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NBA Finals: Lakers vs. Bulls : Still the Fastest Gums in the West : After 31 Years, Chick Hearn Not Ready to Put His Career in the Refrigerator

June 07, 1991|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don't expect legendary Chick Hearn, seventysomething, to retire anytime soon.

Hearn, the only play-by-play announcer the Lakers have had since they came to Los Angeles from Minneapolis in 1960, is no more ready to put the vocal cords out to pasture than he is to reveal his true age.

And why should he retire? He loves the Lakers, and most of their fans love him.

"When Magic (Johnson) retires, maybe that's when I'll retire, too," Hearn said from Chicago.

Don't bet on it, though. Chick without the Lakers, and vice versa, is hard to imagine.

Game 3 of the NBA finals at the Forum tonight, on NBC-TV but also on KLAC and the Laker radio network, will be Hearn's 2,433th consecutive broadcast, meaning he'll hit 2,500 next season.

Hearn hasn't missed a game since 1965. It may be the most incredible streak in sports.

No telling when it will end.

Instead of thinking about retirement, or maybe cutting back, Hearn is taking on new ventures. It hasn't been made public yet, but NBC plans to have Hearn covering basketball on the pay-per-view portion of its 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games coverage.

Wonder what his role at the 1996 Olympics will be?

Anyone who thinks Hearn might be slipping should have heard him on the radio during Game 1 of this series. He was as sharp as ever.

There were the usual Chickisms. "No harm, no foul, no blood, no ambulance," he screamed when a foul wasn't called.

But most impressive was that the fastest voice in the NBA was in high gear.

Late in the first quarter, James Worthy threw an errant pass to Sam Perkins--bam, bam and the ball went out of bounds.

Hearn was quick enough to call the play as it happened. "Worthy bounces a pass off the forehead of Perkins," he said.

Over the years, the players in the NBA have gotten quicker, and so has Hearn.

But if there have been times lately when he has seemed on edge, when he has made mistakes he shouldn't have, when he has snapped at partner Stu Lantz, you have to be understanding.

He has had to endure the memory of what happened a year ago.

It was on May 24, nine days after last season's playoffs had ended for the Lakers, that Hearn and his wife, Marge, lost their 41-year-old daughter, Samantha, to viral pneumonia.

And as Hearn recalled the other day, it was on June 1, 1972, that they lost their son, Gary, at 27.

"Marge and I are decent people," Hearn said not long after Samantha's death, his voice cracking. "Sometimes it's hard to understand why these things happen."

Hearn can be moody, he can snap at people. He admits he has a crusty exterior. But, he also admits, he's mush on the inside.

At Samantha's graveside service, Hearn approached a friend who has two daughters. "Always remember," he said, the tears welling in his eyes as he hugged the friend and his wife, "those two girls of yours are the most precious things in the world. Never forget that."

The Hearns still mourn Samantha.

"Marge is with me here in Chicago, and it's a good thing she is," Hearn said before Game 2. "This has been a particularly tough time for her."

And for Chick, too.

"I'm able to put Samantha out of my mind for a few hours and call a game," he said, "but then Marge and I cry all the way home."

In the autumn of their lives, the Hearns have no offspring, no grandchildren. But they have the Lakers, they have their beloved poodles, Oliver Twist and Lord Ashley, and, of course, they have each other.

This is a love story that has been going on since the two met at East Aurora High in Illinois. They were married in August 1940.

"Marge is a saint," Hearn said. "I don't know what I would have done without her. She is definitely the woman behind this man.

"She is the most giving person I've ever known. If your arm is hurt, Marge is the person you'd call to take you to the hospital. If you needed money, she'd give you her last dime."

In the summer of 1988, Marge was attacked by a Great Dane in the Hearns' Encino neighborhood and suffered a broken collarbone. Her arm was put in a cast and propped up in front of her.

About 10 days later, she was scheduled to make a trip with Samantha to Switzerland, to see one of the world's leading clinics dealing with anorexia, an eating disorder that had afflicted Samantha since her early 20s, when she was a model.

Marge could have postponed the trip, but fearing the difficulty in making another appointment, insisted on making the long flight with her arm in the air.

"It just shows you the kind of person she is," Hearn said.

Another side to Hearn is his penchant for practical jokes and his boundless supply of quick quips.

If your clothes aren't quite color-coordinated, look out. He'll spot a victim and say something such as, "I see you've been to a Holiday Inn. It looks like you made your jacket out of one of their bedspreads."

No one is safe. A few years ago, Laker owner Jerry Buss presented Hearn with tickets for a cruise. The tickets, however, were a cut below first cabin.

When someone asked where he and Marge were going on the cruise, Hearn said, "Oh, about as far as Marge can row."

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