Chick Hearn was the legendary broadcaster who provided the lively soundtrack to more than four decades of Los Angeles Lakers basketball, inventing a new vocabulary along the way.
Hearn, who was instrumental in introducing professional basketball to Southern California sports fans after the Lakers moved west from Minneapolis in 1960, broadcast 3,338 consecutive games in a streak that began in 1965 and ended when he suffered a series of medical setbacks that began in 2001.
Hearn was the effervescent common link to every chapter in the team's Los Angeles history and nearly as valuable to the franchise as any of its storied players. His distinctive high-speed delivery—so fast that Hearn often announced a player had scored while the shot was still in the air—was perfectly suited to the Lakers' fast-breaking "Showtime" playing style.
Hearn invented a lexicon that has become as much a part of the game of modern basketball as the three-point field goal—"Chickisms," they were called. He concocted such phrases as "airball" for a shot that misses the rim, "slam dunk" for a shot that is thrust down into the basket, "yo-yoing up and down" to describe a player dribbling a basketball, and "dribble drive" for a player driving hard to the basket.
With Hearn behind the microphone, the Lakers didn't just pull away from a beaten opponent, they "put the game in the refrigerator." A defender badly fooled by a player with the ball was "faked into the popcorn machine." When a player mishandled the ball while trying a needlessly flashy move, Hearn determined that "the mustard's off the hot dog."
Along with his contributions to the sporting vocabulary, Hearn pioneered the "simulcast''—the nuanced art of calling a game simultaneously for radio and television. Hearn adroitly straddled the fine line between giving his television audience, with the action right in front of them, too much information and his radio listeners, relying on Hearn to create a vivid verbal picture, not enough.
It's a subtle craft, and for more than 40 years with the Lakers, he was the master of the simulcast.