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'Voice of the Lakers' Dies at Age 85

Aug 6 2002 12:14AM
NEW YORK, Aug. 5, 2002 -- Its difficult, if not impossible, to imagine watching an NBA broadcast without hearing terms such as "airball," "finger roll" and the now ubiquitous "slam dunk."

Chick shared a ride with Lakers forward Rick Fox at the team's 2000 victory parade.
Robert C. Mora/NBAE/Getty Images
And its even more difficult, if not more impossible, to imagine a Los Angeles Lakers game without the man who ingrained those words in our basketball consciousness -- the legendary Chick Hearn, who died today at Northridge Hospital Medical Center as a result of brain injuries suffered in a fall last Friday at his Encino, Calif., home. He was 85.

"Generations of fans were brought to the NBA by the voice and vision of Chick Hearn," said NBA Commissioner David Stern. "From Wilt and West to Magic and Kareem to Shaq and Kobe, Chick was a fixture as the 'Voice of the Lakers' and a legend in his profession. His colorful descriptions of the game transcended the sport and have had an indelible influence on basketball and broadcasting itself. The NBA Family mourns his loss and he will be deeply missed."

They say records are made to be broken, but Hearn, the Lakers beloved play-by-play man for 42 years, set a mark unlikely to ever be touched -- 3,338 consecutive Lakers broadcasts, beginning on November 21, 1965, and ending on December 16, 2001, three days before Hearn underwent heart surgery.

Despite suffering a broken hip during his rehabilitation from his heart surgery, Hearn returned to the booth on April 9, 2002, after missing 56 games, to provide his "words-eye view" of the Lakers third consecutive title last season, and the teams ninth NBA crown with him at the mike.

To put Hearns longevity into perspective, consider that when he began his mind-boggling streak, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were the Lakers stars, Phil Jackson was a junior at North Dakota and Kobe Bryant would not be born for another 13 years.

Before his heart surgery, Hearn had missed only two games since becoming the Lakers play-by-play announcer in 1961 -- one due to a flight cancellation and the other due to another assignment. He also missed parts of two other games because of laryngitis.

"He has been the common tie of all the great Lakers teams," said Lakers Executive Vice President Jeanie Buss.

And like the victory cigars lit up by Red Auerbach during the Boston Celtics' domination of the NBA during the 1950s and 60s, Hearn developed his own signature to commemorate yet another Lakers triumph as the game clock ticked away ...

"The games in the refrigerator, the doors closed, the lights out, the eggs are cooling, the butters getting hard and the Jell-Os jiggling."

Sensitive about his age, Hearn refused to reveal his exact birthday. According to the Los Angeles Times, Hearn was born Francis Dayle Hearn in November 1916. He grew up in Aurora, Illinois, and attended Bradley University. He was given the nickname Chick when, as an AAU basketball player, he was handed a box of sneakers only to be surprised to find a chicken inside.

A member of the American Sportscasters Hall of Fame, Hearn received Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fames Curt Gowdy Media Award in 1992. He was also a two-time National Sportscaster of the Year, won an Emmy Award in 1965 for Excellence in Basketball Coverage and in 1986 was honored by a star on Hollywood Boulevards Walk of Fame.

He was best known for his prodigious work with the Lakers, but Hearn also broadcast NCAA and NFL football, UNLV basketball, PGA golf tournaments, the first Ali-Frazier fight and Los Angeles Sparks games.

He is survived by his wife Marge, whom he was married to for nearly 64 years, and granddaughter Shannon Hearn Newman.