Sportscaster Chick Hearn Dead At 85

Los Angeles Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn acknowledges the fans during a standing ovation after returning to the booth to call his first Lakers game in nearly four months in this April 9, 2002 in Los Angeles. AP

Chick Hearn, who made "slam dunk" and "air ball" common basketball expressions during his 42-year broadcasting career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died Monday night. He was 85.

Hearn, the only play-by-play announcer the Los Angeles Lakers ever had, died at 6:30 p.m. at Northridge Medical Center Hospital.

Hearn fell and struck his head Friday in the back yard of the Encino home he shared with wife Marge. They would have celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary Aug. 13.

Surgeons operated twice Saturday to relieve swelling in his brain, but he never regained consciousness.

About 100 fans gathered outside the hospital, and many broke into tears when they heard Hearn died.

Others rushed to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where they left flowers.

"It's a sad, sad day," said Hearn's broadcast partner, Stu Lantz. "We've been together 15 years - the relationship grew every year."

A member of the Basketball and the American Sportscasters halls of fame, Hearn called a record 3,338 consecutive Lakers games starting in 1965 before missing a game because he had to have an operation in December 2001 for a blocked aortic valve.

While recovering, he fell and broke his hip. He returned April 9 and broadcast the Lakers' playoff run to their third consecutive championship.

He joined the Lakers when the team moved from Minneapolis for the 1960-61 season.

Hearn's career was far longer than such Lakers standouts as West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jamaal Wilkes, James Worthy and Michael Cooper.

And he was calling games long before current stars Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant were born.

"There's never going to be another Chick Hearn," Johnson said. "He's a man who will be remembered long after. Some people grow bigger than their sport, bigger than their job."

Johnson said he will remember Hearn for more than what he did in the broadcast booth.

"When I talked to Chick, a lot of times it was hardly about basketball," Johnson said. "He was always so proud of me. I would get little notes from him. That would make me feel so good."

"I'll never forget all those times when I needed a hug, when I needed a high five, he told me: 'It's going to be all right.' He always uplifted me and uplifted other people, and I'll tell you something - basketball and the Lakers - without him calling the games, it would have never been the same," said Johnson.

Hearn called his first Lakers game in March 1961. His last game was June 12 when the Lakers beat the New Jersey Nets 113-107 in East Rutherford, N.J., to complete a sweep of the NBA Finals and earn their ninth title since moving from Minneapolis.

During the finals, he said he was getting stronger every day and planned to work at least one more season. He believed his call of the Lakers' Game 7 victory over Sacramento in the Western Conference finals might have been as good as any in his career.

Last week, he drove to Las Vegas with his wife to speak at a fantasy basketball camp.

Born Francis Dayle Hearn on Nov. 27, 1916, in Aurora, Ill., Hearn peppered his rapid-fire delivery with terms like "no harm, no foul," "the mustard's off the hot dog," "ticky-tack foul," and "faked him into the popcorn machine."

Whenever he believed a Lakers victory was clinched, Hearn would say: "You can put this one in the refrigerator. The door's closed, the light's out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard and the Jell-O is jiggling."

"Generations of fans were brought to the NBA by the voice and vision of Chick Hearn," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "Chick was a fixture as the `Voice of the Lakers' and a legend in his profession."

When it came time to give out rings, raise championship banners, conduct victory celebrations or retire uniform numbers, Hearn was the master of ceremonies.

"His colorful descriptions of the game transcended the sport and have had an indelible influence on basketball and broadcasting itself," Stern said.

Hearn also was a comforting voice to fans in difficult times - helping fans cope with Johnson's HIV announcement in 1991 and Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers' death in 1990.

When the Lakers moved from the Forum to the Staples Center in 1999, the press room was named in Hearn's honor.

He has been immortalized with a star on Hollywood's "Walk of Fame," and appeared as himself numerous times on television shows.

Hearn missed just two games before his unprecedented streak - one because bad weather kept him grounded and one because he had another assignment.

The first game of the streak was Nov. 21, 1965, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

Throughout his career, Hearn refused to call in sick. He worked a couple of times with laryngitis that forced him to sit out the second half.

He got his nickname when friends played a prank on him when he was an amateur player. Given a box he thought contained sneakers, he found a chicken inside.

When Hearn broadcast his 3,000th consecutive game in 1998, O'Neal said, "That's an amazing accomplishment. I don't think I've done anything 3,000 times in my life."

Hearn documented the Lakers' record 33-game winning streak in the championship season of 1971-72, saying: "That will never be duplicated." It hasn't.

Pat Riley, a member of that team who later spent 2½ years beside Hearn in the broadcast booth before he became the Lakers coach, credited Hearn with being his mentor.

"He was a man who taught me about discipline," Riley said.

"The city of Los Angeles has lost an incredible icon," said former Lakers star Jerry West, now the Memphis Grizzlies president of basketball operations. "For all of the years he's been around as the voice of the Lakers, he helped capture so many special moments for fans everywhere."

Hearn kept few secrets from Lakers fans. But he didn't like to talk about his age.

After he reached 70 or so, he would only chuckle and say, "I don't know, I lost my birth certificate."

The Hearns had two children, but both died - a son of a drug overdose, and a daughter after battling anorexia. The couple was very close with Shannon, their granddaughter, and her family.

Funeral arrangements are pending, but team spokesman Steiner said the family plans a memorial service. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that people make charitable donations in Hearn's name.

  • Francie Grace

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