It’s expected to be a star-studded affair at Ball Arena tonight as the hometown team, the NBA champion Denver Nuggets, kick off the regular season against West Coast rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers.
One person who’ll definitely be in the building at Ball Arena is Kyle Speller. His name may not ring a bell. But if you’ve ever attended a Nuggets home game, his deep baritone voice probably does. Tonight marks his 19th season as the public address announcer for the team. And he’s also got a lot of extra faith in the Nuggets serving his 17th year as the team chaplain.
Speller is the first African-American public address announcer in the Nuggets franchise history and also the first in the state of Colorado for any of the major professional teams. “And that's something that is very special for me to be able to say that I'm the first Black anything,” said Speller. “It's just powerful and it's an honor, and I don't take it for granted at all.”
Going into the season, Speller is confident the team has what it takes to repeat as NBA champions. “Selfless basketball. Stay hungry, humble, and healthy. And we can do it again.”
Speller said one special story that’s stood out over nearly two decades in his role was meeting the mother of a young girl with a speech impairment who struggled with pronouncing her “Rs.” The mother said the girl learned by imitating Speller belting out the name of the Nuggets’ team mascot, “Rocky,” during games.
Speller spoke with Colorado Matters host Chandra Thomas Whitfield about the excitement heading into what will hopefully be another history-making season.
This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
Chandra Thomas Whitfield: How are you feeling about tonight's big season opener? There's a lot of excitement, but I would imagine a lot of pressure too, to win after being the “Cinderella story” of the NBA last season.
Kyle Speller: Even as you mentioned it right now, I've got some goosebumps on my neck. I’m starting to feel it. But you know what? The bottom line for me is I'm excited about it. I'm ready to get it started. It's like for me, we've done the celebrating, we've celebrated all summer long. It's time to get it on and let's go. And I'm hoping to be able to do it again. Let's run it back. Let's repeat this thing.
Thomas Whitfield: So what are you most excited about in regards to this upcoming season? Do you have any insider knowledge about how they've been preparing in the off season?
Speller: I heard it said today talking about one of our star players, Nikola Jokic, two-time MVP. The thought being that each year he's gotten better and better. And after the past few seasons that he's had, I'm looking forward to seeing how he's going to get even better? How's he going to top this? And to be able to say, because really to be honest, he hasn't even reached his prime yet. So there's still some development that's going to be taking place. So, I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to seeing how he responds to this new season; how he responds to winning a championship. I think he's built different. You can definitely see what he's put in. He's taken time away, which is very healthy, but he's also prepared and he's ready to go. And so I think we will see some great things tonight. And it is just to start it and just keep the momentum going.
Thomas Whitfield: Well, that's definitely the question on everyone's minds, can “the Joker” and the Nuggets do it again?
Speller: Yeah. I feel like I said all last year, if we stay hungry, humble, and healthy, I call 'em my three Hs, then we were going to win last year. I'm just repeating the same thing. Just reset it. If we stay humble, hungry, and healthy, there's no reason that we can't do it again.
Thomas Whitfield: I would imagine over nearly two decades you've seen a lot, and the team has really evolved. Why do you think they were able to close the deal for the first time in franchise history last season?
Speller: Simple for me. Something I've seen all along. It's the phrase, you hear it more and more now. I've been referring to it this way for quite a bit. Selfless, selflessness, selfless basketball. You've got guys on this team that are willing to do whatever they have to do to sacrifice whatever they have to sacrifice, whether it's minutes, whether it's roles, things that they've been used to. I'm thinking of like an Aaron Gordon, players like that, that have set aside themselves aside in order for the cause. The way my coach used to reemphasize a philosophy from the great Bobby Knight: Cause before self. Cause before self. And that's what you see here in the midst of this team, everyone shares the ball. And as a player, I played a little bit myself, and as a player, you love to play with guys that share the ball where we all can be a part of it. And as opposed to the former, and I say former because this league is a copycat league, where you see a lot of the one-on-one guys in that whole deal, it's not really successful. And so you're going to see more and more teams move to this selfless basketball style, I'm sure.
