Lakers fans mourn announcer's death

Posted: Wednesday, August 07, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- A paper plate holding a hot dog and mustard was left on Chick Hearn's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along with a handwritten message: ''To Chick, From Mark. Thanks for all the laughs. Miss you.''

He's not the only one.

Fans gathered at the star and at Staples Center on Tuesday to mourn the death of the only play-by-play announcer the Lakers had since moving from Minneapolis in 1960.

Hearn died Monday of head injuries sustained in a fall nearly three days earlier at his home. The Hall of Fame broadcaster was 85.

Mayor James K. Hahn ordered flags on city property be flown at half-staff.

''The mustard's off the hot dog,'' Hearn used to say when a player tried to get a little too fancy and it backfired -- one of several expressions he coined during the last 42 years.

Chick-isms, they were called. Phrases like ''slam-dunk,'' ''no harm, no foul,'' ''airball,'' ''nervous time'' and ''words-eye-view.''

Another was "20-foot layup,'' a description of Jamaal Wilkes' smooth jumper.

''Not only was he the best, but he did it so long, and that's what tied so many age groups together,'' said Wilkes, who played for the Lakers from 1977-85. ''He was a dear man with a great sense of humor, a very caring man.''

Hearn called a record 3,338 consecutive Lakers games starting in 1965. The streak ended in December 2001 when he underwent heart surgery. His absence stretched when he broke a hip in February.

He returned April 9 and broadcast the Lakers' run to their third consecutive NBA championship, and he was planning to work at least one more season. Paul Sunderland, who filled in during Hearn's absence, is considered the leading contender to succeed him.

''We will always remember Chick Hearn as a member of our family,'' said the electronic billboard at Staples Center, where the Lakers have played since 1999.

A tearful Claudia Becerra of Van Nuys brought 6-year-old son Ruben to Hearn's Walk of Fame star along with a bouquet of purple flowers and a single yellow rose.

''I've been crying since Friday, it's really bad,'' the 30-year-old Becerra said. ''He used to make me laugh. I feel like he's part of my family. I've been crying like I was his wife. I miss him.''

Stu Lantz said he missed his broadcast partner of 15 years more than anyone during Hearn's absence last season.

''I can't even imagine what it's going to be like now,'' Lantz said.

Miami Heat coach Pat Riley, Hearn's broadcast partner for 2 1/2 years before becoming coach of the Lakers early in the 1981-82 season, said Hearn was like a father figure to him.

''He was a man who made us chase our dreams. He was a man who changed how we think about the game and the life we live,'' Riley said. ''He was a man who counted, mattered. He was a man who made us love him. We'll miss him.''

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's career leading scorer who played with the Lakers for 14 seasons before retiring in 1989, said Hearn ''was the sixth man on the team.''

''Chick was a unique broadcaster and a good friend. He will be truly missed,'' Abdul-Jabbar said.

''The voice of basketball will surely miss Chick's legendary style of sports journalism and his incredible wit,'' Lakers star center Shaquille O'Neal said.

Fans of the Lakers loved Hearn, and he loved them back.

''On one occasion, I got to say hello and shake his hand. He made you feel like you were the only person in the whole crowd when he was talking to you,'' Christopher Roberts of Los Angeles said.

''It's too hard. I lost my dad two years ago and this makes it even worse,'' Mike Smallridge of Hollywood said.

City Councilmember Nick Pacheco introduced a motion Tuesday to begin proceedings to designate 11th Street downtown between Cherry Street and Figueroa Street -- not far from Staples Center -- as Chick Hearn Lane.

A private funeral service for friends and family will take place at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Martin of Tours Church in Brentwood, the Lakers announced Tuesday night. The public is invited to attend a daylong tribute to Hearn at Staples Center.

People who drop by the arena between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Friday will be allowed to visit Hearn's broadcast booth and sign a guest book. Each visitor is encouraged to bring a new children's book appropriate for grades kindergarten through fifth, which will be donated to local school libraries and nonprofit organizations.


AP staff writer Desiree Hunter contributed to this report.

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