Marv Albert reflects on calling classic Bulls moments as retirement nears

After 55 years in the NBA, legendary sports broadcaster Marv Albert will call his final series of his career during the Eastern Conference Finals. He reflected on the memorable Bulls moments, working along side Steve Kerr, and more with Sam Smith.

Marv Albert has seen it all in sports; or, at least, most of it.

Albert has been the soundtrack for more than a dozen NBA Finals and two dozen NBA All-Star games. He's called eight Super Bowls, seven Stanley Cup finals, Wimbledon, the Olympics, boxing, the World Series and made "Yes," he did! more famous than Barack Obama made "Yes," we can!

The voice that described most of your favorite NBA games for most of the last 50 years is retiring following the Eastern Conference finals on TNT starting Wednesday between the Milwaukee Bucks and surprise Atlanta Hawks. TNT will devote a special to Albert Friday.

And many of us in some respects are like Albert because he, too, has experienced some of his fondest and most chilling times watching the Bulls in the old Chicago Stadium.

"I'd be at Chicago Stadium," Albert was saying on a media call last week, "just hearing the music (Alan Parsons Project's Eye in the Sky) as the team was coming out and hearing Ray Clay on the public address. I'd get the chills when he would announce the lineups. Of course, he'd dismiss the visiting team as most p.a. guys do. That was just the great moment. I remember even Steve Kerr, who had played for the Bulls off the bench, he would get the chills, too, when he was sitting with me (broadcasting after his playing career). We'd just look at each other."

No words were necessary. We all knew there was going to be something special.

Albert was the primary announcer for NBC for the Bulls first five championships—and we also get the chills hearing the NBC Roundball Rock introductory music—and during most of the NBC NBA run through 2002. Albert joined TNT in 1999, though most of his local career was in New York with the Knicks and Rangers as well as regular David Letterman appearances.

Albert, who turned 80 earlier this month but sounds 40, has been an NBA broadcaster since the early 1960s, which means he's witnessed Wilt vs. Russell, the Celtics vs. the 76ers, the Celtics vs. the Lakers, Magic vs. Bird, the Knicks vs. the Bullets with Frazier against Monroe, the Celtics vs. the Pistons and the Bulls vs. the Pistons. So I asked Albert about the best rivalry he's seen.

Bulls/Knicks circa 1992-1995, he said.

"The Knicks/Chicago (rivalry), to me, was incredible," Albert said. "I know Chicago and Detroit was brutal. I did the game the Pistons walked off the court (1991 Eastern Conference finals). The game hadn't really ended, didn't shake hands. The biggest rivalry was the Knicks and Chicago (in the early 1990s) when it really got physical, too. All the back and forth with Pat Riley and Phil Jackson filling up columns in the newspapers. Both were good teams and the games were so close and hard fought. The Knicks had the misfortune of the Bulls being so good.

"There were a couple of (play by play) calls that stand out, one in the Garden when John Starks had a tremendous dunk (over Jordan, Game 2 in the 1993 conference finals), and the Charles Smith situation (Game 5 of that conference finals) where he might have been fouled. He was trying to put back a rebound off a shot and I'm going, ‘Smith, Smith, Smith, Smith.' That was memorable."

Michael Jordan drives on Patrick Ewing during the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals

It's been for Albert—and for basketball fans—a memorable era of more than a half century of basketball thrills so comfortably delivered by one of the greatest and most enduring sports voices the American sports scene has known.

But Albert says it's just time to sign off even if listening to him it sounds like time still is losing the race.

"Fifty-five years broadcasting the NBA, that's about it," Albert said simply. "The pandemic was kind of a rehearsal for retirement. It was terrible to see what's going on throughout world and the effects, but for me it (became a) restful period."

Albert basically quarantined for the year and began to discover what many already knew. There was a world beyond sports. He said he became a TV binger.

I could identify. Suddenly with no NBA games and no sports, I learned that Law and Order was a good TV show and had been on for, what, 25 years? Anyone seen this Breaking Bad show?

Albert was like that. It was all games and preparation. When he was asked what he'd miss the most he said friends, like ‘the czar" Mike Fratello, about whom Albert said he doesn't answer his calls and you wouldn't either if you knew Fratello. It was another signature of Albert's, his playful and restrained sense of humor toward his partners that became comfort food with which to enjoy the action.

