Remembering Marty Glickman

(Originally posted January 2001)

By Dennis D’Agostino

When usually I came to visit him at dusk there was nothing to do. He stood in the shack, counting tickets and rubbing his belly. The radio was always on. “Man, have you dug that mad Marty Glickman announcing basketball games --- up-to-midcourt-bounce-fake-set-shot, swish, two points. Absolutely the greatest announcer I ever heard.” He was reduced to simple pleasures like these.

                                                            --- From “On The Road”

                                                            by Jack Kerouac, 1957

In the 1940s, throughout the ‘50s and into the ‘60s, Marty Glickman wasn’t just the voice of the Knicks or the voice of Madison Square Garden. He was the voice of an entire sport, the unmistakable sound that said basketball.

Watch those scratchy old Paramount newsreels. That’s Marty’s voice. The annual Converse highlight films? That’s Marty. Those old TV interview shows of the ‘50s? Marty again.

What you really have to understand about Marty Glickman is that he came before any of them. Before Chick Hearn put his first game in the refrigerator, there was Marty. Before Johnny Most bled his first drop of Celtic Green, there was Marty. Before Curt Gowdy or Jack Brickhouse or Chris Schenkel or Dick Enroth or Hilliard Gates or Bob Wolff or any of those great early voices of the NBA, there was Marty.

Marty passed away three days into the New Year at the age of 83. Although many of us knew that he had been failing ever since a December heart bypass, the shock was still real. Up until the end, Marty looked, thought and acted like a man half his age. Indestructible was the word used by many.

Funny thing. Marty would have been a sports legend even if he had never sat down behind a microphone. A track and football star at Syracuse University, the Bronx-born Glickman qualified for a spot on the 1936 U.S. Olympic track team at the Berlin Games. But just before the 400-meter relay, he and teammate Sam Stoller were pulled from the race, presumably because a triumphant team featuring two Jews would further anger Adolf Hitler and the host Nazis, who were infuriated by Jesse Owens’ legendary four-gold medal performance.

It was a wound that never completely healed. When Glickman revisited Berlin in 1985, he wrote, “The rage welled up. I spewed out anger I didn’t know still existed. How could they keep an eighteen-year old kid from competing in the Olympics? Me. Any eighteen-year old kid. But they did. They took my dream away from me.”

But as one dream died, another was just beginning. Glickman had done some on-air work in Syracuse as far back as 1937. A few years later, he hooked up with WHN in New York. He immediately started prodding his bosses to carry Garden college basketball games, and then the newborn Knicks in 1946. And a basketball artist was about to bloom.

Marty Glickman wasn’t the first man to do basketball on radio, but he was the first to establish the precise geometry of the court, using a language and terminology that survives more than half a century later. The key, the lane, the top of the circle, the mid-court stripe, between the circles. . .all Martyisms. “Swish!”, the perfect word for the perfect shot, is a Martyism as well, picked up when Glickman would work out with the Knicks in the early days.

And in an age of Ballantine Blasts and White Owl Wallops, Marty honored his own sponsor with a catchphrase that still brings back images of hot dogs, orange drink and the smoky haze that enveloped the old barn on 49th Street. Whenever Braun or Guerin or Gallatin sank a big one, it was “Good. . .like Nedick’s!”

When it came to basketball, Marty Glickman was everywhere, from the biggest college games of the post-war era to the early Knicks to the first NBA All-Star Game in ’51 to every important event in between, signaling you to attention with that unmistakable greeting: “HELLO fans. I’m Marty Glickman. . .”

And once he had established himself and his art, he became master of all he surveyed. On radio basketball, he was simply the king. And make no mistake. Marty knew who he was, the position he held, the hammer he carried. “Marty Glickman,” he supposedly told a long-ago rival, “doesn’t do color for anybody.” The overhanging radio booth in the Old Garden was his office, designed by no less than the man himself.

It is a little bit of a shame that Marty, in his prime, belonged to another era, that those of us under the age of 40 never heard his best work on basketball. According to historians, not one of his vintage Knicks broadcasts survives to this day. No tape, no recording, nothing. He did the vast majority of his broadcasts for a station --- WHN --- that doesn’t exist anymore.

It was a shame, too, that Marty wasn’t the Knicks voice when the team finally reached the top, although he did do the home games of the 1970 championship season on cable TV to an audience of several dozen Manhattan bars.

Glickman’s Knicks tenure basically ended in the late ‘50s, although he would return periodically throughout the ‘60s. Meanwhile, he went on to establish himself all over again as the radio voice of the football Giants for more than 20 years, and then with stints with the Jets that carried him right into the ‘90s.

But even in the days after he was gone from the Knicks, Marty would suddenly appear on channel 11 on a Saturday night, coming to you live from the dilapidated Island Garden in Hempstead as the voice of the ABA Nets, with his color man another old hoopster named Bob Gibson, who had another, more visible job in the summertime. Didn’t matter. It was Marty Glickman, and Marty Glickman meant basketball.

The honors merely emphasized that point. . .Basketball Hall of Fame, New York City Sports Hall of Fame, New York City Basketball Hall of Fame. Glickman was the first winner of Springfield’s coveted Curt Gowdy Media Award (well, the first winner who wasn’t named Curt Gowdy, anyway).

And the legacy Glickman left behind is on display virtually every night of the basketball season. He was a mentor, both personally and professionally, for decades. He touched so many lives and careers. In later years, Marty was employed by a variety of networks --- including NBC and MSG --- to sit in and evaluate their announcing teams, a professor in a headset.

Marv Albert, of course, was his most famous pupil, but his influence extended to the broadcasting generations that came before and after. And there was no more tangible --- and ironic --- proof of it than the matchup that took place on the very day Marty died: Knicks vs. Boston at the FleetCenter.

That night, Albert, having learned of his mentor’s death just hours before, donned the headset for MSG Network across the street from the old Boston Garden site where he’d done his first Knicks game back in 1963. . .because Marty Glickman was stuck in Newfoundland, en route back from Paris.

On the radio side was Mike Breen, who had been tutored by Glickman in the ‘80s, and back in the studio was Spencer Ross, who had been tutored by Glickman in the ‘60s.

And high above them all was the silver, framed microphone that hangs from the FleetCenter façade in memory of Most, who owed his job with the Celtics to one man. . .Marty Glickman, who convinced his friend Red Auerbach that, yes, his young sidekick on the Knicks broadcasts could really do a job of selling pro basketball in Boston.

Marty’s world extended far beyond basketball, never dwelling on the past. In recent years, we got to know Marty the sailor, Marty the world traveler, Marty the restaurant maven, Marty the author, and, most happily, Marty the husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Now, his voice belongs to the ages. But then it always did.

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