Francis Dayle "Chick" Hearn (November 27, 1916 - August 5, 2002) was an American sportscaster known primarily as the long-time play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association. Hearn is remembered for his rapid fire, staccato broadcasting style, inventing colorful phrases such as slam dunk, air ball, and no harm, no foul that have become common basketball vernacular, and for broadcasting 3,338 consecutive Lakers games starting on November 21, 1965. Hearn had missed the Lakers' game the previous night after having been stranded in Fayetteville, Arkansas by inclement weather after announcing a college football game there. It was only Hearn's second missed assignment for the Lakers since he had become the team's broadcaster in March of 1961. He would not miss another until the end of 2001. Hearn's passion and love for the game and its players catapulting him not only to the highest level of broadcasting success, but to a place in the heart of the players and fans of the game.
Hearn grew up in Aurora, Illinois near Chicago, attending high school at Marmion Academy and college at Bradley University. He earned the nickname "Chick" while an Amateur Athletic Union basketball player at Bradley, when teammates played a prank on him, giving him a shoebox stuffed with a dead chicken instead of the sneakers he expected.
Chick Hearn was married to Marge Hearn, who shared his passion for basketball and supported him to the utmost. They had two children together, both of which died at an early age: the son due to drug overdose and the daughter due to anorexia. The Hearn family was very close to their granddaughter, Sharon.
Before Francis Dayle became a legendary broadcaster, he was involved in a variety of occupations. Hearn tried his hand at various acting gigs, including a special appearance on an episode of the television show, Gilligan's Island: Splashdown (1967). He also appeared on the TV show "The Simpsons," as well as in numerous movies including "The Love Bug (1968)," "Fletch (1985)," "White Men Can't Jump (1992)," and "Love and Basketball (2000)." In most cases, he played himself.
On May 9, 1991, Hearn became the third broadcaster to be inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1995, he was voted to be the twentieth member of the American Sportscaster Hall of Fame by his fellow sportscasters.
Hearn's streak of 3,338 consecutive Lakers games came to an end midway through the 2001-2002 season when he underwent cardiac bypass surgery to clear a blocked aortic valve. On April 9, of that season the Iron Man of the National Basketball Association, also known as the "Golden Throat," returned to the broadcast booth. Hearn was welcomed back to the announcer's box, receiving a standing ovation from the Staples Center crowd upon his return. His final game was Game 4 of the 2002 NBA Finals in which the Lakers defeated the New Jersey Nets to win their third consecutive NBA championship.
During his recovery process, he suffered a setback when he broke his hip. On Friday, August 2, 2002 Hearn fell at his Encino, California home, hitting his head and immediately lapsing into a coma. Surgeons operated twice to relieve the swelling in his brain, but he would never regain consciousness. He died on August 5, 2002 at Northridge Medical Center Hospital. Fans gathered outside the hospital broke into tears when the news had arrived that the voice of the Los Angeles Lakers was gone. NBA great and former Lakers' General Manager Jerry West said, "The City of Los Angeles has lost an incredible icon. 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." He was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
Francis Dayle "Chick" Hearn was arguably the best sportscaster in the history of sports. "The Golden Throat" announced a record 3,338 consecutive games (1960-2002). His achievement is all the more impressive because, in an era of specialization between the radio and television styles, Hearn's games were simulcast. During his era, he covered Lakers basketball from Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, to Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to the championship run of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, leaving his imprint all over the basketball world. As a tribute, Chick Hearn's "jersey" hangs on the rafters alongside the Laker greats listed above. An extremely rare feat for broadcasters, Chick was inducted into the Hall of Fame on May 9, 1991 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Even in Hollywood, Chick's legacy is immortal with a star dedicated to him on the Walk of Fame, alongside the two other announcers, Vin Scully ([[Los Angeles Dodgers[[) and Bob Miller (Los Angeles Kings). Laker fans hung on his every word and often, the Golden Throat's voice was in the background of sports movies. In honor of his contributions to the Los Angeles Lakers, both the Lakers and the city of Los Angeles renamed a portion of West 11th Street between Figueroa Street and Georgia Street to Chick Hearn Court. This street currently runs alongside Staples Center's main entrance. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority further honored the broadcaster by changing the name of the nearby LACMTA Blue Line Pico station to Pico-Chick Hearn.
