Longtime Clipper Corey Maggette on Learning From Broadcasting Legend Ralph Lawler
In his 40 years with the Los Angeles Clippers, Ralph Lawler has been a friendly face to just about every player and staffer to come through the organization. But to former NBA player and current FOX Sports West Prime Ticket analyst Corey Maggette, Ralph has been much more than the “Voice of the Clippers”—he’s been a mentor and leader.
Across eight years as a player and five years as a broadcaster with the Clippers, Corey is one of the fortunate few to have played in games Ralph has called and sat alongside the franchise icon on the mic.
CloseUp360 recently caught up with Corey to talk about his relationship with Ralph, the impact the legend has had on him, and the legacy he will leave behind when he retires from the Clippers' sideline after the 2018-19 season.
(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Ralph Lawler is retiring after 40 years calling games for the LA Clippers. (Los Angeles Clippers)
CloseUp360: What was your first impression of Ralph when you met him?
Corey Maggette: Honestly, I didn't know who this guy was. You know, coming in as a young kid [to the NBA], you didn't know what his title was—if he was part of an organization from a basketball perspective or a scout. Then later on, we found out this was the longtime play-by-play.
CU360: Looking back, did you ever think that you would one day work with him?
CM: Honestly, no. I never thought about working with him when I was playing. I think later on, when I retired the next year, I said, “Well, it will be kind of cool to do TV alongside Ralph.” You know, he has a ton of experience, and at that time, I was getting into the TV industry. And so it was, I think, for me when I wanted to get as much knowledge as possible from a person that's been doing it the longest in multiple avenues. And it actually worked out.
CU360: What was your relationship like with him when you were playing?
CM: When I was playing, we were always on a cordial basis. Every time I see him on a plane, "Hey Ralph, how you doing?" But I think, as a player, you're still kind of disconnected from that side of the group. I would always walk towards the back of the plane and talk to some of the people from television at that time, some of the different networks. And you would always see Ralph.
He would always be cordial. I always remember that—always cordial. You can always go and talk to him, and he'd give you a bit of wisdom or whatever he had going on. He'd want to tell you because he was so knowledgeable about the game. So anything that you heard, you just wanted to kind of take it from him.
CU360: What's your greatest memory of Ralph from your playing days?
CM: We beat the Miami Heat in 2006. I hit a buzzer beater. You know, this was when Miami had Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal at the time, and that year they won the championship. I'll never forget watching that game, probably 20 times, and just listening to how Ralph basically just went play-by-play on how the game was going. And I was, like, "Man, this dude is so funny. Like, he's witty.” Honestly, I can always remember that because of, you know, "And he hits the game winner! Oh me, oh my!"
CU360: Do you have a favorite Lawler-ism?
CM: All-time favorite is the "first to 100 [points] wins." Lawler's Law. You can go around every team in the NBA and everyone knows about the law, Lawler's Law. "First to 100 wins." Or "Oh me, oh my." He made his trademark with those couple of sayings. It is really cool that so many players and so many coaches around the league have been able to give their thoughts, and congratulate him on such a great career.
CU360: What do you think about him still broadcasting at a high level at 80 years old?
CM: I'm just amazed. To be able to do the telecast and he's so sharp, right? To be able to catch things during a game, while the game is going, that was very helpful for me. When we first started doing the telecast, Ralph was able to help me and give me advice while the game was going on. Like how the hell is this old dude doing the game and still able to critique it, and help me get better while I'm doing the game? I just thought that was impressive at 80 years old. When he's on the team plane, he's right on his computer, he's putting in his charts. I mean, it's amazing to watch this person at the age of 80 just have an unbelievable amount of work ethic in his craft.
CU360: What is it like to call a game with Ralph?
CM: Ralph has his own style. And it's amazing when you see Ralph, when you hear him talking, right? You would never know that he's reading off of a paper because it's so natural. It's so organic and I enjoy watching him. I'm, like, “Wow, it sounds like Ralph is just talking, but he wrote down all this stuff and he's reading from his cards that he has.” But just as far as the preparation... Like, man, this dude is, I can't believe it.
It sounds like he's not reading a card, and he's looking right at the card and reading it, like I'm talking to you right now. That was probably one of the coolest things to watch for Ralph and to just see how he knows the game. He's been doing this for 40 years. And he really knows the game and really knows the players. Every player in the NBA, in some capacity, Ralph has tons and tons of paperwork on those players.
Ralph studies his notes before a Clippers game. (LA Clippers)
CU360: What have you learned from Ralph?
