September 23, 2010
For the next few weeks, I'm going to pick an NBA-related subject, A-through-Z, and tell you why it's worth your time, and why it's one of the reasons I love covering this league.
Because that's why I wanted to become a scribe who's paid to cover this league. Sharing the things I know and love with those of my kind. All that stuff.
Because I'm lucky enough to have your ear for however long, I don't care that this might come off as a bit twee. A little embarrassing. A little too forthright. I'm OK with that. Hopefully you are, as well.
"M" is for "Marv Albert."
There are times, in the middle of the season, that I wonder about what life would be like in an NBA that Marv Albert doesn't have an active presence in.
I've been listening to the guy nationally for 20 years. Since NBC took over the NBA in 1990. But he's also taken a few breaks. Marv missed out on the 1997-98 season, after his personal life became public knowledge. He was taken off of MSG broadcasts a few years back, because James Dolan is a dolt nonpareil. And even though TNT's Thursday night game (whichever one Marv calls) is supposed to be the biggest game of that particular week, it's still a humdrum exercise, at times. For all your finals rematches, TNT Thursdays often center around a Nuggets game, because it's time to throw the second-tier teams a bone.
But Marv's gravitas, without the booming notes or the look-at-me showmanship, still give it an edge. A presence. On most nights, I'd rather watch the 25th and 27th-best teams in the NBA go at it, rather than the typical TNT pairing of the fourth- and fifth-best teams in the NBA. But Marv makes the Spurs and Magic -- with all those storylines we've heard a trillion times -- seem so engaging. There really is a skill to that. It's called being yourself, and it's no cheap trick.
It isn't easy, either, as evidenced by his many peers that don't seem to warm to that. I listen to Kevin Harlan, ceaselessly upbeat and earnest, and you don't get the same feeling. He's forever trying to set up the humorless (on air, at least, because in real life he's a funny dude) Doug Collins, and often laughing himself at things that you don't really believe that he believes are funny. Mike Breen? God help anyone who has to sit next to Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy 50 times a year. Mike Tirico? I dig him, but let's face it -- that's Hubie Brown's show.
Marv Albert gives you a show, without being the show. It's not about the wry cracks (when he's doing Nets games) with Mike Fratello, and it's not the rush of junior high-era warmth that I get when an "AND IT COUNTS!" call reminds me of 1993 all over again. It's just the consistently (here's that word again) engaging listen, something that keeps reminding me that, yes, this is something I'm supposed to pay attention to.
But not because of some stentorian tone, or a wave of hyperbole. And I really don't think it's because I'm so familiar with his voice, and his way of calling a game. I'm familiar with quite a few voices, calling more games than I've heard Marv call, and I'm not averse to calling those callers out.
For whatever reason, Marv Albert has the gift. Maybe because he learned from that mad Marty Glickman. Maybe because he developed his chops documenting one of the more aesthetically pleasing teams of all time -- Red Holzman's New York Knicks. Maybe it's because he's been around forever and he refines and works and adapts and thinks on his feet (while in his seat) and never really stops being interested in what's surrounding him.
I don't really know, but I'm glad he still has it. I'm grateful that he's still calls Nets games, working for a team that doesn't actually put a location on its jerseys (it's just been "Nets" for the last few years), surrounded by an audience of nine-thousand. I'm glad he puts up with Reggie Miller. I'm glad his voice still rises to meet mine, when D-Wade nails that scoop shot after getting hit.
I'm glad that I'm just a few weeks away from getting to hear Marv Albert call basketball games, again.