'Ultimate professional' Fred McLeod, former Detroit sports broadcaster, dies at age 67

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Fred McLeod, longtime voice of the Detroit Pistons and more recently the Cleveland Cavaliers, died Monday night at the age of 67, the Cavs announced Tuesday morning.

In his sportscasting career that spanned more than three decades, Fred McLeod got to see almost everything.

He called several breathtaking finishes as the television play-by-play voice with the Detroit Pistons — including three championships from the Bad Boys to the “Goin’ to Work” eras. The pinnacle was announcing his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, win the NBA championship behind LeBron James in 2016.

McLeod, the longtime voice of the Pistons and more recently the Cavaliers, died Monday night at the age of 67.

McLeod began his career ascent in Detroit on the WJBK and WDIV news stations as a sports anchor. He had been the Pistons’ play-by-play announcer during their heyday from 1984-2006 on PASS (Pro-Am Sports System) and Fox Sports Detroit before returning to Cleveland after Dan Gilbert purchased the team.

“He was very proud of that because he was from Ohio and that was very special to him,” said Greg Kelser, who worked alongside McLeod as a TV color analyst. “He did four NBA Finals with the Pistons and he did four with the Cavs; he had been there a lot and he garnered several rings for the championships.”

Chris McCosky, who was The News’ Pistons beat writer during McLeod’s tenure, recounted one of his favorite anecdotes about McLeod from their time working together.

“You know it was Fred who stalked Rasheed Wallace from the bus into the practice gym the day before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004, right?” McCosky said. “Microphone in hand, camera man trailing, the rest of us jockeying for position. It was Fred who prompted the ‘GuaranSheed.’ He was the one who got him going, and you know, once Sheed got going, we were all just along for the glorious ride.

“The worst part was, Fred kept trying to coax guarantees out of Sheed. I think he got him one more time before Sheed shut it down.”

McLeod had been the Cavs’ play-by-play announcer on Fox Sports Ohio for the past 14 seasons and also was the play-by-play voice for Lions preseason games last month. His broadcasting career spanned 36 years, including stints with the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.

He made an impression during his time with the Pistons, joining the broadcast team during the lean times and was there for their ascent to back-to-back titles with Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars beginning in the 1980s.

“The Detroit Pistons organization expresses tremendous sorrow upon receiving news regarding the unexpected passing of Fred McLeod,” the team said in a statement Tuesday morning. “Serving as a Pistons broadcaster from 1984-2006, Fred touched the lives of many colleagues, players, and fans through his kindness, his enthusiasm for the team, his storytelling and his passion for the game of basketball. 

“We send our deepest condolences to his wife, Beth, and his entire family during this most difficult time.”

James paid tribute to McLeod on Twitter: "Man WHAT!!!!??? OMG this is extremely sad," James wrote. "May you rest in Paradise my friend! @BethHMcLeod my prayers sent up above to you and your family!!"

McLeod is widely respected among broadcast media for his versatility in calling play-by-play for basketball, baseball and football and his overall professionalism.

“He was always a very positive guy; he’s going to be missed,” said former Pistons center Rick Mahorn, who also does the color commentary for the Pistons radio broadcasts. “He was the ultimate professional and very special.”

Said Kelser: “The thing about Fred — and I learned this early on working with him — is if I was going to be his partner, I was going to have to match his work ethic. I saw the time and preparation that he put into each game and it was the same whether we were broadcasting a 20-win Pistons season in the early 90s or a championship team in ’04.

“It never dipped; the enthusiasm was always there.”

A few weeks ago, McLeod completed play-by-play duties for the Lions, along with analyst Chris Spielman and was preparing for his 16th season with the Cavs.

“It is with true sadness that we mourn the passing of Fred McLeod,” the Lions said in a statement. “Fred brought an energy to our broadcasts this summer and demonstrated the same passion for our team that he had for Detroit throughout his broadcasting career.

“The entire Detroit Lions organization extends its heartfelt sympathies and condolences to his wife, Beth, his family and members of the TV broadcast community he helped mentor for more than four decades.”


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard