SBD/Issue 47/Sports Industrialists

The Daily Goes One-On-One With TNT NBA Announcer Marv Albert

Broadcaster Marv Albert
MARV ALBERT got broadcast training at a very early age as the self-employed play-by-play man and studio engineer of his own fanciful radio station. Further education and more formal experience came later in the office of the Brooklyn Dodgers, at Syracuse Univ. and from working with broadcast legend MARTY GLICKMAN. The radio voice for many years of the Knicks and NHL Rangers, Albert served as the primary play-by-play voice for the NBA on NBC and announced college basketball, boxing, NFL, NHL All-Star games, baseball studio and pre-game shows. The play-by-play voice for TNT’s NBA coverage, for CBS Radio/Westwood One’s "MNF" and for the Nets on YES Network, Albert spoke with SportsBusiness Journal N.Y. bureau chief Jerry Kavanagh.

Favorite musicians: JAMES BLUNT, DAMIEN RICE, SARAH MCLACHLAN. I passed through the Doo Wop stage from my disc jockey days.
Favorite vacation spot: Capri.
Favorite author: DAVID HALBERSTAM.
Favorite book: “The Great Gatsby.”
Favorite quote: JOHN WOODEN’s “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
Favorite movies: “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Million Dollar Baby.”
Best sports movie: “Field of Dreams."
Worst sports movie: “One On One.”
All-Interview Team: CHARLES BARKLEY, MICHAEL JORDAN, TOMMY LASORDA, WARREN SAPP and PHIL JACKSON.

Q: You’ve covered sports for over 40 years, and seem to enjoy it thoroughly. Has it been all games and fun?

Albert: I feel very fortunate that I’m doing what I wanted to do from the third grade on. I became very interested in the sports broadcasting aspect even at that early age. I’d turn down the sound on the TV and do games in my house -- and probably get everybody looking for me to go into a room and lock the door so they didn’t have to hear it.

Q: Back then, you did it from what you called the second-floor broadcast-booth bedroom in your home in Manhattan Beach.

Albert: I think most people who are on the air doing play-by-play probably started in some way in that fashion: by turning the sound down and either doing it for themselves or doing it on a tape recorder. It was really great experience, because even when I started doing games at Syracuse, I had felt that there weren’t that many things that were going to surprise me because even though it wasn’t done professionally, I was experienced just from doing it on my own fictitious radio station.

Q: You had access to pro games at an early age.

Albert: I was fortunate to be ballboy for the Knicks, which allowed me access to the press box for college games and I was able to bring my recorder. I worked for the Brooklyn Dodgers as an office boy and go-fer. Part of that, the perk was to be able to get a seat in one of those overhang press boxes near home plate. It was all very good experience.

Q: Yet there were not nearly as many broadcasting outlets then as there are now, nor could it have seemed as attractive then as it probably is now. Was there a defining moment for you?

Albert: The defining moment was at age 9 when my dad and mom bought me one of these huge, reel-to-reel tape recorders. It was kind of unnerving to hear my voice at first in those early times because you never sound the way you think you do. And obviously I’m a kid with a high-pitched voice. So you’re saying, where’s this going?

Q: Do you still have those tapes?

Albert: I have early tapes, but not that far back. I do have some from high school, where I would take my recorder to games -- just for my own purposes. And I have early tapes from college. My kids got a kick out of them, particularly my rock ’n’ roll disc jockey days in Syracuse.

Q: You wrote that your mother finally became resigned to the fact that you were not going to become LEONARD BERNSTEIN.

Albert: (laughing) Exactly.

Q: Was there ever any consideration given to using your voice to sing?

Albert: My mother and father were both extremely encouraging. At the time when I first showed this interest, I think they thought I was going through a phase. I played the piano for about 11 years. Had to practice for an hour or so a day, and actually performed in some concerts. But I always preferred being outside, playing stickball or roller hockey or basketball in the school yard. I realized eventually that it helped me in terms of memorizing because that’s basically what I did when I was playing the piano. And it was good for typing fast, for dexterity.

Q: Marty Glickman had a profound influence on you, did he not?

