You ever look back at your childhood and come up with people that shaped your life, faces that you found comfort in, and voices that you still hear today? I do all of the time (call me a sentimentalist) and there is one voice in particular that still awakens the Purple and Gold within. That’s right, the late Chick Hearn began announcing for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1964 all of the way through my first 23 years as a fan. Sadly enough, he finally hung up his microphone for good just a couple of weeks ago, passing away after a fall at home.
Chick meant a lot to me growing up. He told me the distance of Byron Scott’s jumpers – the first announcer to estimate distances in basketball ever. He punctuated the jam’s of James Worthy with his signature “Slaaaam Dunk!”- Chick was the announcer to coin that phrase as well. He let Magic know when the “mustard was off the hotdog” (a fancy play that had been fouled up), accentuated Kareem’s signature shot by deeming it the “Sky Hook”, and called out the “bunny hop in the pea patch” (traveling) on command.
Still, my favorite was when Chick let the entire Laker nation know when the “refrigerator door is closed. The lights are out, the eggs are coolin’, the butter’s getting hard, and the jello’s jigglin’.” Or in other words, the game is over.
Chick had the privilege of calling games that featured Elgin, Jerry, Wilt, Jamal, McAdoo, Worthy, Magic, Kareem, Kobe, and Shaq, among others. And until just a year or so ago, Chick had called games including these personalities consecutively, meaning that he held the longest streak in broadcasting for making it to every game. Talk about a work ethic.
So how did Chick affect my life? He gave me hope that I would one day be a Laker by giving advice on the air to the “youngsters out there.” He brought an added stroke of color to the nightly edition of “Showtime” playing on my television. And most importantly, he was the grandpa that millions of Lakers fans knew and loved simply because of his modest and humorous nature.
Chick has left us know – just days after I ordered a TV package to see the Laker’s home games up here in the Bay Area. I ordered the package partly to see my favorite sports team, and partially because I love basketball. But the biggest reason was so that I could hear Chick again after an absence (of mine) of over 4 years from his regular broadcasts.
I won’t be able to tune into those broadcasts and hear Chick’s play by play this year. Of course, I still hear him every time every time I take my ball out to the playground… “boy, the mustard is off the hot dog.”
We’ll miss you, Chick. Thanks for the memories.