For Jasper native Jonathan Sanford, who is in his first year as the public address (PA) announcer for the world champion Spurs, the job not only represents one of the most exciting and notable parts of the San Antonio organization, but it also represents the culmination of a dream that began 21 years ago during his teenage years.
In 1993, Sanford — then a student at Walker High School — began to develop a fascination and desire to become a PA announcer after watching the work of Ray Clay, the former PA announcer for the Chicago Bulls.
“Just watching what Ray was able to do was amazing. In some ways he seemed to guide the energy of the crowd, then in other ways he would enhance it,” Sanford said. “That really caught my attention as a teenager — and I developed a dream to one day do that. At that time I didn’t have the voice or effect necessary to do public announcing, but I felt that if I worked at it, the dream could come true.”
After graduating from Walker in 1995, Sanford went to Jacksonville State and the International Bible College in Florence for his study in ministry. His 15-year, full-time career in ministry eventually led him to Houston, Texas, where he began to do PA announcing for the area high school district. In November 2011, Sanford moved to Austin where he continued to do PA announcing for area high schools, as well as USA Football.
It was at the USA Football world championships that Sanford met Mike Plummer, a former member of the Spurs staff, who informed him that the Spurs PA announcer was stepping down at the end of the season.
Plummer suggested Sanford should apply for the job.
“I went online and noticed on the application that three to four years of experience was needed — all I had done was high school games and a little college,” Sanford said. “I went ahead, hesitantly, and still applied. I have a studio in my home, and I made a voice-over of the Spurs lineup being announced and sent that to them. I didn’t know how much of a shot I had at getting the job, but I felt I just could not pass up on the opportunity.”
Six weeks went by with no word from the Spurs. Sanford pushed the entire matter away from his mind and went on about his life until a phone call on a fateful Friday morning from Spurs staff member Evan Maxwell would move Sanford closer to his career dream.
Maxwell had been in the AT&T Center — the home of the San Antonio Spurs — and played Sanford’s voice-over tape for the organization’s executives, leading to a meeting between the leaders and the aspiring announcer. The result was Sanford being named as the PA announcer for the San Antonio Stars of the WNBA, as well as the Austin Toros of the NBA developmental league.
“They didn’t want to throw me to the wolves right away. They said, ‘We want you to do the Stars and the Toros for a season and we’ll see how it goes,’” Sanford said. “I was determined to give it everything I had because I knew this was my chance to make my dream come true.”
Sanford’s hard work with the Stars and the Toros paid off, with his appointment to the PA announcing for the Spurs.
“It was surreal how it went down so quickly from the fall of 2011 to now being in this position,” Sanford said. “That doesn’t happen often — I was virtually an unknown, in terms of work, who was thankfully given a shot to make #his dream come true.”
As expected, his first full season with the Spurs was nothing less than spectacular. Just days removed from the team’s fifth NBA championship, victory celebrations and the experience as serving as the PA announcer during an NBA Finals Championship series, the year-long journey and outcome is at times, hard to believe for Sanford.
“Knowing the road that we had to travel in the Western Conference, there was no way of knowing that we would make it back to the finals,” Sanford said. “However, knowing the group that we have on the floor every night and the leadership of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and the others, you just got the sense that if we were to stay injury-free that we’d have a good chance at it. This particular title, I think, is more endearing all-around considering the heartbreak of last season — Duncan has eluded to it and I think it’s felt throughout the team, organization and the city.”
Under Popovich, the Spurs have been known as a well-oiled machine — a team that plays selflessly, with calm leadership, a strong work ethic and an attitude of good sportsmanship that prevails. Sanford said the mindset and qualities shared by the team are also found throughout the entire Spurs organization.
“At Spurs Sports and Entertainment, which encompasses our entire organization, we believe in integrity, caring and success, and it touches every part of the San Antonio Spurs,” Sanford said. “It’s a philosophy that’s shared from ticket sales, security, game operations staff to the coaches and players. Everyone lives it, believes it and brings it to whatever their role is in the organization. If you come into the company and are not willing to have that philosophy, you won’t be here long. We believe in setting positive examples for everyone around us.”
A father of five children, Sanford and his wife are busy in the post-final days moving to a new home in Austin. He still continues his ministry work through the Lads to Leaders organization — an organization designed to develop youth into future leaders in the local church and community.
In reflection of his trek to make his adolescent dream into a reality, Sanford stated that anyone aspiring to make their dreams come true should never believe it’s unattainable.
“If someone has a dream to do something in life, they should set a goal and never believe it’s too lofty,” Sanford said. “Always continue to believe that you’ll find a way to do what it is you’ve dreamed of doing, and prepare for opportunities. You always have to be ready so when the chance comes, you’re ready to take it.”