Jerry West on Chick Hearn: He sacrificed his career for the Lakers

Jerry West’s first mention of the late Lakers Hall of Fame broadcaster Chick Hearn isn’t until rather deep into his new autobiography, “West By West: My Charmed, Tormented Life” (Little, Brown and Company, $27.99, 338 pages, linked here).

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But it’s worth waiting for. And apparently, it was done that way intentionally.

The book, scheduled for release on Oct. 19, devotes some nice passages about Hearn between pages 218 and 270. The highlights:

“The real reason for the spike (in attendance during the 1961 playoffs at the Sports Arena) had less to do with our performance on the court than with the hiring of Chick Hearn to do the play-by-playin March of 1961, right in the middle of our playoff series against the St. Louis Hawks. Before you knew it, four thousand became fifteen thousand, and we slowly made our way to the front page . . .

“I haven’t said much about Chick Hearn so far because I’ve been saving the best for last, as the saying goes, for near the end. There is no question that Chick had so much to do with enriching the image of the Lakres, but he was also responsible for further elevating Elgin Baylor’s career and helping enormously to make mine. Even if Elgin Baylor was the one who came up with Zeke from Cabin Creek — I say if because I have never been entirely sure — Chick was the one to give it currency. He was definitely the first one to call me ‘Mr. Clutch.’ And he was the one who said he had never seen a player take a loss harder or allow it to linger longer.

“He lasted two years longer with the Lakers than I did. In Chick’s case, in my opinion, he sacrificed his career for the Lakers. He was with NBC for about ten years, but he could have been even bigger than he was, like Keith Jackson.

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“(He) never lost his common touch and his common sense. His work ethic was second to no one’s; he would be at the arena at three on game days and was preparing at home well before that, often rehearsing in front of a mirror . . .

“(He) was far more than the play-by-play Voice of the Lakers, the Godfather of Talking . . .

“Like me, Chick was secretive and humble (which didn’t mean we didn’t have a healthy egos) . . .

“His relationship with (owner) Jack Kent Cooke was better than mine, although his wife, Marge, said he threatened to quit a number of times but Cookie wouldn’t let him. . . .

“I always thought Chick took Laker losses much harder than I did. he prided himself on not being biased, which used to make me laugh, especially once I stopped playing and heard his broadcasts. . . .

“He was as loved, if not more loved, than any player who ever played for the Lakers.
“‘He truly was a celebrity,’ I told Marge.
“She was quiet for a moment, then said, ‘It’s such a shame he never knew that.’
“‘He didn’t want to know that,’ I said. ‘He didn’t think of himself that way.’”

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