Commentary

Decision on Marv Albert’s future as Turner’s lead NBA voice will likely wait until the season ends

Former NY Times sports media critic Richard Sandomir on Facebook: "Marv is really still quite marvelous"

 

The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reported last week that Turner is seriously considering dropping Marv Albert as its lead NBA play-by-play voice. If so, it would happen after the current season. Albert’s contract runs through 2020-’21. Turner’s top NBA announcer is assigned one of the conference finals and the all-star game. 

The report by Marchand was followed by a no comment from the network. Marv’s response to inquiring reporters was short and benign. He says he’s feeling great, loves Turner and loves broadcasting NBA games. In other words, there were no denials and the sense is that a decision won’t be made until the end of the season. Since the story surfaced, there’s hardly been a groundswell of public protest. 

Still, Marv is  considered by many as the de facto voice of the NBA; an unmistakable and ingrained staccato. Albert is indelibly intertwined with the great Michael Jordan era; his vocal stamp, inextricably linked to the NBA’s greatest years of growth and acceptance.

Marv’s been around the league since the days of Dolph Schayes and the Syracuse Nats. He began establishing his basketball credentials almost 56 years ago when he made his debut as a 21 year old prodigy; subbing for Marty Glickman on a Knicks-Celtics radio broadcast.

Albert Interviewing President Obama in 2010

Albert is likely grateful to Turner. The network picked him up off the mat and put him back on the national stage after his infamous sexual indiscretion in 1997 which cost him jobs at NBC and MSG Network. Marv has three individuals to thank for the resurrection of his national career. Former NBA commissioner David Stern championed his return and two ex-Turner executives agreed, network president Mark Lazarus and sports president Harvey Schiller. When David Levy assumed the Turner reins later, he supported the decisions by his predecessors and continued to treat Marv reverentially.  

Joe Cohen, a pioneer in the cable business, ran MSG Network for years and was the first to restore Marv’s  career; hiring him in 1998 to do a package of both studio programming and Knicks radio broadcasts.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the impending decision.

  • Marv is 77. Bucking trends is almost impossible. He’s trying to do something that no other network play-by-play broadcaster has ever done; be a lead voice into his 80s. Think of all the greats who weren’t given prominent opportunities later in life; Keith Jackson, Pat Summerall, Dick Enberg, Curt Gowdy, Verne Lundquist, Ray Scott, Don Criqui and Brent Musburger. As they got to their mid to late 70s they were gone. There were others too; Tom Hammond, Charlie Jones, Jim Simpson, Tim Ryan and Mike Patrick.
  • Marv is very smart and hardly delusional. I can’t imagine that he believes he is as sharp now as he was years ago. Few are. For that matter, senior executives at many Fortune 500 companies and partners in law firms have mandatory retirement ages, many at 65. Albert’s voice isn’t nearly as strong as it was; it’s occasionally drowned out by crowd noise. It’s no secret too that he’s been misidentifying players and mispronouncing names. Marv’s mistakes are most noticeable because for so many years, he was essentially flawless. Face it. Aging and limitations are inexorable.
  • Other broadcasters have told me that they would love Marv to leave on a high note, not when criticism is mounting or when his voice at times is inaudible. He deserves better after a glorious career. I’m sure it’s not how he wants to be remembered either.
  • There are other network play-by-play announcers who have continued into their 70s and still work. They include Dick Stockton who turns 76 this week, Greg Gumbel, 72 and Sam Rosen, 71. Stockton has had a stellar career but he’s no longer a lead NBA voice (which he was in the 80s and 90s at CBS) or #2 on Fox’ NFL depth chart.  Neither Stockton nor Rosen works a full schedule. Gumbel, once the number one CBS NFL play-by-player, isn’t in that lofty role any longer.
  • Still a lead voice, Al Michaels is 74 and on an island of his own. Al has smartly paced himself through the years and there isn’t any perceptible loss in the quality of his work. Still, NBC is ready for the day that Al does leave. Mike Tirico is waiting in the wings.
  • Locally, there is one remarkable play-by-play announcer; one who defies aging. Al McCoy is 85. He’s indefatigable and indomitable, still doing the Phoenix Suns on radio. He travels the challenging NBA world of charters at ungodly hours. Furthermore, Al’s spent most of his NBA life calling games at courtside. Now relegated to the nosebleeds, he’s still solid. Al is a poster boy for the aging and for healthy vision.
  • Marv’s two younger brothers, Steve and Al, both successful announcers, are already retired.

