“What’s ‘Luff’ got to do with it!” Jim Fox shouted right after Matt Luff scored his first NHL goal. These silly puns make his broadcast partner Alex Faust groan and roll his eyes, but it’s all in good fun — and levity, something Fox likes to sprinkle into his calls every now and again.
Have you ever wondered how the former Los Angeles King and current color analyst comes up with his jokes? Or wondered how he got his start in the wine business? How about where this faved bon vivant likes to eat on the road?
Jim Fox joined Crown Conversations to talk about his side hustle, his analysis style, and how covid changed his work habits. In part one, he touches on preparing for games and chats about his background, what it was like coming to California as a top junior scorer from a small town in Canada, and some of his expectations upon arriving in the City of Angels.
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JN: Hello Kings fans and welcome back to Crown Conversations. We are so thrilled to have Jim Fox with us today. We asked for 15 to 20 minutes’ time, he gave us more than double that so that’s why we are splitting up his interview into two episodes. I’m going to dominate the beginning of the episode; Robyn’s going to get a question in edgewise despite me wanting to know everything about Jim Fox. We’re going to go over a little bit of his history with the Kings, his experiences as a player and a broadcaster, and what it’s been like with COVID in this episode. So without any further adieu, ladies and gentlemen, Jim Fox. Jim, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today,
JF: Not a problem, thank you.
JN: Man just to get started... You have spent basically a lifetime with the LA Kings organization. What was it like for you coming as a kid from Eastern Ontario, setting your scoring record with the 67s to then walking into the room in LA and playing alongside the likes of a guy like Marcel Dionne and what was that like for you this is a little bit of culture shock?
JF: To be honest, my first year, fortunate enough to rent a three bedroom place with Larry Murphy and-and Greg Terrion. Unfortunately, Greg passed away a couple years ago. But, you know, I kid with people. I say my first address in Los Angeles was 4214 The Strand in Manhattan Beach California, so we were right on The Strand. It’s a very small town there.
I mean, you don’t really think of LA as being a small town, but it’s so many small towns put together that when you, you know, isolate yourself to a basic beach area, it really is... It’s just like a quaint little community, so that really wasn’t the case coming to LA. Of course, the more time I spent then you get a chance to enjoy more of the scenery and the landmarks and the history and the tradition around Los Angeles. With the hockey team, yeah, it was you know... You just get drafted you-you don’t really care who you get drafted by and then once you are you just get there and... Dave Taylor grew up in the same area that I grew up in so he called me when I was drafted and he just welcomed me to the Kings and when I came here it was just you know, you just kind of step in and, “Be seen and not heard” when you’re rookie and try to get by that way.
JN: So having a guy like Dave Taylor around and having known him for so many years and obviously all of his time spent with the organization... What was it like to have kind of that continuity with a guy like him or maybe some other guys—well a lot of other guys kind of came and went from the organization over that time.
JF: Yeah, it was actually very difficult... going to the latter part of what you’re talking about. The instability with the Kings during the time I was with them was... It was the most... Important factor for a bad reason... to give us… It was so unstable. From year to year, the roster would change, eight to ten to twelve players, coaches would change. I played ten years and nine different coaches. So that that was a bad part. It came to a point when finally, Phil Sykes, a friend of mine who was on the team, was traded away. And I’d been around a while and I just... I kind of said to myself, you know what I’m not gonna make any more friends with players are coming in. It was just too hard to lose everybody. Everyone kept leaving and fortunately for me, I was able to stick around and be around and be one of the few that was able to do that. But that didn’t ease the pain of losing your friends every single year. Guys just get traded and... It was a tough go. So just trying to make your way through that way. I really didn’t know Dave when I came here. He called me. But we were about five years apart in age, so I never played against him, never really knew him. But um he and his wife Beth were just great to me and my wife Susie and they took us under their wing and that made so easy the first, two, three, four, five years until we got settled.
JN: Do you feel like there’s anything special or particular about you and Dave that allowed you guys to stay in the organization for as long as you guys were part of it?
JF: Well, I can talk to Dave. I know what was special about him and that’s just the will to win. He was the true competitor; he was the true teammate; he would go through a brick wall, all the cliches. He would... hockey, he’d spear you in the eye and [chuckling] getting a loose puck scoring a goal. Nothing stopped him. And that certainly exuded through everyone that played with Dave and that was around Dave. I like to say that I was good enough to stay with the Kings but not good enough for anyone to want... No one else wanted me, so that’s for how I was able to stay around and just fortunate to stay around after my playing career.
JN: I mean, there’s been times where we’ve seen you chat with a guy like Marcel Dionne, who has been effusive with praise for you and to the point where we’ve seen you crack kind of a wry smile, maybe being a little bit embarrassed by-by the amount of praise. I mean, it’s not like you were a guy who was, you know, not putting up points, not getting things done. You obviously had some skill in the league. What were some of the things that you prided yourself on in your game?
