It turned out that covering the women’s game in Rio, something Marc Zumoff has never done before, proved as enjoyable as his regular pursuit as the longtime voice of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The road to Rio for Marc Zumoff was a bit different than the path taken by Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Simone Biles.
But it was no less rewarding, even if he — as play-by-play man of the USA’s juggernaut women’s gold-medal winning basketball team — didn’t also get to bring home the gold. There were no complaints from the man who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, then cut his teeth in the business at Temple University, paving the way for the broadcasting career of his dreams.
It turned out that covering the women’s game, something he’d never done before, proved as enjoyable as his regular pursuit as the longtime voice of the Philadelphia 76ers.
“The women’s basketball people were tremendous, from the coach [Norristown native Geno Auriemma] down to the trainer,” said the 60-year-old Zumoff, who broadcast 11 games in 14 days in Brazil. “I really enjoyed working with them.
“Leading up to it, I spent about a month talking with people as it related to the styles of players and the history. They all gave me inside perspective.
“By the time I got to Rio, I had a pretty good working knowledge. Also I worked with [Hall of Famer] Ann Meyers Drysdale. I latched onto her passion and love of the women’s game and kind of went along for the ride.”
They connected right away.
“Marc was great,” said Meyers Drysdale, a 1976 silver medalist married to the late Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale, who worked her sixth Olympics. “He’s just so passionate about the game, and his work ethic is second to none.
“I thoroughly enjoyed working with him. He embraced the game. There was concern because he hadn’t done it before. But basketball is basketball, and he picked up on it.”
Zumoff quickly discovered that while Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Brittney Griner, Tamika Catchings and company may not possess the sheer strength and athleticism as their male counterparts, they, too, can play the game.
“Once you accept there isn’t going to be the level of verticality, it’s really good basketball,” said Zumoff, who was overwhelmed by the enormity of the entire Olympics experience. “The skill level is extraordinary.
“They can dribble. Pass. Run plays. Defend. They play at a level probably a lot better than average NBA basketball. It was fun to watch.”
In the two weeks since he’s been back in his Dresher home, Zumoff still finds himself a bit in awe of the whole thing. Considering NBC had nearly 2,000 people there working in various capacities, he’s honored to have been a part of it.
“It’s like you’re part of an auto assembly line, making a contribution to the car,” said Zumoff, whose wife, Debbie, joined him for the first week, including the Opening Ceremonies. “You know the car is a good car, but you don’t see the finished product. You’re just a small part of a massive undertaking.”
As for Rio de Janeiro itself, Zumoff said everything was fine, and the pre-Olympic talk of it being a disaster waiting to happen was off-base. The biggest obstacle was the traffic, which could turn the three-mile ride from the Olympic Park, where they were based, to the basketball arena into an hour-long ordeal.
But it was still a prime location, enabling him to see such events as team handball and cycling, along with some of the swimming when Phelps wasn’t in the pool.
“It’s something you typically read before all Olympics, how this or that is going to be a problem,” said Zumoff, who raved about the Brazilian people, though he conceded his highschool Spanish proved useless in a country where they speak Portuguese. “but everything ran great.
“The Zika thing was almost laughable, it was so nonexistent. Bacteria in the water and food were not apparent to us. And NBC had a great setup for us just in terms of logistics as far as transportation and dealing with security.”
About the only thing “Zoo,” as he’s known, couldn’t find was Brazil’s Jewish community. “In my limited research, evidently there’s a Jewish community there, but I found no evidence of it,” said Zumoff, a member of the Lubavitch of Montgomery County. “However, I do remember being extremely proud when Israel came out during the Parade of Nations.”
“I was keeping an eye on them afterwards and was thinking how well represented they were.”
He also felt an amazing sense of pride watching the American flag being raised following the women’s gold medal game, before beginning to refocus his attention on the task ahead. Looking at the Sixers’ upcoming season there’s so much to consider.
“The number of story lines is maybe more than I’ve ever experienced with the team,” said Zumoff, entering his 23nd season behind the play-by-play mike. “Starting with (top draft pick) Ben Simmons, turning to Joel Embiid, Dario Saric (whom he was impressed with watching play for Croatia), then talented big guys, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel it’s going to be an extremely revealing and fascinating season.
“The fact we have team of guys who are unselfish, Brett Brown has almost a good problem.”
While Zumoff anticipates getting back into his routine, he has briefly looked ahead to 2020.
“These were three of the most fun but intense, exhausting weeks in my life,” he admitted. “Would I do it again? Sure, if I’m lucky enough to be selected again.”
The road to Tokyo, then, may be already underway.