"This one's in the refrigerator, the door's closed, the light's are out, the butter's getting hard, and the jello is jigglin'!"—Those words ring through the world and make Francis Dayle "Chick" Hearn's legacy immortal.
Chick Hearn left his legacy not only on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, but also in the hearts of many fans, players, and organizations. His influence helped change the lives of many of these people. During Chick's 42 years of broadcasting, he came across many famous people who instantly fell in love with his word's eye view and colorful commentary. Embracing the devastating news of Chick's death, Magic Johnson said, There's never going to be another Chick Hearn. He's a man who will be remembered long after. Some people grow bigger than their sport, bigger than their job. Chick Hearn can arguably be called the voice of the National Basketball Association. The Golden Throat's voice resonates throughout many basketball commercials. David Stern, when learning of Chick's passing, issued a statement on behalf of the National Basketball Association stating, Generations of fans were brought to the NBA by the voice and vision of Chick Hearn. Chick was a fixture as the 'Voice of the Lakers' and a legend in his profession. Fellow American Sportscaster and great friend of Chick Hearn, Jack Brickhouse, summed up Chick's legacy when he said, Chick Hearn is not only an entertaining, accurate reporter, he also has one of the most remarkable memories of any broadcaster. Ever since our days in Peoria I have admired and respected him. I am proud to call him my friend.
Chick Hearn was famous for his idiosyncratic expressions which made the call of the game more entertaining for the fans, especially in the era of radio before many games were televised. Among his most colorful expressions, which helped to revolutionize basketball play-by-play, are:
- Air-ball: A shot that draws nothing but air.
- Boo-birds: Fans who boo their own team when they play badly.
- (He did the) bunny hop in the pea patch: He was called for traveling.
- (You could) call it with Braille: An easy call for an official, e.g. a blatant foul.
- (He got) caught with his hand in the cookie jar: A reaching foul.
- (The) Charity Stripe: The free-throw line.
- (That shot) didn't draw iron: A shot which misses the rim, but hits the backboard.
- Finger roll: A shot where the ball rolls off the shooter's fingers.
- (He threw up a) frozen rope: A shot with a very flat trajectory.
- (We're) high above the western sideline: Chick's perch at the Fabulous Forum, from which he called his word's eye views of the game.
- Hippity-hops the dribble: A player dribbling the ball does a little hop step.
- (He's got) ice-water in his veins: When a player hits a clutch free-throw.
- (It's) garbage time: The (often sloppily-played) remainder of the game (after it’s in the refrigerator).
- He has two chances, slim and none, and slim just left the building: The player has no chance of success with this play.
- (There are) lots of referees in the building, only three getting paid: The entire crowd acts as though they are the officials by disagreeing with a call.
- The mustard's off the hot dog: A player attempts an unnecessarily showy, flashy play which ends up in a turnover or is otherwise unsuccessful.
- Nervous time: When the final moments of a game are pressure-packed.
- No harm, no foul(no blood, no ambulance, no stitches): A non-call by an official when varying degrees of contact have occurred. More adjectives means the non-call was more questionable.)
- He's in the Popcorn Machine (with butter and salt all over him): Meaning that a defensive player got faked into the air (and out of play) by an offensive player's pump fake. ("Popcorn Machine" is a reference to an actual popcorn machine in the old Los Angeles Sports Arena, which was near the basket, but far away from the court. Thus, if the player went far out of play, he was in the "popcorn machine.")
- Slam dunk!: Hearn's most famous phrase; a powerful shot where a player forces the ball through the rim with one or both hands.
- This game's in the refrigerator: the door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard, and the Jell-O's jigglin'!: The game's outcome is set; only the final score is in question.
- Throws up a brick: When a player tosses up a particularly errant shot.
- Ticky-tack: A foul called when very little contact has been made.
- (On his) wallet: A player fell on his rear end.
- Words-eye view: What listeners received while listening to Hearn call the game on the radio.
- (He's) yo-yo-ing up and down: A player is standing there dribbling the ball up and down as if it were a yo-yo on a string.
All links retrieved December 9, 2023.
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