Beginning with the 2004-05 edition of the Lakers media guide, the Los Angeles Lakers organization selected a prominent Southern California media member to pen a tribute to Chick and carry on his legacy with a favorite story or anecdote about the broadcasting legend.
Steve Springer | Mitch Chortkoff | Susan Stratton | Mark Heisler | Stu Lantz | Doug Krikorian | Jim Hill
The Los Angeles Lakers are pleased to have long-time Los Angeles Times writer Steve Springer present the inaugural commemoration of Chick. Springer, who recently released the book Chick, His Unpublished Memoirs and the Memories of Those Who Knew Him, has also authored The Encyclopedia of the Lakers and co-authored Winnin' Times: The Magical Journey of the Los Angeles Lakers. He has covered the Lakers on and off for 30 years in a sportswriting career that began at the Thousand Oaks News Chronicle (1974-79), followed by a move to the Orange County Register (1979-83). Springer and his wife, Annette, have two grown children, Dina and Alan, and a son-in-law, Daniel Garcia.
In an area as vast as Southern California, an area containing approximately 13 million people, is it possible to have a shared experience?
One comes easily to mind: Listening to Francis Dayle "Chick" Hearn.
Everybody, it seems, has a Chick story. Most are funny, a few are sad, all are memorable. It sometimes seems as if Chick, who died August 5, 2002 at 85 after being the team's first and only broadcaster for 42 seasons, touched the lives of all 13 million people.
|Chick Hearn calls a game circa 1996 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.
Maybe that's why his funeral was televised live, from beginning to end, on various local channels. No other Southern California figure, it is believed, has ever received such a special honor, not politicians nor entertainers, not athletes nor religious leaders.
Maybe that's why 18,000 people filed through Staples Center on the day of Chick's funeral to view his broadcasting perch, located above the court in a spot where he could be surrounded by his beloved fans.
Maybe that's why the stories keep coming, from a shut-in who said that Chick's broadcasts opened up his world, from a blind man who said he could see the Lakers through Chick's words-eye view, from several generations of listeners and viewers who say they learned basketball through Chick.
Remember, in 1960, basketball didn't have the common appeal in Southern California that it enjoyed in other parts of the country. The Lakers had just arrived and John Wooden was still four years away from his first national championship at UCLA.
Laker owner Bob Short, dismayed at the sparse crowds attending the Lakers' first home playoff games in their new city, convinced Hearn, then the USC play-by-play announcer, to add the Lakers to his resume.
The team had been averaging between 3,000 and 4,000 fans for their first two playoff series, against the Detroit Pistons and the St. Louis Hawks.
Hearn joined the Lakers in St. Louis in the middle of that playoff series and the L.A. audience heard Laker basketball on the radio for the first time. Hearn's energy and passion were infectious. His sometimes critical, but always informative commentary was instructive. His Chickisms - from "slam dunk" to "faked him into the popcorn machine" to "the mustard's off the hot dog" to a dozen others - were hilarious.
It was no coincidence that when the Lakers returned home to the Los Angeles Sports Arena for Game 6 of their series against the Hawks, 14,844 fans also showed up.
It was the beginning of a long and loving relationship between a city and its basketball announcer.
The famous, like Bill Walton, to not-so-famous in those early Hearn years behind the Laker microphone all share a common memory: Being a youngster sent to bed by his or her parents, but secretly taking a transistor radio to tuck under the pillow so that the Laker broadcast could serve as a good-night story.
As the seasons mounted, so did one of the most amazing streaks in sports history. From Nov. 21, 1965 to Dec. 16, 2001, Hearn didn't miss a single Laker broadcast, his run of consecutive games reaching 3,338 before heart surgery forced him to leave the microphone. But what the public didn't know was the physical hardships Hearn sometimes overcame to keep his streak alive.
"During the 2000-2001 season," said Susan Stratton, Chick's long-timer producer/director, "we were in Houston and Chick was really sick.
"We put him in a car and took him to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. They ended up having to give him blood transfusions. It was related to the heart problems he would subsequently have."
Chick was admitted in the afternoon. Faced with directing a game that night, Stratton left for the arena.
