College and pro sports

Tales and stories from here and there: Marv Albert, Mike Breen, Gene Deckerhoff and more

Mike Breen appreciates and love of the game. He can also share some fresh depth himself onto his broadcasts. Breen recently completed his 17th season with ESPN. He is the NBA’s most senior play-by-play announcer at age 62.

Well before joining Madison Square Garden, Breen must have grabbed the NBA Rulebook, ran with it and studied it. In recent years, a trio of basketball announcers united impressively, made up of Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy. I’m still scratching my head over this.  

In the 1950s and 60s, Marv Albert absorbed and downloaded whatever was pertinent, be they Marty Glickman or Les Keiter, both invigorating New York sports announcers. Marv was always street-sharp and never afraid to undertake a summertime gig. In 1957, when Brooklyn was preparing quietly for a mammoth move to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Marv was also asked to deliver game tickets from Brooklyn to Jersey City on the Tubes, a rail line across the Hudson.

Marv’s paternal grandfather Nathan, came to this country in the early 20th century. After docking here on  American soil, having already said goodbye to his family in Southwest Poland, Nathan’s family grew its roots in Brooklyn. Marv’s father, Max Albert, and extended family lived a lived a comfortable life. Through his career, Marv did the NFL, a Stanley Cup, World Series pre-game shows and lots of boxing. All brothers, Marv, Al and Steve Albert loved boxing!

Marv Albert’s hefty years of sports reports on the nightly news, (Channel 4 on NBC-TV, New York) pumped his own career. Cable erupted in the 1970s, more syndicated play-by-play and Albert was off and flying. A wave of years until the mission was accomplished. 

Meanwhile, Breen, through happenstance, became Imus’ sidekick for sports. It was a risky job but he survived. The I-Man and of all things on the country’s first all-sports station, WFAN.

Marv started with the Knicks in 1967. MSG owner James Dolan didn’t renew him in 2004. MSG just wouldn’t renew his contract. That was it. All those years.

No one though is perfect.

*****.

Gene Deckerhoff and FSU will always be intertwined. You couldn’t have it any other way were. There’s an intensity to his personality, a huskiness to his tenor and a love for his overpowering command. Oh the microphone! He’s got it all going. Watching him, you’d think he’s a kid behind the microphone.

Truth is that Geno is now 78. When he retired from FSU football and basketball in 2022, he remained with the Tampa Bay Bucs, now 35 seasons. When I talked with Gene about which program he would drop first, he jumped on me, “Am I Solomon?” He chuckles.

Some fifteen years ago, Deckerhoff was offered the NFL Thursday Night Football radio broadcast. Gene told Westwood One, “Give me a couple days.” He did. A couple days later the answer was a definitive no. His voice is convincing.

David Steele was the original announcer of the Orlando Magic on radio broadcasts. He then turned to TV play-by-play. Prior to it, David was the descriptive and mellow play-caller for the Florida Gators. Deckerhoff is 78, now only Tampa Bay. Mick Hubert, 69, succeeded Steele at UF in 1989 and retired in 2022. Steele turned 70 this month.

Deckerhoff and Hubert both left their schools after the 2022 season. Physically, it’s a bigger grind than you imagine. In 2019, Gene needed a charter, an overnight flight and a prayer to make it to the London Stadium. When the act was over, he flew back with the team. Aged in his 70s, just do what do what’s required.

Hubert was piecemealed. Football, Baseball and basketball. He once shared with me that he picked up stuff here and there, including “Oh My.” from Dick Enberg. As for Gene, he said his longtime mentor was  Dolphins announcer, Rick Weaver.

Joe Zagacki began his UM football and basketball, play-by-play, some 22 years ago. He started as an analyst, doing talk shows in the studio and always lots of extra tidbits. By now, he’s there in popularity with Miami’s  Hank Goldberg, Eric Reid, Jimmy Cefalo, Neil Rodgers and Tony Segreto 

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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 and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Michael Green
8 months ago

I first heard Mike Breen on Imus, and jumped when I heard the name, since it was close to mine. I figure if he could survive Imus picking on him, the NBA is easy (though Breen got in the spirit of things, and I’ll just say that Hornacek of the Jazz was a favorite of his).

Reading about Deckerhoff turning down the national gig makes me wonder about other announcers who turned down what might be considered more lucrative gigs. I think of Vin Scully and Jack Buck saying no to the original Monday Night Football, for example.