Lakers unveil Hearn statue
LOS ANGELES -- His wife was the first one to sit next to him and she followed up the kiss she planted from her hand to his bronze lips with a playful nudge to his side.
"What would your husband say if he saw you now, smiling down from heaven?" Lakers television analyst Stu Lantz asked Chick Hearn's wife, Marge Hearn, at a ceremony to honor the golden voice of the purple and gold.
"He's probably saying, 'Marge, get back to your seat and let the pros talk,'" Hearn shot back, as quick-witted as her husband ever was. "She gave Chick a lot of his material," cracked Byron Scott earlier in the ceremony.
Yes, Chick Hearn is back and here to stay in Los Angeles after the Lakers unveiled a 5,000 pound, nearly 16-foot statue of the late Lakers broadcaster outside Staples Center at a ceremony three hours before tipoff of Game 2 between the Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.
About a dozen Lakers legends were on hand -- including Scott, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Kurt Rambis, Bill Sharman, Rick Fox and Bill Bertka -- along with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, Lakers executive vice president Jeanie Buss, Lakers super fan Dyan Cannon and approximately 300 other fans who braved the drizzly afternoon to honor Hearn.
The statue, which depicts Chick at a broadcast table in the middle of a call -- half smile on his face, eyes wide, arms raised in the air -- is the fourth to be erected at Staples Center, following Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson and Oscar De La Hoya. It was created by sculptor/artist Omri Amrany, who was also commissioned for Johnson's statue.
It includes an empty seat next to Hearn so fans can sit next to him and pose for photographs, similar to Red Auerbach's statue at Faneuil Hall in Boston.
"He liked the average person, he liked the man on the street," Marge Hearn said, crediting Jeanie Buss for coming up with the concept of the statue more than five years ago and initiating planning stages with Linda Rambis, Kurt's wife.
Several people spoke, sharing their favorite stories about Hearn, but Keith Erickson, Hearn's former broadcast partner from 1981-87, stole the show with a humorous impression of Hearn that bordered on a roast.
"Not being able to talk for eight years [as his partner], I thought this was a great opportunity to share a bit," Erickson quipped.
The tales continued. Lantz recalled the time he was stopped by an arena security guard who didn't recognize him and only allowed him through after Lantz flashed Hearn's old press pass, which he keeps on him at all times in his wallet. "Chickie Baby!," the security guard exclaimed.
Worthy, who credited Hearn for giving him his start in a career in broadcasting, recalled how fond his mother was of Hearn to the point where she bought a satellite TV, not to watch her son's games, but to hear Hearn's calls. Worthy said his mother used to work on "isms" with Hearn and that the two of them came up with Hearn's patented phrase, "the Jell-O is jiggling," together.
"He created cohesiveness in the city with his broadcast," Worthy said. "Chick created that harmony, that family that we all knew as 'Showtime.' It all started with Chick's voice."
Midway through the ceremony the rain let up and the clouds above moved away to show a bright blue sky.
"You notice the rain stops," Lantz said. "He's in a place where he has a little more power now."
Kupchak spoke on behalf of the Lakers franchise, noting, "There's not a personality or a star for this organization like there was in Chick Hearn."
That's saying a lot when Jack Nicholson sits courtside, Kobe Bryant still plays for the team and larger-than-life personalities like Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal once played for Los Angeles.
"Chick would make you feel the game," Scott said. "The greatest to ever do it, the best that will ever do it."
Kupchak described the scene he imagined the statue would provoke for years to come, picturing a father and son coming to a Lakers game and stopping by to see Chick.
"Dad, who is this?" Kupchak said the child would ask.
"Son, sit down, let me tell you about the greatest broadcaster ever," the father would say.
Martin Gonzalez brought his 6-year-old son M.J. to the ceremony to do just that.
"I think it's something to share with our kids about the history of the Lakers," Gonzalez said, as he pulled M.J., who was wearing a Bryant No. 8 jersey, close to him and rubbed his head.
"I had an opportunity to be at the Forum when I was [my son's age]," the 40-year old Gonzalez continued. "Up to this day, I still recall the moment that I had watching these players and listening to Chick ... The Lakers do a great job of continuing the tradition of excellence ... I brought him to the game with money that we don't have, but I still think it's worth the investment with your kids and show them what the good side of sports can bring."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.