CM: I've learned a lot. I learned preparation. I’ll never forget—actually this was in training camp—I was talking to Ralph about how you fix your board. They call them boards that you can put your players' names on and keep a database of the players. Ralph told me exactly how he was able to do it—the type of paper size, being able to tally and all the information. I'll never forget, after the first regular-season game, we're on the road and then we were on the plane, and Ralph is on his computer getting ready for the next team, like pulling up information. It was Bleacher Report, ESPN. I mean, he's doing this the entire flight. And I'm, like, “Man, I wanted to take me a nap! Ralph is really preparing for the next team.”
Honestly, man, that actually really helped me out from a preparation standpoint on how diligent you have to be about your craft. You can just tell with Ralph how diligent, how well-prepared he is. And so for me, I was right behind him. Just that one little sight of Ralph putting in all that work, I was, like, "Alright, you got to do the same thing and if you want to be good at this TV thing, you gotta do what Ralph's doing. You got to have all this stuff done." And so I was able to go and get all this information and watch him. I had great help from Mike Smith as well. Mike Smith was another guy that Ralph mentored when he was here with the Clippers, and I had a chance to kind of talk to both guys about getting prepared to do TV, which really helped me out a lot.
CU360: Why do you think Ralph has stayed with the Clippers for so long?
CM: I think you stay with something when you feel there's a chance that something can change. I think Ralph always stayed with this organization because he felt that it always had potential. It would take the right type of players to come in to help the organization. More importantly, this is one of the meccas of basketball in California—Los Angeles. To be in a position where you can compete with the Los Angeles Lakers, who would ever think that this LA Clippers team will be able to do something great?
And I just think Ralph, he always took the higher road. He was hoping, he was wishing that they could get the job done. He was hoping, wishing that they could be in playoffs. And I think over the last six years, he was able to see the greatness from this Clipper team. There's still more to come. I think this Clipper team now has a lot of potential and even next season, being able to have a chance to get more free agents. I just know he believed that they can do something great.
Ralph back in the day. (LA Clippers)
CU360: Can you imagine spending 40 years with one team?
CM: Oh, man, I can't imagine it. I would love to spend my entire career with the Clippers. I think when you have longevity in one spot, you're able to settle, you're able to build more roots in that area, in that community. I think Ralph was able to do that because for those 40 years, he knew exactly where he wanted to be. You got to give a lot of credit to the organization for continuously bringing him back and keeping him in that role.
Even like six-plus years ago, I talked to Ralph. I went to dinner with him and he was saying he was about to retire before Doc Rivers came on, because he thought it was about that time. And then all of a sudden, they call him in, "Would you mind doing an interview with Doc?" And he's, like, "Alright." So he goes in and does the interview with Doc. Then Doc says, "Hey, man, looking forward to you being a part of this team this year."
He didn't know that Ralph was retiring at that time. And I had this great conversation with Ralph, so he went to talk to Jo [Lawler, his wife] and said, "If they allow you to travel with the team, I'm gonna come back. I'll end up staying on." Then Doc was, like, "Yeah, of course. Jo can travel." That was one of the reasons why Ralph continued to do play-by-play, and he's done it for the last six years.
CU360: Why do you think he's been such a great fit for the Clippers?
CM: I just think it's what Ralph stands for, as far as being a loving husband and just carrying character and integrity his entire career. That's some of the basis—not just from a basketball and organization standpoint, but it's just real-life things that you would want your son or your daughter, or someone in the business field to represent. And Ralph has done that. He's represented that the right way by his professionalism.
He's represented that by the last 40 years with the Clippers. He's missed a total of [three] games. It's astonishing to think about that. I think when you think about character and just the will and longevity, I think that's the one reason why the Clippers continue to bring him on every single year. When your team is bad, you want to have something that people can relate to and they can always relate to.
Ralph and Clippers coach Doc Rivers at the 10th Annual LA Sports Awards, hosted by the LA Sports Council, at The Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, California. (Jill Weisleder)
CU360: What do you think it'll be like next year without Ralph?
CM: It'll be different. One thing that Ralph said is: his legacy has to move on and someone else has to step up, and he said hopefully that the next person to come on and do a great job, that they would totally forget about him. This is coming from his mouth, right? Because that person has to be truly down for that team. Hopefully, whoever comes on will be able to bring that love of the game and just the commitment to detail as Ralph was able to do.
CU360: What do you think you'd be doing today, if not for Ralph?
CM: Honestly, I would still probably be doing more with basketball. The last couple of years, I was working with the NBA. So in some capacity, I would have been still connected with basketball. I just think with Ralph, talking to me when I retired about, "Hey, maybe you should get into TV or radio if you'd be interested. I'm going to introduce you to Michael King." And that was the start. That was the start of me taking on this new journey of a new career.