Voice of the Raptors finds home at the mic

Teacher by day, Toronto Raptors broadcaster by night, Paul Jones, BEd’82, MA’84, has compressed two careers into one lifetime – and he’s still going.

For more than two decades, Jones was a dedicated teacher and school administrator in Toronto who kept one foot firmly planted in the world of professional sport. “I was a sports fan and I was never going to leave that,” he said.

After graduating from Western, Jones spent 22 years as a teacher, vice-principal and principal with the Toronto District School Board, all the while working part-time as a broadcaster for the Raptors. He has done play-by-play, analysis and sideline reporting for the franchise on TSN, CTV, Rogers Sportsnet and NBA TV Canada.

It wasn’t until 2004 that he decided to focus full-time on broadcasting. Today, Jones works exclusively as the Raptors play-by-play commentator for TSN radio and the broadcast analyst for the games on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

“Wherever the team is, I am. I sit at the back of the plane with the rest of the broadcast crew. On game day, we’re doing research, reading, number-crunching, talking to coaches, players, scouts – always gathering bits and pieces of information,” he said.

It’s a hectic pace but one he relishes.

“Even if I won $40 million in the lottery, I wouldn’t quit my job. I love my job,” he said.

“There are times when it’s the third game in four nights, we’ve been in Chicago, Detroit and arrived back home in the wee hours of the morning. Next day driving in, I’ll admit to feeling really tired. But then I get to the gym, and feel its energy, the rush of being around professional sports, seeing 10-year-old kids come into the arena and run down the stairs to the court, and I think, ‘This is pretty cool.’”

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, his family immigrated to Canada when Jones was a few months old. His summers were spent with extended family in both Jamaica and Queen’s, New York.

“I really had a culturally diverse upbringing. Being Jamaican-born, living in a traditional Jamaican household, being educated in Canada, vacationing with my relatives in Queen’s, it taught me how to mix with different groups, understand, assimilate. I look back now and realize I was pretty lucky,” he said.

Jones attended Oakwood Collegiate in Toronto before enrolling at York University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree. He became a star basketball player at York, helping the team win three provincial titles and earning MVP honours in the 1981 championship game. While at York, he met professor Vietta ‘Sue’ Wilson, a noted sports psychologist, who helped him understand the mental side of the game.

After graduating from York, he applied to Western.

“Considering the admission standards and how tough it was to get into Western, I almost fainted when I got the letter saying I had been accepted at Teacher’s College.”

He earned his Bachelor of Education degree in 1982 and a master’s degree in Sports Psychology in 1984 – before it was in vogue to be a sports psychologist.

Inspired by his work with Wilson, he knew he wanted to get into sports psychology.

“I had an idea and thanks to the genius of Bert Carron (now-retired Kinesiology professor), it came through. It was a fledgling area, sports psychology, now it’s all the rage. And when I tell people I have a master’s in sports psychology, they look at me like, ‘Really?’” Jones said.

While at Western, he served as an assistant coach to the late longtime basketball coach Doug Hayes – “a wonderful man, just a prince of a man. He was smart, he was funny, and he really understood the game.”

Armed with education, experience and a passion for sport, Jones eyed a coaching career and planned to start with the varsity basketball team at Western. However, in 1984, his father got sick and Jones returned to Toronto. (His father lived another 35 years after that initial scare, passing away last June at the age of 94).

He was still intent on coaching but “the problem was, nobody in Canada cared about coaching, let alone coaching basketball.” He accepted a position as a supply teacher in Toronto, figuring he could take on coaching responsibilities in the school environment.

In 1985, the same year he landed a full-time teaching job, Jones got some part-time work at TSN writing for highlight reels.

“While I was building my teaching resume, my brother, Mark (now a play-by-play commentator for the NBA with ESPN), was hired at the newly formed TSN. He said, ‘You’ve got to get a job here. I get paid to watch the games. We don’t have to go to bars and ask guys to move satellites anymore.’ So that’s where it started,” laughed Jones.

From that point, his teaching and broadcasting careers progressed in tandem.

Even with a full-time teaching job, he couldn’t cut the cord at TSN.

He found himself holding down two jobs, teaching all day, doing lesson plans and marking at night while watching and analyzing basketball games. It was an intense schedule but for a then-single guy, living at home, and trying to pay back student loans, it was perfect.

“My school teams were doing well and I was having an impact with the kids. Being a visible minority, a young black teacher in the system, kids could say, ‘Look there’s someone that looks like me.’ It was all going swimmingly,” he said.

He was also enjoying success as a coach for the Ontario provincial team when he got a call from CTV in 1992 with an offer to work the Olympics in Barcelona – the first games in which professional players from the NBA were allowed to compete. The NBA was sending the Dream Team to the Olympics, and they needed a basketball guy.

“I had the time of my life covering the Olympics and living in Spain for a month or so.”

In 1994, he got a call from the Toronto Raptors, the new NBA team in town. They were putting together an all-Canadian broadcast team and offered him a spot as a broadcast analyst on radio station CFRB.

Jones joined the team of John Saunders, Leo Rautins (still doing the Raptors games) and Mike Inglis (now calling the games for the Miami Heat).

Now a principal, Jones continued to alternate between his school responsibilities and his broadcast duties.

“After getting married and having kids, my wife said, ‘OK, make a decision.’ I held off for about five more years and finally, in 2004, when the politics of the school system were getting too much, I left and went to the Raptors broadcast team full-time.”

As someone in on the ground floor covering the Raptors, witnessing the team’s historic win this past year was a beautiful thing.

“I started watching basketball when I was a kid. It’s a scene I’ve seen my whole life: confetti raining down from the ceiling, players hugging each other, the trophy being wheeled out. And here I am, standing in the middle of it,” he said. “Even now when I think of it, it feels surreal. I mean, a championship. I remember 25 years ago when we won 16 games.”

These days, in his down time, he spends time with his family and doesn’t play basketball but stays in shape, with one caveat.

“Anything that will hinder me chasing my golf ball is out of the question,” he explained. “I am an ardent, passionate but not necessarily skilled golfer. It’s the hardest game in the world.”

Sounds like the makings of a third career.