Mark Followill, Chuck Cooperstein and Victor Villalba are the three highly respected long-time play-by-play voices of the Dallas Mavericks.
Followill works on the Mavs’ telecasts on FOX Sports Southwest, Cooperstein is the lead man on the radio broadcasts on ESPN 103.3 FM, and Villalba is the play-by-play man on the Spanish broadcast on Univision 1270 AM. If not for the coronavirus pandemic disrupting the NBA season, they would have been calling the final regular season game for the Mavericks Wednesday night at American Airlines Center against the Oklahoma City Thunder before the playoffs started this weekend.
Mavs.com interviewed all three men to get their perspective on the Mavs’ 2019-20 season and how, among other things, life has changed with no live sports to attend or watch.
Mavs.com: What have you been doing to keep yourself busy since the season was suspended on March 11?
Mark Followill: I’m just doing what I can around the house and that sort of thing to keep myself busy. So it’s yard work. My wife’s working from home, so I’m trying to do other things to stay out of her way during the day, because she’s got her work to do. I’m taking some classes in college, so that’s keeping me kind of busy. I’m reading, and I like to cook, so I’m doing more of that. I’m watching some old games when one strikes my fancy that comes on the TV. I’m enjoying the Mavericks’ season replays that they’re doing on FOX Sports Southwest. I’ve obviously saw some of the championship replay of the 2011 Finals replay that they showed. I feel like my story is probably not a whole lot different than others. We’re all looking for different things to do and we’re probably doing some things we don’t do very often, and a little bit more of the things that we like to do to pass the time.
Chuck Cooperstein: I’m trying to keep up with whatever there is on social media, but I’m doing a lot of Netflix watching. I think that I’ve always wanted to watch it, but never really had the time to. Now I have all kinds of time to do that. I’m helping out my wife, who does a lot of fundraising for Catholic charities. We help them at their drive-through pantries in Dallas — loading cars up.
Victor Villalba: I’ve got a couple of consulting things going on that have to deal with sports marketing initiatives, and I’m a little busy with that. I’m doing some stuff with the Cowboys as well as far as podcasting. I’m watching a lot of old baseball games and trying to keep my head busy more than anything. I just finished Ozark, because I watched (Seasons) 1 and 2, and then I started watching (Season) 3 and I finished watching that. I’m watching basketball, obviously, if the Mavs are on TV. And then I’m watching some old Super Bowls. I wish they would show more like 70’s and early 80’s games. I’m also watching the news and keeping my eye on that obviously, because we all have a responsibility to know what’s going on and to listen to the people that are spearheading these efforts to get back to normal.
Mavs.com: How difficult was it to watch the season get suspended with the Mavericks having accumulated 40 wins with 15 games to play?
Followill: It’s disappointing, of course, because you knew that wait was just about over in terms of we’ve been waiting since 2016 to get back into the playoffs. I think it was just going to be so important for Luka (Doncic) and (Kristaps) Porzingis to get that first taste of it, and I still think eventually that’s going to come. It’s just that we’ve got to wait it out and we’ve got to do the right things here to put us in a better position from a health standpoint. But I think we all recognize how important sports is. It’s disappointing, but I remain positive and optimistic that we’re going to get going again.
Cooperstein: It’s tremendously disappointing, especially because if you look at the last game and the issues the Mavericks have had finishing games, the issues they’ve had playing poorly in the fourth quarter, they proceeded to put together their best fourth quarter of the season in what might very well be the last game that they play. I guess it’s kind of ironic too that two of their very best fourth quarters have come against Denver, a team that theoretically they might have played in the first round of the playoffs, which would have given the Nuggets something to think about when that series took place or if it was going to take place. But just simply the fact that Luka is such a joy to watch every night, you just don’t know what you’re going to get. You know you’re going to get something pretty spectacular, and you know that Porzingis has turned the corner and he’s playing like the player that everybody hoped that he’d be. And (Seth) Curry has turned into an absolute monster as a shooter. There were so many good things around that team, and you knew the team was far better than their record. And so the disappointing thing is even though the schedule was about to turn a lot harder for them, it seemed like they were in a position that they were going to be able to make a little bit of noise and really give us some thrills going into April. And then getting into April and knowing that we were going to be in the playoffs, and having that to look forward to, and now having that taken away from us is really disappointing.
