SALT LAKE CITY -- The voice of the Utah Jazz, "Hot Rod" Hundley, has died at age 80.
Hundley passed away at his home in Phoenix while surrounded by family, the Utah Jazz confirmed to FOX 13 on Friday night. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's in recent years.
Hundley, known for his signature catch phrase "You Gotta Love It, Baby!" was the broadcast voice of the organization beginning in 1974, when the Jazz were located in New Orleans. He followed the team to Salt Lake City in 1979. Hundley retired as the voice of the Jazz in 2009.
According to a press release from the Utah Jazz, Hundley broadcast "many of the most memorable" moments in Jazz history during the span of the 3,051 games he called. He was the play-by-play voice of the Jazz's simulcast radio and television broadcasts for 31 years and the radio voice for his final four seasons.
“Hot Rod was the voice of the Utah Jazz for 35 years and his voice was synonymous with Jazz radio,” said Gail Miller, owner of the franchise, in the press release. “The expressions he used throughout the game broadcasts are legendary. He had the unique ability to make the game come to life so that you felt as though you could see what was happening on the floor when listening to him call the games. Rod was a very special talent and will be missed by our family as well as Jazz fans everywhere. Our thoughts and condolences are with the Hundley family.”
Hundley joined the team while it was still in New Orleans, and he is the only member of the original New Orleans Jazz staff to remain with the team for its first 35 seasons. A banner honoring Hundley hangs in Energy Solutions Arena, and in 2010 the team's media center at the arena was dedicated to Hot Rod.
Randy Rigby, Utah Jazz President, said he considers himself blessed that he was able to see Rod on his last trip to Phoenix, where he said he was able to give the man a hug and express his love.
"Rod was struggling," Rigby said. "He was really fighting and was challenged with this very ugly disease of Alzheimer's, and it was very hard to see a man that I loved and revered and respected fighting a whole different battle in his life."
Jazz legend Mark Eaton was active for the team during Hot Rod's tenure, and he said Hundley was a "huge part" of Jazz history.
"My rookie year I think we only had 17 games that were shown on television out of 82, so the remaining games, if you were listening as a fan, you were reliant on Hot Rod's description of what was occurring to give you a sense of the game," he said. "And I think that's where Hot Rod developed a lot of the jargon that people had come to know him by. And as players we always hoped he portrayed us in a good light because what he said about us was exactly what fans would think."
Rigby also spoke of Hundley's gift for description.
"I would get, many times, letters from people who were blind and would express how much how Rod Hundley made the game of basketball come alive for them," he said.
Eaton said Hundley's 35-year career is impressive.
"He covered my entire career," he said. "Every game I ever played, he announced. And like you said, he outlasted me and outlasted John [Stockton] and Karl [Malone] and everyone else. A true legend."