Hot Rod Hundley: The Man with a Lot to Smile About!

by : Kathleen Gage

One of the first things you notice about Hot Rod Hundley is his contagious smile. Anyone within eyeshot is quickly drawn to this former NBA All Star.

Most folks know Rod Hundley as the announcer for the Utah Jazz games on radio and television. He has the distinction of being the only NBA player who is also an NBA announcer. With a unique style and familiar voice that have made him one of the most popular and well-recognized broadcasters ever, public perception can often be deceiving.

I had heard rumors about Hot Rod Hundley that made me wonder who I would be encountering. Contrary to what I had heard, rather than meeting a hard drinking, womanizer who is only concerned about pinching pennies, I encountered a caring grandfather and a man who has done more for children’s causes than most people can even begin to imagine.

So much of who Hot Rod is today was influenced by his tough upbringing in Charleston, West Virginia. Abandoned by his parents at an early age, Rod learned early on to fend for himself. He quickly learned not to grow too attached to any one person or place. His formative years were ones that didn’t offer a lot of stability. In his young mind, the only thing he knew he could count on was basketball.

As he tells it, “I went from basketball, then education, then pro player, then broadcasting."

When his career took off, he was able to occasionally visit his birth mother when he would go to Washington, D.C. He remembers how hard she had to work to support herself. When she could find work, she was a waitress or found jobs in hotels. Rod’s mother lived a tough life until she passed on at the age of 82.

Never knowing his father, Rod had to determine his role as a father for himself. One of the saving graces for Rod was his experiences as a kid at the YMCA.

“I used to sneak into the Y so I could stay off the streets and I would have somewhere to spend my days. There was a guy that would help me get in. I spent most of my time playing basketball."

Another favorite place for Hot Rod to hang out was the Boys and Girls Club. It was these experiences in his formative years that are evident in the time and energy he gives back to nonprofit organizations such as the YMCA.

The first opportunity I had to see Hot Rod “in action" was at The YMCA's Sports Night to benefit kids. As one of the YMCA’s primary fundraisers each year, with Hot Rod in the driver’s seat being roasted, the organization was able to raise $95,000 for YMCA Camp Roger.

“What I experienced as a kid I now give back to. It’s just something I do. I know what it feels like to need the safety of a place like the Y or the Boys and Girls Club," Rod says matter-of-factly.

At an early age, Rod was known for his great smile. He had one teacher, Mrs. Anderson, who said to keep smiling. But he didn’t always have something to smile about. Due to his rough upbringing, his dental health deteriorated to the point that he had to have major work done in the early 1970’s. At that time, cosmetic dentistry was not very popular. Qualified cosmetic dentists were few and far between.

Hot Rod was fortunate enough to find a cosmetic dentist that was relatively good at what he did. But the dental products made then were no match for the high quality products found today.

When Rod moved to Salt Lake in the 1980’s he needed to find another dentist. He was introduced to Dr. Scott Kiser of Smiles Dentistry through his insurance agent. At that point in his life, he had become very comfortable financially. He was no longer limited as to who could see for his dental care.

“I liked Dr. Kiser from the first time I met him. He is very personable and really knows what he is doing. A great dentist. “

“Funny how you can know someone for so long and yet there are things about them you don’t know. When we were working on the big benefit for the YMCA, I was asked to attend a Board of Directors meeting. Little did I realize that Dr. Kiser sits on the board of the YMCA. Have to say, that only served to make me respect him that much more. It was a great surprise."

One trait Rod readily admits to is his propensity to impulse buying. And yet, when it comes to his dental health, impulse is not a part of the equation. What really matters to him is excellence and experience. That is why he continues to see Dr. Kiser.

“I actually had a lot of my original smile work redone by Dr. Kiser. He is incredible with his ability to know what a patient wants and needs. As long as he is in practice, I will continue to see him. Why would I change? No reason to when you’ve got the very best. I would highly recommend him."

Something Rod and Dr. Kiser have in common is their concern for the well being of children. Although Rod readily admits he wasn’t the greatest father, he just as readily admits he makes a really good grandfather. As the proud grandfather of two grandsons, ages one and a four, Rod is quick to offer advice on the importance of giving love and guidance to children.

Rod has a great desire to keep his grandsons out of trouble. His concern is fueled by the fact that many cities no longer have clubs for young boys to go in order to have a safe haven. He is a strong believer that kids need to meet other kids and together learn how to deal with life. Sports provide a great way to help kids learn how to do this.

When asked if you can tell if a kid is destined to be a pro, Rod is convinced that you intuitively know. It’s all in the way they respond to a sport. Do they take to it or do they have to be forced? Although he believes parents should encourage their kids to get involved in sports, he also believes it is unhealthy to force them to do something that is completely out of context of who the child is. He advises parents to take the time to explore the many sports available to them.

He is quick to point out that having a child sit in front of the television or computer all day and night is as unhealthy as you can get. He strongly believes children need to be physically active. By the same token, he also believes kids should be taught the gift of reading. “There’s a whole world waiting to be discovered through reading. Get them to read the newspaper everyday. Imagine what they can do with so much knowledge."

Realizing how hard he had to work for his success, he wants others to know that no matter what they want in life they need to work at it. “Nothing was handed to me. How much time are people willing to put into their success? Problem with lots of people is they don’t want to work for something. And that’s not how life is. You have to put the time in to become the best. That’s just the way it is. You can be born and blessed with ability but if you don’t take advantage of it, it’s a waste."

When asked what he is most proud of, surprisingly it isn’t all the awards and Hall of Fame recognition he has received. It is his three daughters and whom he feels have all turned out to be stellar women. And of course his grandsons.

With a mischievous smile he does admit his two most recent recognitions are something he is very proud of. As the recipient of the 2004 Utah Broadcasters Hall of Fame and the 2003 Springfield Massachusetts Basketball Hall of Fame, Hot Rod has a lot to be proud of. A career that is the envy and awe of so many, more awards than can be counted, fame and fortune, people the world round that love and adore him, three great daughters, and two fabulous grandsons. Now that’s definitely something to smile about.

About Dr. Scott Kiser

Dr. Scott Kiser has been practicing general dentistry in Salt Lake City, Utah for over 20 years. Dr. Kiser has used only mercury-free substances in his treatments since the mid 90’s and concentrates his practice in the areas of sedation dentistry and complete smile makeovers. Consumer Research Council of America selected him as Utah’s Top Cosmetic Dentist of 2003 - 04. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the YMCA of Utah Visit to sign up for a FREE monthly online newsletter or for more information on Dr. Kiser and all of his services.

Copyright: © 2004 by Kathleen Gage

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