Max Falkenstien, voice of KU basketball, dies at age 95
Former Kansas basketball coach Roy Williams lost a good friend on Monday when KU broadcasting legend Max Falkenstien died at the age of 95.
“When I think of Max,” Williams said Tuesday in a phone interview with The Star from North Carolina, where he’s coached the Tar Heels for 16 seasons after 15 years at KU, “I will think of the laugh and think of the smile and I will think of the deep feelings he had for the University of Kansas athletic department and university as a whole.
“The University of Kansas basketball program is the greatest, greatest thing in the world and he felt that way very genuinely and I always appreciated that,” added Williams, continuing to lavish praise on his pal.
“I’ve said this quite a few times. … when you mention Max Falkenstien’s name, it makes you smile and makes you have a good, warm feeling,” Williams added. “Max was a kind soul. Even when Max was saying something hard about somebody or something negative, he really couldn’t say it. He’d say, ‘Well people think this’ or ‘People say.’ It was hard for him to be critical of anybody because he really, genuinely liked people.”
Williams worked closely with Falkenstien during Williams’ 15 seasons in Lawrence. As color announcer on radio broadcasts, Falkenstien was the member of the radio crew chosen to interview KU’s coach 1-on-1 outside the locker room — win or lose. He also hosted Williams’ weekly TV show.
““Every now and then I’d say, ‘Max I’m going to treat you like media if you ask that kind of dumb question again,’’’ Williams said, laughing. “Ninety-nine and 9/10s percent of the time I treated him as ‘Max.’ He was and will always be a great legend at the University of Kansas.”
Members of KU’s radio crew were part of the Jayhawks’ traveling party. Williams deduced early in his tenure Falkenstien was the kind of guy he wanted to spend some time with on the road.
“We went to ice cream places together. We’d sit and talk, go somewhere on the road to get a Coca Cola and cookie or something like that,” Williams said.
They’d also take long walks for exercise on the mornings of road games.
“At that age, he walked a little slower,” Williams said, quickly boasting of his pal, “I heard he was still walking the last part of his life.”
Never during the season, but in the offseason, the two recharged their batteries on the golf course.
“What was so funny … Jerry Green (KU assistant coach), who was only with me four years (before becoming head coach at Oregon), loved Max, too. Jerry would get on Max,” Williams said. “Max would call Jerry ‘Big Frog.’ Jerry would say how puny Max was and how soft he hit the ball. Jerry could hit it farther but sprayed it quite a bit. They had some big matches they enjoyed together,” Williams added of the competitors.
Williams — he said a regular golf combination consisted of Roy, Max, Lawrence businessman Laird Noller and former Topeka Capital-Journal sports editor Bob Hentzen — did more listening than talking when around Max.
After all, Falkenstien was known as a walking encyclopedia of KU sports who broadcast Jayhawks games from 1946 to 2006.
“Not only did he know everything about KU, he cared so much about each individual he met at KU. He cared about Roy Williams. I really loved that part of him,” Williams said.
Williams has a story that never fails to bring down the house in laughter at speaking engagements in KU country.
He tells of the time the Jayhawks toured Disney World in Florida while on a road trip in the 1990s.
“We were in Orlando at Disney World I think it was. We were around the dolphins. Max and I were leaning over the wall watching the dolphins,” Williams related Tuesday.
“I said, ‘Max (do) you think dolphins like popcorn?’ He said, ‘Probably. I don’t know, probably.’
“So I threw a handful of popcorn out there. A guy came from across the way just screaming at me. (He said), ‘Are you stupid? You trying to kill them (dolphins)? Is that what you’re trying to do? Are you trying to kill them?’
“I turned around … Max was 50 feet away from me going as fast as he could go. He left me right there. A few minutes later I caught up to him (Falkenstien). I said, ‘Why’d you leave me?’ He said, ‘That guy was mad!’’’ Williams added, laughing.
“I said, ‘You are the one who told me it was all right (to feed the dolphins).’’’
On a serious note, Williams said appreciated the fact Max had such a long, productive life. Max had some health problems the last year or so.
“I started getting calls I guess Wednesday or Thursday last week. He appeared he was going to go peacefully. From the outside (what Roy was told) my opinion was he did go peacefully and without a tremendous amount of pain. I hope that was the case,” Williams said.
Ninety-five years is a heck of a run, Williams might say.
“I’ve been fortunate. I’ll turn 69 years old on Thursday,” Williams said.
Told he was “just a kid” when he took over for Larry Brown at KU back in 1988, Williams noted: “I was 38. I even had black hair then. It was a great time,” he added of his years in Lawrence spent with folks like Falkenstien. “I felt the people there who love Kansas basketball and of course Allen Fieldhouse were the most important things. The people, the players. ... I’ve been fortunate.”
Larry Brown on Max
Former KU coach Larry Brown spoke about Max on Tuesday with on the Sirius XM radio show of Ari Temkin and Dave Archer.
“The passion the people have for that (KU) program is incredible. He’s always a big part of that and always will be,” the 78-year-old Brown said of Falkenstien.
“He used to tell me stories about ex-players and ex-coaches. His memory was just incredible, the way he’d recall things. Every time I’d go on a trip with him he’d fill me in on things I wasn’t aware of. Somebody once asked me about my experience at KU. I said there was no better place to go to school, no better place to play and no better place to coach. He’s one of the reasons.
“Monte Johnson who hired me, coach (Dean) Smith who went there, James Naismith coached there, John McLendon coached there. I followed Ted Owens. Roy Williams came after me and now you see Bill Self who is probably as good a coach as there is. It’s pretty remarkable and Max was always a big part of that,” Brown added.
Ted Owens on Max
Former KU coach Ted Owens, 90, said this about Max on Facebook on Tuesday: “Maxie … you were a great friend of Kansas basketball. You taught me much about the history and tradition of a sport that we both love. I’ll never forget our 23 years of bus rides together in the Big Eight. Your smile was infectious and your friendship immense. Ted.”