Marv Albert reflects on career in wide-ranging interview

Legendary play-by-play man Marv Albert, a long-time Knicks announcer, will retire following his work on the Eastern Conference finals for TNT. He gives the play-by-play on his historic career in a Q&A session with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: What would be the Over/Under number on “Yes, and it counts!” ?

A: It depends how often it happens in a game. You don’t get that many 3-point plays, and sometimes I don’t use it on that. So I’d say the Over-Under would be … 2.

Q: I meant for your career.

A: (Laugh) [If] I could pick a number, I could dart-board it . .. Over-Under for my career … 322 (laugh).

Q: How about the Over-Under on “Yes!” in a game?

A: Eight … but for a big game, 12 (laugh).

Q: When did you start using the word facial?

A: It just came to me. I save it for only certain dunks where the defender is defenseless. It’s like the person who is putting it down, it’s almost like it’s in his face.

Q: Who was the first facial, do you remember?

A: My brother Al was a gifted leaper, and I was on the wrong end of several facials in our schoolyard game.

Q: Extensive garbahje, aka garbage, time?

A: I use it more carefully now, maybe it’s more compassion. Because as soon as the subs come in, you realize they’re really getting a shot to show their stuff even if the game is out of hand. In my radio days, if a game was out of hand, I didn’t want to say garbage. I felt garbage really made it bad.

Q: Changing on the fly?

A: I used to listen to a lot of the Canadian announcers, Danny Gallivan and Foster Hewitt. I must have picked that up. When I was a kid I had a shortwave radio and I’d listen to the Montreal and Toronto announcers, and it was such a thrill to eventually meet them when I was first starting out.

Marv Albert waves to the fans.
Getty Images

Q: Would you consider the 1969-70 Knicks a top-10 team of all time?

A: It’s so difficult to compare what took place in the ’60s and ’70s with what takes place now. … When you think back to the Celtic teams and the Golden State Warriors present day and the Laker teams, they’re somewhere in there, but in the latter part of the top 10, being objective about it. … Even the great Celtic teams of [Bill] Russell and [John] Havlicek and go back further, [Bob] Cousy and [Bill] Sharman, all the guys, I think a lot of them, if they played now, would have evolved into great players because their bodies would be different, as I think what they would do in terms of shooting would be different.

Q: What is the best NBA team you’ve ever seen?

A: The Showtime Lakers were phenomenal. I felt the Warriors in recent years were among the top teams of all teams when they had Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and [Kevin] Durant — and Draymond Green — that’s pretty good. LeBron’s Miami team when they had LeBron [James] and [Dwyane] Wade and [Chris] Bosh is right there. Those Celtic teams would be there. It’s just so hard because of the eras to say this team is the best of all time.

Q: What about Michael Jordan’s Bulls?

A: They are there, but it was Michael, it was Scottie Pippen and [Toni] Kukoc and a lot of good role players. If Michael’s on the team, you give him a shot always to win even if we’re present day, because I think he would have been different, he would have become a 3-point shooter too, you know? They were dependent on a lot of the perimeter shooters like Steve Kerr — not because he was my longtime broadcast partner — John Paxson, Craig Hodges, guys like that, and Michael, when he became a great player, learned how to set people up, he didn’t have to always take the shot. Even though they won six championships, I think some of these other teams were really better than they were. … Michael’s teams might have beaten them anyway, though, because of him.

Q: If you could go back in time and broadcast any game in NBA history, which game would you pick?

A: These are very good questions. Are you getting help with these? I would say it would be Game 7 Knicks-Lakers, 1970.

Q: How about a game you didn’t do?

A: It would have been one of the Laker-Celtic games. … If you look at the lineups, Magic [Earvin Johnson] and [James] Worthy and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] going up against the Boston teams — [Kevin] McHale, [Larry] Bird, [Robert] Parish, that group.

Q: If you could pick one NFL game?

A: I’d say the Jets beating the Colts in the Super Bowl [III].

Q: One boxing match?

A: [Muhammad] Ali-[Joe] Frazier I. I was at the fight. I did a lot of stuff with Ali for Channel 4, he was great. And then even later on, going to his house. I just found him enticing. He was very smart, too.