"I'm ready to call it quits," Albert said. "I may have some feelings once the season starts and I'll miss the preparation, the people I work with. Al Michaels and I text back and forth and he said, ‘Why would you retire?' He said Keith Jackson retired and came back twice and Barbara Walters retired and came back several times. I'm not comparing myself with those people, but I don't see myself coming back.

"I think I'll revert to doing it off the television set for my wife," Albert said. "As a kid my brothers and I would do it with a crowd record. That's the closest I'll get to it."

That's how Marvin Aufrichtig and his broadcasting brothers, Al and Steve, started, taking time away from the family grocery store in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, which is near Coney Island. As not-so-athletic kids, they got involved by "broadcasting" their schoolyard games. Marv acknowledges he was unusually shy, and it was another one of the playground guys who began to cry, "Yes," with a basket. Marv eventually tried it out at some Knicks games and suddenly when he'd be walking in the street and get recognized, fans would yell at him, "Yes!"

A signature call found a bottom line.

Albert had gotten a job as a ballboy for the Knicks, got to know legendary Knicks announcer and former Olympian Marty Glickman, who took a liking to the shy kid, and a personality, inflection and booth presence found a home.

Albert became the voice of New York sports and then onto to NBC and TNT, where he'll close out his public speaking career at the end of the Hawks/Bucks series.

With, like many of us especially in Chicago, memories of those remarkable Bulls years.

Marv Albert before a Bulls-Knicks playoff game in 1996.

"The first (Bulls) Finals I did with LA when Michael had that great move, switch hands going to basket," Albert said about one of his most famous play calls. "I said, ‘A spectacular move.' It was one of the all-time moves at that time... That was unique. When Michael (in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals) made the six three pointers in the half and an NBA finals record. He was not a three point shooter, 27 percent or something like that in the regular season.

"I remember he came out early to shoot threes," recalled Albert. "And that wasn't a time when they were shooting threes. He hit six threes and he looks over with that shrug at the broadcast table. Myself, the czar (of the telestrator) Mike Fratello and Magic Johnson. The czar insists he was looking at him. But he was looking at Magic. That was an enormous moment.

"(Calling) the Dream Team was a big deal," acknowledges Albert. "There were so many (moments). All blowouts except for the final game against Croatia. I remember (Charles) Barkley walking the streets of Barcelona being followed by hundreds and what it meant for the NBA and international basketball. I remember Michael in an exhibition game in Monaco. Michael and this Frenchman, a small player but a tough guy, shoving each other all game, almost got into a fist fight. Then after the game the French player comes over and puts his arm around him to have someone take pictures with him and Michael. I thought they were going at each other, which would not have been good for the Frenchman. Michael was fine with it, of course."

Though Jerry Krause wasn't always.

"I remember several Jerry Krause situations with (Scottie) Pippen as was documented in The Last Dance," recalled Albert. "(Pippen) was so unhappy he wasn't getting the money he felt he deserved and they were after Toni Kukoc, who turned out to be a tremendous player, and he was being offered more money (than Pippen) and here was a guy overseas and the international players at that time weren't as reality accepted as they were now. Now it's amazing how good the basketball is overseas, guys coming in and being stars so quickly.

"Jerry was mad at me because I talked about it on the air," Albert recalled with a laugh. "An NBC game, ‘the players were very upset with him, Pippen was upset.' He (Krause) came to me before a game at the table. We were preparing and he said, ‘How could you say that?' I said, 'Because it's true.' He said, ‘You know Toni Kukoc watches these games overseas. He's going to be upset.' I said, ‘That's my job.' Jerry said, ‘But he sees this.'"

If you knew Krause, you just had to smile. Albert described the essence of Krause. His world was about what was best for the Bulls.

Albert was long identified working with Fratello, but Albert said he also developed a close friendship with Kerr during their time together.

"What I was always amused about was Steve always had the gift of gab and was so good with what he said," Albert noted. "We see as a coach he is terrific in terms of relationships (with players) and being able to handle things. But I always found that after warmups while the other Bulls players, the star players would go into the locker room, he'd be waiting around to be interviewed. I used to tell him that, too. It was funny. He'd be out there looking for a microphone."

Marv Albert won't be for much longer. No!