Up Next

2019 NBA Playoffs

The iconic voice of the Toronto Raptors has seen it all

The longtime PA announcer/chaplain has had a courtside seat to team’s rise

TORONTO — As Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry watched a clip of the Toronto Raptors celebrating their trip to the 2019 NBA Finals, he noticed a familiar face getting emotional. It was longtime family friend Herbie Kuhn, who happens to be the only public address announcer the Raptors have known in their 24 years of existence.

“It’s just amazing to see that he is still a part of the organization,” said Curry, who has known Kuhn since his father, Dell, played for the Raptors. “I saw him in a little clip of when the Raptors were celebrating, and it looked like there was a tear in his eyes when he was hugging some of their players. You are happy for guys like that that worked so well representing the organization.

“His voice in that arena is iconic with the game.”

Kuhn dreamed of being the public address announcer for the Raptors as soon as the NBA announced in 1993 that Toronto would join the league as an expansion team in 1995.

The Toronto native began his career announcing college football and basketball games when he attended Vanier College in Montreal. He gained experience at Toronto Argonauts games in the Canadian Football League and the 1994 FIBA World Championships in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario. While working at the World Championships, Kuhn built a relationship with Brian Cooper, the vice president of operations and business development for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment at the time. It was that connection with Cooper, who was in charge of the Raptors’ fan experience, that helped Kuhn land the Raptors’ announcer gig in August 1995.

“I wouldn’t trade this for the world,” said Kuhn, 50. “I have the best job. I get to sit courtside.”

Then-Raptors president and Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas said Kuhn was hired not only for his experience and voice but also because it was important to make diverse hires. Kuhn is the son of immigrants to Canada, with a father from Germany and a mother from Guyana.

“I hired Herbie and the Raptor [mascot], two of the most important hires for us,” Thomas told The Undefeated. “Our organization was very diverse and young. I wanted to have the most diverse office, team and fan base in the NBA. Toronto still has that till this day.”

Herbie Kuhn (right) meeting with Isiah Thomas (left) before an NBA exhibition game on Oct. 5, 2014, at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada.

Jeff Vinnick/NBAE via Getty Images

Kuhn’s father, Werner, came to Canada in the 1960s from the former West Germany in what was supposed be a temporary move that became permanent. Werner Kuhn met the woman who would become his wife, Patricia, in Toronto, where the interracial couple dealt with questions from family members and strange looks and crass words from people on the street.

“Mixed-raced relationships were definitely the exception, not the rule, in 1963, 1964 and 1965,” Herbie Kuhn said. “Canada has been a refuge, as we all know, for people who have escaped through the Underground Railroad into this country.

“However, I do know definitely that my parents dealt with questions from both sides. ‘Why? Why?’ Not necessarily disapproval, but curiosity. I know walking down the streets of Toronto, they dealt with catcalls and comments. But they took the high road and decided that love trumps all of this. They’re in love with each other. That’s the end of the story.”

Herbie Kuhn’s parents are now avid Raptors fans who call him after every home game on his train ride home. His wife of 21 years, Stephanie, is from Kingston, Ontario. They adopted a black boy from South Africa named Enhle.

“When my mom, my dad, my son, my wife and I are sitting around the table, you have people born in four different continents,” Herbie Kuhn said. “That’s a perfect picture. It’s a snapshot of Canada. I have been so proud of my African background and South American roots.”

Kuhn has visited Guyana several times. However, he said he gets more people approaching him about being Canadian.

“I love speaking to groups of any ethnic background, and if I can inspire someone of any color, I’m happy about that,” he said.

Kuhn is known for belting out his signature “YOUR TOR-ON-TO RAP-TORS” during games, offering encouraging words in French when Canadian Chris Boucher is playing and uttering, “Unos, dos, tres,” when Spanish center Marc Gasol hits a 3-pointer.

Kuhn also has a lot of strong memories from his years with the Raptors.

