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Austin Carr knew Fred McLeod as well as anyone, better than most.
The two had been side-by-side on FOX Sports Ohio telecasts of Cavaliers games since 2006. Together, they witnessed a 26-game losing streak, a championship and a LeBron James departure from Cleveland — twice.
“He taught me so much about the business,” Carr said with a quivering voice on the Sam & Brad Show on 1590 WAKR radio in Akron. “But the one thing I’ll always remember was his passion. His passion for the business and for the Cavs was just infectious.
“I got it all from him.”
McLeod died suddenly of a heart attack Monday, leaving the Cavs and their fans stunned and stricken with sorrow.
Anyone who has followed the Cavs during the modern era will always think about McLeod and Carr. The pair will go down in franchise lore. Few broadcast teams are considered as enthusiastic. Some even called them homers.
According to Carr, that was always just fine with McLeod.
“I learned from him that there’s nothing wrong with supporting your team,” Carr said. “I have a tendency sometimes to kind of get down on (the Cavs) and go at them a little stronger when they’re not playing well. He accepted that, he understood that. But at the same time, he was always about being positive.”
McLeod also taught Carr about the importance of preparation, about the value of staying upbeat. As far as McLeod was concerned, they had the best job in the world.
On the road, McLeod and Carr often dined and worked out together.
“He meant so much to me,” Carr said. “He taught me about doing your homework. He always had a cheerful approach about it, too.
“Even the year we lost 26 in row, man, he was still the same way all the way through. And he kept me from getting too far down.”
At that point in the interview, Carr broke down.
“It’s just tough,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
PARTNERS FOR LIFE
Carr and McLeod played off each’s other passion. Sometimes, when Carr was letting the Cavs have it for a poor performance, McLeod wouldn’t say a word on the air. He would just smile and look in Carr’s direction.
It was if McLeod were reminding Carr that this was their town and this was their team, and everything was going to be OK.
Carr said he’ll always remember McLeod for being that type of man — someone who stayed professional and courteous regardless of the situation.
“He was such a great person off the air, always good to everyone,” Carr said. “Even when people were rude to him, he wasn’t rude back. That to me, told me what he’s all about.”
McLeod was a born and raised in Strongsville, about a 20-minute drive south of Cleveland. He spent his early years at WJKW TV-8, and even called a few Cavs games way back in the 1979-80 season. Before landing the Cavs gig, he was the longtime TV voice of the Detroit Pistons (1984-2006).
Carr, 71, was the Cavs’ very first No. 1 overall draft pick. That happened in 1971. Since then, he has experienced all of the highs and lows that basketball and life possibly have to offer.
“I still can’t believe that it happened,” Carr said of McLeod’s passing, echoing the sentiments of Cavs followers everywhere her. “I can’t believe it.”
The Cavaliers will host media day in a little more than three weeks. Training camp begins the day after that. It won’t be the same for anyone who covers, follows or works for the team.
That will especially be the case for Carr — after more than a decade of sitting next to McLeod on the air.
“He was my friend, man,” Carr said, his voice again softening. “He was my friend til the end. I don’t know what else to say. … It’s gonna take me time to get over this, to get a clear head and try to move forward.”