JF: Well, yeah. At the time when you’re going through it, you’re trying to make the best of it. You know, I consider myself more of a playmaker than a scorer. My shot wasn’t... My shot 10 feet in, 15 feet in, feet in was... As good as anyone’s. But the... back in those days it was very difficult to get to that spot because of what was allowed in the hooking, in the holding, the grabbing, the cross-checking and everything else, it was just very difficult to get to those areas. So yeah, I liked to move the puck around, like to see the ice. I think that’s what I tried to do. As I grew into it and I matured, I really started to see—it took me five or six years before I really started to see the importance of becoming an all-around player, as they say nowadays, a 200-foot player. You know, my size probably worked against me, but I think I did put a lot of effort into that. And a lot of thought and a lot of details on trying to make sure that you know, the coaches could trust me and your teammates can trust you and all those types of things. I mean, when I look back maybe coming out of junior and the numbers I have there, I didn’t live up to what I expected to do, you know. I was you know, as I was a top, top, top number one scorer in Canada, basically when I was drafted, so... You know, just unfortunately didn’t get to those numbers, were okay numbers but not the numbers I wanted to get to.
JN: You mentioned a little bit of the instability, that-that frustration that you had kind of year in year out losing guys. What’s it like for everyone in the room? Does it kind of feel... When guys come in, do they kind of feel like they’re a hired gun, they’re here for a year, you know, and then they know they’re-they’re getting ready to move? What’s that feeling like?
JF: I think what it does, unfortunately, I think it makes players think a lot about securing themselves and that’s okay because you can’t help the team unless you feel secure. But, I think it did take away from the team building aspect of... You know, we we had—my first year of 1980 had a great year, we were fourth overall in the league and the next year, we had no playoff success that year and the next year then basically the whole half the team’s gone. Then a decent year was, you know, good, bad, good, bad. I don’t think that unfortunately we were a ever able to grow through the pains that you need to grow through as a group and then come out the other side they were just change everything. So you know, pretty sure that... Even if they kept a less skilled team I think it would have been a more successful team just based on chemistry and trustworthiness amongst each other or amongst the players and and unfortunately I just don’t think that the groups I were I was involved in were able to do that because we just were not given that time. We weren’t given that... You know, sometimes in order to grow you have to go through those pains, you have to go through the downs, you have to go through the losing but hopefully keep a group together so when they come out the other end, they look back on those days and it pulls them together as opposed to keeping them apart.
JN: Man, I want to jump ahead in some questioning now with the timeline. Just because talking about going through the those rough patches, solidifying the experience for the guys in the room, you know, how do you feel that might have happened for the guys this past year—well I guess two years with covid and and the shortened seasons?
JF: Well, I think that the Kings, just generally speaking without covid even into entering the picture, you know, the franchise is at a stage where they are rebuilding, so that does create some instability. It... What it does and it’s-it’s an automatic, it’s a norm. It’s a normal situation, but what you have is maybe three, maybe four categories of players on the same team, meaning young guys that are really unsure of whether they’re an NHL player. And then you have young guys who are NHL players, but they’re looking to take the next step. Then you have NHL players that are solid, they’re gonna be around no matter what, whether they’re on the Kings or with someone else they’re still gonna be in the league. Then of course you have the superstars who like a Kopitar, a Doughty and those types of guys, so... When you have four categories of players and that’s-that’s just tough to bring together. But again, if you keep that group together long enough again in a rebuild, much like, you know, Dustin Brown went through with Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick when they were losing when they first came, but they grew through that.
Covid is a whole other thing. I can’t begin to talk about it because I wasn’t in the room at the time. I know how it affected me, but in all honesty, for my job, it actually made it easier because it wasn’t really any travel involved. And you know, I think that the facilities that were put in front of us to do the job off of a monitor what were fine and they were great and they were technically sound so we could do our jobs. As a player, I’m not really sure how it affected them. I’m sure there will be studies on it. I’m sure they’ll take a look at it and you know, you can pay players as much as you want: $10, 12, 15, 20, 30 million dollars, it just doesn’t still doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re a human being and they have feelings and covid affected the whole world and I’m sure when they look back on it and study it, it will be some effects and probably lasting effects on players too.
RP: Obviously we’ve talked a lot about the pandemic, so kind of what was your process pre- pandemic—so, what was it ordinarily like to prepare for games and then how did all that change because of the pandemic?
