DETROIT — The Detroit Pistons have featured one of the most iconic voices in professional sports behind the microphone as their public address announcer for the past two decades, and to this day, he remains as humble as ever despite his stardom.
John Mason continues his work as the voice of the Pistons in Little Caesars Arena, a role that he made famous in their former home in The Palace of Auburn Hills. One of the most iconic phrases in the lexicon of Motor City sports today is Mason's colorful "Deeeeee-troit basketball" exclamation. And if you can believe it, it was nearly over as soon as it began had it not been for ESPN.
"This is when the Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups-led Pistons were stopping everything and holding teams to 88, 89 points in a game," Mason explained. "ESPN at the time believed that was boring basketball, and would say they're about to switch coverage to a different game. I thought to myself, 'Say something!' And you're not allowed to say anything unless it's a foul or a shot."
"But I knew I had to say something before the broadcast left Detroit, so I took a negative call, which at the time was "Airball!" I flipped it into "Deeeeee-troit basketball" and used the same tune as the airplane-seatbelt warning that we all know.
"So that's why I did it, and the Pistons were not happy that I did that. They were going to meet with me when the team returned from Indiana, except a fan had a sign that eventually made it on SportsCenter, and it turned out to be the No. 2 on the show's top-10 countdown. They scratched the meeting and told me to say it whenever I wanted."
Mason may have seen himself as the voice of an NBA franchise during his early years when he developed a knack for speaking into the microphone, although it was certainly an unassuming beginning.
"The fun of it is that I used to fool around with it at Burger King," he said. "In the old days, Burger King used to have microphones when you ordered the food, so I could pretend I was doing it then. That was fun as a teenager.
"But the only thing I knew was what you saw on television, and in most cases it sounded like they (PA announcers) were mumbling. I didn't have that deep arena-style voice, so everything I did had to be fun and finessed."
Mason, who has also carved out a niche in his career as a radio host, lent his voice to NBA 2K22 and 2K23 video games, something that he viewed as an incredible experience that helped reach new legions of fans who may not have been as familiar with his work.
"It was unbelievable to be part of NBA 2K, and I've done 2K22 and 23, and it's an unbelievable experience. They used to use my voice way back when, so I had a chance to ask them why they didn't just ask me. They said it was different then, but they auditioned 400 people to get that voice likeness, I thought that was fascinating. NBA 2K was just a ball for me."