Thomas Whitfield: I mentioned that the Nuggets were the “Cinderella story” of the NBA last year, but to borrow a bit from the title of an old hip-hop song, you have kind of your own “Cinder-fella” story, too, in regards to how you came to be the PA announcer for the team. Tell us about that.
Speller: So for me, people always ask me all the time, how did you get that role? How'd you become the announcer? And I always tell them, I didn't actually go to school for it. There are guys that have been doing it for years. And my route was totally different. I'm a man of faith and I always say it was God that opened that door for me. I was a rookie free agent with the Nuggets back in 1999. I tell people I was a Nugget for three days because I got cut, but during that time, I met a man by the name of Tommy Shepherd. He's no longer with the team now; he was like the public relations guy at that point in time. So, I just asked him. I knew that I had a voice and for me, I was a Michael Jordan fan as well. The way that the Bulls announcer, Ray Clay, would do his player introductions, I would always get goosebumps on my arms. So I said, “You know what? I would love to do that for the Nuggets someday.” I didn't even know what it was called. So anyway, I reached out to that guy, Tommy Shepherd. At that point in time, nothing ever happened. He did give me the name of an individual, Sean Martinez at the Nuggets in the game entertainment area. I reached out to him, reached out to him. Now mind you, I was a rookie free agent in 1999. And years went by and nothing ever happened. I would reach out, nothing, nothing. In the meantime, I was a part of a prison ministry basketball team where we would go around the state of Colorado; we'd play against all the prisons. And one of the things that I would do in order to help encourage the inmates, in the gyms, I would just do the player introductions on the microphone and I would introduce the players. Little did I know that was – and this is why I say it was all God – that was his way of preparing me for this opportunity. So, just one day out of the blue, the Nuggets had an open audition. The title said, “grab your microphones.If you were the public address announcer for the Nuggets, how would you do the player introductions?” Well, I had been doing it in my head for years, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I went into the studio, recorded a demo, literally in five minutes and then I sent it in. And a couple weeks later I heard back. They said mine was the only one that they liked and they brought me in. I've been there ever since.
Thomas Whitfield: What's also cool is that you're historic. You are not only the first African-American public address announcer in the Nuggets franchise history, but also the first in the state of Colorado for any of the major professional teams.
Speller: And that's something that is very special for me to be able to say that I'm the first Black anything. It's just powerful and it's an honor, and I don't take it for granted at all.
Thomas Whitfield: And you really are really a hometown guy. You were born in Brooklyn, but you grew up here in Colorado in Denver's historic Cole neighborhood near Park Hill.
Speller: That's right. 30th and Monroe. I grew up there. The East Denver YMCA used to be there. I used to practice a lot of basketball in that gym. It's gone now, but that's right where I grew up. And yeah, I'm originally from Brooklyn, but I call Colorado home.
Thomas Whitfield: You also used to deejay during your days as a student at Adam State University.
Speller: Right. When I was there, it wasn't Adam State University, that’s how long ago it was; it was Adam State College. I deejayed there. And that was actually where I discovered that I had a voice. That was when I first moved into the area of voiceovers. I would do my own voiceovers for my own promos. And that was where for the first time I actually heard my voice and found out about this voiceover space. So yeah, those were the days.
Thomas Whitfield: And you have to be the coolest. I mean, your school counselor is at the Nuggets games at night? I would be impressed.
Speller: I keep the plates spinning. Yeah, it's an opportunity. To be quite honest, I always said I never wanted to work with middle schoolers. I said, “I don't mind working with high schoolers or even the young,” but now I'm a middle school counselor and I'm serving at a school in Aurora. And for me, like I said, once again, I'm a man of faith. I said, “Okay, if I'm going to be here, then Lord, I need you to give me a heart for these kids.” And he's done that. Those are my babies now.
Thomas Whitfield: And you have to be the coolest. I mean, the counselor is at the Nuggets games at night. I mean, I would be impressed.
Speller: They're all waiting to see the championship ring when that time comes. But yeah, it's an honor to be able to just make an impact on the lives of these young kids at this stage in their life. So, it's powerful and I just hope to be able to do a good job. This is the kind of job where you don't see the fruits of your labor right away. Maybe 10 years, 15 years down the line, maybe one of 'em will come back and say, “Hey, something you said made a difference.” So, we'll see!
