L.A. Lakers: A Tribute to Chick Hearn, the Best Basketball Announcer of All Time
The NBA’s history is rich with the stories of legends. Most think of the great players to grace the courts, while others may think of the best coaches.
Many fans who take in most games from the comfort of their homes have come to appreciate the stars on their televisions and radios: the announcers. Among the most famous announcers on the NBA airwaves were the 76ers’ Dave Zinkoff and the Celtics’ Johnny Most.
However, there was one NBA announcer that trumped them all, and that was Chick Hearn.
Many longtime Lakers fans are quite familiar with Hearn. However, many others know little about him.
This article is meant to be a tribute to his fantastic career. I hope this stirs memories for some and provides education for others.
Enjoy the tribute.
Francis Dayle “Chick” Hearn has become a legend in the NBA. As the play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Lakers, Hearn’s voice was simulcast on both radio and television—a rarity in the NBA.
Chick Hearn started broadcasting for the Lakers in March 1961. Throughout his career, which lasted until 2002, he witnessed the Lakers winning nine NBA championships, including the dynasties of the '80s and early 2000s. He also witnessed heartbreak with several losses to the Celtics in the 1960s and several mediocre seasons in the 1970s and mid 1990s.
He earned his nickname while playing basketball at Bradley University, as his teammates gave him a shoebox with a dead chicken inside rather than sneakers.
After marrying his wife Marge in 1938, she was frequently inserted into his broadcasts, such as when he would get frustrated at the Lakers’ play and assert that Marge could play better than them.
Starting on November 21, 1965, Hearn started a consecutive game streak of calling games that lasted 3,338 games. Compared to the iron man streaks of A.C. Green (1,192 games) and Cal Ripken Jr. (2,632 games), Hearn’s run dwarfs them both.
The streak started after missing a game while being stranded in Fayetteville, Arkansas due to inclement weather. It would last until December 16, 2001, when Hearn underwent cardiac bypass surgery.
Most people take time off from work when they are sick, but not Chick Hearn. He was as dedicated as employees came. Over the course of 36 years, he put together a streak that likely will never be broken in our lifetimes.
Chick Hearn had a style to his broadcasts that few announcers have been able to imitate. Perched high above the court in the stands of the stadium, Hearn had a bird’s-eye view of the game and tried to relay visually what he saw to all of those listening with his rapid-fire voice.
I remember listening to games Hearn called on the radio, and he described the action so well that it was almost like watching the games on television. Even more amazing was the fact that he could think that quickly even into his 80s.
Pioneer in Basketball
As if his résumé described thus far is not enough to impress you, consider the fact that Chick Hearn was the first to introduce many basketball terms that are commonplace today. The following slides will run through some of his most well-known and popular phrases.
For Chick Hearn, the official names for parts of the court were not always preferred. In regards to the free throw line, Hearn called it the “charity stripe” since that is where players took charity (free shot attempts—albeit worth half as much as normal field goal attempts) from the referees.
Whether he described Elgin Baylor or Michael Jordan taking the ball to the basket, Hearn was the first to use the term “dribble drive” to describe players dribbling through the defense and driving towards the hoop.
George Gervin might have been known for his “finger roll” shot, which he seemingly perfected, but who knows what it would have been called had Hearn not created the name?
Chick Hearn would describe a game’s situation as “nervous time” when the score was close in the fourth quarter in a game that had significant meaning (such as playoff games or marquee matchups).
Fortunately for Hearn, he witnessed several of his Lakers shining during nervous time, including Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and Kobe Bryant.
This phrase became popular during Magic Johnson’s days in the NBA, as he perfected the play of looking one way and passing the ball to a player the other way.
No Harm, No Foul
It seems that in nearly every game in the NBA, there are plays where one player hits another and gets away with a non-call on what should have been a foul. By saying, “no harm, no foul,” this was Hearn’s way of claiming that the officials were not about to call a foul if there was no blood drawn.
Not surprisingly, many basketball announcers today use this same phrase.
The opposite of a referee not making an obvious foul call, Hearn created a term for when a referee whistled a player for minor contact—sometimes even no contact. Yes, the “ticky-tack foul” has become a classic call by basketball announcers, usually accompanied by the player showing a sign of disbelief.
Perhaps the most famous phrase in the entire basketball lexicon is “slam dunk.” Before Hearn announced NBA games, a dunk was just a dunk.
But when players like Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Shaquille O’Neal slammed through the ball through the rim with force, Hearn was not satisfied by just saying they “dunked” the ball. Of course, it was a “slaaaaaaaaam dunk!”
Hearn was the first to use the term “triple-double,” which refers to when a player records at least 10 (double figures) of three of the following categories: points, rebounds, assists, blocks or steals.
As one can imagine, he used this phrase a lot during the Magic Johnson era.
Sense of Humor
One of the best qualities of Chick Hearn was his ability to keep the mood of fans light with his sense of humor. The following list are a few of his best lines.
Bunny hop in the pea patch: Traveling in the lane.
Can’t throw a pea in the ocean: The team was shooting poorly.
The mustard’s off the hot dog: When a player tried to do an unnecessary showy move that ended up in a turnover or being unsuccessful.
Caught with his hand in the cookie jar: A player reached in and got called for a foul.
Throws up a brick: When a player took a shot that missed badly.
Building a house: When a player threw up many “bricks” during the game.
Boo birds: Fans who booed their own team when it played poorly and was losing.
Marge could have made that shot: When a player missed an easy shot attempt, Hearn would proclaim that his wife could have made it.
My favorite Chick-ism was the line he would use when he was sure the Lakers were going to win the game. When only the final score and not the outcome was in question, Hearn would claim, “This game's in the refrigerator: The door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard and the Jell-O's jigglin'!”
Being that he never was wrong about the team’s outcome when he put games in the refrigerator, this funny line was definitely reassuring for many nervous Lakers fans.
Chick Hearn had quite the legendary career. With all of the contributions already listed and many more, he was just the third broadcaster inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on May 9, 1991. In addition, Hearn was just the 20th person voted into the American Sportscaster Hall of Fame.
In Los Angeles, Hearn now has a street and a light rail station named after him. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Of course, the Lakers organization has done its best to honor him. Outside Staples Center in Star Plaza are bronze statues of some of the greatest athletes in LA history: Magic Johnson (the greatest point guard in NBA history), Jerry West (the NBA’s logo and one of the greatest wing men in NBA history), Wayne Gretzky (the greatest NHL player of all time) and Oscar De La Hoya (the most financially successful boxer of all time).
Then there is the tribute to Chick Hearn, complete with a chair next to his statue so fans can sit down “next to” him.
Inside the Staples Center is the most exclusive and impressive tribute to retired NBA players. Included in the rafters are the jerseys of Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Gail Goodrich. In the coming years, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant are sure to join that group.
With a jersey displaying a microphone, Hearn has beaten O’Neal and Bryant into the rafters. It’s the organization’s way of saying that no one will ever be able to replace Chick Hearn.
There are many stars that have shined brightly in the basketball world, but few have been as bright as Hearn’s. While Hearn may have left this world nearly nine years ago, basketball fans owe a lot to him.
About the Author
Ethan S. currently lives near Seattle, Washington. He loves sports and frequently goes to games for the Mariners, Seahawks, Sounders, and Portland Trailblazers. Originally from Southern California, Ethan grew up a fan of the Anaheim Ducks, Anaheim Angels, and Los Angeles Lakers.
The NBA is his favorite sports league, followed by the NFL. Ethan enjoys historical articles the most and has appreciated the opportunity of Bleacher Report to engage with the sports community.
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