Advertisement

T.J. SIMERS

Clippers' Ralph Lawler has always been at the top of his game

The team's longtime broadcaster took some advice from Marge Hearn and developed into a Hall of Famer, even if the NBA hasn't recognized him as such.

February 12, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler shares a laugh with stage manager Brittany Savelkoul, left, and analyst Mike Smith.
Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler shares a laugh with stage manager Brittany… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

From Dallas -- I'm going to tell you a few things about Clippers honk Ralph Lawler you probably don't know.

In quick order with details to follow, they involve Marge Hearn, Coldwell Banker, and as crazy as it sounds; a willingness to take his wife with him wherever he goes.

When I'm done here, I suspect you will be a little upset and probably think less of the Basketball Hall of Fame for not honoring the old coot by now.

Now as good people go, if you have ever spent time with Vin Scully, you've met Lawler.

They each ooze class, both switching to humor when anyone tries to put the spotlight on their talent.

Ask Lawler how well he comes across, for example, and he says, "I try to be interesting. Sometimes you are and sometimes you're not. I've read your stuff."

But unlike Scully, this is a story about a broadcaster who has never really been given the chance to take a bow.

OK, so probably you know that Lawler has been the voice of the Clippers forever. It's just not true.

At one time he was on top of the world in Philadelphia. He was behind the microphone when the Flyers won a second consecutive Stanley Cup as well as when Dr. J. and the 76ers went to the NBA Finals.

Darryl Dawkins brings down a pair of backboards with Lawler telling everyone about it. "If they don't change the composition of the boards," says Lawler, "Blake Griffin is bringing down a backboard every game."

Given the passion — bordering on insanity — the fans of Philly have for sports, Lawler can't go anywhere without being recognized.

He's doing the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. nightly TV newscasts, the Jim Hill of Philadelphia.

"Only Jim Hill is really good," says Lawler, "and I'm horrible. I'm dull. But I could do no wrong with the fans of Philadelphia because I was the messenger bringing this wonderful message to them about the Flyers.

"That's why it's so tough broadcasting for a losing team because you're always bringing them bad news."

He knows that now, but back then he thought every team he covered was going to win the title or play for it.

He's making $50,000 in Philadelphia but gets an offer to broadcast Clippers games for $25,000. It seems money isn't all that important to the man.

He takes the Clippers job. No regrets even when the radio station he's working for in San Diego suggests a few years later he go away so they might employ a voice with a hint more of excitement.

He goes to work as a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker. And he's a natural.

"This is the kitchen," says Lawler, a little surprised he doesn't say, "Bingo, this is the kitchen."

He's house-sitting as part of his job, and taking a walk along the Del Mar beach when he spots Donald Sterling.

"I ask if he wants to jump in our Jacuzzi and have a glass of wine. He says great and later he's asking why I'm not doing Clippers games anymore. I tell him and two or three days later I get the call to come back."

Radio rights change for the Clippers again, and Lawler is back to doing open houses. The new guy bombs, so once again Lawler returns as Clippers announcer.

"I thought my career in broadcasting was over," he says, and so we'll never know if he might've made the Real Estate Hall of Fame.

A few years later he's eating dinner with Chick and Marge Hearn. Lawler is a big admirer of Chick's as both spent time in Peoria, Ill. Chick broadcast some of Lawler's high school games.

"Chick leaves to sit in his roost in the Forum, so Marge and I are left talking. She tells me, 'You're a funny guy. You've got a good sense of humor —- use it.'

"I'm thinking, 'Why would I do that?' I'm the typical sportscaster who thinks you're supposed to describe the game as if folks have their eyes closed.

"But Marge is telling me, be human. Remember Chick's shaggy dog tales; people would groan, but the next day they would talk about it at work."

As shaggy dogs go, Lawler is in his 40s, yet he takes Marge's advice and loosens up. Then Bill Walton takes a seat beside him.

"Marge got me started and Bill put me on the fast track,"' he says. "I love that guy; the most generous human being I have ever known next to my father."

The odd couple is every bit as hilarious as Oscar and Felix, the Clippers losing like always, but who cares?

Walton moves on. Lawler survives prostate cancer and Michael Olowokandi playing for the Clippers.

The rest you pretty much know except for this crazed obsession with his wife. Jo goes with him to every game, home and road.

"Every minute I'm with her is a minute I treasure," he says, and I've got to believe the ladies in the audience have already put him in the Hall of Fame.

But what more does it take than entertaining, professional play-by-play, survivability and icon status to win the Curt Gowdy award, which is the NBA's version of Hall of Fame recognition for a broadcaster?

As oversights go, this should embarrass the NBA, the rest of the country now discovering him on ESPN with every replay of Griffin's latest slam.

The old coot is 73 but sounding as excited these days as a real estate agent both listing and selling a house.

I cannot imagine anything better than the Clippers' going deep in the playoffs and Lawler getting Hall of Fame attention.

"I can,"' says Lawler. "Lying on the beach with my sweet Jo."

t.j.simers@latimes.com

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|