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Worthy, Hearn: Time to Shrine

'Big Game James' and the Laker announcer who gave him the name will join five others in being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

September 05, 2003|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

James Worthy whirled past befuddled opponents for 12 standout seasons as a Laker forward, freeing himself for crowd-pleasing dunks or medium-range jump shots during the "Showtime" era of the 1980s. Others gained more acclaim, but few played their roles more dependably than Worthy.

Chick Hearn called Worthy's every spin, dunk and jumper -- and a great deal more during a 42-year career that made him perhaps the greatest Laker of them all. Certainly, Hearn was as beloved as any Laker player or coach.

Worthy and Hearn will be enshrined tonight in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame at Springfield, Mass., a player and a broadcaster who gave the Lakers an identity that continues to grow even after Worthy's retirement in 1993 and Hearn's death last year.

Joining them in the class of 2003 will be former Boston Celtic Robert Parish, former Louisiana Tech women's coach Leon Barmore, former Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon, African American basketball pioneer Earl Lloyd and Italian Olympian Dino Meneghin.

"I'm overwhelmed, actually," Worthy said. "The closer it gets to the day, the more excited and overwhelmed I get. To go into the Hall with Robert Parish, whom I had many wars against, and also Chick Hearn, who gave me my nickname 'Big Game James,' is something I never dreamed of."

Parish won three championships and was a nine-time All-Star with the Celtics in the 1980s, bettering Worthy and the Lakers for the 1984 title and losing in the 1985 and 1987 Finals.

Worthy was a superb performer for the Lakers, who drafted him first overall in 1982, after his junior season at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in 926 regular-season games, but his value was more evident during the playoffs. His scoring average rose to 21.1 points in postseason play.

In Game 7 of the 1988 Finals, Worthy scored 36 points, took 16 rebounds and added 10 assists as the Lakers defeated the Detroit Pistons and became the first team to win consecutive championships since the 1968-69 Celtics. Worthy was named the most valuable player of the Finals.

Others might have overlooked Worthy in a cast of players that included Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Byron Scott and Kurt Rambis, but not Hearn. He began calling Worthy "Big Game James" because of his ability to shine when it counted most.

Hearn's rapid-fire call of the action was suited to basketball, particularly on radio, where his "word's eye view" brought the game to life for generations of basketball fans in Southern California.

"A Rembrandt with words," former Laker Jerry West said of Hearn this year.

With Hearn calling the Lakers, Vin Scully on the Dodgers and Bob Miller on the Kings, Southland sports fans could listen to three of the finest announcers in the nation.

"It was Chick Hearn who blazed a trail for so many young broadcasters," said Marv Albert, longtime New York Knick play-by-play man. "He was the springboard for success, along with Marty Glickman and Johnny Most, for me personally."

Hearn avoided the conventional, calling games with familiar catch phrases that became known as Chickisms. "The mustard's off the hot dog," Hearn would say of a showboating player who made a poor pass.

If a player shed a defender with a clever move, Hearn would say the opponent was "faked into the popcorn machine." A player dribbling the basketball in rapid fashion down the court was said to be "Yo-yoing up and down." A player reversing course repeatedly was, "Going back and forth like a windshield wiper."

For emphasis, Hearn coined the term "slam dunk," drawing it out as, "Slaaaaam dunk." He could be critical too, bellowing, "He bloooooows the layup," after a player missed an easy basket.

When a game was decided, or at least when Hearn believed it was, he would offer his trademark line: "The game is in the refrigerator."

Hearn often referred to himself as "this reporter," but his love of the Lakers was difficult to miss, particularly when things weren't going well. He didn't gloat in victory, but he wailed unapologetically about the Lakers' poor play in defeat.

On the occasion of his 3,000th consecutive broadcast, during a streak that would grow to 3,338 games between 1965 and 2001, he saluted his fans at a halftime ceremony during an otherwise forgettable game. Then, as he was about to hike back to his perch high above the western sideline at the Forum, he offered this advice to his lagging team: "C'mon Lakers, you're playing like dogs."

The crowd loved it.


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