The big NBA play-by-play voices during the 60s and 70s; From Hearn, Marv and Most to Karvo and King
The outstanding names by broadcast market in the 60s and 70s:
The ten NBA teams in 1967 and prime voices:
The NBA was established in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America. In 1949, it merged with the NBL, the National Basketball League. The years that we are focusing on are the mid to late 1960s and 70s. The league was beginning to be recognized in bigger cities starting in the mid-50s. The NBA left Fort Wayne, Rochester and Syracuse for grander spots like Los Angeles (1960), San Francisco (1962) and even Cincinnati (1957).
A look at the NBA teams in 1966-67
Jim Karvellas (1935-2007) was an interesting character. He always struck me as an honest hustler trying to sell an idea. Be it the NBA in the 1960s when it began to flop. Karvo was the most prominent soccer announcer, he was involved in NASCAR, then mainstream MLB and NFL too including SB#3, Colts-Jets. You’d hear him in New York doing Baltimore events because station WMAL’s North-South AM signal. Jim came to Baltimore from his native Chicago. Those Bullets-Knicks post-season games were always a subject of conversation. Karvo was appreciated for knowing the game. His delivery was unconventional.
Johnny Most (1923-1993) and a multi-season champion, the Celts, year-after-year, were the only things needed to make the Bronxite a star in Beantown. Throaty and beloved. Most also painted a nice picture when he was early in his career. Believe it or not. Most learned the craft from Marty Glickman, with whom he worked in the early 1950s. It was the cigarettes and all the visible and throaty cheering that ruined his intonation. Glickman told me that wherever he traveled, the first thing he would ask for was coffee.
Names best associated with the Royals’ years in Cincinnati were Oscar Robertson, Wayne Embry and Adrian Smith. The announcers for years on TV and radio were Ed Kennedy who opined a lot. He reminds me of Ed Kennedy who also did baseball with the Reds. Ed was followed in Cincy by Dom Valentino. Dom was a mentor to Ohio State football’s excellent radio voice, Paul Keels.
New York Knicks
Still, little TV available in 1966. Yet the Knicks were getting there by 1967. They signed rookie Walt Frazier. The late Willis Reed was showing his wares as a big man around the league. Marv Albert, (1942 – ), a young play-by-player with exorbitant energy and committed to his task, worked hard at his craft and was getting popular reviews. Teens would sit at home listening to him on Knicks, Rangers and Mets or Yankees pre and post game shows. Marv was the star. He did the Knicks 1970 title game with unmatched kenthusiasm. There was no mass television coverage. The NBA in New York turned into a constant subject of conversation. Madison Square Garden should have a banner put up for his years of dedication.
Philadelphia Warriors and 76es
Bill Campbell (1923-2014) owned the town, so much so that the longest tenured announcer in NFL history, Merrill Reese, who’s called the Eagles since 1977, recognized him just after the team’s Super Bowl win in 2018. Campbell did 76ers (1972-1981). Andy Musser was prominent in the 1960s and 70s, calling Sixers on strong signaled WCAU. Campbell’s most famous call occured on March 2, 1962 when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points. The Knicks, the opponent that Wilt flailed, didn’t have a radio package that night in New York. There was no TV that night. The game was not on TV that night. The 4th quarter of Wilt’s performance is recorded and last time I looked, it was on YouTube. Campbell worked with By Saam, his partner too on Phillies baseball.
The league labored, paricularly in what was then the country’s second biggest market. First it was the Chicago Stags, 1946-50 and then it folded under the ownership of the famed Jerry Saperstein who also owned the Harlem Globetrotters. The Chicago Packers were renamed the Zephyrs and played in the Windy City from 1961–1963. A young man, 25 from Northwestern at the time, Jim Karvellas, got himself involved in sales and other activities. He also called the games, using his bellowing tones. When the Packers moved to Baltimore and were labeled the Bullets, he moved along. He built basketball in the Mid-Atlantic. Meanwhile in Chicago, Lou Boudreau and Vince Lloyd would do occasional broadcasts when the NBA established the Bullets in 1966. Later it was Jack Flemming for three seasons followed by Jim Durham ((1947-2012) who fans loved.
A variety among an assortment of announcers included Dave Diles and Bill Flemming in the franchises early years. It wasn’t until George Blaha (1945 – )came along and wouldn’t let go. In 1963, when Glickman did a Knicks’ game from Detroit back to New York as only he could, exceptionally, like a violinist. He would tell his listeners back home from his broadcast position way upstairs, that row upon row below were empty, “As I look toward the floor” virtually all are emptry. Blaha is 78 and still trusted by management.
Chick Hearn (1916-2002) was the crown jewel broadcaster of West Coast hoops. He made the Lakers and the NBA popular in the LA area. Hearn was adored. If you don’t believe me, his funeral, a long Catholic mass was televised, start to finish. His colleague’s, Vin Scully was a private service, A speedster on the air, his roots were far from Los Angeles. He grew up outside Chicago. He served in the military during the war and developed a quick wit, unique style and his own lingo. Not afraid to be critical, he added an inimitable language of his own: “He scores likes grapes, in clusters!…West scores like putting a baby in a cradle…The game’s in the refrigerator, the door’s closed, the light’s out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard and the jello’s jiggling.”
St. Louis Hawks:
Buddy Blattner (1920-2009) and later Skip Caray. Blattner was well known when St. Louis was intrigued with the Hawks in the 1950s. Buddy also did the old St. Louis Browns with Dizzy Dean. Skip did do basketball in St. Louis and the Billkens men’s basketball team for the Hawks their last season, 1967-1968, moving with them to Atlanta. There, his career really flourished, doing the Braves, many of whose games were carried on the young Turner Network. He is the father of Chip Caray and the son of the popular Harry Caray.
San Francisco/Golden State Warriors:
Bill King (1927-2005) was the first voice of team in 1962. The NBA extended to 12 teams in 1967 with still an enormous void in geography between Chicago and California, nothing in Florida, Texas or a bunch of other growing states. King began with the club when it arrived in 1962 from Philadelphia with a fellow named, Wilt Chamberlain. Bill reminded me in some ways of the great Glickman, the first NBA voice, by using a broad vocabulary, (Marty described Ramon Ramos of Seton Hall torpid or phlegmatic. King got on officials too: “These guys are the paragon of ineptitude.” He put his heart into every word of his broadcast and influenced many broadcasters like the Cubs’ Pat Hughes and the A’s Ken Korach his 31st year with the club.
It was truly a golden era. Some forget the other sports they did. King may have been the greatest three-sport voice among them.
Funny to think that Harry Caray also did basketball and football when he’s so associated with baseball.