Chick Hearn: the purple, sweet and gold voice of the Lakers

It was 57 years ago: November 21, 1965 began an uninterrupted series until our century, in the year 2001. For thirty-six years, Chick Hearn presented himself every two, three, four or five evenings behind his microphone to comment on the Lakers under the spotlights of three different rooms. His story is that of a legend with a legacy too important to leave in the shadows. Narrative.

No doubt about the heterogeneity of the generations who read us. However, not certain that the readership witnessed what the NBA was like in the 60s. A bit of context is in order: when Francis Dayle “Chick” Hearn put on his helmet in the Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles for the very first time, the NBA did not – but then not at all – have the stature that it is today. hers today. First, the League has only eight teams: the Boston Celtics, the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers (freshly arrived from Minneapolis), the Detroit Pistons, the Warriors at the time on the East Coast in Philadelphia, the Hawks then located in St. Louis, the Cincinnati Royals (ancestors of the Sacramento Kings) and finally the Syracuse Nationals (which will become the Philadelphia 76ers).

For a fun little anecdote about the Syracuse Nationals, it’s this wayotherwise we continue.

At that time, the Celtics were just beginning their dynasty with “only” two titles, while Wilt Chamberlain come out of a phenomenal rookie season with a Rookie of the Year trophy… and MVP. The interior of the Philly Warriors installs tranquilou-bilou its records. On the youth side, if Wilt the Stilt is now a sophomore, oscar robertson made his NBA debut.

What about the Lakers? The Purple & Gold have just landed in the City of Angels. Previously, the franchise played in the great North American of Minneapolis, in the sky blue and yellow colors, which today appear on jerseys “flashback” in Los Angeles. Beginning in 1958, the Lakers institution revolved aroundElgin Baylorscoring winger and the first player to bring more aerial finishing to the game. He is joined by rookie jerry west in 1960, first “combo guard” of history, whose silhouette is still used for the NBA logo today. The Californian duo is growing, even if Baylor is more “flashy” than his teammate.

Hearn therefore arrives at a mixed time for the Lakers. The franchise regularly leads its conference (division at the time) but never manages to erase the Celtics in the Finals. No problem for Chick who, unlike the players of the time, will have the chance to experience the most beautiful epics in the history of the Lakers. A career as a commentator is a bit longer than that of a player (much longer).

It should be noted that at the time, a broadcast of a basketball match was not watched but listened to, hence the major status of the commentator. And this is where Chick Hearn launches his legend: a voice of perfect musicality, and particularly suited to this role. This place of n°1, Chick keeps it for 40 years. He made young and old vibrate to the rhythm of the dribbles of Jerry West, Magic Johnson or Kobe Bryant, and now occupies a very special place in the hearts of fans who have known/heard him.

What above all made Chick Hearn famous in his time, in addition to the rivalry with his Boston counterpart, Johnny Most (to be found in The Greatest Basketball Book of All Time, according to TrashTalk), these are the famous “Chickisms”. Capital at the beginning of the term, in reference to Chick Hearn of course. If you are told: “DeAndre Jordan and free throw”you reply… “airball”. It’s a “Chikism”. Just like the “triple-double” or others “dribbling drives”up to the legendary “slam-dunk”. Other lesser-known phrases have also contributed to building the legend of Francis Hearn, always ready to make a dash of humour. One game night, Chick questions the Lakers’ announcements about the number of fans in the room.

“If there are really 18,000 people here tonight, a good number have chosen to dress up as seats! »

Never short of commentary, Hearn was also not shy about attacking referees when the latter, according to him, did not whistle enough.

“He could have whistled that even in Braille!” »

Finally, Bleacher Report ranked the top 20 “Chickisms” with in mind, a commentary on the blowouts inflicted by the Lakers on their opponents.

“This game is in the fridge! The door is closed, the lights are closed, the eggs are getting cold, the butter is hardening and the jelly is churning! »

Well, if Chick’s creative comments, to say the least, do not pass the translation barrier well, you have to imagine at the time the grain of madness necessary to entertain an entire audience every match night. And if we talk about ” nightly “, it’s not for nothing. Having missed only two Lakers games from his debut in March 1961 to the start of the 1965-66 fiscal year, the Broadcaster will not miss a single one until December 16… 2001. Yes, more than 37 years without missing a match behind his microphone. 3338 consecutive games, an NBA-wide eternity. For comparison, the longest NBA career in terms of games played is that of Robert Parish, with… 1611 games, less than half (and no more)!

Beyond the style, it is above all through his experience that Chick Hearn marked the Lakers. He has known everything. At that time, Californians mostly had their ups. From the start of Hearn’s career in 1961, to his last commented game in 2002, LA only missed the playoffs three times. During Chick’s streak, the Lakers posted a sparkling record of 1,930 wins and 1,069 losses, or 64.4% success in 37 seasons. Over this same period, the Purple & Gold played 18 NBA Finals and won half of them. But while it’s the players who bring home the titles, Chick is an integral part of the franchise’s culture and spirit.

Following the 1972 title, Jerry West’s only career title, Fred Schaus, a former coach who became general manager of the Angelinos, leaves his place to Pete Newell. Arrived from Houston, the latter decides to take Chick as an assistant. Hearn held this position until 1980, the year of the first title of the time “Showtime” during which the young Magic Johnsonin his rookie season, will be named NBA Finals MVP alongside veteran Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

From the commentary booth, Francis Hearn will then watch Pat Riley take the reins of the Lakers, and bring four additional titles to the franchise cabinet. He will witness the retirement of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1989, the announcement of the HIV status of Magic Johnson two years later, the draft of Kobe Bryant in 1996 and the arrival of Shaq the same season. Definitely and undeniably, at the end of his career, Chick Hearn is a true historian.

If he has to end his series of consecutive matches on December 16, 2001, we suspect that it is not for a traffic problem on the ring road. Unfortunately, 85-year-old Chick has to undergo heart surgery which keeps him off the court for a while. Back on April 9, 2002, in one of the Lakers’ last regular season games (a victory over the Jazz), Hearn commented on his last meeting two months later. This game is the fourth and last of the Finals between the Lakers and the New Jersey Nets. Hearn ends his career in the shadow of Lakers at the top, validating their first and only three peat since moving to Los Angeles. During the Parade of Champions, Chick will even officiate as master of ceremonies. His last public appearance with the Lakers. How can you dream of a better ending?

Chick Hearn died on August 5, 2002 and left the Lakers, the city of Los Angeles and the entire sports world an immense legacy. Evidenced by her induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003, the “Chick Hearn Court”driveway leading to the entrance from the Arena Staples Center, the banner bearing his name in the mythical Lakers hall or his star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame and his statue on Star Plaza. And even… his own character in The Simpsons.

We’re not going to lie to each other: no, the term “legend” is absolutely not an exaggeration when it comes to Francis “Chick” Hearn. Forty years of commenting on highlights stars and multiple titles from one of the NBA’s richest histories. His legacy is immeasurable.

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Chick Hearn: the purple, sweet and gold voice of the Lakers

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