Spirit of Chick will be felt in Springfield
If you think Chick Hearn won't be heard at the 2003 Hall of Fame enshrinement, think again.
He will be captivating and a life of the party and heard throughout the building. Chick Hearn will very much be present.
Can't see him? That didn't stop millions of Southern Californians. A transistor radio was all it took to become a family member.
Won't be in Springfield, Mass., for his Hall of Fame induction? Prove it. James Worthy will be there. Jerry West will be there. So the late Chick Hearn will be there.
He has the phrases and the streak and the personality, and there's no point of speaking in the past tense. Maybe because it's still strange to think of the Los Angeles Lakers about to begin a season without him, even if this will be the second one. There were 42 with him, after all.
Hearn didn't have a career. He had a life as a play-by-play man, which, as anyone close to him will still say, was often what doing the games was for him. He beat Father Time, working into his mid-80s without taking a 20, and managed good moments against that other immovable force, the Boston Celtics, leaving him one real opponent. The offseason.
No wonder he hated not working. Being with the Lakers may have been his real life, but it was also a broadcaster's dream. He called Jerry and Elgin and Wilt, 33 consecutive victories and championships, Kareem and Magic and Big Game James, Shaq and Kobe and Phil. Chick had the career of 10 men.
He had the adulation of millions. In the vast Southern California listening audience, stretching counties and generations and neighborhoods divided by ethnicity and economy, Chick was a friend. For that reason alone, you called him by his first name. Hearn was too formal for someone who never worried much about that.
He swayed with the Lakers like the fan, as reactionary as any of them. Losing two out of three in January could send him into an emotional funk that could be heard on the airwaves, about how things had better turn around in a hurry -- they might not win another game! -- and the last place you wanted to be on the team plane that night was next to Chick, growling as he went to the next city for, miracle of miracles, a win.
|2003 HALL OF FAME CLASS|
The following are the 2003 electees with NBA ties:
Francis "Chick" Hearn: Broadcast 3,338 consecutive games for the Los Angeles Lakers ... Died on Aug. 5, 2002 at age 85.
Meadowlark Lemon: "The Clown Prince of Basketball" with the Harlem Globetrotters ... Joined the Globetrotters in 1957 and played in over 16,000 games until 1979.
Earl Lloyd: Became the first African-American to play in an NBA game in 1950 with the Washington Capitols ... Was NBA's first black assistant coach in 1968 with the Detroit Pistons.
Dino Meneghin: Widely regarded as one of the greatest international players ever and the finest Italian basketball player in history ... Drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 1970. Robert Parish: Won three NBA titles as nine-time All-Star center with the Boston Celtics ... Holds the NBA record for most seasons (21) and most games played (1,611).
James Worthy: One of NBA's 50 greatest players ... Seven-time All-Star forward won three championships with the Lakers.
His familiarity was the greatness, not his technique on the air. He was there every night -- 3,338 games in a row in the most historic of his many accomplishments, from Nov. 21, 1965 to Dec. 16, 2001. Turn on the Lakers, there's Chick. His perch, first at the Forum and then Staples Center, wasn't courtside, but midway up the stands, perfect for people to call to him and an exchange of waves.
Even his call was Everyman. "The mustard's off the hot dog," after someone tried to get too tricky. "Put his man in the popcorn machine," after a great fake sent the defender flying a different direction. A guy wouldn't miss a gimme. He would "blowwwwwwww" the layup!
The day he was saluted at halftime for his 3,000th consecutive broadcast? He loved the moment, thanked everyone and joked with Jack Nicholson about how this is as good as it gets. And then, just before going back to work for the second half, declared in the P.A. system: "C'mon, Lakers. You're playing like dogs." The place went wild.
Chick called the game like the guy sitting in his living room. Slaaaaaaaam dunk! He was enthusiastic and cranky and making mistakes and cracking jokes and loving his dream life. His rat-a-tat-tat style was perfect for the basketball pace, in the same way the other local broadcasting legend, Vin Scully, is ideally spring-day lyrical with baseball and the Dodgers.
He was the same way in real life. There was no show with his TV shows. That was Chick.
The truth is, he will be saluted with the induction into the Hall of Fame, but the real stories will be the moments of friendship and love that get told as friends gather away from the podium. Marge Hearn, his widow, every bit his constant as Chick was to listeners, the lady who lovingly put up with him and sat close to him at home games, will be there to accept the honor. Jerry West will be presenting her. James Worthy -- Big Game James -- is being enshrined, too.
"Remember the time that ..."
"Oh, and don't forget about when ..."
There will be a lot of that. Probably not just among the Lakers contingent, either. Hearn's legacy dotted the map, so almost everyone connected with the league for any length of time has a story. They'll have to speak loud and speak fast, though.
Chick doesn't give up the floor too long for anyone.
Scott Howard-Cooper, who covers the NBA for the Sacramento Bee, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.