a blowout that was over in the middle of the second quarter. An oddity from this one — normally it’s Jack who initiates these journeys away from the beaten path with a curious, open-ended question. Devlin was the one that got the ball rolling on this repartee, but of course Jack brought it to the heights it eventually reached. In ten years I don’t think Devlin has ever lost his shit more than he did when Jack started going in on Atlanta and Charlotte’s media meals. There has to be a story about a poorly-cooked skirt steak in Charlotte that we’re not privy to.
Oh and remember when I noted the time at which the spandex conversation took place? The media meal diatribe came at almost exactly the same time in the game. Underneath the 4-minute point in the third quarter seems to be the sweet spot for Jack and Devlin’s tangential wanderings. It’s a perfectly low-leverage portion of pretty much any game, usually featuring plenty of substitution lulls during which the two are alone with their whacked-out thoughts. The Tums promotion comes at about the same time of each game as well — I can’t imagine we’ll go another 30-ish TSN broadcasts without Matt and Jack mining at least a little more comedy out of that live read. Let’s call the time between 4:00 and 0:00 in the third quarter the Spandex Zone during broadcasts going forward.
#1 – Jack’s Wonders of the Modern World
Game Scenario: November 7th vs. Bulls / ~5:00 remaining in 2nd quarter / Raptors leading by 10
[Matt apologizes to the viewers for the spotty broadcast signal, which had a couple hiccups in the preceding moments. Jack sees an opportunity.]
J: Remember years ago it would just be like a test pattern it’d go booooooooooooooooop — and it would just … it was on at like 3 o’clock in the morning
M: Yeah. I. I…
J: They don’t sign off anymore. Years ago they used to have the national anthem at the end of the night and then there was like no TV… do you remember those days?
M: [No response]
J: I remember those days. You’d get in late, and the national anthem would play, there’d be like a flag flying and they’d play the anthem.
J: And then the TV shows would be off for the night.
J: Like now, uh.. hahah .. i’m just telling ya! It’s remarkable now! We’ve got 24 hour TV!
M: [Audible eyeroll] It’s amazing …
J: We’ve got 24 hour drive thrus as well ! It’s great! Think about it. Anything you want Matty D. You can go to a bank and take money out. You can get a burger late at night. There’s still some closing hours though at other things that we wanna keep open a little longer but …
M: [Exhausted sigh]
J: I digress.
M: [Back into broadcast mode] So here we are in 2018…
Keep in mind, Jack Armstrong is just 54. He’s just six years older than Matt. These are the musings of an 85-year-old whose favourite show is the news. And it’s perfect — every goddamned second of it. The rate at which this diverged from its inspiration point — Matt’s apology for some technical difficulties — is unbelievable. Matt’s dumbfounded reaction to Jack’s realization that we live in a 24-hour world, his Jim Halpert-esque turn to the camera, Jack managing to slip in a reference to going out drinking at bars — all of these notes harmoniously converge to create on of the most earnestly funny Raptors broadcast moments ever. It even earned some high profile recognition!
Jack Armstrong talking about the wonders of 24-hour modern life is well worth the cost of NBA League Pass.
— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) November 8, 2017
Matt and Jack, for freaking ever.
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