When you meet him in the flesh, you might be surprised. The person attached to the booming, boisterous microphone presence is actually quite soft-spoken when not on the mic. His demeanor more closely resembling his diminutive frame.
George Preciado is one of the most talked about parts of the Drew League, his voice filling up the gym in every viral highlight video, his commentary legend among those in the know, and missed tremendously when absent. But you’d almost miss him in one of the raucous crowds that tend to populate the higher profile weekend games.
When he’s not occupying his customary folding chair next to the scorer’s table, you can usually catch him outside in the quad, catching a quiet moment to himself. He’s more mysterious than many of the players that thousands of fans trek to the high school gym in South Central to watch, but he’s who they come to hear.
Entering his 20th year, George started as the voice of the Drew in 1997, replacing Bill Crawford as in-game announcer when the aging “Still Bill” stepped down after the 1996 season. He originally became involved in the Drew, according to The Drew Doc: No Excuse, Just Produce, as a fan.
He would turn up when he was nine or 10 years old just to catch the games, growing up under Crawford’s trash-talking tutelage. He’d met then-Commissioner Dino Smiley when Dino was a youth leader and coach at King Drew Middle School, which meant that he naturally gravitated to the nascent league, enamored by the athletic play and dominance of Casper Ware and his team, The Cheaters.
When the time came, he used his instinct for the game and elephantine memory to find colorful ways to pay homage to his mentor, the history of the Drew and the intrigue of watching the highest-level players come down to the inner city to re-establish themselves and play for pride at the most storied pro-am league in the world.
“I’m not into predictions,” says Preciado of the upcoming 2017 season.
A wise move, as there are no indications as yet of what this year’s field will look like, with three new teams and new configurations of returning squads — including the intriguing combination of Houdini’s All-Stars and Problems, two teams that were decimated by desertions last season.
Preciado does, however, have at least one player in mind for a standout season.
“I would like to see Kerry Carter come back this year,” he says. “He’s showed me a lot the last two years, so I just want to see his improvement.”
Carter had an outstanding season last year, receiving nods from all over the league as a possible MVP candidate. While he lost the honor to co-MVPs Franklin Session and Patrick Rembert, if he does show a lot of improvement this year, he’ll be hard to beat for the award this time around.
One of George’s signatures is his way around a nickname; the man knows nomme de guerre. While many players come to the Drew having established nicknames already, once George dubs you with a new title, you might be shocked if anyone ever says your real name again. “Swagg Champ,” “G-Money,” “The Guillotine,” “P-Stacks,” “The Gingerbread Man,” “The Viper,” “Jason Voorhees,” — if George gives you a nickname, you’ve had to earn it week after week showing that you don’t back down from a team, from a player, from a moment, from a loss or any challenge.
George himself has never been known to shy away from teasing a big name. He once told LaMarcus Aldridge to drop and give him 20 push-ups for showing up late.
“One thing that stood out to me the most was when I first announced John Williams,” he says “It made me realize ‘I have arrived.’”
With such iconic names under his belt, he cannot be intimidated from the court. If he catches you slipping, he’ll let you know hear about for the rest of the game. And if you complain, the razzing will get that much worse.
The one nickname you don’t want him to bestow: “Truck of the Year,” given to the absolute worst of the worst. If you come to the gym and put up a stinker, you’ll hear about it and you had better redeem yourself in a hurry or you might not be back.
It’s all love though. George’s respect for the game is evident in the detail he uses to describe team’s, games, and plays that no one else even remembers.
“I remember one play, Team Champion was playing, and they were at the free throw line, and John (Williams) said which way the rebound was gonna go,” he recalls. “He told Mo Spillers at half court, ‘Come get this rebound, it’s gonna come my way. Sure enough, Mo hit him at a dead run — layup. Just like that.”
He was impressed by the deftness of John knowing exactly where the rebound was going and says that he learned a lot by watching iconic players like that play the game.
He doesn’t have an arsenal of catchphrases or signature calls the way some other legendary L.A. announcers does. While he’s inspired by Chick Hearn, he doesn’t mimic him and he’s been known to be a tad bit more colorful in describing a play than Ralph Lawler’s classic “Oh me, oh my.”
But he keeps the language to a minimum, unless the situation calls for it. When a particularly startling dunk demolishes an unwary defender, he’ll even tell an All-Star, “You’ve just been s***ed on!”
In his 20th season, he’s given no indications he’s ready to release his iron grip on the Drew League mic yet. It’d be hard to imagine anyone else being able to step in those shoes. If he were pass on his seat, his advice to his successor would be to “try to go off instinct.”
It’s certainly served him well, as his hilarious, insightful, and — when needed — calming commentary has become one of the highlights of a Drew League visit, along with a cold glass of that addictive Drew-Aid, and catching a flick with one of your favorite pros.
When I asked him his secret to his longevity and success, he imparted one last secret that might be a surprise coming from the “Voice of the Drew League”: “Sometimes, it’s best not to say nothing, and just let the play do the talking.”