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The Lakers' Iron Man: Chick Hearn

HOWARD ROSENBERG

February 28, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Eight seconds remain on the 24-second clock as the ball goes in to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who fakes right, then swings left and is fouled as he puts up a sky hook. "Good if it gohhhhhhhhs! " roars Chick Hearn.

ChickSpeak.

For years and years and years, Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn has made bad basketball good, good basketball great and great basketball better. He's state-of-the-art and state-of-the-union, the supreme broadcathlete with matchless eye-to-tongue coordination. He doesn't paint mere word pictures, he paints word murals that wrap around and around.

He's "a kind of Michelangelo of basketball broadcasting," Roy Firestone says in today's half-hour special on Hearn at 5:30 p.m on KHJ-TV Channel 9.

If not Michelangelo, Andy Warhol: a pop-artist genius who infuses a sport--a simple game of putting a leather ball through a net--with outrageous shapes and colors. In ChickSpeak, fast-breakers break left to right on your radio dial, Magic Johnson is on an endless dribble-drive toward the hoop and good players are forever faking lesser players into the popcorn machine.

He's "syncopated rhythm," Firestone says about Hearn, who today is scheduled to deliver his 2,000th consecutive Lakers broadcast in Salt Lake City, where the Lakers are playing the Utah Jazz. Telecast: 6:30 p.m. on Channel 9.

Stop blinking. Stop trying to focus your eyes. You read right. That's 2,000 without a miss, covering more than 22 years. What would have stopped him from showing up tonight? An earthquake? No. World War III? Only if it meant he couldn't get a plane to Utah.

Two thousand? They should stop the ball and give him the game.

Titled "2,000 and Counting," the pre-pregame show is a sweet, poetic and affectionate tribute to Hearn, hosted by Firestone and produced by Ted Green and David Brownfield. It's a look at a great announcer that's just a little bit different, courtside and homeside.

The off-court Hearn is interviewed with Marge, his wife of nearly 50 years, and his eyes moisten while recalling the death of their son, Gary, of a heroin overdose in 1972. Gary was 27.

Hearn won't reveal his age. Some simple addition tells you that he has to be at least 70, which makes his iron-man broadcasting record and continued excellence on KLAC Radio and Channel 9 all the more remarkable.

The travel. The words. Think about it: 82 regular-season games, plus playoffs, a year. No substitutes coming off the bench to spell him. No trainer to massage his lips. It's grueling.

In fact, a basketball play-by-play announcer on radio may have sportscasting's hardest and most demanding job, one requiring the descriptive skill and mental agility to describe breakneck action from one end of the court to another. Baseball announcers can take two-week vacations during games. Football announcers can take naps. Basketball play-by-play, though, requires the ultimate communicator, the ultimate narrator for the ultimate slashing, soaring jocks. Turn off the TV sound and try doing Hearn's job yourself.

He's a fast-breaking announcer for a fast-breaking game, still so dominating that Keith Erickson, his amiable broadcast partner of almost eight years, continues to sound intimidated on the air. Hearn may not like being contradicted or challenged, but one still wishes Erickson were a little less of a "yes" man and a little more of a "yes, but" man.

Hearn is a Laker man, true and true, but even more than that, he's a basketball man. He goes wild when the Lakers go wild, but he is just as dazzled when Laker opponents dazzle. And when the Lakers stink, he reports that too.

The Lakers rarely win a world championship. Hearn wins one every season. After all those games and all those popcorn machines and all those years, he's still quick Chick. "Good if it \o7 gohhhhhhhhs!\f7 "

And Chick Hearn \o7 always\f7 goes.

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