Remembering A Lakers' Legend
2009-10 Tribute by Doug Krikorian
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.
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.