Broadcaster Barry Tompkins to join NorCal Jewish Sports Hall of Fame

Throughout Barry Tompkins’ impressive 44-year career as a sports broadcaster — in which he has been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as an announcer, covered six Olympic Games and won four Emmy awards — Tompkins has often felt something he can’t quite put his finger on, a certain unsaid bond.

Perhaps the best example of this occurred when Tompkins was covering an Olympics-style 1979 competition in Moscow for CBS Sports, and was working with a Ukrainian cameraman.

This was a tense moment in the Cold War, just before the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, and Soviet citizens were not supposed to fraternize with Americans. So the cameraman waited until the two were alone, then suddenly blurted out, “You are Jewish!”

Barry Tompkins at a Pac-12 basketball game two months ago in Eugene, Ore.

“Yes,” Tompkins replied, a little stunned.

Apparently, a mix of audaciousness, luck and Tompkins’ direct eye contact had led the cameraman to take a risk and guess that they shared the same faith.

“There really was kinship with this guy,” Tompkins said. “We stayed buddies. He had me over to his house for dinner.”

Tompkins, who sees his Judaism as more cultural than religious, has also felt this bond with Jewish leaders in his field — with his “guru,” the legendary New York sports broadcaster Marty Glickman, and longtime broadcaster Marv Albert.

On May 20, Tompkins, 71, will enter the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Northern California along with six other sports figures. The man whose signature phrase is “How do you like it?” will be the first broadcaster inducted into the shrine.

He’ll be introduced by Roxy Bernstein, the radio voice of Cal men’s basketball — continuing this network of kinship in the sports broadcasting world. Like Tompkins looked up to Glickman and Albert, the Hillsborough-raised Bernstein always has looked up to Tompkins.

“Barry’s been a mentor to me. He’s almost like my broadcasting uncle,” said Bernstein, 40. “Whenever I needed advice about something, I’d go to him. This is an honor.”

Tompkins grew up in San Francisco’s Richmond District, just around the corner from Congregation Chevra Thilim, one of the shuls his family attended for High Holy Days. After graduating from Washington High School, he got his start in broadcasting when, after a brief stint in advertising, he landed a job writing promotions for KCBS radio.

At lunch one day in 1968, with Franklin Meuli (the owner of the Golden State Warriors) and Hank Greenwald (the Warriors’ broadcaster who later became well known as the voice of the San Francisco Giants), Greenwald mentioned that there was an opening for a sports director at KPIX TV.

After lunch, Tompkins hustled over to KPIX and landed the job by reading copy he had written for radio.

“I always hesitate to tell that story, because in this day and age, it just can’t happen that way anymore,” Tompkins said. “I don’t know where I’d be were it not for an innocent comment at lunch.”

After working at KPIX from 1968 until 1974, Tompkins saw his career take off. He moved on to WNBC in New York, did a lot of national work for NBC, then returned to KRON (the Bay Area’s NBC affiliate at that time) from 1978-80. After that, he came into national prominence as the lead announcer on HBO’s boxing coverage, scored the role of the announcer in “Rocky IV” and spent eight years with ESPN. The past 15 years, he has called games for Fox Sports, and in his career, he has broadcasted or covered just about every big sporting event out there, from the Olympics to Wimbledon to the Super Bowl.

Tompkins, who lives in Ross with his wife, author and journalist Joan Ryan, will broadcast Pac 12 football and basketball in 2012, and he recently signed another contract with Showtime to call boxing.

“I’ve been really, really lucky,” said Tompkins. “I started at KPIX in 1968, I’ve been doing it for 44 years and I still pinch myself and say, ‘God.’ ”

Joining Tompkins in the sixth annual class of inductees will be Larry and Herb Brown, Al Buch, Leland Faust, Judy Macks and Keena Turner. A dinner and ceremony is set for 6 p.m. Sunday, May 20 at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco.

The late Buch was known for leading the 1959 Cal men’s basketball team to an NCAA championship. That year, Cal defeated West Virginia and all-time great Jerry West 71-70 in the title game. Later in life, Buch built a highly successful tire business, Empco Industries.

Faust has served as vice president of Maccabi USA and was named to the Sporting News’ 1994 list of “The 100 Most Powerful People in the Sports Industry” for serving as a financial adviser to many big-name sports stars. As an athlete himself, he led his water polo team at Harvard University, has won the Alcatraz Invitational Swim three times and has participated in four Maccabiah Games in Israel.

Macks, who passed away in 2010, was an accomplished competitor in the first few Gay Games, which started in San Francisco in 1982. She won three swimming medals in the third games, including a gold in the women’s 200-meter breaststroke. Macks also was a social worker and an early pioneer in working with HIV/AIDS patients.

Larry and Herb Brown will receive this year’s Hank Greenberg Award, which recognizes Jewish sports figures who are not from the Bay Area but have inspired future generations. Larry Brown has won more than 1,000 pro basketball games and is the only head coach in NBA history to lead eight different teams to the playoffs. He was recently hired as the head coach of Southern Methodist University. His older brother, Herb Brown, was head coach of the Detroit Pistons from 1976-78 and also a coach in Europe and an assistant under Larry several times.

The recipient of this year’s Mensch Award, which goes to a non-Jew who has done exemplary things in the community at large, will be the former San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl linebacker Keena Turner. Turner played his entire career with the 49ers, earning four Super Bowl rings. He currently oversees the team’s Player Engagement Program and helped the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of NorCal hold a youth mentoring program at the 49ers practice facility.

All of the inductees and award winners will get a place on the hall of fame’s “wall of fame” located on the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto.

The May 20 banquet will include the awarding of scholarships to five student-athletes: Shayna Prochovnick, Jason Cinti, Isabel Goldman, Ben Weintraub and Jake Schnur.

Prochovnick is a 4.0 student who led San Francisco’s Balboa High School to its first section volleyball title.

Cinti is a multisport athlete at the Urban School of San Francisco who is planning an AIDS fundraising bicycle ride to Los Angeles.

Goldman goes to Tilden Prep in Albany, has a 3.77 GPA and is an elite coxswain in crew. She will be attending Washington on a crew scholarship next year.

Weintraub has a 4.0 GPA at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, where he plays basketball and volleyball. 

Schnur is an offensive lineman at El Cerrito High School who has a 3.97 GPA, participates on the debate team and is the vice president of his school’s chapter of the Jewish Student Union.

Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Northern California dinner and induction ceremony, 6 p.m. May 20 at the Four Seasons Hotel, 757 Market St., S.F. Celebrity reception and silent auction at 5 p.m. $225. or [email protected].

George Altshuler
George Altshuler

George Altshuler is the rabbinic intern at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. He is on track to be ordained from Hebrew Union College in 2023. In 2012 and 2013, he worked as a calendar editor and staff writer in J.’s newsroom.