Friday, January 28, 2022

Why UCLA’s Josh Levin wants to spot two games in one day

With 29 minutes to take off, Josh Levine is considering his first delay.

The UCLA Bruins’ voice over the radio looks at David Singleton as the senior guard walks to the free throw line at downtown Thomas and Mac in Nevada, Las Vegas, which was unnecessarily fouled 10 seconds before a runaway win.

For Levin, every second counts. He needs the game to end quickly so he can drop his headset and race to the limousine that is idling behind the back entrance to the arena, waiting to be taken to a private terminal at McCarran International Airport for a 40-minute flight back to Southern California. … …

Levin has another game. The UCLA soccer team is playing their last regular season match at the Rose Bowl in about 3.5 hours, and Levine doesn’t want to miss it, although his bosses will forgive him for handing over the cheeky daily double. It takes a little bit of luck in addition to weeks of planning to pull this off.

Moments later, the basketball game ends. Levin shares some final thoughts with teammate Tracy Murray, pats him on the shoulder and rises from his seat in the black trainers he wore to speed up.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” Levin says, assessing his chances of flying JetBlue to Burbank, “but I think we have it.”

After finishing his job at UNLV, Josh Levin checks in at McCarran International Airport at 4:18 pm, where he will be flown to Burbank for the Bruins vs. California game that evening.

(Ben Bolch / Los Angeles Times) #

A short path to the exit beckons from Levin’s seat almost halfway to the arena. He descends a few steps down the tunnel and down the corridor, pausing momentarily to pick up the fallen handle before bursting through the door.

Sergio Tamriz, a smiling limousine driver, greets Levin on the street as he gets into his car. Levin sits in a leather seat behind the driver to show the fastest route to the airport on his Waze app.

The limo drives off, crawling down a driveway littered with UNLV fans. One man wearing a Larry Johnson jersey was driving in front of the car, resulting in a delay of several precious seconds.

Finally, the road is cleared, the limousine speeds up and takes a few quick turns before reaching a red traffic light.

“These lights are a killer, boy,” Levin says, checking his phone.

Before takeoff 24 minutes.

::

This is hardly the most ambitious route taken by the broadcast veteran, who compares himself to the less beautiful version of travel-worshiping George Clooney in In The Air.

In 2015, Levin called the NFL day game between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Diego Chargers in Baltimore, followed by the World Series 5 game between the New York Mets and the Kansas City Royals in New York.

This required a police escort from M&T Bank Stadium to Ravens’ Stadium, which was due to the connection with the team.

“They were kind enough to explain to their employees,” says Levin, “that it was life or death.”

Josh Levin (left) on his way to the 2015 World Series.

Josh Levin (left) on his way to the 2015 World Series. Even as a kid, he knew what he wanted to call games: “I never wanted to be a cowboy, astronaut or anything like that – I just wanted to do it.”

(Josh Levin)

Mindful of potential delays, Levine avoided one commercial flight that could have gotten him to Citi Field on time, paying out of pocket to travel in a two-seater propeller plane in which he became the de facto co-pilot. Immediately after landing, he knew that he would succeed – New York’s LaGuardia airport is almost a short walk from the stadium.

Levin arrived about 75 minutes before the first serve.

Another police escort was needed to expedite Levin’s departure from Qualcomm Stadium after the Chargers game in 2016, his first season being UCLA Football and Basketball. Security could have been more useful by clearing a path inside the stadium.

As I turn the corner of the tunnel, I hear a voice approaching, screaming “Oooh!” to celebrate Miami’s 31-24 win, Levin faced Dolphins defender Ryan Tannehill.

“We hit our hips,” Levin said, “and I didn’t fall — I want it for the record — I didn’t fall.”

The rest of the day was less busy: Levin flew to Santa Monica Airport in another private jet and was then driven by car to Paulie’s Pavilion, where he took his seat four minutes before 6:05 p.m. as the Bruins left California. to Northridge.

Over the years, Levine has voiced teams for the Bruins, Mets, Chargers, Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, as well as playing games for the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, among others.

“Basically, I’ve been playing baseball for 35 years in a row,” Levine, 53, said, “but as soon as I got here and invested in the lungs of UCLA, it was like, ‘Okay, this is not my next job, this is my last job. “And I want to do this job, and I think the way to do this job is to get your ass out on the West Coast and try to be around as often as possible.”

Josh Levin writes chunks of text onto his whiteboard at 4:40 pm.

Josh Levin writes snippets of text onto his observation board at 4:24 pm as part of his final soccer match before boarding a plane bound for Burbank on November 27.

(Ben Bolch / Los Angeles Times) #

When he was hired, Levin promised that then UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero would do his best to ensure he didn’t miss a game. This only happened twice due to scheduling conflicts: once in the 2016-17 season, when Levin also convened games for the Chargers and Mets, and once in the fall of 2019, when he missed out on a massive victory for UCLA football team 67-63 over Washington. State because he called for a Red Sox game in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Another missed game seemed likely on Saturday, given the scheduling coincidence, until Levin found out the start time – 2:30 pm for basketball, 7:30 pm for football. So what if the games took place in different states and he had to get from the arena to the airport in less than half an hour?

