Tuesday, February 2, 2010
J.A. ADANDE'S TOP LAKER OF ALL-TIME
1. Chick Hearn
Even the greatest entertainers need a promoter. Muhammad Ali, master showman, had Bundini Brown. For all of the stars the Lakers have had on the court, the man who eclipses them all is Chick Hearn.
His voice provided the narrative for Lakers highlights in five different decades, on everything from West's backcourt shot against the Knicks to the final seconds of the championship three-peat in 2002.
For Hearn's importance in Lakers history I defer to the great Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray, who described the days during which the Lakers drew fewer than 3,000 people for a playoff game, before a Hearn radio broadcast of the next game on the road brought 15,000 fans to the Sports Arena when the series returned to L.A. When the Lakers were still establishing themselves -- competing in the marketplace against the Dodgers at their most dominant and the UCLA basketball dynasty -- they used to have players drive through neighborhoods, making their pitch via loudspeaker to get people to buy tickets.
"The sound of Chick Hearn did more for the team," Murray wrote. "The Lakers prospered. And carried the pro game along with them."
You might have heard that famous voice doing Harlem Globetrotters games on "Gilligan's Island" or Goofy's soccer matches, but it served no greater purpose than to provide play-by-play for the Lakers (and hand out their championship rings). Multiple generations learned to love the Lakers through Chick Hearn.
Chick reworked the lexicon of the sport, giving birth to the phrases "slam dunk" and "dribble drive" and "air ball." He provided an education on the fly. It's because of him that generations of Southern Californians know the dimensions of the court are 94 feet by 50 feet and that the team that wins the opening tap will have the ball to begin the fourth quarter. (And thanks to Chick, who could forget the basketball seating capacity of the Forum was 17,505?)
The truest test of impact is after a person is gone. And when Chick Hearn passed away it wasn't just the legendary Lakers players who came to pay their respects; the governor of California and mayor of Los Angeles also attended his funeral Mass.
It's hard to imagine any other Laker meaning that much.