Bryan Curtis has written an appreciation of Marv Albert, the kind you usually don’t see until after the subject dies. In this case, Marv, who Curtis rightly calls the best play-by-play man of his generation, is alive and thriving.
When Marv got caught up in a sex scandal a decade ago, part of the story happened in the DC area, where I was working at the time. It was uncomfortable to have to talk about the dark side of this broadcaster I’d admired so much.
I’ve been a fan of Marv’s since I was a kid and he was the local sports guy on WNBC-TV’s 6pm and 11pm newscasts, so it seemed he was everywhere and knew everything about sports. More importantly, he was also the man in the booth for both Rangers and Knicks games on the radio. As a Knicks fan who could never go to a game at Madison Square Garden (and the games weren’t televised), I could still picture everything that was going on by listening to Marv’s description: “Frazier brings it across with the left hand dribble, on the right side to Bradley, back to Frazier at the top of the key, to DeBusschere in the corner, from twenty — Yes!!!!”
The best play-by-play guys understand when it’s time to set the scene and when the scene can set itself. I’ll never forget that legendary 1970 NBA Championship series where Willis Reed returned to the floor after a leg injury. Marv knew that all he had to say was “Here comes Reed!” and let the roar of the Garden crowd tell the rest of the story.
Curtis writes about a similar call by Marv:
For basketball, a game of frequent scoring and constant improvisation, Albert has an unusually mellow groove. He never shrieks. When something extraordinary happens, his words become elongated and certain syllables explode: he’ll say, “Re-jec-ted!” or “With au-thor-ity!” Perhaps the most exhilarating play Albert called came in Game 2 of the 1991 N.B.A. finals, when Michael Jordan switched hands in midair on a reverse layup against the Lakers, and Albert crowed, “Oh, a spec-tac-ular move by Michael Jordan!” Resurrected on YouTube, it remains lodged in your brain not because it is breathless but because it’s a minimalist rendering that somehow manages to capture the pandemonium Jordan had unleashed. Seconds later, Albert remained silent while the Chicago crowd unglued itself from the ceiling.”