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Chick Hearn's Dream Machine

December 21, 1987|DAVID LARSEN | Times Staff Writer

The familiar, excited tones of Francis Dayle Hearn, known as Chick, fill the air.

With two seconds to go, "The Weave" is facing the hoop.

"He looks at the basket. He trembles. He shakes. He quivers. He fires," the sportscaster yells. "It hits the rim, bounces high, bounces again on the rim. And now falls in the basket. The Los Angeles Lakers win the World Championship!"

Never mind the Weave; check Chick. Instead of being in his usual seat at the Forum, Hearn is inside a 4-by-10-foot room in a Hollywood sound studio, directly opposite former sidekick Keith Erickson.

For about an hour the two of them--with their usual enthusiasm--broadcast a non-existent basketball game to a non-existent audience.

Hearn and Erickson haven't flipped. They were dropping personalized material into a five-minute master audio tape known as Chick Hearn's Dream Game Sports Cassette.

After a somewhat tentative start, the Lakers' main announcer rolled into high gear, as if it were yet another of his more than 2,000 consecutive Lakers broadcasts. The first name on one of the bios from which he was reading was Octavio. "Oh, look at Octavio," enthused Hearn. "I think I'm in an opera!"

"The Weave" was somebody named Weaver, extemporaneously so nicknamed. As Hearn gave simulated play-by-play, even with no visible action to call, he often got carried away, filling the air with gestures.

The novel gift costs $150 (available through (213) 391-TAPE), and for it the buyer fills out biographical material for the recipient. A pre-recorded scenario sets the stage for that person to come off the bench as an unknown player in the closing seconds of a National Basketball Assn. championship final game against the Boston Celtics, score the winning basket for the Los Angeles Lakers at the buzzer, and be named the series Most Valuable Player. Hearn fills in the highlights.

"That's his career high--two points!" he exclaims. "The fans are rushing onto the floor . . . they're tossing him in the air now like a beanbag." Meanwhile, owner Jerry Buss stands waiting with a contract he wants signed by the phenom for the next year.

For basketball Walter Mittys, the tape makes them feel as if they have died and gone to heaven. Last year, a wife ordered one of the cassettes for her Lakers-loving husband, explaining that such was his devotion at one point, he erased the videotape of their wedding to tape a Lakers' game.

Promptly at 11 a.m., Hearn pulled up at the studio in his Mercedes and headed inside, wearing shirt and tie and jeans. Hours earlier he had broadcast a Lakers' game, and was ready to give his throat another workout.

Awaiting him were Erickson, and engineer Jerry Vincent, who was seated in front of a console of buttons and switches.

"You know, doing about 30 of these is more difficult than broadcasting a full game," Hearn said. "You have to be up for every one of these. In a real game, you have ups, but also downs, such as when someone is making free throws."

Putting on a pair of headsets, Hearn and Erickson began studying the first of a sheaf of one-page bios in front of them. Hearn signaled, "OK, let's try one," and the engineer responded: "OK, coming at you. . . ."

It was time for the Mitty-gritty.

The recipient's name is mentioned 13 times on the tape, sometimes by one of the announcers, sometimes by the other. Hearn is at his best when he gets to improvise, usually at the point where Danny Ainge of the Celtics goes to a dribble drive and is forced by the mysterious new player No. 89 to pass the ball to Larry Bird.

"Uh-oh, look at the plumber!" Hearn cheers.

"Uh-oh, look at that Irishman!"

"Uh-oh, look at baldy!"

"Uh-oh, would you look at Stan the man!"

At one point, for a cassette being given to a pupil, he added: "And keep up those good grades, buddy."

Sheet by sheet the announcers progressed, until, after 29 of them, Hearn finally proclaimed: "Let's stop!"

"One day last year we did 60 at one sitting," Hearn recalled. "But I think that at some point you start losing enthusiasm, and we want every one to sound like a real game."

This year Hearn doesn't supply any California dreamin' on days of Lakers games. He said he tried it a couple times last year, but it proved too hard on the throat. Professional broadcasters live and die by their voices, and Hearn said when he runs into hoarseness, he drinks hot water, on his doctor's advice.

And last year, there were times when he and Erickson gave the tapings a try, sometimes just after a road game, and halted because either or both found they couldn't do them justice.

Because of commitments this year, Hearn has limited himself to 1,000 tapes, a total he has almost reached and will begin anew next year. Thirty is about average when a session occurs the day after a game, otherwise from 30 to 45. The tapings are done year-round.

Word of the novel gifts has gotten out and, besides Joe Fan, recipients included the likes of Ricardo Montalban, Aaron Spelling, David Wolper and Rick Dees.

For $69, the same type of Dream Game can be ordered with Erickson handling the play-by-play, and Brad Holland doing the color commentary.

Such was the success of the tapes when they were introduced here last year--about 2,500 were sold--that Sports Fantasies Inc. has bigger plans for the future.

Erickson, president of the firm, said negotiations are under way for similar personalized last-moment dramatics involving professional football, baseball, boxing and, possibly golf.

"But basketball is probably the most compatible for this," Hearn guessed. "It is fast-moving. Golf, for instance, might be too slow."

Besides, Nicklaus and the rest never had the mustard come off the hot dog.

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