Q: Did he do any magic tricks for you?

A: He says, “You know, I can levitate.” I said, “Right.” He tells me he’s levitating. I said, “I don’t see it.” He was trying to convince me and the producer I was with that he was levitating. He was on the ground (laugh). It was unbelievable.

Q: What are your top five New York sports moments?

A: I’d put Willis [Reed, 1970 Knicks-Lakers] first; the Rangers winning the [1994 Stanley] Cup second; the Jets winning the Super Bowl; the Giants beating the Patriots, the [David] Tyree game [Super Bowl XLII] — I did that on radio — and then the Mets beating the Red Sox in ’86.

Q: What were your emotions when the Rangers finally won the Cup?

A: It was almost like I couldn’t believe they actually did this. It was an emotional moment for me. As a kid I was a big Ranger fan, my father would take me to the games all the time.

Q: The All-Marv NBA team?

A: I can give it to you, but it’s hard to separate from the present day, so I would say apologies to people as I give it to you. I would have Bird and LeBron as the forwards, with Durant right there also as a hedge, OK? I’d have Kareem as the center, and the backcourt is Jordan and Magic … with apologies to Kobe [Bryant], Steph Curry, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Julius Erving. … It’s so hard, but I’d go with that team. But Durant should be mentioned. I think Durant will eventually be the alltime guy in that forward spot.

Q: Wasn’t Jordan among your best interview subjects?

A: He’d sit with us for sound-bites for the game, and it was always terrific to listen to what he would say.

Q: Who were some of the others?

A: Ali … boxers were always good. [Marvin] Hagler was really good. … Steph Curry is excellent … Peyton Manning … “The Hammer” Dave Schultz … he was tremendous to talk to after games. The enforcers were always really good talkers. … Darryl Strawberry was very good. … Ricky Henderson would say anything.

Q: What was it like working with Bill Parcells?

A: It was a joy because, first of all, it was an education, just talking football. He had a great sense of humor that I did not even realize before I really got to know him. … We just had a lot of laughs, I must say.

Q: Wilt Chamberlain?

A: He had a great sense of humor. If he were playing today, he would be extremely popular as a guest on pregame, postgame. I can’t imagine the kind of money he would be making. He’d be on “Inside the NBA” and those video shows without question.

Q: Red Auerbach?

A: He and Marty Glickman were best friends, two Brooklyn guys, I got to know him through Marty. In fact, we did a couple of games together. … He’d see things that nobody else would see. He had such great stories.

Q: Bernard King?

A: He would spend a lot of time psyching himself for games. On the day of a game, no one talked to him. He had that look. What I admired about Bernard, and I say the same thing of a guy like Kevin McHale and Steph Curry, they always came back — and LeBron is like that and Michael was like that — with another move or two after the summer offseason. And Bernard came back with moves all the time.

Q: Willis Reed?

A: One of the most respected athletes amongst his teammates that I’ve ever seen, aside from his skill, and he was feared in the NBA. Nobody messed with Willis.

Q: Walt “Clyde” Frazier?

A: He was very quiet as a player. Always loved working with him as a broadcaster. I used to love the way he played because everything was so efficient. He would set up players, even if he knew he had had a steal, say, in the second quarter, he would be kind of a decoy at it, and then would wait till the big moments of the game down the stretch and come up with a big steal.

Marv Albert in 1979

Q: Dave DeBusschere?

A: He was just great to be around, he had a great sense of humor. I admired him as a player. If he played today with that long shot, he would be one of the top 3-point shooters in the league. His defense was off the charts. We spent a lot of time on buses just talking about non-basketball subjects.

Q: Bill Bradley?

A: He’d carry his books around all the time when we were on buses or planes. When he was in Oxford, I remember him telling me he would sit around on the basketball court, he’d announce to himself. And I said, “Can you give me a sample of what that sounded like that?” And he said, “I would but it would break your heart.”

Q: Dick Barnett?

A: Dick was really one of the best interviews after games. Latrell Sprewell was like that. You ask him a question, there was no couching it.

Q: Phil Jackson?