"I had a car waiting for Chick," Stratton said, "because he insisted he was going to do the game. And Chick showed up. He had simply told the doctors that he couldn't continue the transfusion any longer. He had to go. Whatever they had given him would have to do. They removed the IV and he walked out of there, went back to the hotel, changed his clothes and there he was. Leaving a hospital while having a transfusion? God, who would do that?"
Only Chick Hearn, 84 years old at the time.
Chick loved to pick on traveling writers and I was one of his favorite targets. On one occasion, we were on the team bus traveling through the streets of Denver. I was sitting behind Chick, engrossed in a conversation, the noise annoying Chick.
As we pulled up to a corner, a crew was working on the street, the sounds of their jackhammers on the asphalt reverberating against the bus windows.
"Hey, Springer," said Chick over his shoulder, "want to make some extra money?"
"Sure," I replied, playing the straight man.
"Then get out there, put your chin on the sidewalk and start talking."
Chick was always on.
One night in Philadelphia, he and several writers got on a hotel elevator in the lobby. They stopped at the second floor and a man in a Superman costume got on. At the third floor, Superman got off.
As the doors shut, Chick turned to the writers and said, "You'd think the silly son of a gun could have jumped that high."
Future generations of basketball fans will hear the many Chick stories and they can hear recordings of his voice if they are interested.
But they won't be able to reach under their pillow, flip on a radio and hear, "The game's in the refrigerator, the door's closed, the light's out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard and the jello's jiggling."
Some childhood memories are irreplaceable.
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This year, the Los Angeles Lakers are pleased to have long-time Lakers beat writer Mitch Chortkoff share a story about the broadcasting icon. Chortkoff was assigned to the Lakers beat for 23 years, traveling to most games for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, South Bay Daily Breeze and Santa Monica Outlook. He covered six Lakers championship teams, beginning with the 1971-72 team coached by Bill Sharman and led by Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West. In 1998 he began a new phase of his career, writing for the weekly Culver City Observer, Santa Monica Mirror and Del Rey News, maintaining his familiar place in the Lakers press box. Chortkoff was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.
It happened several years in a row --- every August.
After covering every Laker game, home and road from October to June, I was enjoying some relaxing time in the summer.
The phone would ring. It would be Chick Hearn, my friend and traveling partner.
"How much more time do we have to kill,?" he would ask. "I can't wait to get to training camp."
The traveling group welcomed a few months off. He only needed a few days.
It's been the highlight of my career to cover the Lakers and I will always be grateful to the newspapers that afforded me the opportunity. But, hey, a few months to recharge the batteries were necessary too.
|Chick Hearn made his return to announcing for the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers game.
For everyone but Chick. I've never known anyone with such dedication, such enthusiasm. He worried about wins and losses more than players and coaches. He worried about the possibility of bad weather and how it could affect our travel schedule more than people assigned to that task. He went on the air for every game for more than 30 years, regardless of anything happening in his personal life.
I was lucky enough to know him beyond the job. He was totally absorbed by the work but keenly aware of those around him too.
One day when we arrived at the airport he rushed to me and asked about my friend Barbara, my frequent companion at games and Laker-related events.
"Is Barbara all right,?" he asked. "She's fine," I replied. "Why?"
"I thought she might have a cold. When I was in the press room last night she coughed a few times."
He was so good to me, so good for my career. He'd interview me often, talk about me on the air when it wasn't necessary.
I'm a nice guy but I know there was something more that motivated him to do those things. You see, he deeply appreciated my dedication to the Lakers too. I stayed on the beat for more than 20 years while other traveling writers came and went. And by doing that I earned his respect.
In fact, the only time our relationship became strained was when I left the Lakers for 10 days to watch the Dodgers in spring training. Newspaper executives thought I should go to Vero Beach, Florida to write baseball columns. When I returned to the Lakers Chick was standoffish for awhile, as if I had betrayed the team.
Sometimes in the press room we talk about him now, specifically how he would have handled the ups and downs of recent seasons. He would have been emotionally involved.
He never lost his focus or sense of humor.
When he missed a stretch of games late in his career he visited the Laker locker room in a wheelchair one night and the players welcomed him.
"Chick, it's great to see you," said Shaquille O'Neal. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
Hearn replied without hesitation.
"Yeah," he said. "Get a damn rebound."
