Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn died on Tuesday at the age of 85. Hearn spent 42 years calling basketball games, popularizing terms like “double dribble” and “slam dunk.” OTM Producer-At-Large Mike Pesca looks back.
Beethoven Violin Sonata in c minor
Artist: Anne Sophie Mutter - violin, Lambert Orkis - piano
The Bard of Basketball
August 9, 2002
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media from NPR.
BOB GARFIELD: We are back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. The legendary Los Angeles Lakers broadcaster, Chick Hearn, died this week at the age of 85. On the Media's producer at large, Mike Pesca, had some thoughts on his life and legacy.
MIKE PESCA:Most of the obituaries compared Chick Hearn to Cal Ripken, because Hearn also was an iron man of sports. From 1965 through last season he never missed a game. But I could think of another comparison -- not from the world he covered, sports, but from Hearn's own world --the world of words. With Hearn's death and the passing of broadcaster Marty Glickman over a year ago, basketball has lost its Chaucer and its Shakespeare. Glickman was Chaucer because he invented so many of the basic terms to describe the court in play -- the vocabulary of basketball. Chick Hearn was Shakespeare because he wove those phrases into an evocative language that captured the spirit of the game. In various papers in the last few days, Hearn was also said to have invented phrases including airball, slam dunk, finger roll, give and go and double dribble. That's doubtful. The double dribble was outlawed in 1908, 7 years before Hearn was born. Coaches like Phog Allen who learned the game directly from its inventor, James Naismith, schooled their players in the art of the give and go. I called the librarian of the Basketball Hall of Fame and he acknowledged that Hearn didn't coin many of the phrases he's been credit for in the last week, but like Shakespeare, he was the first to make that language accessible to everyone, and also like Shakespeare, he filled the airwaves with poetry and drama. Listen. [CLIP FROM CHICK HEARN BROADCAST] CHICK HEARN: The rebound is off to Pippin. Pippin knocks a man down - no harm, no foul, no blood, no ambulance. Street's got the ball. Street yo-yoing up and down out of run against Michael Jordan. Street gets a screen by Campbell. Shoots a 22-footer, soft as a baby going to bed. Nice shot.
MIKE PESCA: Chick Hearn, "a fellow of infinite jest. Of most excellent fancy." For On the Media, I'm Mike Pesca. [MUSIC]