He remembers the first preseason game in Halifax, Nova Scotia, when Damon Stoudamire went off for 19 points in the first half. (“Isiah Thomas was looking like a proud papa because he was the one who drafted him,” Kuhn said.) He recalls the team’s first regular-season game in the SkyDome. He looks back on the Vince Carter days and sees how significant “Air Canada” was to the advancement of basketball in the country.

More recently, he witnessed the return of longtime Raptor DeMar DeRozan, after he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs this past offseason for Kawhi Leonard, and the Raptors’ Game 7 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round that ended with Leonard hitting a remarkable 3-pointer over Joel Embiid.

“It wasn’t a very pretty game. But the finish was nothing short of miraculous and remarkable,” Kuhn said.

But of all the Raptors memories, none stands out more to Kuhn than when the Raptors advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time. Kuhn had tears in his eyes as red confetti fell from the rafters. Before departing, the public address announcer took a picture standing over confetti on midcourt while holding up a gray T-shirt that read “RAN THE EAST.”

Herbie Kuhn (right) escorts rapper Drake (left) on Jan. 11, 2014, at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

“My reaction was relief mixed with incredible excitement and gratitude,” Kuhn said.

Over the years, Kuhn has built strong friendships with several Raptors players with whom he still keeps in contact, including Dell Curry, Anthony Parker and Mo Peterson. Parker said he regularly texts with Kuhn.

“From the beginning, Herbie became a huge part of my experience in Toronto,” Parker told The Undefeated. “Everyone knows I loved my time in Toronto, and Herbie was a huge part of that.”

Dell Curry, 54, played with the Raptors from 1999 to 2002, the final three seasons of his 16-year NBA career. It wasn’t uncommon at that time for Kuhn to see the sharpshooter and his wife, Sonya, with their young children, Stephen and Seth, getting shots up on the court after games.

“I remember Steph and Seth maybe up to my shoulder taking shots on the court,” Kuhn said. “And most of them went in. I had great memories of the Currys. Dell and Sonya are such wonderful and caring individuals who just look you in the eye and take the time to ask how you are doing. They’ve raised a couple of boys and a daughter who are like that as well.

“I’ve had the opportunity to interact with all of them. Sonya came to church with my wife and I. We got to know them as people. … I love that family. They will always have a special place in my heart. Whenever I see any of them, there is a big, big hug involved.”

Kuhn said he is the “proud uncle” of Stephen Curry becoming a superstar in the NBA. Curry, meanwhile, described Kuhn and his family as “special people.”

“We spent a good amount of time with him when I was living there,” Curry said. “Went to his church. Went to his house to eat. He and his wife had great hospitality for us. I love his energy.”

Another reason that Kuhn bonded with the Currys, Parker and other players is that he is also one of the Raptors’ co-chaplains.

Kuhn attends chapel offered to both teams before Raptors home games an hour before tipoff. He takes turns with the other chaplains offering a short sermon intended to “find a message, Scripture or passage that they can relate to as a human being, athlete, as a man, maybe as a dad, maybe as a husband.”

“I’m not trying to get them fired up to play the best game of their lives,” said Kuhn, who is also a full-time sports chaplain for Athletes in Action. “I’m trying to give them perspective on their identity that regardless to the result out here, it doesn’t change who they are on the inside, win or loss, whether they got a triple-double or three minutes of garbage time. It doesn’t matter. You’re a valued child of God.”

Said Parker: “He helped me to grow in my faith and modeled what it looks like to walk the walk.”

The timing between chapel and public address announcing typically works well for Kuhn, but sometimes there are challenges.

“Sometimes I’m cutting it a little close. Sometimes I’m saying, ‘Amen’ and then I’m running over here [to the scorer’s table] to say, ‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.’ ”

The basketball world will soon become more familiar with Kuhn’s voice during the NBA Finals. But for Toronto fans, he is as familiar as any player who has ever worn the Raptors uniform.

“I was created to use this voice to bring joy to people’s lives, to relay information and sit in the most incredible position to see some of the best athletes in the world,” Kuhn said. “And, to be able to use this God-given talent to an arena full of people is a true honor and a privilege. It has brought contentment and fulfillment into my heart because I know I am supposed to be here.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.