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This year, the Los Angeles Lakers are pleased to have long-time KCAL-TV Producer/Director Susan Stratton share some of her stories about the broadcasting icon. Stratton began working with Chick in 1976 and spent 26 seasons as a Producer/Director for his telecasts, forging a truly special bond with the man known as "The Voice of the Lakers."
Unlike most Lakers fans, I did not grow up listening to Chick Hearn. My husband, Dick, and I moved to Los Angeles from Washington DC in 1972. Dick became the new Executive Producer at KTTV. I went to work as a Producer/Director at KHJ-TV (now KCAL). I met Chick for the first time in 1976 when the station suddenly became the Lakers broadcast station. Lionel Schaen, the station's General Manager, gave me the opportunity of a life time and asked me to produce and direct the telecasts. It would be fair to say that Chick was not too happy with me for the first few months. He really would have preferred a person with NBA experience. And then remember that there were very few women working in broadcast sports at that time, none in the NBA. I really wanted Chick to accept me, so I tried to figure out how I could gain his confidence. I soon learned that Chick had no mechanical ability. And I mean none. His daughter Samantha told me that either she or granddaughter Shannon had to set his car radio for him. So I spent a lot of time at our various venues making sure that the microphones and monitors were working and arranged to his satisfaction. Chick noticed my efforts and invited me to travel on the Lakers bus with him. I was absolutely thrilled. And we went on to forge a very rewarding and successful partnership. It helped that both of us were perfectionists! However, this is not a perfect world. Lakers fans still tell me their favorite Chick stories. Many of them involve on-air equipment disasters.
|The marque at the Staples Center pays respects after the Chick Hearn memorial on August 9, 2002 at Staples Center
As you know, Chick was not shy about using a person's name. How many of you remember him telling the statistician to write" BIGGER?" On one memorable occasion, someone spilled Chick's water bottle on his broadcast headset. This occurred while we were on the air. Unfortunately the spilled water damaged some wires in the audio system and everyone in the TV audience could hear us (the production crew in the truck) talking to Chick and Stu on the intercom line. Chick couldn't hear anything, so he thought his mic was dead. None of us realized that all of this "damage control" audio was being broadcast LIVE, a truly unique moment in television to say the least!
If a replay was not promptly aired, or even worse, did not show the play in question clearly, Chick was quick to announce it. He would then immediately go on to say, "Our Director, Susan Stratton, and her crew are doing their usual fine job!" I would crawl under the console in the truck! He didn't do this to be mean. It was his way of letting everyone know that the offending replay was not to be blamed on anyone. I could never convince him that this was not a good way to do this!
Chick was not one to hold a grudge. You would certainly know it when he was unhappy. If he liked you, he would call you a "Dum, Dum." But then all was forgiven. Our crews on the road loved him. He always noticed and acknowledged the people who worked with him on the broadcast. In the last year, Chick had trouble walking. One of the men in San Antonio volunteered to bring a special cart to the game so he could drive Chick across the huge Alamodome to his broadcast position. Statisticians would call me to ask if they could work with him.
Chick always wanted to be wherever we were going next. The minute the plane took off, Chick wanted to know when we going to get there. He would keep this up the entire flight. And he would be impatient to take off. His call of "Let's Go!" became a Lakers tradition. He always said: (1.) Get to the airport early and (2.) Take the first fight out. Not bad advice. On one occasion, we built an elaborate hoax involving an announcement by the Laker charter pilot that our flight was being diverted to Orange County because of fog at LAX. Even the players were involved. Chick took the bait for about 20 seconds until one of the writers, who was not paying attention and shall remain nameless, gave it away!
He always wanted to deliver the news first. The Lakers PR Directors were not always happy with this facet of his character. Medical reports were particularly sensitive. Some years ago, Chick wanted to interview Gary Vitti at halftime and ask him to discuss an injury to Magic Johnson. Gary, who is very articulate and precise, had a picture of the injury. Now although Chick was exacting about the English language, he was not always accurate in his pronunciation of foreign names or scientific words. This interview was priceless. Chick would say, "So …the injury is to that big bone in his hand?" and Gary would reply with the medical name of the bone and a further technical description of all the muscles involved. Chick attempted to respond to Gary using Gary's technical terms. This was a disaster. Finally Chick said, "So, it still hurts?" At this point, Gary could hardly talk!
