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Sports Weekend | TV-RADIO LARRY STEWART

Michaels Has Come Full Circle

June 04, 2004|LARRY STEWART

Imagine being fresh out of college, hoping to break into broadcasting and getting a call at your apartment from the owner of the Lakers telling you that you will be working on game broadcasts with Chick Hearn.

"I thought somebody was playing a joke on me," Al Michaels said of the call he got from Jack Kent Cooke in 1967.

It really was Cooke calling. And he really was offering Michaels a job -- as a public relations man/radio commentator.

Michaels thought at the time it was too good to be true, and, as things turned out, it was.

Although Bill Brundige, who died in April at age 89, had been part of the Laker broadcasts in a small role, Hearn had never worked with a commentator.

But Cooke told Michaels he would be Hearn's partner.

At the time, Michaels, who had just gotten married to wife Linda after finishing his schooling at Arizona State, was working as a talent coordinator for Chuck Barris on the old "Dating Game" show, making $95 a week.

Of course he jumped at Cooke's offer. He traveled with the Lakers to four exhibition games -- to Salt Lake City, where the Lakers played the Baltimore Bullets, and to Seattle, Fresno and Rupert, Idaho, where they played a variety of other teams. After that came four regular-season games.

And then he was fired.

It wasn't Michaels' work. He barely got in a word on the broadcasts.

"Of those eight games, I made it on the air for only four of them," Michaels said.

Michaels was informed of his dismissal at the airport as the team was preparing to leave on a two-game trip to Boston and Cincinnati. Michaels had to get his luggage off the plane.

"It was a shattering experience," Michaels said. "I had told all my friends that I'd be working with Chick, and then I wasn't.

"It's the only time in my life I was fired from a job."

At first, he placed some of the blame on Hearn. But he later realized it was all Cooke's doing.

"I was a sacrificial lamb," Michaels said. "Cooke wanted to bring in Hot Rod Hundley to work with Chick, and he needed a buffer so Chick would get used to the idea. And that was me."

Hearn and Michaels later became close friends. In fact, Michaels narrates the CD that comes with Hearn's autobiography that is now in bookstores.

However, at the time, Michaels was hurt deeply. Michaels says that he walked around in a funk for about three months -- until he landed a job as an announcer for the Hawaii Islanders minor league baseball team.

And now look at him.

When Michaels does the play by play for ABC on the NBA Finals that begin Sunday, he will have accomplished a broadcasting Grand Slam.

He will become the first announcer to work the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup finals and the NBA Finals.

He has worked eight World Series, five Super Bowls and was the host of three Stanley Cup finals beginning in 2000.

And now it's fitting that the Lakers are involved in the NBA Finals. Talk about coming full circle.

Good Decision

When Mike Pearl came from TNT to become the executive producer of ABC Sports last year, one of his edicts was to improve the network's NBA coverage.

And the man he wanted to head up that coverage was Michaels, generally considered the best all-around network play-by-play announcer in the business.

But Michaels had concerns.

"If I did it, I wanted to do it at a top level," he said. "I wasn't going to phone it in."

Michaels took about a month to say yes, and now he is glad he did. He said the best part has been working with Doc Rivers.

"He's a great guy who has become a great friend," Michaels said, adding that he has also won a few bucks from the new Boston Celtic coach on the golf course.

Family Ties

It will be quite a weekend for Michaels as well as his younger brother David, who is producing NBC's coverage of Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

"It's an ode to our mother [Lila], who used to take us to the track when we were kids," Al Michaels said.

Another Big Event

Sinjin Smith, before becoming a beach volleyball legend, remembers attending the Manhattan Beach Open in 1976, when he was 17.

"That's where I fell in love with the sport," he said. "It's the NBA Finals of beach volleyball."

Smith and Chris Marlowe will announce the coverage of Sunday's Manhattan Beach Open finals on Fox Sports Net, beginning at 4 p.m.

The men's final will be shown live, followed by delayed coverage of the women's final.

Forget Paris

All things considered, Pam Shriver would rather be in Paris. And normally the Hall of Fame tennis player would be, serving as a commentator for ESPN during the French Open.

But instead she has been at her home in Brentwood, watching the tournament, which ends this weekend on NBC.

Shriver, who turns 42 on July 4 and is married to actor George Lazenby, is expecting her first child in mid-July, and thought it best that she not make the trip.

Lazenby is among the actors who have portrayed James Bond.

ESPN has done a nice job with its coverage, particularly with the addition of Dick Enberg.

"I guess, technically, you could say I was replaced by Dick Enberg," Shriver said.

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