“Only Josh can do that,” Murray said about an hour before the basketball game. “He has an S on his chest.”

::

In the limo, Levin proposes a different game after game.

“Stayed in paradise,” he tells the driver. “Straight on the Tropicana.”

After some slow movement, a section of open road opens up ahead. The speedometer rises, but the satisfaction is only momentary. Another red light, located above the line of cars, can force the limousine to wait two cycles before turning left.

Josh Levin checks his phone at 4:40 pm as he rides the shuttle to the waiting plane in Burbank.

Josh Levin checks his phone at 4:40 pm as he rides the shuttle to the waiting plane in Burbank.

(Ben Bolch / Los Angeles Times) #

Nick Coop, the TV presenter who is on standby in case Levin fails to get to the Rose Bowl in time, may have to handle the opening minutes of the game if Levin is sent on the next flight an hour later.

The driver turns sharply to the left into the parking lot, barely avoiding a collision in the hope of taking a shortcut. He drives past several speed bumps, Lenny Kravitz’s American being played over the sound system as the car bounces.

“It was a veteran move, the parking lot shook,” says Levin. “A hero died from your shock.”

The airline officials are called to inform them that Levin is on the way and they will be grateful for any conditions to help make the flight at 4:25 pm. It is now 4:07 am. The limousine is about half a mile from the terminal when a sluggish white SUV blocks its path ahead of another left turn, significantly slowing its pace.

Unlike the final moments of the basketball game, the Bruins won easily, the outcome could have been anything.

::

The six-year-old took a first look at phonetic possibilities as he watched Coach John Wooden’s last team at UCLA beat Kentucky to win the 1975 national title.

Wouldn’t it be cool to be Josh Levin, the voice of the Bruins?

Josh Levin queues at 4:45 pm to board the JetBlue JSX flight to Burbank.

Josh Levin queues at 4:45 pm to board the JetBlue JSX flight to Burbank.

(Ben Bolch / Los Angeles Times) #

The budding broadcaster already had his own imaginary radio station, WJML 700-AM, denoting Joshua Mark Levin. Using Sharpie, he wrote the callsigns on a pillowcase, which he hung beside his TV in the basement of his home in Rochester, New York, completing his fantasy.

He named college and NFL week games using listings drawn from Sporting News newspapers and yearbooks.

“Just a squeaky voice trying to trigger landings and all,” Levin said. “I never wanted to be a cowboy, astronaut or anything else – I just wanted to.”

At the age of 16, he first played games with the Rochester Red Wings, a subsidiary of the Baltimore Orioles, and later became the sporting director of WBAL, the flagship radio station of the Orioles.

Having worked in three organizations at once, Levin is gradually moving towards middle age. He dedicated himself exclusively to the Bruins, naming his last Chargers game in 2016 and his last Major League Baseball game in 2019.

Interest in UCLA football and basketball has skyrocketed over the five seasons he spent at school. The soccer team followed the basketball team’s Final Four with its first winning season since 2015, giving Levin an added incentive to cover both of them on Saturday.

“If you have the opportunity to play two or three games a day,” Levin said, “I say, ‘Download this.’ “

::

The limo arrives at the private terminal at 4:11 pm, just 15 minutes after the game ends. 14 minutes left before takeoff.

Fortunately, each of the two check-in kiosks in front of Levin has only one group. Security is minimal: agents run a strip of paper over the bags to check for explosive residues.

Levin grabs his boarding pass and heads to the far end of the waiting area to begin his final preparations for the game, pasting snippets of text onto the poster. He was assured that he would leave before the 15-minute delay was announced.

Seating in 4A of the 30-seat Embraer, Levine prepares to work further as the jet takes off into the evening sky, breathtaking hues of orange and purple merging over the nearby mountain ranges. Its overhead light is the only one that remains on for most of the flight, which ends with a hard landing at 5:40 pm at Bob Hope Bobank Airport.

Its overhead light is the only one that stays on for most of the flight, and Josh Levin finishes his game at 5:10 pm.

Its overhead light is the only one that stays on for most of the flight. Josh Levine finishes his game preparation at 5:10 pm before landing in Burbank. “If you have the opportunity to play two or three games a day,” he says, “I say, ‘Download this.’ “

(Ben Bolch / Los Angeles Times) #

David Lapier, son of former UCLA TV presenter Chris Roberts, steps forward to greet Levin as he enters the terminal. Levin checks his phone. It shows the route that takes you to the Rose Bowl in just 25 minutes.

“We have to be in great shape,” he says.

The pre-game show, which airs at 6:00 pm with Levin in the back seat of a car on Route 134, shows that you can actually be in two places at the same time.

“Now,” says the announcer, “let’s see Spieker Field at the Rose Bowl.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Levin replies a moment before his own voice plays on the radio in a pre-recorded snippet.

A few minutes later, Roberts arrives at Lot K. Levin looks through all the open parking spaces, joking that he doesn’t need officers to clear the way for his arrival.

At 18:21, when he has more than an hour left, Levin enters the Rose Bowl, victory guaranteed before the start.

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