One year, we had a Christmas game in Portland. Marge Hearn and I came up with the idea to have Chick interview some children at halftime. On that day, a terrible ice storm hit Portland. There were about 1,000 people at the game. I could barely gather children for Chick to interview. Chick had a nice open to the interview, then asked the first child about her day. She announced that she and her family were atheists and did not celebrate Christmas. Not to be daunted and in true show business tradition, Chick went to the second young guest who announced that they did not celebrate Christmas either. Chick closed the interview quickly by saying that everyone celebrates the holiday in his or her own way. Marge and I heard about this for years.
He was unique with a broadcasting style that was perfect for the fast paced game of professional basketball. Pat Riley said that he captured the textures and nuances of the game perfectly. And he did. He knew the game and respected the officials. Chick always knew what was happening on the floor and could tell the fans. He did not have to wait for a coordinator to relay the information from the scorer's table like many announcers do. He always thought about the fan, and I mean always. And I think the fans knew this. Chick spoke directly to them, or at least they thought that he did. Chick was fun. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was very quick. The writers were his particular pets. Occasionally several of them would show up at the game looking less than elegant. Chick would ask the offending party if the lights weren't working in their hotel room. They always took the bait.
He loved his work and he adored the Lakers. He would say to me, "Imagine, …they pay me to do this." However, the first love of his life was his wife, Marge. He said that marrying her was the best thing that ever happened to him.
We were all very lucky to have had him be a part of our lives.
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This year, the Los Angeles Lakers are pleased to have former Lakers beat-writer and current Los Angeles Times columnist Mark Heisler share some of his stories about the broadcasting icon. Heisler, who has covered the NBA for 24 years with the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Bulletin and the Los Angeles Times while also writing four basketball books, received the Basketball Hall of Fame's Curt Gowdy Award in 2006 for his contributions to the game.
Everything about Chick Hearn was larger than life, including his reputation which was already imposing when I first heard of him in 1969.
Chick was in his ninth season as the voice of the Lakers and already their living embodiment. I was in my first season as an NBA writer in Philadelphia, which was hosting the All-Star Game. The hotel which housed everyone had run out of rooms and Chick, arriving at the front desk, was asked if he would room with someone else there for the event.
"Hearn doesn't share a room," Chick is supposed to have announced and stomped across the street to another hotel.
In an era of larger-than-life announcers like Marv Albert in New York and Johnny Most in Boston, there was still just one Chick whose personality was as commanding as his booming voice and his considerable reputation.
You could argue that in show-biz Los Angeles where Vin Scully was already a hit, Chick's arrival on the scene for Game 5 of the Lakers' first playoff series against the St. Louis Hawks in 1961 was almost as important as those of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor.
A scene in the 1973 movie, "Blume in Love" suggests how fast Chick came to be identified with the Lakers and Southern California. Looking for local color, director Paul Mazursky had George Segal driving his Porsche into the Hollywood Hills to visit his estranged wife, with Chick's call of a game blaring on his car radio.
|Chick Hearn smiles as he introduces the Los Angeles Lakers on the podium at the Laker victory rally honoring their third consecutive NBA Championship at Staples Center.
Chick wasn't just commanding, he was like a force of nature. No one actually called him "the Iron Mike"-Chick was always Chick--but iron, he was.
He was tireless, doing hours of homework, even calling imaginary action to warm up before games. He took all the outside work he could get, hosting "Bowling for Dollars" and doing college football games for ABC. His 3,338-game streak would have been four seasons longer if bad weather hadn't cancelled his flight home from Arkansas in 1965.
He did UNLV basketball as well as the Lakers in the '80s when he was in his 60s. (Chick's age was always a closely guarded secret but my boss at the Times, sports editor Bill Dwyre, was related to him by marriage and knew what it was.)
For years, Chick was as much part of the brain trust as the act. Serving as assistant GM to Fred Schaus, it was Chick who suggested bringing in journeyman Pat Riley from Portland.
In 1977 with Lynn Shackleford leaving for Channel 9, Chick helped Riley put together the audition tape that convinced Jack Kent Cooke to hire him.
A bad knee had ended Riley's journeyman career, leaving him on the beach at Santa Monica, literally, seeing how long his beard would grow.
"I asked him if he wanted to make a couple tapes, present them to Jack Kent Cooke," Chick said years later.
