‘Hot Rod’ Documentary Will Bring Out A Range Of Emotions
It was a seed planted over three years ago, and since then the idea has grown to completion.
The documentary “Hot Rod” follows the amazingly complex life of a Mountaineer basketball icon and an NBA broadcasting legend. His cradle-to-grave story isn’t a Disney movie. The “Clown Prince of Basketball” brought joy to many, but a stable family life eluded him, both as a child often living on his own in Charleston and then as an adult, when he was at times an inattentive father and husband.
Despite his human frailties, he was adored by legions of fans, primary in his home state of West Virginia and his adopted one of Utah. It all comes out in the story brought to the screen by Pikewood Creative of Morgantown.
Tony Caridi is best known as the play-by-play announcer for Mountaineer football and basketball. But his day job, if you will, is with Pikewood Creative. Teaming with Dan Lohmann, the two are the heart of a company that is a regional leader when it comes to developing advertisements and longer-forum videos for clients. Besides working for the host broadcast company at five Olympics, Lohmann also earned an Emmy for his efforts at Pikewood.
But neither had ever attempted a video of the scope of the Hot Rod documentary, which runs over 90 minutes. And to get an hour and a half ready for the screen, it takes thousands of hours of work, hundreds of hours of footage and at least in this case, over 30 separate interviews.
Born on Oct. 26, 1934 into extreme poverty in Charleston, Hundley somehow overcame all the obstacles of his youth to emerge as one of the greatest high school players of his generation. He went on to become an All-American at WVU in 1957, developing the “Clown Prince of Basketball” style that thrilled audiences and maddened coaches. Hundley was the first overall pick of the 1957 NBA draft, selected by the Cincinnati Royals who immediately traded his rights to the Minneapolis Lakers.
His pro career never quite lived up to expectations, and after six seasons in the NBA, his playing days were over. But he re-invented himself as a broadcaster, spending nearly 40 years announcing basketball games, 30 of them with the New Orelans/Utah Jazz. After battling Alzheimer’s, he died in Phoenix on March 27, 2015.
“Shortly after Hot Rod passed away, I read an article in the (Salt Lake) Deseret News that had information in it on him that I didn’t know,” recalled Lohmann, who himself was a four-sport letterman at Morgantown High and was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame this past fall. “Everybody knows about the flamboyant side of him, but there were things about his family life I did not know. We had always talked about wanting to do a sports documentary, and this just jumped off the page.”
The interviews alone took Caridi, Lohmann and their crew all across the country, where they sat down with not only Rod’s three daughters, Kimberly, Jacquie and Jennifer, but also the likes of Jerry West, Bobby Joe Smith, Brent Musburger, Dick Enberg, Jim Nantz, Ron Boone, Jerry Sloan, Jerry Colangelo, Frank Layden, Craig Bolerjack and many others. The stories they tell will elicit both laughs and tears.
“I was always intrigued by all the tales I had hear about Hot Rod as a player,” explained Caridi. “I had assumed many of those were urban legends and didn’t actually happen. So, I was intrigued by him as a player. Then you add in the broadcasting part, and then you get into his very unusual family life. His daughters were very forthcoming about how it felt to be around and not be around him growing up. It was after we did the interviews with the three daughters that we went, ‘Wow, we’ve really got something special.’
“Originally there were some questions about whether the daughters would do the interviews,” continued Caridi. “We kind of had to sell ourselves as to what it was we were doing. Once they understood we doing it at a professional level, they warmed to the idea. We were very fortunate we were able to sit down with them when they came back for the unveiling of their father’s statue (in February of 2016). That’s when we were able to convince them. We never wanted to make this a fluff piece, but at the same time we didn’t want to sensationalize it. We just wanted to tell the truth, and we think we’ve done that.”
With the help of presenting sponsors WVU Medicine, HealthSmart and West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the documentary will get a premiere screening first in Morgantown on March 30 and then a short while later in Charleston.
“Hot Rod” will also air on various TV channels. It will initially be available on April 3 at 7 p.m. on AT&T Sportsnet-Pittsburgh, April 8 at 7 p.m. on AT&T Sportsnet-Rocky Mountain and on April 16 at 8 p.m. on WVU Public Broadcasting stations. Each of the channels will rebroadcast the documentary multiple times over the next year.