JF: Preparation didn’t change that much other than the fact: what I was preparing for and how it was preparing didn’t change except for attendance at practice. So we didn’t attend practice. We had Zoom calls every day with players or need a or coaches so that happens. Your-your interaction is still there, it just wasn’t face-to-face and we were unable to watch practice. So for me, I would go and you know at the end of practice, I pretty much figured out what theme of practice was that day, usually addressing something that happened the night before or something they’re really working on, you know, Is going to the numbers power play struggling you work on the problem, but you didn’t get a chance to actually see that that was the most difficult thing. I was not able to really bring in anything from practice into a game. But the compilation, compiling all the information was basically the same, just through Zoom. It’s ama—it did save time. You know, the time it takes to drive to practice and home, you can spend in front of your computer doing Zoom, you can spend… You know, automatically doing your notes, getting clips from around the league. That could all be done. But again, you couldn’t attend in-person. The game day was—again, no morning skate to go to, although there was Zoom calls and production calls, so…
Normally, with no covid, we would have a production meeting at about 4:45 the night of the game at Staples Center. This year with covid we would have that meeting after the Zoom calls in the morning with the team. So about noon we’d have a Zoom call. So that would be all done. I found it more intense to-to prepare. There was less distraction. Now doing the games at Staples Center, the home games, we were able to do them there. Of course the road games, we did them off a monitor either at the Microsoft Theater across the street or there was a makeshift studio outside of Staples Center right by the tunnel.
So we’re calling the game off a monitor, which has its challenges. For the play-by-play guy, Alex, it’s more difficult because he’s calling the game live. For an analyst, it’s not as difficult because I’ve already seen the play basically before I have to communicate. I-I’ve seen it. I’m looking at a replay, I’m doing—that’s basically what I’m doing. The one thing, if I get more specific is this: because of the facilities available or lack of and how they had to be cut back, each game was produced on more of what you would call a “world feed” concept meaning you don’t get too specific to one team because the other team can’t share in that. So what happens is, when we’re doing the home game or a normal road game, during a play, I can get on a talkback button and say to the producer, “At the whistle, give me Dustin Brown.” Whistle blows. Boom camera goes to Dustin Brown. That’s all pre-done. We have more control non-covid. Under covid, the production was done with the visiting team in mind also. So we would show more generic replays concentrating the less on the Kings and more on both teams so both teams were able to get the same amount of access so to speak to the replays and so for instance, my use of the telestrator, which I do quite a bit more than most, I could not do that over a live replay meaning a replay that just came up. No, I’d have to wait till we came back from a commercial and do it over a replay there. Just little things like that. But the actual preparation really didn’t change that much. Of course, we didn’t travel. And for someone who’s been traveling for 40 years, that can be a positive.
RP: [chuckles] Did you miss it? Not traveling?
JF: There are so many things to miss but I’ll tell you what, I... I missed it but… It was taken over by an even bigger positive, how’s that? The ability to stay home.
JN: It’s interesting for me to hear about you appreciating the lack of travel. I mean, you’ve you’ve been on the road for such a long part of your life—or large part of your life I should say. But I mean, I used to talk to Rosie [ed: Jon Rosen] when you guys would get back from trips and he would tell me about all the different places you guys got to go eat dinner at. Especially being a guy who’s very into the culinary arts such as yourself, are there any particular places on the road that you miss going to for a bite?
JF: Well, it’s tough to single out one. I would say we have... We have places in every city. And depending on whether we get a new contact in that city or not, we’re usually back to the same place at same place the same place. But, I think it would... Jon was talking about there is just the ability to get together as a group and you know, you go to work, you go to practice during the day, go back to your room and do your work and you do your notes for the next night and you get a chance to go out and have a nice dinner. And that happens basically every off day that we’re there. It’s the most enjoyable part of travel, no question. The food, the wine, and the… the conversation, the conversation which doesn’t have to deal with hockey. A lot of times it did, but it doesn’t have to deal with that. If there was one place I would say, it’s a place in St. Louis: Charlie Gitto’s. It’s a family-style Italian restaurant. So it’s not fine dining, it’s nothing special, but it has kind of a sports theme. Their owner recently passed away, Charlie. But his son still runs it. And you know, you can tell just by the staff and how long they’ve been there, the food that they serve, and usually the free bottle of wine that we’re given when we come in, that’s... You know, they take care of you and you don’t forget those types of things. So I think it would be Charlie Gitto’s in St. Louis. And if you ever walked in there, it wouldn’t be something special for you as far as, “Wow, look at all ‘shwanky’ this is.” But I think I’ve probably been there, man, I’ve been there 25 times and I really miss it.
JN: Once again a huge thank you to Jim Fox for being a part of this episode. We have a whole other part of the interview where we get into Patine Cellars, we go into his broadcasting style, we go into... I mean, Robyn asks him about how he comes up with puns and that is an absolute treat. So please make sure you are subscribed to Crown Conversations wherever you listen so you don’t miss out on Jim Fox’s insider pun info. Thank you and have a great day.