"He was pretty nasal at the time. I thought, 'Oh, gee' to myself, 'Cooke will never accept this guy.'
"Anyway, we would sit and watch games with the sound turned off. I would do my thing and he would do his color.
"After he did it many, many times-Cooke didn't even know I was interviewing him-I said, 'Here's a tape I think we can take to Cooke.'
"So I took it in. I thought we'd get thrown out of his office. And Cooke says, 'My Gawd, Chick! This boy is wonderful! Just what we need!'"
The Lakers color commentator was then also the traveling secretary so when the Lakers boarded flights, Riley was the one giving everyone their boarding passes.
"Players used to throw them back at me," said Riley. "'I don't want 1A. I want 1D. I don't want to sit next to that guy."
In Riley's third season, the new coach, Jack McKinney, was hospitalized for months after falling off his bicycle. His young assistant, former LaSalle Coach Paul Westhead, brand new to the NBA, was forced to take over, working alone.
Westhead asked if Riley could come down and help him out. Everyone in the organization, starting with Jerry Buss, wanted someone with coaching experience.
"Riles came to me and said, 'I've been asked to do this, what do you think?'" said Chick.
"I said, 'Let me think.'
"I thought about it. I thought about his dad. I thought about Adolph Rupp [whom Riley played for at Kentucky.] I thought about his contribution to the NBA. I thought about his work habits."
"I finally said the next day, 'I think you can do it.'
"And he said, 'What if I don't make it?'
"I said, 'I'll give you a written contract. You can come back in the booth any time you want.'"
The rest was history, or as the Lakers like to think of it, Showtime, when they won five titles in the '80s, the last four under Riley.
"Maybe he saw something in me I didn't see," said Riley. "All I know is that if Chick hadn't advised me to take the job, I wouldn't have done it."
Chick was always great to me, which was a relief. I was in awe of him from the day I saw him board the Lakers bus talking a mile a minute, cutting up anyone who stuck his head up. Faced with that machine-gun delivery, few fired back.
His early color commentators, like Al Michaels who lasted one game, had the same problem. The long-running joke was all they could say was, "Right you are, Chick."
I remember one of them, Keith Erickson, giving a toast at the wedding of then-Times columnist Scott Ostler. Said Keith, arriving at the microphone, "Right you are, Chick."
Chick had the cachet to call 'em as he saw 'em. He didn't underplay their exploits but his idea of candor was so brutal, when they lost, it sounded as if they'd never win again.
Happily, they were an elite team for his entire stay, with nine titles, 22 Finals appearances and 40 playoff appearances in his 44 seasons.
That was the way it was supposed to be. Hearn didn't rebuild, either.
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This year, the Los Angeles Lakers are pleased to have Chick's long-time broadcast partner and current Lakers television color commentator Stu Lantz share some of his stories about the broadcasting icon. Lantz, now in his 22nd year broadcasting Lakers games, played collegiately at the University of Nebraska where his number 22 jersey still hangs from the rafters. Drafted by San Diego in 1968, he averaged a career-best 20.6 points with the Rockets during the 1970-71 campaign. Lantz played eight NBA seasons overall, including his final two with the Lakers, before retiring due to a back injury. Immediately following his playing career, Lantz embarked on a broadcasting career and has since been chosen Southern California's best radio color commentator six times by the Southern California Sports Broadcaster's Association and best television color commentator on five occasions while also earning five local EMMY Awards for his work in the Best Live Sports Telecast category.
|Chick Hearn and Stu Lantz pose for a portrait circa 1998 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.
I don't know where to begin when it comes to thanking Chick for all the years of enjoyment that he gave me. If you think that you had it good listening to him, think how good I had it sitting beside him for 15 years.
When Chick asked me to interview for the analyst's position, I had a case of laryngitis and could barely speak. When I walked in and told him that I could barely talk, he said, "Great! You've got the job!" People who knew me said that we would never last long together because I had strong opinions and Chick would never go for that. What they didn't know was how great a team player Chick was. Not only did we get along, but our relationship prospered year after year. Of course, there were times that he would get mad at me, but he wouldn't stay mad long. Like the time of his and Marge's anniversary -- Susan Stratton (the former long-time producer of Lakers basketball on KCAL-9) had made these elaborate plans to have Marge (via satellite from their home) join Chick at halftime during a game in Miami. It was to be a surprise for Chick, but he found out about it and when he got to the arena, he was furious. He didn't like any attention on himself. When I got to the arena, Susan Stratton was almost in tears. She pulled me aside and said, "Chick said that we better not go through with the halftime piece." She asked me what to do, and I said, "After all the work we've put into this, we're still going to do it." And we did. He was mad at me for two days.
