Buck Lanford, 39, is a sports reporter at FOX 5/WAGA-TV in Atlanta and lives in Atlanta with his wife, Traci, and their two children (with a third on the way). In this latest installment of "Getting to Know...," the 1986 South Gwinnett grad talks with sports editor Will Hammock on a variety of topics, ranging from his high school basketball career to his wife's scary accident to his TV experiences.
WH: What type of player were you in high school?
BL: How I would describe it and how my coach would describe it would be two different things. I'd say average. I loved to play, loved to shoot. I was an average player who could score, but I lacked it on defense. I was a little slow on defense ... Our teams were pretty good. We won the Gwinnett County championship. Back then they had the county tournament, both years, in '85 and '86.
WH: So who's the best dunker in South history, Louis Williams, Mike Mercer or you?
BL: Until Louis Williams came along, I was. But seriously that is my claim to fame. My senior year, I won the South Gwinnett slam dunk championship. That was probably the highlight of my South Gwinnett basketball career. I was a 6-2, skinny, 150-pound two-man. And for one moment in time, I could dunk.
WH: What's it like to see how much Gwinnett basketball has changed since your playing days? It's a little different, huh?
BL: It's a different game almost. It's the same with football, basketball and baseball. You look at sports now and I'm on the sidelines for these games. In high school football now you see how hard they hit. That's how hard they hit in college when I was growing up.
The level of athleticism has surpassed what it was back then. Now every kid on the team can dunk. When I was in high school, one or two kids could dunk.
WH: I understand you went by "Bucky." When did that change? Were Buck and Bucky nicknames?
BL: It was a nickname (his given name is William). When I finished college I decided to drop the Y. I don't know why but I did. Anybody before 1990 still calls me Bucky. They're grandfathered in. That's how I know someone has known me for a long time - they call me Bucky.
WH: How did you and your wife meet?
BL: We went to the same church and the same college down at Georgia State, but we didn't know each other and we met at spring break at Panama City Beach.
WH: Were you partying at the time?
BL: No comment. We were dancing.
WH: So you don't tell that story too often?
BL: Not too often. Only people who call me Bucky know that story.
WH: Your wife had a very scary accident in a diving exhibition, what was that time like for you and the family?
BL: That was 2000. She was working at White Water. She was a diver at Georgia State, and she dove out at White Water in Cobb County. She had a diving accident and hit her head at the bottom of the pool. It was a very scary time. She broke her neck, cracked several vertebrae, was paralyzed for period of time. At one point, we thought she'd never walk again. But she's a miracle. She's had two babies (4-year-old son Will, 3-year-old daughter Olivia) and one on the way (in mid-September) since then. Seeing her now, you would never think anything like that happened.
WH: You must be very proud of her strength?
BL: I'm extremely proud. We've been blessed. There's no doubt about that. It took a lot of hard work to get back to where she is. I thank God for it because a lot of people can't recover the way she has because of the nature of their injury.
WH: Did you always want to get into TV?
BL: I did, in some form of broadcasting. I remember going to Braves games during the day and talking to announcers back then, "I want to do what you're doing." John Sterling comes to mind. When I went to Georgia State I studied journalism with an emphasis on broadcasting. It's not the easiest field to get into. It took years of rejection, toiling, people telling you no and eventually you get the break. To work in my hometown is a dream come true.
WH: So the path to a major market was as grueling for you as it is for most in the TV business?
BL: In this business you've got to really want it. Usually, you start out in some town in the middle of nowhere, making $11,000 a year and waiting tables on the side. This business weeds lots of people out because you see friends making money in sales and you think, "What am I doing?"
I was working in Savannah, WTOC, when I got my break. I had done an internship at WAGA in Atlanta and I got to know all these people. I was doing this show in Savannah and some of the tape used in the show was courtesy of WAGA. So I sent the show tape back to my old producer (Chip Zeller) with a note, "I don't know if you know it but I'm down here, check out my tape, let me know what I need to work on, what's good, what's bad."
He called me back in a few weeks with an interesting proposition. He told me their "sports reporter (Karla Moore) is going on maternity leave and I was wondering if you'd be interested in coming up here for three months. It's only three months, nothing is guaranteed beyond that, but it's in a major market." It took me about two seconds to say yes. I packed up and moved, and three months has become almost nine years. I was a sports reporter for a while, then a news reporter and I've worked my way back into sports. So the breaks do come.
WH: You also get to see some pretty neat events up close in your field. What are some of your favorites?
BL: One that jumps out right away is I'll never forget standing on the end zone line at the Metrodome for the NFC Championship Game when Morten Andersen kicked the field goal to send the Falcons to the Super Bowl. I grew up a Falcons fan so I know that futility. I come back to my hometown to work in the fall of 1998 and I happen to hit the ground running as the Falcons get into the Super Bowl. That's one of the neatest things.
I've met some interesting people, too. I've gotten to play Augusta National because of this job. I've gotten to play golf with you. Lots of golf comes with this job if you can find the time.
WH: So who's the best on-air sports talent in the country right now? Who do you enjoy watching?
BL: Bob Costas is pretty talented. I think Joe Buck's pretty talented. I've had the opportunity to work with him some, in the baseball playoffs and doing sideline at the NFL games. I interviewed Barry Bonds when the Braves played the Giants in the division series a few years ago.
WH: How was Bonds? Was he nice to you?
BL: He was. He's not always been nice (to the media), but he was on live TV that night. Somebody had set him up because that was the first time he'd won a playoff series in his career. As soon as they won the game, he walked over to me and Joe Buck tossed it down to me. He was cool, he was nice and he was happy, excited to advance in the playoffs against the Braves. They had always been his nemesis.
WH: How long do you see yourself working on-air in Atlanta? Is this the dream job for you to work in this area, or do you have other aspirations?
BL: It's nice to be in Atlanta right now. My parents are here. My wife's parents are here. It's home. I like Atlanta. I could see staying in Atlanta the rest of my life and having a nice life and a nice career. But if a golden opportunity came up elsewhere, I'd have to consider it.