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Watch Marty Glickman, Original Voice of the NBA, call the 1964 Final on TV, Russell vs. Chamberlain

In 1958, the St. Louis Hawks beat the Boston Celtics for the title. Listen to Buddy Blattner's broadcast, one of the NBA's oldest audio recordings

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Halberstam

By 1940, baseball’s Red Barber, football’s Ted Husing and boxing’s Sam Taub put their pioneering signatures on broadcast sports. They were considered the premier announcers covering the nation’s three most followed sports.

In New York then, basketball’s popularity was just starting to take root. Madison Square Garden’s college doubleheaders were beginning to fill the building. The city had a bevy of nationally contending schools like St. John’s, LIU, NYU and City College.

Television wouldn’t take hold until after the war. Even so, it took until the 1950s for sets to populate among American households. It was said that on radio, which in the 40s was in its heyday of ubiquity, basketball was just too fast to articulate for listeners. To that point, no announcer seriously attempted to call a basketball game on radio.  No broadcast blueprint had yet been established and the hardwood’s geography wasn’t quite labeled yet.

Opportunity was staring an eager and creative announcer in the eyeballs. Develop the nomenclature and put listeners in a figurative mid-court seat. Radio will then serve to grow basketball’s popularity further .

A bright, young and gifted Marty Glickman, himself an Olympian and an accomplished athlete, figured it out. Marty was new to broadcasting, yet he was able to develop the game’s on-air glossary; the required lingo and cadence to present the game on radio in simple and exciting fashion. In December, 1942, during radio’s golden years, Glickman broadcast his first game. He painted a graphic, rapid-fire, colorful and rhythmic word picture.

Glickman developed the prototype and is universally considered the father of basketball broadcasting. Marty would influence some of the best ever, including Marv Albert, Johnny Most, Dick Stockton and Spencer Ross.

In 1946,  the NBA was launched. The league was first called the BAA, the Basketball Association of America. Madison Square Garden which owned the Knicks asked Glickman to call their games on radio. You might also say that he was the first unofficial Voice of the NBA. Marty called the league’s first all-star game on national radio in 1951 and later did play-by-play for the NBA’s first television network package in 1954.

At the start of the BAA, announcers for other teams hustled for recordings of Glickman’s work to prepare for their new assignments. He was considered the master. Chick Hearn for that matter told me that the first NBA game he ever heard was called nationally by Glickman.

Through its first twenty years, the league’s coverage on network television was choppy. The telecasts were on and off the major networks and for a few years it was a game here or there, including telecasts on ad-hoc networks. It wasn’t until 1970 that all games of the NBA title series were on network television.

Like many of the old-time broadcasters, Glickman was a radio man. When he worked television, he simply had to contain his rapid-fire delivery, to caption rather than fully describe. The 1964 final round was one of those that the NBA could muster television coverage of only one game. Yes, the Boston Celtics against the San Francisco Warriors, Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain. Only one game.

Glickman did the broadcast, game # 4. Lakers coach Fred Schaus sat with him and there’s no better way to describe it because Schaus didn’t talk very much. The stretches of silence were striking. Schaus spoke only when he had something to say which wasn’t often. A recording of the telecast was saved and posted on YouTube. There are no tapes of Marty’s early Knicks radio broadcasts albeit Marv Albert, Marty’s star pupil, told me he might have recordings from the 1962-63 season.

Marty Glickman’s popular phrase: Field goal attempts that were good – “Swish” or “Good! Like Nedick’s.” (for Knicks’ sponsor Nedick’s)

When watching, note the lack of graphics and promotional announcements and the paucity of description. Marty captioned, didn’t over-talk. See if you enjoy it more, or you like it less than the way telecasts are presented today.

This takes you back 55 years, Game #4 – 1964 NBA Finals, Boston Celtics vs. San Francisco Warriors:

 

From what I can tell, the earliest recording of an actual NBA broadcast covers the 1958 title series between the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks and the Boston Celtics, Great players like Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, Slater Martin, Ed McCauley and Bob Pettit starred in the title series.

The Hawks won the championship, the one team in a nine year stretch that would  beat Red Auerbach’s Celtics. Game #6 was carried on KWK Radio in St. Louis and was called by Buddy Blattner, a solid basketball announcer and the beloved Voice of the Hawks. Blattner also did baseball, the California Angels and Kansas City Royals. He worked with Dizzy Dean on national baseball broadcasts too. Jack Buck, a fellow St. Louis announcer, called Buck the best basketball broadcaster he heard.

Without further ado, a chunk of game #6 of the 1958 NBA championship, the clinching win for the Hawks. The entire game is available in a seven part series. You can find the rest on YouTube.

What’s interesting are the interviews after the game with NBA President, Maurice Podoloff  and NBA great Bob Pettit who talks about going back to Louisiana in the off-season to work in the family’s insurance business. These were different economic times. Players were forced to work year-round.

Buddy Blattner coined the phrase: “They’re walking the wrong way,” for a call that was made against the Hawks and the officials headed toward the opponent’s basket for foul shots.

 

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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
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Growing up in Las Vegas and not really conscious of sports until the mid-1970s, I didn’t get to hear Blattner or Glickman in ye olden days. I did get to hear Glickman do the Jets when I was in New York for school and he was still tremendous. I think it’s a travesty that Blattner hasn’t won the Frick Award yet at Cooperstown, and there’s a case to be made for him for the Gowdy Award as well.