A: Phil was also terrific to talk to. He had a lot of questions about hockey, because even to this day, he sees different patterns in terms of the coaching and the way players are set up, he equated it with basketball. That was such an intelligent team on and off the court. We’d travel with them, we’d sit with them, it was different than it what it is now, where there’s complete separation, so that made it even more fun because that was just a fantastic group to be with.

Q: How far away are these Knicks?

A: It’s tough to tell, because they have a lot of moves they still have to make. I thought they had a terrific, surprising season because of [coach Tom] Thibodeau. They’re several players away. They’ve gone from being a non-contender to at least in the picture. The thing is: Can they attract players you’d want to have on your squad? Because they could not in recent years. I think it’s a very good front office now and with Thibodeau there. It changes the picture.

Q: Jim Dolan?

A: We had, let’s say, philosophical differences in how a game should be broadcast.

Q: What is the importance, in your view, of objectivity?

A: Very, very important. I know particularly out of town, a lot of announcers are really encouraged to be homers, and I just feel I personally could not do that. Particularly on radio, where you are the game. … Why would people believe you if you are not telling them when times are bad, that either someone’s not playing well or the team is not playing well when they are playing well? And on television, people see it. So if you’re saying something that is really not happening, you look foolish. You don’t have to kill, but if something’s bad, you have to say it.

Q: What were your feelings about no tribute at the Garden for your last game there?

A: I didn’t expect it, I really did not. The Nets did it. … I thought it was awfully nice what they did. I was really taken aback by that, I was surprised.

Q: Will the Nets win a championship with their Big 3?

A: If they keep them together, definitely. Sean Marks, the general manager, really knows what he’s doing. They can win a championship, and they will be a major contender.

Q: Describe the electricity inside the Garden when Jordan and Kobe played there.

A: There was nothing like it when Michael played there, which is the reason he loved it. Kobe felt the same way. The other one is my current [TNT] partner Reggie Miller, who couldn’t get enough of the Garden. I love his enthusiasm, which led to his celebrations involving Spike Lee and all that kind of stuff when he had those big games at the Garden. … I asked him, “What happened when you’d go out on the street?” He said he’d never leave his hotel room. He said he sent Mark Jackson out to check the streets first.

Q: Joe Namath?

A: It was such a kick for me to work with him. When we’d go to practice, like, on a Friday preparing for a TV game, the practice would stop, and all the guys would stare. They couldn’t believe it’s Joe Namath. They were enthralled just to see him. I didn’t know Joe when he played, but he’s one of the nicest people that I ever worked with.

Q: David Letterman?

A: David always liked to call me “the Emergency Backup Guest” for his show. At NBC, his studio was across the hall when I was doing 6 and 11 [p.m.] sports shows, so I was on a lot as a guest. It used to be a battle between myself and Regis Philbin as to who had more guest appearances. Regis said I had a lot of bits and they shouldn’t really count as guest appearances. So I was the emergency backup if somebody would fall through the cracks. [Letterman] was a huge sports fan, but he had a distorted view (laugh) of the world of sports. If you were on the show, you’d go with it. To me, he was like the greatest talk show host ever.

Q: You were also on with Johnny Carson?

A: One time. That was one of the thrills of my … life. I would always watch him as a kid. I’d play the Albert Achievement awards, the bloopers, and then I came to the couch and he had a conversation with me and I made him laugh. And I’m thinking: I made Johnny Carson laugh! This is unbelievable! Comedians would go on, and if they’re invited to the couch, and they make him laugh, like that’s your career, you know? The other guests when I was on were [Jerry] Seinfeld and Julio Iglesias.

Q: How did you keep your voice in working order?

A: Basically I have like a throat spray. I use a lot of Cepacol. I had to be very careful. I also owe a debt of gratitude to a very helpful throat doctor who handles many top-level singers. As the years went on, I try not to talk the night before a game. Which my wife enjoys.

Q: Does your son Kenny’s style remind you of you?

A: Shades of it, but I think he has his own style. His hockey is terrific, and he does a really good job in basketball. He started out the same way I did, by doing games off the TV set with a tape recorder, and my brothers Al and Steve did the same. We’d have a crowd record in the background. His room back home was like a studio.

