From Bum Knees To A Great Gig

Bob Hogue
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Wednesday - June 15, 2005
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For sportscaster Kanoa Leahey, this is a special time.

“From March Madness through the NBA Finals, that’s the best time of the year,” the KHON TV sports director says. “I love football and baseball, too, but basketball is numero uno with me.”

Kanoa has no trouble picking a favorite in this week’s battle between the San Antonio Spurs and the defending champion Detroit Pistons. “The Spurs are my favorite team,” he says. “They have been since the days of David Robinson.”

Kanoa latched on to Robinson’s playing style and followed his career from start to finish.

“Here in Hawaii, we have no geographical tie-in to any one pro team, so I’ve always picked teams according to players,” Kanoa says. “I like the (NFL Detroit) Lions because of Barry Sanders, the (MLB New York) Mets because of Dwight Gooden, and the Spurs because of Robinson. I’ve liked him since his college days. He was a great player, a big guy who ran the floor well, and he also came across as a really good guy.”

Kanoa has that good-guy reputation himself. On the air, he’s polished, professional and passionate about the sports he loves. In my book, he’s the best young sportscaster in the market.

Ironically, it was basketball — or should I say the lack of basketball — that tipped off his broadcasting career.

At Iolani, where Kanoa first made the varsity basketball team as a talented sophomore, he tore the ACL in his right knee his junior season. When the same injury happened again the next year, the left knee this time, he was devastated.

“At first, I decided against surgery,” he says. “We had won the state championship my junior year, but I didn’t feel like I was really part of it. (Despite the injury), I told my dad all I wanted to do (that senior year) was get in and hit a three-pointer.”

His chance came in a game against St. Louis. “They put me in just before halftime, and worked a play for me in the final seconds.”

As the clock ticked to zero, Kanoa got the ball, and hit the dream shot. The gym exploded. “Everybody was way too emotional,” he says now, laughing. “The St. Louis fans must have been thinking, ‘great shot buddy, but it’s only halftime!’”

Not long after that, however, Kanoa tweaked the knee again. His high school playing days were over, and so was a dream he’d had since first shooting buckets at his home in Niu Valley.

“I really wanted to play college ball,” he says. “I would have played anywhere. Joe’s Backyard Tech was good enough for me.”

But with two bum knees, Kanoa’s career thoughts ran instead toward physical therapy. “Because of all the knee injuries, I seriously thought about it,” he recalls.

He was limping around the gym in a knee brace when he ran into former Chaminade athletic director Mike Vasconcellos. “Mike’s daughter Ki‘i was a great player (at Punahou), and he was interested in broadcasting ILH girls basketball on the radio. He asked me to do the games,” Kanoa says.

Still only a high school senior, a different kind of a love affair began.

“Broadcasting basketball play by- play is the next best thing to being in the game,” he says. “The rhythm, the speed of the game — there’s never a dull moment.

“Plus, I didn’t have to worry about playing defense.”

A blossoming career in broadcasting was officially under way.

These days, the young sports guy with the two bad knees spends quite a bit of his off-camera time shooting 3-pointers in the University of Hawaii gyms. He’s learned that he doesn’t need a quick first step to be a star in the Honolulu Media League. His smooth moves and feathery outside shots confound opposing broadcasters every Sunday night.

It’s not Joe’s Backyard Tech, but to Kanoa Leahey, it’s a special place. He’s in the game he so dearly loves.

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