Joe Tait, who was a Cleveland sports fixture for more than four decades, has died at 83 at his Ohio home. His daughter confirmed the death, which was attributed to numerous health problems.
The Cavaliers organization released the following statement regarding Tait’s death:
“The Cleveland Cavaliers mourn the passing of one of our beloved founding fathers and the original, long-time voice of the franchise – Joe Tait.
“From the team’s inception in 1970 through the next four decades, the Basketball Hall of Famer informed, entertained and inspired generations of Cavs fans – painting a picture of the game with an unmatched mix of passion, precision and humor.
“A dedicated husband and father – generous with his talent and spirit – Joe received every major sports broadcasting award there is over the course of his career in Northeast Ohio. And like some of the most legendary Cavaliers he chronicled, Joe joined them with his own banner hanging in the rafters of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
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“A friend and mentor to many over the years, Joe Tait wasn’t just a member of the Cavaliers family; he was a part of the Cavs story like no one else and his voice and unique, candid perspective reverberates throughout the team’s history. He will be dearly missed.
“Joe was also famous for his dry wit and his pragmatic view of life and probably wouldn’t have wanted a big, sentimental sendoff. So, to paraphrase the legend, himself – Let’s not say: ‘goodbye.’ Let’s just say: ‘Have a GOOD night, everybody!’”
Born in Illinois and graduated from Monmouth College, Tait began in sportscasting calling the games of the Ohio Bobcats, and later Indiana University football.
While at Monmouth, he became friends with the head basketball coach at another small college. That was Bill Fitch, and when he got a job in the NBA, Tait wrote to congratulate him.
Fitch asked Tait to audition for the role as the Cleveland Cavaliers radio play-by-play voice. He was hired with the inaugural 1970 season already underway. He called the team’s first victory after 15 losses in a row.
He spent a brief period calling games for the New Jersey Nets and Chicago Bulls in the early 1980s after a dispute with Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien, but returned to the team and became embedded in Cavs culture. His catchphrases included “Wham with a right/left hand!”, “To the line, to the lane…”, and “3 ball… Got it!”
Tait later called Cleveland Indians baseball on the radio, moving to TV in 1980 to call games on WUAB Channel 43. One highlight was Tait’s call of on May 15, 1981, when Cleveland pitcher Len Barker tossed a perfect game to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 3-0.