Jell-O isn’t jiggling, but Chick would’ve loved it
BOSTON -- The other day Kobe Bryant was saying he just “missed some bunnies” in the first game of the NBA Finals, or as Chick Hearn would’ve been telling us, “Marge could have made those shots.”
It doesn’t seem so long ago, but it will be six years this week, Chick doing his final Lakers broadcast after 42 years behind the microphone, a championship-clinching victory over the New Jersey Nets.
Two months later a fall in his backyard led to his death.
“If he was still here, he would have been so happy, I don’t think he could have stood it,” Marge says. “I think he would have finally had his heart attack.”
What a hoot. Marge, about to turn 91, married for almost 64 years to Fran, as she still refers to her high school sweetheart, and as feisty and original as the voice who once worked 3,338 consecutive Laker games.
“We were soul mates,” she says. “I don’t know what that means, but it sounds like us.”
The same might be said about Chick and Lakers fans, everyone knowing just what he meant when he would say, “He’s in the popcorn machine,” or who he was talking about when he would mention “The Big Fella.”
Nine championships, Chick behind the microphone for each of them, but he dies before they pass out the rings for winning it all in 2002 -- a ring dedicated to him.
“That’s the one I’ve kept, the one I wear,” Marge says. “I gave all the others to family members.
“It has a microphone and the words, ‘slam dunk,’ which you know he originated. And you’re not going to believe this, but you know who did that -- who put that on all the rings?”
As Chick might have said to sidekick Keith Erickson, “I’ll bet you an ice cream” you don’t get it.
“It was Phil Jackson’s doing,” Marge says. “Fran wouldn’t have believed it, but that’s what Jeanie [Buss] told me.”
Chick never really got close to Jackson, and back in the day he would say how it frustrated him, but as Marge says, “Phil seems like a hard man to get to know for everyone, and I don’t know if anyone ever gets close to him.”
How about Jeanie?
“He better be close to her,” Marge says. “She’s the best.”
JACKSON’S FACE lights up when Chick’s name is mentioned Saturday afternoon. He says it’s true -- when asked to help design the 2002 championship ring, he thought of Chick. “He’s human after all,” as Chick might say.
“It was the appropriate thing to do,” Jackson says. “He died before he ever got the ring, and it was so sad for everyone in L.A.”
Chick was so popular, his funeral was broadcast live on TV, the freeway stopped to allow only those with invitations to exit, and easy to understand, as Marge says.
“You know what we would do when the team had a day off? We would bar-hop and talk to all the bartenders. He liked people. He actually liked people.
“And he was always proud of the fact that the person who could not afford a ticket could listen to the game and still enjoy it. Those were his kind of fans, those were the ones he loved.”
When the Lakers were on the road, Marge never missed a broadcast. For home games, “I used to sit three rows in front of him,” she says. “But I’ve moved to the other side of the court behind the visiting team so it gets me away from where he was. I miss him, you know.
“My heart still sinks every once in a while. I hear the national anthem, look up, and shed a tear occasionally. It’s a terrible feeling when you’re alone and don’t have anybody.”
Hard to sit undisturbed, though, Lakers fans stopping by Marge’s seat to tell her how her husband affected their lives, Chick doing this and Chick doing that.
“And I just know how much he would have absolutely loved this team,” she gushes, “and how happy he would have been doing games that mean so much again.”
The Lakers, though, are one down to the Celtics and a long way from putting this series in the refrigerator.
“You know what his favorite saying was?” Marge says. “Whenever he could say something hasn’t happened ‘since Hector was a pup.’ I have no idea who Hector was, and he probably didn’t either.
“My favorite was the ‘bunny hop in the pea patch.’ He used it a lot because he knew I liked it.”
If he were still here, he’d be sitting on the Nokia Theatre stage Friday night along with Vin Scully and John Wooden.
“That would’ve been great, but that’s life, isn’t it?” says Marge, who while still living in Encino would join Wooden for dinner at the Valley Inn. “You know he doesn’t eat like an old person -- he eats like a man.”
Marge has moved into a Fullerton retirement home, “and when I talk about Fran,” she says with a laugh, “the girls all want to know, who is this Fran I’m always talking about?
“But I’m not sitting around moaning and groaning. I’m in a putting contest -- imagine that. Fran wouldn’t have stood for me doing nothing. We had a wonderful 64 years together until the shocker of all shockers, we come home from Las Vegas, he falls and dies in our backyard.”
Chick did a Las Vegas broadcast for Magic’s fantasy camp, his broadcasting sidekick telling Marge later that Chick had signed off by telling the fans, “goodbye.”
To this day it confounds Marge. “He never did that, never said goodbye to the fans,” she says.
As for the years that have passed, and the new broadcast team in place, Marge laughs when asked how they are doing.
“I can hear Fran now: ‘Marge, shut your mouth.’ But I think the kid that does the radio is tremendous and I think Chick would have thought so too.”
And now, should the Lakers win yet another championship, it will be the first without Chick leading the parade.
“I talk to him all the time,” Marge says. “When I was first alone there was nobody else to talk with, so we talked and I would imagine what he would say back.
“I know this, if there is any help up there available for the Lakers, Fran’s going to find it.”
Keep that in mind should it all come down to last-second heroics, the voice in the distance a familiar one, chirping, “he shot that from way out yonder.”
T.J. Simers can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.