The colorful careers of Brent Musburger and Chick Hearn and how the latter felt about the former
Chick Hearn on Brent Musburger in May, 1975; Two opinionated men
Brent was new to CBS in the early 1970s. He had attended Northwestern and began to write for a Chicago newspaper that no longer exists, the Chicago American. It was the late 60s and it didn’t take long for his ascent to the electronic media in the country’s number two market. His resume was unusual for network play-by-play. He had little, if any notable experience with play-by-play. Yet it was evident that he had talent and was unafraid to express his opinion. (Brent Musburger, Johnny Most and Chick Hearn, l-r)
The country was terribly divided in 1968. The Democratic Convention was in the Windy City and students protested on the streets. The mayor and Democratic boss Richard Daley chased them away with Billy clubs. The media repeatedly recorded the cops beating youngsters. It wasn’t pretty. Students were unhappy over America’s involvement in the Vietnam war which escalated further in the years ahead. It left a terrible blemish on our wonderful country. It took its toll politically. President Lyndon Johnson announced that he wouldn’t run for reelection.
That same year, 1968, Musburger wrote belittlingly about the Olympic protests of John Carlos and Tommie Smith, who raised their black-gloved fists on the podium in Mexico City. Brent rose quickly from a sportswriter to a local sportscaster in Chicago. By 1973, he was on CBS’ NFL depth chart with little if any play-by-play experience. After a few short seasons in the booth, Robert Wussler, head of CBS Sports asked Musburger to host Inside the NFL. Brent worked for Wussler when he ran CBS’ Chicago affiliate, WBBM.
In 1974, CBS acquired the NBA rights after ABC had them. Pat Summerall did the play-by-play that first season, 1974-’75. If Pat was a minimalist on NFL casts, you can imagine what he was like his only NBA season. He said virtually nothing. The network realized it immediately and took him off basketball after just one season.
Brent was different and CBS stuck with him. He did six NBA title telecasts beginning in 1975 and later six Final Fours. The Basketball Hall of Fame though has never recognized Brent for what he meant to the game and never endowed him with the Curt Gowdy Award for Broadcasting
In 1975, few outside Chicago knew his name. He was opinion driven but had little broadcast basketball rhythm. Broadcasters who had built the league like Chick Hearn in the 60s with the Lakers and Marty Glickman in the 50s with the Knicks quietly expressed their wrath. In time, Musburger got better. He found his cadence and would eventually take command.
His early basketball play-by-play, can be described more of conducting a shouting and yelling drill, still though, adding life to the NBA telecasts, after Summerall’s soporifics. But the smooth delivery of Ray Scott or Pat’s for that matter, which personified conservative CBS, was lost.
Chick Hearn obviously felt that he should have been considered for the CBS gig. He had done college football for NBC including the Rose Bowl where he was partnered with Mel Allen. (The black and white video of at least a half of one game is available on YouTube.) LA’s lovable Chick had also did horse racing for NBC in the 1950s. Musburger was different and often sounded edgy.
In May, 1975, after the Lakers finished 30-52, Chick was asked by a syndicated network, to cover a tennis match in Houston which I just happened to attend. I was doing busy work for the New York Sets of World Team Tennis. I got into an elevator car at the hotel where there were a few strangers and Chick. I knew no one. I quickly asked Chick what he thought of Brent on the NBA playoffs. He preceded to bellow a brief sermon, blasting Brent. Paraphrasing, “When will these networks hire someone who knows the game?” A moment later the elevator door opened and Chick left for his room. As the rest of us moved up the elevator chute, one of the other passengers shook his head and remarked, “Wow!”
For Chick, he was relentless. His wife Marge always had his back. I guess she felt that Chick was enjoying less of the limelight than rival Vin Scully of the Dodgers. When she picked up the phone one night and was told that Chick was about to be bestowed with some esteemed honor, she lowered her voice and asked the caller sarcastically, “Are you trying to reach, Vin Scully?” They were great rivals with completely different personalities.
Musburger, the broadcaster, had a business vision too. He partnered with family members in 2017, to launch VSiN, a Sports Betting Network. In March, 2021, it was sold to DraftKings for a reported $100 million. Not bad!
America will never have another Brent. He turns 84 next month and still has lots of juice. I miss him. He kept things unpredictable.
It’s interesting to ponder that as time went on in TV sportscasting, the analyst became increasingly important. Can you imagine Chick Hearn being in that position? That is, without possible violence ensuing! And I say that with admiration: I grew up with Chick and was watching a game recently when I saw someone miss an easy shot and thought, Marge would have made it. Another oddity: Chick was Harry Caray’s first choice to work with him in 1954. Instead, the job went to Jack Buck or Milo Hamilton–I don’t know which actually got the slot that Chick would have had.… Read more »