When it came to being on time, no one could top Chick. He was always "first" wherever we went. If the plane was to leave at 10:00 a.m. and we had to be there by 9:30 a.m., Chick would be there at 8:00 a.m. It got to a point that I would try to beat him to the airport, the bus, the hotel lobby - wherever we had a specified time to depart. Well, in our 15 years together, I never beat him once. He was well known for being impatient. As soon as the departure time came, he was ready to leave. This led to his favorite saying, "Lets Go!"
As much as he was a genius in the field of announcing, he was challenged when it came to technology. Like the time that Chick got awakened by the hotel alarm clock around 3:00 a.m. It seems that the person who had the hotel room before Chick set the alarm clock and didn't turn off the automatic alarm. So Chick got to the room and did all of the prep work for the next day's game. He always updated the player stats from game to game. He would make new little stat sheets for each player, cut them out, and put them on his stat board. He retired for the night and was awakened at 3:00 a.m. by the blaring alarm. He couldn't figure out how to turn the alarm off, so instead of unplugging the alarm clock, he took his scissors (that he left on the night stand) and cut the cord. When he told me the next day, I was in stitches.
Each year when the daylight savings time change occurred, his grand-daughter Shannon would get a phone call to come over and set the clocks in the cars and in the house.
Another time, Chick and Marge were preparing to go on a ten-day cruise. I called just to check in with Chick just before their departure. I asked him if they were packed and ready to leave. Chick was in a bad mood because he was waiting around for the electrician to finally show up. Thinking that they must have a major electrical problem going on in order to send for an electrician the very day they were leaving for their trip, I asked what the problem was. Chick replied, "Well doesn't everyone who leaves their home for ten days call an electrician to set the on/off light timers?" And then there was the time that Marge went shopping one afternoon and Chick had trouble with the kitchen garbage disposal. Chick (of all people), decided to crawl under the sink and "fix" the problem. A few hours later, Marge walked into the house and found many disposal parts lined up along the kitchen floor. Chick was no where to be found. She finally found him out by the swimming pool, making a frantic phone call to the nearest plumber, obviously trying to convince them to get there before she came home.
One time on the airplane, Chick got up to stretch his legs. He came across some of the players/staff/crew who obviously had a serious card game going on. Chick was appalled! He walked back to Susan Stratton and said, "You can't believe what is going on in the front of the plane. Some of your crew members are gambling! You should go up there and say something to make them stop!" Susan didn't feel as though she was in a position to be telling "the guys" what they should or should not be doing. So, she kind of ignored Chick's statement and proceeded to take a long nap. Susan awoke and heard one of the crew members say, "Good job, Chick." as he walked by. A little later, someone else walked by and said, "Congratulations Chick". Susan was curious and asked Chick what that was all about. Chick said, "Oh, nothing." Finally, when still another person walked by and made a congratulatory comment to Chick, she said, "Come on Chick, what's going on?" Chick sheepishly replied, "I just won $400 -- then defensively said, "Well, I taught them a lesson!"
Then there was the STREAK!! It meant everything to Chick. Imagine announcing 3,338 consecutive basketball games. There were several times during my 15 years with him that he shouldn't have called the game because he wasn't feeling well. But, the streak had to go on. He was so proud of his streak - as well, he should. I'd tell him that the rest of us couldn't relate to it because it sounded so unreal. But -- real it was -- and I'm proud to say that I lasted longer than any other analyst that worked with him. Thanks Chick, for giving me that honor.
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This year, the Los Angeles Lakers are pleased to have former beat writer and current Long Beach Press-Telegram columnist Doug Krikorian share some of his stories about the broadcasting icon. Krikorian, a Los Angeles sportswriter since 1968, has been with the Press-Telegram for the past 20 years after spending 22 years with the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Covering the Lakers beat for the Examiner during the Chamberlain/West/Baylor days and during the Showtime era playoffs, he also covered the Los Angeles Rams for seven seasons. A reporting veteran of 26 Super Bowls, 25 World Series and all the big fights of the 80's, 90's and this decade, Krikorian also partnered with Joe McDonnell on sports talk radio for the better part of 13 years including five at ESPN.
