Chick Hearn, who made "slam dunk'' and "air ball'' common basketball expressions during his 42 year broadcasting career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died Monday night. He was 85.
Hearn, the only play by play announcer the Los Angeles Lakers ever had, died at 6:30PM PT at Northridge Medical Center Hospital. Hearn fell and struck his head Friday in the back yard of the Encino home he shared with wife Marge. They would have celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary Aug. 13.
Surgeons operated twice Saturday to relieve swelling in his brain, but he never regained consciousness.
"The city of Los Angeles has lost an incredible icon,'' said former Lakers star Jerry West, now the Memphis Grizzlies president of basketball operations. "For all of the years he's been around as the voice of the Lakers, he helped capture so many special moments for fans everywhere.''
Hearn, who was inducted into the ASA Hall of Fame in 1995, called a record 3,338 consecutive Lakers games starting in 1965 before missing a game because he had to have an operation in December 2001 for a blocked aortic valve.
While recovering, he fell and broke his hip. He returned April 9 and broadcast the Lakers' playoff run on the way to their third consecutive championship.
Hearn called his first Lakers game in March 1961. His last game was June 12 when the Lakers beat the New Jersey Nets 113 107 in East Rutherford, N.J., to complete a sweep of the NBA Finals and earn their ninth title since moving from Minneapolis.
Born Francis Dayle Hearn on Nov. 27, 1916, in Aurora, Ill., Hearn peppered his rapid fire delivery with terms like "no harm, no foul,'' "the mustard's off the hot dog,'' "ticky tack foul,'' and "faked him into the popcorn machine.''
Whenever he believed a Lakers victory was clinched, Hearn would say: "You can put this one in the refrigerator. The door's closed, the light's out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard and the Jell O is jiggling.''
"Generations of fans were brought to the NBA by the voice and vision of Chick Hearn,'' NBA commissioner David Stern said. "Chick was a fixture as the 'Voice of the Lakers' and a legend in his profession.''
"His colorful descriptions of the game transcended the sport and have had an indelible influence on basketball and broadcasting itself,'' Stern said.
Hearn also was a comforting voice to fans in difficult times helping fans cope with Johnson's HIV announcement in 1991 and Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers' death in 1990.
When the Lakers moved from the Forum to the Staples Center in 1999, the press room was named in Hearn's honor. He has been immortalized with a star on Hollywood's "Walk of Fame," and appeared as himself numerous times on television shows.
Hearn missed just two games before his unprecedented streak one because bad weather kept him grounded and one because he had another assignment. The first game of the streak was Nov. 21, 1965, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Throughout his career, Hearn refused to call in sick. He worked a couple of times with laryngitis that forced him to sit out the second half.
He got his nickname when friends played a prank on him when he was an amateur player. Given a box he thought contained sneakers, he found a chicken inside.
When Hearn broadcast his 3,000th consecutive game in 1998, Shaquille O'Neal said, "That's an amazing accomplishment. I don't think I've done anything 3,000 times in my life.''
Pat Riley, a member of that team who later spent 2 1/2 years beside Hearn in the broadcast booth before he became the Lakers coach, credited Hearn with being his mentor.
"He was a man who taught me about discipline,'' Riley said.
Hearn kept few secrets from Lakers fans. But he didn't like to talk about his age. After he reached 70 or so, he would only chuckle and say, "I don't know, I lost my birth certificate.''
The Hearns had two children, but both died a son of a drug overdose, and a daughter after battling anorexia. The couple was very close with Shannon, their granddaughter, and her family.
Funeral arrangements are pending, but Steiner said the family plans a memorial service. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that people make charitable donations in Hearn's name.