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For Pistons’ announcer in NBA 2K22, the job was more than just his catch phrase

To account for trades, created players, home team or visitors, voices like John Mason recorded hours of audio

Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets gestures to the camera in front of a basketball goal Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

When I heard that Visual Concepts had taken the step of bringing all 30 NBA arena PAs into NBA 2K22, which launched last week, my first thought was, more or less, “This had to be a ton of work.”

It was. Because not only were guys like John Mason, the Detroit Pistons public address since 2001, in a session delivering their signature introductions and call-outs, they were recording across multiple days, accounting for nearly infinite contingencies, too.

“Oh, geez,” Mason sighed, “One day, the morning session, we went like, two and a half, maybe three hours. We did over 2,000 names. Tempo, and non-tempo.”

This is what I wanted to know. “Tempo,” means with gusto — the player is a home team player, they just made a high-energy play or scored a pivotal bucket. “Non-tempo” means they’re a visiting player, a Joe Schmoe that Mason isn’t professionally obligated to hype up.

“To ensure an authentic experience, we had to make sure we captured recordings for a wide range of scenarios that players come across in NBA 2K22,” a 2K Sports spokesperson told Polygon. “From announcing thousands of names of past and present players, timeout calls, fouls, and tonal inflection to cover traded players between teams that occur throughout the course of a season, we made sure to represent every possible scenario that could happen on the court.”

That means, when Detroit’s Jerami Grant goes baseline to cram a dunk this year, Mason will call it “with tempo.” But if Grant gets traded or signs with another team two seasons into the future, well, it becomes a non-tempo, two-points, so-what call in Little Caesars Arena. Similarly, if a user overrides the AI and fleeces Milwaukee in a trade for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Mason will have to introduce the Greek Freak as if he’s one of Motown’s own.

A player with the Golden State Warriors dribbles by a defender in a Houston Rockets throwback uniform
For maximum immersion with the new arena introductions, give your created player a first and last name that the game’s audio file recognizes.
Image: Visual Concepts/2K Sports via Polygon

Moreover, with so many all-time greats in NBA 2K22’s on-the-disc roster (plus in MyTeam’s constellation of past and present stars), Mason found himself unstuck in time, giving non-tempo treatment to Piston enemies like Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller, and tempo props for Bad Boys like John Salley, Vinnie Johnson, and Bill Laimbeer.

“Isiah! … THOMAS ….” Mason said, replicating his call for a Hall-of-Famer who preceded his time in Detroit by eight years. “Of course, we did our championship team. It was fun; we got to play around. I didn’t know where it was going, but that’s what they do. I was trying to break through; I was just having fun, like a kid in a candy store, watching the TV, saying, ‘Ooh! Ooh, let me do that! Let me call it!”

Mason is one of 30 arena voices in the game, but his role might have a little more visibility given where the Pistons ended up in the 2021 draft order: first. That means in MyCareer, the single-player career mode, if you nail your created player’s performances in the opening act (and those games are locked to NBA 2K22’s easiest difficulty), you’ll find yourself taken No. 1 overall by the Pistons.

This presented an issue for me, because I like to give my stars ultra-fabulous ABA names that aren’t always in the game’s audio log. I don’t think “Antares” or “Vespasian” were on Mason’s script, so my advice to MyCareer fans looking for total immersion is to start your player builds with names the game recognizes.

Still, it’s pretty awesome to hear “Deeee-troit! Basketball!” from Mason himself when my 7-foot-1 “Paint Beast” center parked Patrick Williams’ baseline runner six rows behind the visiting bench.

The origins of that chant have been told and retold several times. But they always make for a good story. In 2003, ESPN was about to cut away from a game the Pistons were dominating with their outstanding but non-telegenic defense, Mason says, and he blurted a shoutout to his home city in case that was his last chance on their air. When a fan put the phrase on a poster — and took the poster to a rival’s arena — it stuck.

I’d like to think that if my created superstar, Arcturus “The Herdsman” Malone, actually was throwing down for the Pistons, that Mason would give his name some special sizzle, too. “I looked at each player [I introduce] like a cartoon,” Mason said. “Ben Wallace [the Pistons’ all-star center for nine seasons] had the wristbands up around his biceps; it reminded me of the 1960s Hercules cartoon.” So Mason’s “Buh-buh-buh-buh Ben” emphasis is an homage to that show’s trilling introduction.

Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time Mason’s rallying cry has been heard in the game, although this is the first time he’s gotten to do it himself. Pistons fans probably remember hearing it before — Mason’s son sure did, pointing it out to his Dad a few years ago. Visual Concepts explained that, until NBA 2K22, it had hired a single voice actor to impersonate all the arena PAs (so, that was not, actually, Ray Clay introducing Michael Jordan in NBA 2K11).

For the record, Mason wasn’t bothered by that, he says (Mason says the copyright to the phrase is held by the estate of former owner Bill Davidson). But “I wanted them to just use me,” Mason said. When he got an email inviting him to their recording studio in Novato, California, “I shot up like a rocket.

“There are other things that I can do for money and for profit,” he said, “But that wasn’t it. I wanted to feel it. So I made it, and I made it with everybody else. I’m very happy for all 29 other PA announcers, because they all bring something so unique to the game. We’re all honored that NBA 2K decided to let us in on this.”

Roster File is Polygon’s news and opinion column on the intersection of sports and video games.