Remembering A Lakers' Legend
2005-06 Tribute by Mitch Chortkoff
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."