On the morning of October 17, 1968, a wide-eyed young sportswriter got on a flight at LAX that was transporting the Los Angeles Lakers to Philadelphia for their regular season opener the following evening against the 76ers.
As he walked to his seat that was located in the same vicinity as icons of the NBA like Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, he felt a sense of trepidation since he was a newcomer to the Lakers beat for the old Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
|Chick Hearn meets with Kobe Bryant #8 of the Lakers before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California on March 29, 2002. The Lakers won 91-79.
He didn't know quite how to handle the situation. Should he go up to each player and introduce himself? Or would that be too forward? Should he just slink back in his seat and keep quiet? Or would that be too reclusive?
But, even before he sat down, another icon of the NBA actually came up to him with a gleaming smile on his face, extended his hand and introduced himself.
"I'm Chick Hearn, and I'll help you in any way I can," he said.
The young sportswriter gulped, nodded, exhaled, and told Hearn what a privilege it was to meet the storied broadcaster.
I never will forget that whole scenario since it was I who was the young sportswriter slightly overwhelmed by the circumstances in which I found myself on that memorable day.
Chick proceeded to introduce me to the Lakers head coach, Bill Van Breda Kolff, to his radio partner that season, Rod Hundley, to the team's trainer, Frank O'Neill, to Wilt, Elgin, Jerry and all the other players.
Immediately, the nervous tension that I had felt evaporated, and it was Chick Hearn who eased my way into a social situation that was daunting for a 24-year-old reporter making his first road trip with the Lakers.
As exceptional as he was on the airways---and I'm not sure any play-by-play announcer ever possessed such a peerless combination of descriptive phrases, humorous asides and critical insights delivered in such a clear, crisp, fast manner---Chick was an exceptional human being who wore his considerable fame congenially and who always was quick to extend a helping hand to those in need of it.
Later that season, Chick asked me to appear on his Lakers pre-game show, but I turned him down, saying I'd inevitably become tongue-tied in such an unfamiliar undertaking.
"Don't worry...I'll guide you through it," he implored.
Finally, I consented, and did my first radio interview one Friday evening with Chick artfully coaxing me through it---and it's ironic that many years later I would interview Chick many times, along with my partner Joe McDonnell, on the old McDonnell-Douglas radio show.
I've always strongly felt if Chick Hearn didn't go into broadcasting, he would have made it big as a stand-up comic.
His humor could be Don Rickles wicked, as few escaped his acid tongue on those Lakers road trips in those days when the team flew commercially and lolled away many hours in airports around the country. "That jacket would be rejected by the Salvation Army," he once told me on the Lakers bus amid widespread laughter, referring to a garish sports coat that didn't exactly meet his approval.
And it's a shame there aren't any tapes remaining from those priceless "Bowling For Dollars" shows that Chick hosted on Channel 5, shows which gained a cult following because of Chick's hilarious comments to the guests.
"Gosh, that's a lovely hair-do, what kind of birds nest in it?" he once memorably said to a lady from Downey with one of those 1970s-bouffant coifs.
After Laker games at the Forum, Chick Hearn always would retreat to his private office with wife Marge, and would relax for a few minutes and come down from the emotional heights of his feverish broadcast.
I joined him several times in his inner sanctum, and it was there where you'd get a different view of Chick Hearn, a rare glimpse of a low-key, soft-speaking version not playing to a vast, adoring audience.
We would talk about a lot of subjects, foremost of which, of course, was the one most passionate to Chick---the Lakers.
After about 20 minutes, he would venture out into the Forum Press Lounge, where he always would hold court behind the end of the bar, as a crowd inevitably would gather to listen to his rhetorical pearls.
He was unfailingly nice to everyone, would gladly sign autographs, and always was entertaining, dispensing yarns that inevitably resulted in loud laughter.
Chick Hearn and I remained good friends until his death in August of 2002---and I don't think there's ever been anyone in his field who described a sporting event in a more pleasurably amusing manner.
