Stu Lantz still carries the press pass, tucked safely in his wallet, wherever he goes.
It has Chick Hearn's name and smiling face on it, and was given to the Lakers TV analyst after the team's play-by-play announcer died in 2002.
The press pass was in a box of Hearn's belongings that his wife, Marge, handed Lantz at the time. She died Saturday night of natural causes at age 98, bringing a flood of memories to Lantz and the Lakers.
"To lose both of them now, it's going to be a different era as far as 'What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Lakers?'" Lantz told The Times on Sunday. "A lot of people say 'championships' and all that stuff, and in my mind it was Chick Hearn and Marge Hearn. I call them the royal couple, and now they're back together again."
Chick was the voice of the Lakers from 1961 until his death. His wife was a mainstay at games, a positive influence on many.
Lakers President Jeanie Buss called Marge "the first lady of the Lakers" in a statement. Few would disagree.
"Marge was like everybody's mom," Lakers Coach Byron Scott said. "A lot of the Laker wives were able to confide in Marge as somebody they could trust, somebody that they loved. [She] would be a lot like Chick as far as giving it to you pretty straight."
Chick worked 3,338 consecutive games in a career highlighted by 11 Lakers championships. Marge was there for it all — they were married in 1938.
"She was just special," Lantz said. "If the team was going bad and he was not in a good mood, there was only one person that could get him grounded again, and that was Marge. All he would have to do was get on the phone with Marge and he was back to being Chick."
Lantz credited Chick with his career development, saying the revered broadcaster specifically asked Lantz to provide commentary in games with him. It was not unusual for Chick to mention Marge during games, especially in comparison with players on the court.
"He teased her a lot on the air: 'Oh, Marge could go to her left better than he could!' She was always in his mind," Lantz said. "He could be right in the middle of a rapid-fire play by play and her name would pop in."
Despite several Lakers luminaries in attendance, Marge was a main attraction when Chick's statue was unveiled in front of Staples Center in 2010.
After the 45-minute ceremony, she was the first to sit in the permanently empty chair next to the bronze table where Chick was shown with a headset, enthusiastically calling a game.
She kissed her right hand and placed it gently on the cheek of her husband's statue.
"This is as good as it gets, to have this in your life," she said to the crowd of about 500. "Fabulous day. Just fabulous."
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