The greatest change the way things are done and Chick Hearn forever changed the way basketball is broadcast.
Francis Dayle Hearn was born November 27, 1916, in Buda, Illinois, but grew up in Aurora—the Land of Lincoln’s second largest city and setting of the comedy Wayne’s World. He attended Marmion Military Academy, an all-boys Roman Catholic High School in Aurora, graduating in 1934. Hearn matriculated to Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois—alma mater of the legendary Jack Brickhouse, who called Chicago Bears and Cubs games for decades, and Charlie Steiner, former ESPN anchor who currently covers Los Angeles Dodgers baseball. He earned the nickname “Chick” while an AAU basketball player at Bradley, when teammates played a prank by giving him a shoebox he expected would contain sneakers that, in fact, contained a dead chicken. Following graduation in 1938, Hearn was stationed in the South Pacific with the U.S. Army during World War II. He returned to Peoria and found work calling games for the Bradley Braves and Peoria Caterpillars, an AAU basketball team, while later selling pharmaceuticals. In 1956, he moved to Los Angeles to cover USC football and basketball on radio and television.
Mr. Hearn landed the Lakers play-by-play job in the 1960-61 season, the team’s first in Los Angeles. He called a record 3,338 consecutive Lakers games over 36 years—from November 21, 1965, the day after bad weather forced him to miss a flight, to December 16, 2001, after which he had surgery for a blocked heart valve. Hearn was a pioneer is sports broadcasting, as well known to Laker fans as Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson [Daily Dose, 8/14/15], Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. For seven years in the 1970s, he was an assistant general manager for the Lakers, advising on contracts and personnel. “My main objective when I get behind the microphone is to entertain, yes, but to be honest,” he said. “If Jerry West threw the ball up in the second row and hit some old lady, that’s tough. You got to report it.”
Chick Hearn was the lone play-by-play voice of the Lakers since the team moved west from Minneapolis prior to the 1960-61 season until 2002. For the better part of four decades, Hearn provided a “words eye view” of basketball, teaching Southern Californians the game. “Chickisms” became part of the game’s lexicon, as he coined many of the phrases commonly used today. Hearn invented “air ball”, “finger roll”, “charity stripe” and was the first to describe a poor shot as a “brick.” He is the first broadcaster to describe the distance of a shot in feet, which is a standard today. Hearn nicknamed Jerry West “Mr. Clutch” and dubbed defensive specialist Michael Cooper the “Secretary of Defense.” Mr. Hearn gave us “ticky-tack”, “dribble-drive” and “no harm, no foul.” He had a rapid-fire, staccato announcing style and once quipped, “If there’s really 18,000 people here tonight, a lot of them are dressed like seats.” Prior to joining the Lakers, Wilt Chamberlain [Daily Dose, 3/2/16] often made a “stuff shot.” Chick Hearn changed that forever, describing the Big Dipper’s action as a “slam dunk.”
Mr. Hearn was the Voice of the Lakers for 42 years. He was inducted into the National Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 1997 and, in 2003 became the first broadcaster elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame He called U.S. Open golf, the Rose Bowl [Daily Dose, 1/1/16], boxing—including the first Ali-Frazier fight, and the 1992 Summer Olympic basketball tournament [Daily Dose, 9/21/15]. Hearn starred as himself in episodes of The Simpsons, Gilligan’s Island, appeared in The Love Bug, Fish That Saved Pittsburgh and famously described Chevy Chase’s afro in Fletch. In 1996, Aurora, Illinois, proclaimed June 3 would forever be “Chick Hearn Day.” His bronze statue appears outside Staples Center in Los Angeles.
On this date in 2002, Francis Hearn died of head injuries suffered in a fall in his Encino, California, home. He was 85 and just eight days shy of his 64th wedding anniversary.