Villalba: As far as the Mavericks are concerned, selfishly, it’s a real shame, because – selfishly once again – the Mavericks were chugging along. One of the things that the Mavericks weren’t able to do was have any sort of traction as far as having a nice five-, six- or seven-game winning streak to really get them in the thick of things, because any streak over five would have put the Mavericks in the three spot (in the Western Conference) and even closer to the two spot. It’s the markings of a team still finding itself, but still able to slay the Goliath at any moment. Luka, just watching him do what he’s doing – along with a cast of teammates that understand that Luka is very, very special. Kristaps is super special as well. He’s a Kevin Garnett kind of guy. But Luka, it’s just amazing to watch how cool he is, how he doesn’t seem to be taking on any sort of effort. He takes everything in stride. And then you’ve got Tim Hardaway playing his heart out, and Delon Wright. That’s why it was disappointing, because it just felt like the best was still yet to come.
Mavs.com: What was the most gratifying part of the season in your estimation from the Mavericks’ standpoint?
Followill: I think probably more so than the record, I think it’s so exciting to see the immediate rise of Luka to international stardom. We’re talking now about an all-star, somebody who has this huge global following, someone who is now among the top selling jerseys in the NBA. His performance is the reason the Mavs went from a few national TV games to having a bunch of their games picked up on national television. Look, you’re in it to win it. It’s a team game and that’s the thing that matters most. But just to see the meteoric rise of Luka to a level of stardom and popularity that he’s attained already is to me the most gratifying thing, because I think that’s something that organizationally we can all embrace and take pride in. It’s always been great to be part of the Mavs, and when Dirk (Nowitzki) was there and winning a championship. But this is really unique to be here whenever a young guy comes into the league and has this kind of level of success so quickly. When we’re talking about him in the same breath with Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and LeBron James – and having done those kind of things – when he’s done the type of things that those guys did early in their careers, that’s really, really special stuff. So, to me just his rise to this level of stardom on the floor and appeal off the floor is really neat to see.
Cooperstein: I guess the fact that early on they won those three games by 40 or more, and it was like, ‘Oh my goodness. They’re really pretty good.’ And the thing is, even as it turned out that from Dec. 6 they were 10 games over 500 and then from that point forward they were only three games over .500, they were 26-23 from that time forward – they’re really pretty good. They were just really fun to watch every night. And let’s face it, our games were really competitive. There were very few nights where they got blown out. You can count it on one hand that they didn’t really show up or got handled. I’m not much into mathematical formulas or things like that, but when I see that if the Mavericks had done what they should have been able to do in close games that they had the profile of a team that right now would be second in the West and a game back of the Lakers. And that’s pretty gratifying. From where they were to where they are, that’s pretty good stuff.
Villalba: I just like to think that the Mavericks have been consistent enough to be within reach of the third spot or fourth spot (in the Western Conference). They didn’t really have that really nice win streak. But yet they were consistent enough to where there weren’t too many highs and there weren’t too many lows.
Mavs.com: Did you have one of those ready-made signature lines prepared to say over the air once the Mavs officially clinched a playoff spot?
Followill: I had no set phrase because you never know how it was going to happen. I was just really excited like everybody else that our wait was going to be over with. To me, I just wanted to get in (the playoffs). I know once you get there, of course you want to do as good as you can. But man, it was so important, and will be so important, for Luka and Porzingis and everybody else, too. It’s not just a two-man team. But for those young guys who are the foundation and the future, for those guys to get that first taste of playoff basketball, I can’t wait for it to happen for them. But I didn’t have a signature call for it.
Cooperstein: I will not script lines. I will not do that. I’m sure there would have been thought put into what it all means for them and what it means for the fans to be back in the playoffs. I don’t know that it’ll be anything quite like ‘They scaled the NBA mountain and planted their flag.’ I’m sure it would have been something that would have been really cool to do, because let’s face it: The last three years have been pretty much the wilderness for the Mavericks.
Villalba: I’ve been doing Cowboys’ games close to 20 years and I’ve been doing Mavericks’ games for 16 years, and I just kind of let it flow. When the Mavericks were champs (in 2011), you start the game in Miami thinking, ‘Well, they could be the champs tonight.’ But there was never a moment in my mind that I had something ready. To me, really, making the playoffs was going to be just more like a business transaction for the Mavericks, because honestly from the beginning of the season I saw that as something that should happen. So to me, making the playoffs would have been like, ‘Well, yeah.’ And then from there, depending where they were (seeded) anything could happen. There’s nothing like still working in June when you’re doing a Mavericks’ season. That’s beautiful.
Mavs.com: None of us could have foreseen this, but how odd is it not have any live sports to attend or watch on TV?
