With a shade under two minutes left to decide a national champion, North Carolina possessed the ball and faced a one-point deficit. Bill Raftery, an institution, seated alongside Jim Nantz and Grant Hill courtside, saw the future flash before his eyes.
"Gotta keep Manek off the glass," he said.
Mere seconds later, the Jayhawks failed to keep Brady Manek off the offensive glass as the bearded wonder authored a putback dunk to give the Tar Heels a fleeting lead.
"Oh, you saw that coming, Raft," an excitable Nantz observed.
The moment was emblematic of yet another terrific night of commentary from Raftery on the heels of yet another tournament full of witty one-liners, devilish allusions to the nightlife, and honest-to-goodness basketball analysis. At 78 years-old he's as sharp as ever, as quick as anyone providing color across sports and, crucially, perhaps the most skilled as being great in the tight windows necessitated by the pace of play and a three-man booth.
Raftery's gift is seeing things a split-second before others and giving voice to it, preparing the audience for what's likely to come. He heightens the excitement of a looming fastbreak with one word. Numbers! When a deft pass is thrown for an easy bucket, he's on the case before it hits the recipient's hands. Few can add so much with so few words.
And it's stuff the audience at home may take for granted, or not even realize. When a post player gets good position, Raftery will advise they have a "nice little hook shot" seconds before a nice little hook finds the net. Explaining in real-time that it's a curl play and the defense is now doubling. Succinct, informative and within the flow of play. If he were a player we'd marvel at his ability to play within a system, to always be in the right spot.
Raftery is a gifted storyteller. The irony is that the best stories about him cannot be told. Let us all raise a glass to them. But they live in the shadows. In the way he didn't miss an opportunity to praise Remy Martin's, uh, spirit. Or how a late-night shot can change everything. This is the playful side that's endeared him to audiences. It may be a little schticky yet it doesn't matter if everyone loves the schtick. We gladly gulp it down no matter how many times he goes to the well.
Every so often he delivers the catchphrases. Onions! Lingerie on the deck! Get those puppies organized! In lesser hands it could feel like a cartoonish soundboard. But it works so well because Raftery is not empty calories. He's providing a lot of meat and potatoes before delivering dessert.
Can't wait to have a double order of whatever he cooks up next.