Albert: Tremendous. Marty was wonderful in the way he dealt with young broadcasters. Even after he retired, he was always very encouraging. But with me, he really turned things around. I met him from my ballboy days and I ended up working for Marty as a researcher and producer and then eventually -- after I left Syracuse and transferred to NYU -- at WCBS radio. At the time, he was the voice of the Giants and the Knicks -- he was the voice of New York sports.

Q: You’ve talked about the break you got when you filled in for him one night.

Albert: I ended up sitting in for him when I was still going to college. When he couldn’t do Knicks games, I subbed for him. It was a great experience. And over the years, he’d be one person who might point something out to me from time to time. And he’d be right on.

Q: There was a mutual respect early on.

Albert: I think you always need somebody -- another ear, someone you respect -- if you’re a writer or broadcaster to say, “Hey, wait a second.” And what used to amaze me when I was a kid working for him, here was this great broadcaster and he would ask me what did I think of a broadcast. At first I thought, “He’s taking me seriously. I’m 22 years old.” But I had a different view of things and he wanted a contemporary thought about what he was doing.

Q: You said that “he hated clichés and hype and I learned to hate clichés and hype.”

Albert: I feel very strongly about that. That’s always been a pet peeve for me. When I listen to athletes speak sometimes, or some broadcasters, you hear things like “On the money” or “Our backs are to the wall.” Stuff like that. I just think that’s unnecessary. I probably got that from Marty.

Q: It’s a good lesson for anybody in journalism.

Albert: Yeah. You get lazy. I always find it’s important to listen to tapes of the games that I’ve done. You look for things like that. That’s one of the things that’s kind of a checklist in my head. Sometimes you end up repeating words. You get into bad habits. And the only way to avoid that is to listen and be aware of it.

Q: You refer to the geography of the court. Your radio experience was invaluable to you in television.

Albert: It was. I think the best experience for young broadcasters is to do radio first. That doesn’t always happen, but that’s where the fundamentals are. I compare it to well-established actors who understand the importance of going back to Broadway or of doing summer theater. It’s a real exercise in terms of improving your craft, no matter how good you are. And I find that with radio. I think that you are the game, in terms of broadcasting sports, and there are so many fundamentals.

Q: It’s a different approach from radio to television?

Albert: You have an understanding of not talking as much on television. But that’s the one thing that you should do on radio. You have to use the crowd. You have to be able to use the color commentator effectively. On TV, you can keep quiet. There are certain things that speak for themselves. It’s almost like you’re applying captions on TV.

Q: Some broadcasters today work so hard to promote themselves, to the point where they get in the way of the game. It seems to me you have always had respect for the games and the profession without making it solemn. Is that a difficult balance?

Albert: I try to do that. I think the balance is providing information and doing it in an entertaining way and not getting in the way. But there’s a degree of drama involved and not going over the top. It’s really a mix and also involving the person you’re working with.

Q: Your sense of humor doesn’t intrude on the broadcast.

Albert: I look for light moments because sometimes with subtlety you can make a point if it’s from a journalistic point of view. It’s not life and death. But on the other hand, some games are very important, and you don’t want to do that at the wrong time. You have to pick your spots. You’re making judgments on the fly.

Q: The man who made “Yes” synonymous with scoring now works for the YES Network. Is there a more perfect marriage?

Albert: I’ve asked for financial remuneration. I got a kick out of when the YES Network first came into fruition, it really struck me, and of course I got a lot of calls on that, even from people at YES. But we haven’t gone over the top with that, which is good. But, yeah, it is kind of ironic.

Albert Feels Bulls During Jordan Era
One Of His Most Memorable Teams
Q: Over the years, has there been a most memorable team for you?

Albert: The Bulls of the Jordan era, which actually had two parts to it: before and after Michael left to go to baseball. I found it thrilling to be able to do those games. And the 1969-70 and 1972-73 Knicks. That was just a compelling and very smart group of guys who all went on to remarkable careers after basketball. They were the closest thing for me to the Boys of Summer -- the Brooklyn Dodgers -- where it was such a beloved group of guys. The style of basketball that those Knicks played was perfect for New York and it was wonderful for the NBA.