Followill: It’s really odd. I miss it. No. 1, you realize what sports does for us in terms of bringing people together and the communal viewing experience that watching sports is, whether or not you’re in the stands or you’re at home on TV or you’re engaging with other fans on Twitter during the course of a game. It’s a communal event and I miss what it’s like to be in an arena whenever there’s 20,000 fans there. It’s one thing to have an offseason. We all have several months out of the year when we don’t have sports that we’re necessarily involved in. But just to be missing out on what a live sports atmosphere is all about. I miss the energy of the game, the excitement, the anticipation, the fans that are excited when the home team is doing well at a Mavericks game at American Airlines Center, or what it’s like whenever the Mavs are trying to win a game and the crowd on the road is making a lot of noise. And Luka or KP – like one of those last road wins against San Antonio – and one of those guys were making big plays and silencing the crowd after San Antonio had made a big comeback in that game on Feb. 26, I miss that part of it. It’s obviously weird and I understand it. But I just miss what it’s all about. It’s been a big part of my life for a long time. A lot of good things have happened in my life because of my connections to sports and being able to be involved in it. I just miss it because there’s so much to take from it in terms of experience and life lessons.
Cooperstein: It’s just horrific. I’m willing to watch pretty much anything. You can’t go to the movies. Any entertainment element has been taken from us. It’s not just sports. It’s everything. Knowing that the Masters was supposed to be (last) week. Everything has been pretty much shut down until at least June at the absolute earliest, and probably later than that. It’s pretty sobering, because you know what, there’s only so much Netflix. You can read a bunch, but it becomes increasingly difficult to entertain yourself. The fact that we don’t have our normal outlet for entertainment – and in our case that’s sports – is really tough.
Villalba: It’s crazy. The fact that baseball didn’t start has really been like eating cereal with soda instead of cereal with milk. To me, once the baseball season starts there’s always a baseball game on TV. It’s not because I’m sitting there watching it. It’s because I’m resting sometimes or I’m doing a crossword puzzle, or I’m reading something on the Internet or I’m researching something, and I’ve got the game on. And of course with the basketball games, when you’re at home because you’re not working and there’s a game on, you want to watch it because you want to see what’s going on. The void there is impossible to fill. Certainly, congregating to watch a sporting event is completely out of the picture. But right now, it’s pretty quiet.
Mavs.com: What’s been a typical day for you since the NBA season was suspended?
Followill: I’m probably getting up a little bit later. Every day I’ve got homework that I can do because of some of the classes that I’m taking online right now for college. And I’m trying to work ahead a little bit so I’m not having to do any last-minute preparations for any assignments or tests. I enjoy spending more time with the dogs during the day. I’m really cognizant of the fact that I’m used to being at home and working from home as I prepare for a game, but my wife is not used to this sort of situation. She’s got responsibilities for work and I don’t want to get in her way. So, a typical day for me is making sure to be aware of that, understanding of that. Another thing that’s probably part of a typical day is making sure to check in on some people and make sure they’re doing OK. Check in with my brother, check in with my mom. My mom’s 86 years old, so I’m calling her and making sure she doesn’t need me to go to the grocery store for her. We check in with my wife’s dad and making sure he doesn’t need anything.
Cooperstein: Get up in the morning, read, go to social media and read Twitter. And that’s usually my news feed, too. I’m trying to keep up on the world, maybe watch a little bit of news if anything of note has really occurred. I’ll take my dog for a walk of about 40-45 minutes, and then I’ll binge-watch a little bit and maybe pick up the newspaper and maybe pick up a book and read a little bit of that and try to keep myself as occupied as I can. But it’s challenging. What I really want to do is get down and pick up my score book and prepare to do the next game. I still have my Phoenix Suns next opponent (stat book). I really want to look through that and get ready to do the Maverick and the Phoenix Suns (in a game that was slated to tip-off on Mar. 14).
Villalba: As soon as the word came out to shelter at home, it’s just been pretty much that. I’m trying to keep myself busy with researching different things that I’m working on. Certainly, I’m sticking my nose in the Bible the way I’ve always done. But I’m doing it a little more introspectively now and trying to understand and seeking wisdom and peace for me and my family and for our community as far as reading the word, and just looking for revelation from that standpoint. I don’t want to get too overly zealous about anything, but there is a whole reason for a lot of things that are happening, but we don’t know them, but we know that there is somebody who knows everything. And surely, it’s everyone’s option to seek that particular peace the way we each do, and that’s how I do it. So from that standpoint I’ve been doing a little of that, I’ve been doing a little walking, because it’s just amazing how having to sit at home at any given moment with really nothing to do is completely opposed to the active life that we have. I really enjoy playing golf and right now I’m not able to do that. There’s just a feeling of really no set schedule. You do a lot of thinking at times, but you have to just try to keep as normal of a schedule as possible. Just get up and shake those bones, take a shower and feel revitalized and shave and put on clean clothes. Just because we all have to shelter doesn’t mean we have to just not do the routine things that we normally do, because to me that keeps me fresh. I’m staying in touch with some of my friends, too. Just trying to stay as busy as possible, but also just making sure that everything you do is keeping yourself safe.