Chick Hearn made a mistake Tuesday night, as disturbing as the one Howard Cosell made when he called the Washington Redskins' smurfish wide receiver, Alvin Garrett, a "little monkey."
In his simulcast of the Laker-Clipper game from the Pond, Hearn reacted to Bo Outlaw's hanging on the rim for several seconds by saying he was "up there so long he could have eaten a banana."
Considering Outlaw is black, was it a racially insensitive remark?
Is Hearn a racist?
After being around him off and on for 15 years, I think not. More qualified to answer that question is his broadcast partner, Stu Lantz, who is black.
"Absolutely not," he said before Wednesday night's game at the Forum between the Lakers and Bulls. "I think I'd know after 10 years with him if he was."
That doesn't mean Hearn never engages in stereotypes. Responding once to a caller to his radio show whose accent sounded Middle Eastern, Hearn made reference to the man's camel.
But in his interaction with people, I've always thought he treated everyone with equal respect or, depending on his mood, disrespect. Having been on the receiving end of his barbed wit, I've wondered at times if he's prejudiced against sportswriters.
Two days after he was elected into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Assn. Hall of Fame, Hearn's mood Wednesday was contrite. His comment the night before had not created a firestorm. There were critical telephone calls from listeners to the Lakers, Channel 9 and KLAC radio, but not hundreds or even dozens of them. No one in authority asked him to apologize.
No one had to. In a telephone call Wednesday morning, a distraught Hearn said, "If I hurt anyone's feelings, I apologize from the bottom of my heart."
He said he would offer the same apology on the air during the simulcast of the Laker-Bull game. If he did, I didn't hear it.
"I feel so badly about what happened," he said. "I'm too much of a professional to let things like that slide. It happened. It's not like I wrote it on a typewriter. I can't erase it.
"Everyone who knows me knows I would not have said that if I thought it was out of line, that it had some sort of racial connotation. If it had been a white man on the rim, I would have said the same thing."
I believe that's true because he's said similar things about white players. Still, his critics probably will use this incident in their argument that it's time for him to sign off the air after 37 years with the Lakers.
I think that would be an overreaction. So does Byron Scott, who has known Hearn since first joining the Lakers 14 seasons ago.
"People who don't know him might take offense, but that's just Chick trying to be funny," Scott said. "Bo did look funny, hanging up there."
Here's hoping a few ill-chosen words after the millions he has spoken don't tarnish Hearn's career the way they did Cosell's. The sooner this episode is in the refrigerator, the better.
Shaq's absence showed up in at least one place in the box score. The Lakers didn't miss a free throw until 4:46 remained in the third quarter. . . .
Intent on keeping His Airness' blood pressure low Wednesday, Del Harris was even pitching Michael Jordan's sponsors. The Laker coach said he ate Wheaties for breakfast, went to McDonald's for lunch and even wore Hanes underwear. . . .
With or without the Nike swoosh? We didn't ask. . . .
The Clippers are 3-1 at the Pond this season, including victories over the Lakers and Seattle. Are you paying attention, Donald Sterling? . . .
According to Jeff Duva of PrepStar magazine in Woodland Hills, the 10 schools with the best football recruiting results Wednesday were, in order: Penn State, Florida State, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, USC, Texas and Louisiana State. . . .
UCLA, ranked 14th by PrepStar, signed Jackie Robinson's grandson, defensive lineman Jesse Sims of Stamford, Conn. . . .
Mark Johnson, who defends his International Boxing Federation flyweight title Monday night at the Forum against Alejandro Montiel, is nicknamed "Too Sharp." He owns a barber shop in Washington. . . .
That might be useful information for Janet Evans if she needs to shave and taper. She's in Washington today at a celebration for the 25th anniversary of Title IX on National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
While looking forward to the Bulls' return to the Forum for the finals, I was thinking: it's good to have Showtime back, UCLA gets its revenge Saturday against Stanford, an owner named Donald in the Duck Pond is a natural.