Indeed, I enjoyed his work so much that it became ritual for me during Lakers seasons when returning to my Long Beach home from a weekend getaway to arrange for the journey to coincide with Chick Hearn's broadcast.
There never was a dull moment during Chick's frenzied narrative---and one would never be in danger of dozing off behind the wheel listening to a man who had such an impact on me, as well as so many other people in Southern California across the years.
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This year, the Los Angeles Lakers are pleased to have long-time local sportscaster Jim Hilll share some of his stories about the broadcasting icon. Hill, a former NFL player and current CBS 2 Sports Director, has combined his talents as a broadcaster, his experience on the playing field and his relationships as a reporter to produce precise sports coverage for more than three decades in Los Angeles. An award-winning broadcaster, Hill, who began at CBS 2 in 1976, has been honored with an Associated Press "Best Sportscast" trophy, six awards for Best Sportscast and Best Reporting from the Los Angeles Press Club, four awards for Best Sports from the California Associated Press Television and Radio Association, has been awarded an Emmy, a nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and received a "Best Sports Reporting" award from United Press International (UPI).
A member of the board of directors for the Los Angeles Urban League, the Magic Johnson Fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund and the Grossman Burns Center, Hill is also an advisory board member for the Boy Scouts of America, the official spokesperson for the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks and is a member of the State of California Governor's Board for Physical Fitness and Sports and the President's Council for Physical Fitness. Having served as chair of Los Angeles County's "Just Say No" anti-drug program, chair of the Watts Summer Games and president of Athletes for Kids, on May 9, 2006, his star was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Since buying the Lakers in 1979, Jerry Buss has made hundreds of decisions that have had a positive impact on the city of Los Angeles. One that ranks at the top of this truly extensive list was making sure Chick Hearn was always the voice, and even for a while, the face of the franchise.
While it has now been eight years since we lost Chick and the gift of his voice, we certainly have not forgotten the man whose mic is retired and hanging high above the court at STAPLES Center.
|Jim Hill interviewing Chick Hearn with Shaquille O'Neal before the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on March 29, 2002
Over the years, people have described Chick in many different ways, all of them complementary. To follow are just a few of my memories of the man who, before working in Los Angeles, I only knew as the "Voice of the Lakers" and the best at what he did.
After meeting him, I soon found out that he was so very much more.
You see, for as great of an announcer as he was, he was an even better husband, father, family man and friend.
As for me, I was lucky enough to fall into the category of friend. From my earliest days working in Los Angeles, I looked up to Chick. Years ago, I remember asking him for advice on how to become a pretty good sportscaster. His answer was what we've all come to know as typical Chick.
"Good? Hell, why not shoot for the best?!?."
After a moment, he followed his point with a surprising piece of philosophy, "But remember to thine own self, be true."
...something I'm still working on to this day.
Many thought the Lakers were Chick's first love, but oh no. It was always his wonderful wife, Marge; the only person who could tell him to shut up and he'd do it!
One day at the Forum while having dinner with the two of them, he and I were talking about what it takes to have a successful relationship. And like it was yesterday, I remember him saying, "Jimmy, it's like Bill Cosby says, 'They are always right and we are always wrong and the sooner you find that out, the better off you will be.'" And then he added, "But that may take you a long time to figure out!"
...something else I'm still working on!
Through the years, I found Chick was just like the players; working on his game during the offseason in order to come up with something new and insightful for the next year.
To which reminds me of a plaque I have on my desk that says, 'The man who has no imagination stands still and he cannot fly.'
And one time, when I quoted that to Chick, I remember him saying, "You know, Jimmy, there may be some hope for you yet!"
I know how lucky I am to have had the kind of relationship with Chick that I did. But I also know how lucky we all are to have had him in our lives to give us his honest opinion, criticism, praise, humor and love for all those years.
The great philosopher Aristotle once wrote, 'Excellence is not a singular act but a habit, you are what you repeatedly do.'
And somehow I can't help but think that even though he wrote those words centuries ago, the gods in the heavens knew that one day that saying would apply to Chick, who has taught us all to keep the faith.
And because of my relationship with him, I don't know about being a better sportscaster, but I do know I am a better man.
And I can hear him saying from up above, 'What the hell took so long to figure it out?'
That's Chick for you.
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