This all said, the question is, would fans rather have Marv at 90% than a new, younger and unfamiliar voice. Here are responses from a well respected quartet who posted their opinions on Facebook:

Richard Sandomir Former New York Times, sports media critic:

If somebody is better, yes, but there isn’t. Brian Anderson at Turner is far from ready for the job — he’s talented but he’s way more of a baseball guy than basketball. Kevin Harlan would seem to be the appropriate heir, but he’s not better, not even with Marv not so far from 80. Marv is really still quite marvelous.

Barry Horn Dallas Sports Media Columnist

Sacrilege.

Wayne Coffey Award-winning writer New York Daily News

Marv was great then, and is great now.

Bill Schoening – Radio Voice San Antonio Spurs

I was just with Al (McCoy) the other night in Phoenix. He is still very sharp and his voice quality is strong, but at the national network level there will be more scrutiny on Marv.

 

There’s been speculation on who would succeed Marv. He’ll be almost impossible to replace given the impact he’s had through his long body of work. But someone will take his seat at some point.

Marchand listed three potential successors for the lead NBA role and said that Brian Anderson seems to be the favorite at this point.

Before we go there or to the other two who were mentioned, Kevin Harlan and Ian Eagle, let’s focus for a moment on the visibility of the Turner NBA play-by-play role.

With so many more games on television today:

  • Announcers on network TV are a commoditized and clustered group
  • Viewers hop channels  or watch games while multitasking online. Some in fact watch games with the sound muted
  • Enhanced graphics, like them or not, also make announcers somewhat extraneous and superfluous
  • Down the road, more viewers will have second screens
  • The experience of viewers focusing imperturbably on every word of a single announcer is fading

As for Turner, ask most fans who the network’s NBA announcers are, they’ll tell you Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaq. Turner’s coverage has become pre and post game studio-centric.

Brian Anderson is versatile and he can do just about any sport. His voice is mellifluous; not overbearing. He is well prepared, has a solid command of the language and is a comfortable listen. And by the way, there’s nothing wrong if he simply captions what we see without overdoing it with theatrics. It’s fine. Think of at least two lead network voices, Michaels and Jim Nantz. The best praise you can pay them is that they caption what you see and don’t get in the way of the game. Anderson is one of those guys who would fit in beautifully. Turner won’t go wrong anointing him.

Harlan is a good man and can make a laundry list exciting. He’s been criticized for hollering but he’s grown on me. I find him sonorously enthusiastic, not a screamer. He has the time in grade and is outstanding! His high octane approach might also be a good fit for the high-flying NBA.

Eagle is good, quick-witted, sharp and well schooled. But he talks too much for television. Marv will tell broadcast students that on television there’s often no need to tell the viewer that a shot attempt is missed. The viewer can see it. Eagle’s voice is soothing, only when used in a limited vocal range. At times, he’s hard on the ears. This said, many like Ian a lot.

And by the way, I can assure you  that  if a decision is made to drop Marv’s prime assignments, the NBA will weigh in. Remember that Turner is joined at the hip with the NBA. Turner operates the NBA Network. They’re partners. Eagle is well liked by the NBA’s Sr. Vice President of Broadcasting, Tom Carelli and others in the league office. This will not be a unilateral decision.

But first Turner has to determine whether Marv at 90% is better than these three potential successors or others. Never a dull moment. Right?

 

Will Marv Albert be the First Network Play-by-Play Announcer to Call Games in his 80s?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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Michael Green

Vin Scully said on this site, I believe, that since retiring he has found he no longer has the immediate recall he used to have on the tip of his tongue. Given his modesty, I have my doubts. But even Vin made more mistakes on the air as the years went by than he previously did–but he also was full-time on TV and not radio where he didn’t have to worry about what picture was coming up or having anyone talk in his ear. But while Vin would never say this, I think he was conscious of old pals like… Read more »