Hearn, eternal voice of Lakers, dies at 85

Sport's lexicon invented over broadcasting career

August 06, 2002|By Mike Penner and Larry Stewart | Mike Penner and Larry Stewart,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LOS ANGELES - Chick Hearn, the legendary broadcaster who provided the lively soundtrack to more than four decades of Los Angeles Lakers basketball, inventing a new vocabulary along the way, died yesterday. He was 85.

Hearn died at 6:30 p.m. local time at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where he was admitted Friday night after taking a fall at his home. He underwent two brain craniotomies to control brain hemorrhaging on Saturday but never regained consciousness. He declined seriously Sunday night and throughout the day yesterday.

Hearn, who was instrumental in introducing professional basketball to Southern California sports fans when the Lakers moved west from Minneapolis in 1960, broadcast 3,338 consecutive games in a streak that began in 1965 before suffering a series of medical setbacks that began late last year.

Hearn missed his first Lakers broadcast in 36 years on Dec. 20 after undergoing heart valve replacement surgery the previous day. Two months later, he slipped and fell getting out of his car, breaking his hip. The injury required Hearn to undergo hip-replacement surgery, extending his absence away from the Lakers to 113 days and 56 games.

On April 9, Hearn returned to his familiar seat at Staples Center, calling the play-by-play during a 30-point Lakers victory over the Utah Jazz. "This is the happiest I've been since I married Marge!" he exclaimed on the air, referring to his wife of nearly 64 years.

One of just 21 men named to the American Sportscasters Hall of Fame, Hearn remained with the Lakers through the clinching of their third consecutive NBA championship in June. It was the Lakers' ninth league title since arriving in Los Angeles, and from Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain to Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, Hearn had provided the colorful narration for all of them.

Hearn invented a lexicon that has become as much a part of the game of modern basketball as the three-point field goal - "Chickisms," they were called. He concocted such phrases as "air ball" for a shot that misses the rim and "slam-dunk" for a shot that is thrust down into the basket.

"I can't think of anybody like him," said Monday Night Football broadcaster Al Michaels, who worked briefly as Hearn's partner during the late 1960s. "Some guys have had long and illustrious and storied careers, some go on and on into their 80s like [Detroit Tigers announcer] Ernie Harwell. But there's never been anybody like Chick."

Francis Dayle Hearn was born on Nov. 27, 1916, in the little town of Buda, Ill., one of two sons of an Irishman who worked for the railroad.

He got his nickname when friends played a prank on him when he was an amateur player. Given a box he thought contained sneakers, Hearn, at the time 22, found a chicken inside.

Besides Marge, Hearn is survived by his granddaughter, Gary's daughter Shannon Newman; her husband Louis; and great-granddaughter Kayli, 2, who live in Placentia, Calif.

Years ago, Hearn was asked if he thought he had left a legacy, and, after some thought, said only, "I just hope I've made a contribution to the game."

Asked what should be put on his tombstone, Hearn didn't have to think about it.

"No harm, no foul," he said.

Mike Penner and Larry Stewart are reporters for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Wire reports contributed to this article.

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