CLEVELAND, Ohio — Rafael Hernandez Brito, known as Rafa or El Alcalde (The Mayor), broadcasts in Spanish for the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose regular season begins on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017.
Cleveland creds: Moved here in 2014
Currently lives: Downtown
Schooling: Boston University, Connecticut School of Broadcasting
Favorite locally owned restaurants: Barocco, Pho Thang
Who owns your mike?
Brito: The Cavs.
Who carries your broadcasts?
Brito: La Mega 87.7 FM broadcasts our games in Northeast Ohio. We’re available all over the world on the NBA [National Basketball Association] app. And you can hit the SAP button on Fox Sports Ohio and hear my broadcast.
I’m also the producer of the Road Trippin’ podcast by RJ and Channing [players Reggie Jefferson and Channing Frye].
What’s the Cavs’ Spanish market like?
Brito: The Latino community is growing in Northeast Ohio. And the game is global now. You could go anywhere in the world, and anybody could tell you who Lebron James is.
The Cavs have recognized that opportunity. We’re only one of six teams that broadcasts all games from on-site in Spanish. The other five are teams in Texas and Florida.
We’re having Los Cavs Noche Latina [Cavs’ Latin Night] March 5. The intro is going to be in Spanish. They’re having Hispanic bands. We’ll recognize Latinos making a difference in Cleveland.
You see the Cavs in the locker room, on the practice floor, on airplanes and in hotels. What are they like up close?
Brito: It’s a crazy bunch. You have different personalities with one goal in common. They get along very well.
K-Love [Kevin Love], RJ and Channing call themselves “The Triangle.” They’re always poking fun at each other.
Channing is the funniest guy in the NBA. But nobody likes to sit next to him on the bench, because he talks so much. One time, he started talking to a fan.
My favorite Cav is J.R. Smith. With all the baggage he came with [including a brawl and a fatal crash], the guy has been a pure joy. He’s the hardest working guy on the team. He makes you feel like you’re one of them. He’s like the glue.
How do the Cavs pass the time between games?
Brito: They do a lot of work. What you see them do before the game, they’ve already done twice in the morning. They were probably doing weights at 6 a.m. They spent time practicing, shooting, treating their bodies.
Why are you known as mayor?
Brito: I was covering a boxing match in Las Vegas. A co-host brought a cousin and his wife. “Hey, Rafa, can you get them a room?… Can you get them tickets to a show?” I did. “Hey, this guy’s like the mayor of Las Vegas.” It stuck.
Tell us more about your life before Cavs’ Town.
Brito: I was born in El Salvador. I finished growing up in Manhattan.
I got a degree in mechanical engineering. I wanted to work on jet engines, but I only had a green card, and most of the jobs were for U.S. citizens. So I started working for Coors. I became regional sales manager. I had accounts with Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden.
I decided to go into broadcasting. I was radio sports director for Univision. I was the first Spanish voice of the New York Jets and the Brooklyn Nets. I was the Spanish voice for national and international NFL games. I’m the only sportscaster to call the finals of all three major sports in the U.S. and the [college basketball] Final Four.
Univision Sports is based in Miami. I tell people that [Cavs’ owner] Dan Gilbert went to Miami in ’14 to make two acquisitions: Lebron and myself.
We know how Lebron’s adjusted. How about you?
Brito: In a 20-year career, I’d seen great moments, but I’d never really cared who’d won or lost. Cleveland was my first time working for a team and seeing the guys working so hard every day. Winning the championship on June 19, 2016, will forever be the favorite day of my career.
I didn’t know if we were going to win until the last four seconds. We knew our words would stay for eternity. We’re not supposed to lose it. We’re supposed to call the game so everyone listening can lose it.
I said [in Spanish], “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the NBA champions.” I felt a knot in my throat in the middle of “champions.” I had to stop for a second and regain my composure and let the crowd be part of the broadcast. Then I said, “LeBron James, The Chosen One, has returned to Cleveland and fulfilled his promise of taking this franchise to the top of the mountain…”
Riding in the parade, I realized the magnitude of the championship. This lady told me she had gone to the cemetery that morning because her father was such a big Cavs fan and never got to see them win.
I saw tons of kids on the route. They had no idea what the other generations were talking about, with 54 years of sadness in Cleveland.
Since then, I have watched the game many times on my video. It still gives me chills.
Do you broadcast other sports any more?
Brito: I’m still doing the Final Four and the NFL’s international game.
What about local teams?
Brito: The Indians still don’t have a regular Spanish broadcaster, and half their team’s Hispanic. But I did their opening game and their Hispanic Heritage Night. I threw the first pitch that night, too.
After four years here, are you All In for Cleveland?
Brito: When I moved here, I wanted to make Cleveland my home. It is quite a change, but I love everything about it. In all my years traveling, I’ve been to every small city in the country. None of them has anything on us. We have everything a big city has: great restaurants, theaters, bars. We have all four seasons and three major-league teams. It’s like New York in 40 square blocks, with no traffic.
I love the people. They know their sports. They love their teams. I know towns where they jump ship a lot quicker.
What do you do in your spare time?
Brito: I walk a lot, eight to 10 miles. I walk across the bridges and come back. It’s a great view of the city.
I ride my bicycle. I play golf sometimes. Cleveland has some of the best public golf courses. They’re all in really good shape.
After losing the finals last year, how do the Cavs look this time around?
Brito: Koby Altman has done a great job in his first two months as GM. Look what he got for Kyrie [Irving], when everyone knew he had to trade him. I have a really, really good feeling about this year.