Greatest sports figures in L.A. history, No. 7: Chick Hearn
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Continuing our countdown of the 20 greatest figures in L.A. sports history, as chosen in voting by our online readers, with No. 7, Chick Hearn.
No. 7 Chick Hearn (57 first-place votes, 3,469 points)
There are three statues representing Lakers icons outside Staples Center. Only two of them are basketball players.
But it speaks to the importance of Chick Hearn that his likeness joins Magic Johnson and Jerry West in bronze perpetuity.
It was the spoken word that made Hearn such a part of Lakers history. He was the team’s only broadcaster in Los Angeles until his death at age 85 in 2002. When the team moved from Minneapolis in 1960, he was instrumental in introducing professional basketball to Southern California sports fans.
He called 3,338 consecutive games, a streak that started in 1965 and ended in December of 2001 after he had heart surgery. His distinctive high-speed delivery and inventive vocabulary made him one of the greatest play-by-play announcers in history.
Among Hearn’s phrases (his “Chickisms”) were ‘air ball,’ ‘slam dunk’ and ‘yo-yoing up and down.’ A defender fooled by an opponent was “faked into the popcorn machine.” If a player mishandled the ball after an unnecessary move, Hearn was fond of saying, ‘The mustard’s off the hot dog.’
And when the Lakers had secured victory, Hearn would say, ‘This game is in the refrigerator. The door is closed. The light is out. The eggs are cooling. The butter is getting hard. And the Jell-O is jiggling.’
Hearn had a chance to say that often, as the Lakers won nine NBA titles with him at the mike. His last game was their victory over New Jersey that clinched a third consecutive championship in June of 2002. He was enshrined in the baskeball Hall of Fame in 2003.
Hearn also served as the Lakers’ assistant general manager for awhile and had one of five votes when the team made the franchise-altering move of acquiring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from the Milwakuee Bucks in 1975. Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson led the Lakers to five championships in the 1980s.
When Hearn died a few days after a fall at his Encino home, Johnson summed up the feeling of many players: “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.”
— Hans Tesselaar