Thomas Whitfield: You’re not only the voice of Nuggets, you also serve as a community ambassador and as the chaplain for the team. Tell us about that.
Speller: I have been the team chaplain as well. This is my 17th season starting in that role. And it's just a space where the players, I'm there to serve. It's not just for the players, but for anyone that's in that arena at that point in time. I always walk into that arena and I always say a little prayer to myself, “Lord, don't let them hear me. Let them hear you and me, and help me to just see wherever you're at, work all around me, where if there's someone that's in need of encouragement or whatever, help me to be in a position to speak to that person.” So, whether it's the security people that are in the back hallways or the people in the stairwells that you don't even see. The public doesn't see those individuals, but the one thing I love to do is to go around and just tell them that they matter: that they make a difference and they are champions as well – anyone from those guys to the coaches to the players. I'm there to serve in that spiritual capacity for them all. The way our chapels work; each NBA team has a chaplain for the most part. The majority of the teams do. And we have a little short service before every game. In the NBA, it’s done differently. In the NBA, you have both teams together, the players from both teams together, whereas in the NFL it's just that team and the same thing with MLB and hockey as well. So, the NBA is a little different, and it's just an honor to be able to serve in that capacity.
Thomas Whitfield: So as the chaplain, I have to ask, do you feel like God's on the side of the Nuggets?
Speller: No, that's one prayer I never pray. I don't say, “Hey, Lord, help us.” You're not trying to sway the results. It's just to help everyone just play their best. Help everyone play their best and be healthy with it. For me, personally, I just help me to bring glory to your name and not mess it up or not be a bad witness for you on your behalf.
Thomas Whitfield: Earlier you talked about getting a championship team ring. Talk about that moment when you got that ring?
Speller: I haven't gotten it yet. Our guys are getting it tonight. Ours will come a little bit later, but the thing is it’s coming. I can’t wait. For me, I played all these years: I played in grade school, I played in high school, I played in college, I played exhibition ball and like I said, I was a Nugget for three days. I've played in so many different areas and in so many different ways, even with the ministry team. For me, I never got a chance to get a ring. I never won state. We won our region in college, but that was it. I never really got that championship for myself. I've coached, I've coached my sons, I coached their club team, and we won several championships throughout the years, but this one is special. This one is something that I get to be a part of. First time ever for our city and to be able to be a part of that, you talk about storybook, Cinderella-type stuff. As far as I'm concerned, you couldn't have written that any better. I'm just so honored, so honored to be able to be a part of that first one.
Thomas Whitfield: Now as we wrap up, I have to ask, is there a story that stands out to you in looking back at the 19 years that just kind of sums up your experience in this role?
Speller: Well, there's one story. I think it's probably my favorite story of all of the things that I've been through and it is one that actually didn't take place in the arena. It took place in a park across I-25. We were doing a shoot there for something, some kind of video shoot or some kind of promo or something like that and there was a lady that came up to me and she introduced me to her little daughter. She told me that her daughter had a speech impairment and that there were certain things that she couldn't pronounce; certain words that she couldn't say. One of the letters that she couldn't pronounce was her letter Rs. She said one day though, her daughter all of a sudden began to pronounce her Rs and she did It because she was imitating me saying, “Super Mascot Rocky.” That's how she learned to pronounce her letter Rs was by me, pronouncing Rocky's name. So, that was very special for me. That was just so powerful to me and that was just one of the amazing stories that stands out for me.
Thomas Whitfield: Any predictions for the Nuggets as they kick off the regular season tonight?
Speller: Win. I'm summoning my inner “Rocky (Balboa).” I'm a Rocky fan and I think it was Rocky's wife, Adrian. At one point, she looked up at him and he was kind of doubting whether he should continue on. I think it was like “Rocky III” and she just looked at him and said, “win!” That's what I'm talking about right there.
Let's get it done. Let's get it done. Selfless basketball. Stay hungry, humble, and healthy. And we can do it again.
You want to know what is really going on these days, especially in Colorado. We can help you keep up. The Lookout is a free, daily email newsletter with news and happenings from all over Colorado. Sign up here and we will see you in the morning!