Q: IRA BERKOW said that those Knicks spoiled everyone who covered them for the rest of their professional lives because they all acted like adults, had perspective and went on to distinguish themselves after their playing days.

Albert: I couldn’t say it any better than that. That’s exactly right. What an experience to be around that group.

Q: It was a different time.

Albert: At that time it was different, and with the writers, too. We all traveled together and they were just a remarkable group to be around. They said interesting things and it wasn’t kept at a distance. And RED HOLZMAN was the type of coach who wanted his players to speak. He actually was kind of self-effacing. Very shy. He was not looking to be in the forefront, and he was bailed out because all his guys were very good talkers. Similar to what the Dodgers were in their days with JACKIE ROBINSON and DUKE SNIDER and PEE WEE REESE. That whole unusual group -- in a positive way.

Q: You called BILL BRADLEY “one of the most ethical persons I have ever known.”

Albert: When he ran for office, I hosted some of his political events. And I always thought, boy, if there’s anybody who would have made a great president -- and I know a lot of people feel that way -- he would have been the guy.

Q: He did not do endorsements.

Albert: I think all along he knew what he was going to do. I know that’s what he believed. He didn’t want to take money for endorsing a product, to be paid to say something or to be involved in terms of a blatant sponsorship situation. He might have been looking ahead -- not that that would have been held against him.

Q: You have said that baseball players are among the most sensitive athletes you can deal with.

Albert: I found that from doing the baseball pre-game show at NBC. The forum that I had for controversial issues was the short interview, so we’d get right to the basic questions. I think that contributed to it. But I always found that there was a sensitivity. There are guys who will talk, but it’s not the same as other sports in terms of how the players view the media in saying things. Not that they have to lash out, but I think there’s a reluctance about having an opinion. I find the NBA, NFL, NHL guys are great. And boxers love to talk. I just find it’s a different culture.

Q: You’ve said that boxers provide the best theater.

Albert: To them, television is everything. Part of their goal is to get on television so that their fights can be seen. They realize they could have a short run so they’re usually very willing to talk.

Q: Did you work with AL MCGUIRE?

Albert: I did. He was great to be around. One of the most interesting people that I’ve ever been exposed to. We really had a lot of fun.

Q: McGuire said, “Inside, I think, all thoroughbred athletes have uncertainty, the fear of being unsuccessful.”

Albert: I think that’s what motivates them. Guys might not admit that because basically what you see is great confidence. But I would say with successful people, even in business, in broadcasting, or whatever field you select, I think for the most part the fear of failure, or something not working out well, is a great motivating factor.

Q: During a broadcast, we get multiple camera angles, replays, graphics and statistics, promotions, and interactive and commercial elements. Is there a danger of the sideshows overshadowing the main event? Of the game being overwhelmed by the technology of the game?

Albert: I think there is. Sometimes there are too many replays and too many graphics on the screen. At times, graphics cover graphics. That’s the stage we’ve reached with all the new technology. And I think web sites contribute to this because there’s so much on the screen. You see it not only in sports but also on news channels. The feeling is that the younger generation can take all this in at the same time, but, yes, I do think it’s a little too much.

Q: What in sports would you not miss if it were eliminated?

Albert: Some of the long pre-game shows where the same stuff is being discussed over and over. People are making predictions. I always feel, What do predictions mean? I realize it’s a very inexpensive way to fill time because you don’t have to spend money on production pieces. But there are so many people, particularly during the football season, making predictions. I don’t think it has any significance at all. It’s a guess. You may have all the information in the world, but it’s a time-filler. I wouldn’t miss that.

Q: Where’s the imagination in sports today?

Albert: I think in sports television, there really is imagination, despite what we just talked about with sometimes too much graphically and too many attempted innovations. On the other hand, I find in watching some of the games that have been done in the past -- be it on YES or ESPN Classic or NBA TV or NFL TV -- you see how far they’ve come in graphics and the look, what the camera angles are. Just when you think not much more can be done, when you go back five years ago, the strides that they have made are monumental.

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