From Player to Broadcaster, Harpring Enjoying Role as Jazz TV Analyst
Matt Harpring will tell you that, as a player, he wasn’t particularly a fan of the media.
In fact, before helping former Jazz legendary broadcaster “Hot” Rod Hundley broadcast a Summer League game toward the end of his playing career, Harpring had never even considered a possible career in television.
Following that Summer League contest, however, Hundley advised Harpring that he should think about getting into the business.
“Every time I saw him in the locker room after games,” Harpring reflected, “he would come up to me those next couple years and say, ‘Hey, have you thought about it?’ I’m like ‘No, no, no.’”
Wanting to remain a part of the Utah Jazz organization following his retirement in 2009, Harpring and the team came to an agreement that he would become the team’s television analyst.
“It was kind of a leap of faith for both of us because I didn’t know if I was going to be any good at it and they didn’t know if I was going to be any good at it,” he said. “[I] really didn’t have much experience. We kind of both just jumped in the boat together, and we just kind of said, ‘We’ll see how it goes.’”Photo by NBAE/Getty Images
Easing Into the Role
During his initial year as an analyst, Harpring’s transition was more challenging than he’d expected.
“I didn’t know anything about the business,” he said.
Harpring would prepare by studying hours of film on different teams and players. Even after that, he still lacked experience of being in front of the camera.
“As a player, even though you get interviewed, it’s for snip-its,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn about the color analyst side of things.”
Despite having limited on-camera experience when he began, Harpring’s 12-year career as a player allowed him to smoothly ease into the role. He admits that preparing for a game as an analyst is completely different than prepping for a game when he was a player.
“When I watch the game as a player, it’s totally different than watching the game as an announcer now,” Harpring said. “When I used to watch it as a player, I was looking at (the) play. Now, if I watch a game, I’m listening.”
What Harpring has constantly relied on throughout his brief broadcasting career, are the lessons he picked up during his playing days.
“I know what these players are going through,” he said. “I’ve been through it. 82-game schedule, certain circumstances, situations in certain games that come up. I played for five different coaches, three of those being Hall of Fame coaches, just in the NBA.
“I’ve been in different locker rooms, been in different situations, and I draw on that experience a lot.”Photo by NBAE/Getty Images
Reversals in Relationships
One of the biggest elements Harpring had to accept once he transitioned into life as a broadcaster was how his relationships with the players would never be the same. There are still several players in the league who played with Harpring—either as a teammate or as a competitor—and the topics of conversation are certainly different when he gets together with those individuals. And from his perspective, that’s been funny to witness.
“I’m more popular now than I ever was,” Harpring said. “I have players coming up to me from the other team and they just want to make sure I’m saying good things about them. It’s amazing to me.”
Harpring acknowledged that when he was a player, he never cared about what the opposing announcers were saying about him.
“No, not at all,” he said when asked about it. “So it’s interesting to get that perspective on things, and it’s probably pretty smart of those players to be friends with someone that they know might be talking bad about you.”
Another relationship that has reversed is the one between Harpring and Jazz television play-by-play broadcaster Craig Bolerjack. The two now work side by side, and Bolerjack remembers the days when he used to interview his partner in the locker room after games.
“He and I had mutual respect in the locker room when he was playing,” Bolerjack said. “He was a real surly guy at times. He was focused and he played that way.”
Harpring immediately credits Bolerjack for welcoming him in with open arms four years ago, and admits it’d be a much more difficult environment if he worked with a partner he didn’t connect with.
“Craig’s been around,” Harpring said. “Obviously, he’s been the top of the chain in CBS and college football and all that stuff. He could have looked at me and given me a hard time, but I think he accepted me right away, which is pretty cool on his part.”Photo by NBAE/Getty Images
Since becoming a broadcaster, Harpring has been known to occasionally throw out jokes during broadcasts. When he was a player, though, people never saw that comical side of him.
“As a player, that was a serious atmosphere for me,” he said. “Some guys could joke and still play. I just couldn’t do that. I needed to be all in when I was going to the arena and going to play. If I was joking, I just couldn’t be focused. I wasn’t good enough to do both.”
While the humor certainly lightens the mood for most, Harpring has also had to learn how to deal with his fair share of criticism.
“I feel like I’m biased to the Jazz a little bit,” Harpring said. “But I want to call a game to where if you’re kind of a fan, or a Jazz fan or some other fan, I’m not going to be pro-Jazz the entire night, even if they’re playing bad. I feel like my job is to go out there and if it’s unpopular to say, ‘Hey, this guy is not playing good defense or this guy is not playing up to par.’
“I have to say that every now and then. On the other side of that, when he’s playing well, I definitely give props and say good things too.”Photo by NBAE/Getty Images
Even now, after having a few years of experience under his belt, Harpring still isn’t satisfied with his performance as a broadcast analyst. He understands there are still a number of skills to attain and plenty of lessons to learn.
“I like to think that I’m still learning and I’m still getting better, and that’s what I want to do,” he said. “I take it as how I was as a player—I always try to just better myself.”
It has certainly been a magical journey for the former Jazzman. And if one thing is certain, it’s the fact that his enthusiasm and appetite for the game remain as strong as ever today.
“It’s a great job,” Harpring said. “I absolutely love it. It’s something that I feel very lucky to have. A lot of people don’t enjoy going to work. I can honestly say I enjoy going to work. I just feel like my roots are with the Jazz.”
The franchise couldn’t agree more.