Q: Sal “Red Light” Messina?

A: He was a combination of a sense of humor, someone you could really kid around with on the air, and also was so knowledgeable about the game.

Marv Albert is honored by the Nets.
NBAE via Getty Images

Q: John Andariese?

A: One of my best friends. He was a basketball fanatic, he was a very good player at Fordham — although I used to refer to him as the 54th all-time leading rebounder in Fordham history, he would laugh. He was so good on the air, and so knowledgeable, and had a great sense of humor. I need someone who has a sense of humor. I felt that was very important.

Q: What is your funniest on-air moment?

A: Basically just talking to the Czar, Mike Fratello, would supply that. His knowledge of course was off the charts as a former coach, but he’s a walking punchline.

Q: Some Brooklyn memories: the 1951 “Shot Heard ’Round the World” Ralph Branca-Bobby Thomson game.

A: I was a big Brooklyn Dodger fan growing up in Brooklyn. I got home in time to watch it on TV. It sickened me as a kid. And then I got to know Bobby Thomson pretty well in his later years, he was a great guy. I had a different view when I stopped becoming a fan. People still come up to me and say, “Who do you root for?” —whatever the sport. I said, “I really don’t root.” I’m so used to looking at it straight down the middle. I like the New York teams to do well, but I really don’t root.

Q: Johnny Podres beating the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series?

A: That was a big deal for me. We had the thought in those days that the Dodgers would never win a World Series, particularly against the Yankees.

Q: The Dodgers leaving Brooklyn?

A: That’s actually when I worked for them. I was in the ticket office. I remember getting a form letter from [owner] Walter O’Malley that was sent to me, I was in high school: “If you’d like to come to L.A. to work for us, we’d love to have you.” I showed it to my parents, and they said, “That’s a great idea, you go out there as an office boy working for the Dodgers.” (chuckle). Obviously, Walter O’Malley was not a popular figure making the move, and then taking Horace Stoneham and the Giants with him to the West Coast. As a fan, that too was very disappointing.

Q: Coney Island?

A: I loved to go there. My grandfather used to take me, my father would take me, and my brothers would come, and I’d just go to Nathan’s, going on the rides and all that. Bataway was there at the time, used to do that. That was a special event when we’d go to Coney Island on a Saturday or a Sunday.

Q: Did you go on the Cyclone?

A: I did once, not as a kid. I just wanted to do it, so I did. That was enough.

Q: How about the Parachute Jump?

A: One time. My father challenged me so I did. He went on it.

Q: Where was the best egg cream in Brooklyn?

A: There was a corner drugstore in Manhattan Beach that made the greatest … was a guy named Moe. I haven’t had one in a while.

Marv Albert chats with Magic Johnson.

Q: Describe your wife Heather.

A: The love of my life. … We both had a lot in common, and then some things not in common, which is good. We have great understanding of each other. And we both love pugs. And, it’s just a great life.

Q: What are the names of your pugs?

A: Trixie and Madison. Now, in terms of my retirement, Trixie and Madison are thrilled to have me around at home as much as possible. Heather is on the fence. She could go either way on that. Trixie and Madison are professional sleepers, basically.

Q: Did you ever feel the pressure of being the soundtrack of New York basketball and hockey?

A: No. I’ve always loved what I do. There’s always a drop of anxiety before you do the game, and I think that’s good. I like the fact that I still get that, and I enjoy the preparation, I really do.

Q: What would you say you’re most proud of?

A: I would say my kids, my grandkids. They’re a great bunch, they really are, and I’ll be able to see them a little more. I’ve been traveling so much for years.

Q: What do you hope your legacy is?

A: That’s always hard to say. … It’s hard to talk about that stuff about yourself like that. … I hope people enjoyed what I did, and they knew that I was being objective, and that it helped influence other broadcasters in the way I was influenced … by people like Marty. Do you remember Les Keiter? He was the one that gave me the crowd record that I was able to use in the background, ’cause when the Dodgers and Giants moved away, he would do recreations of the games from the West Coast.

Q: You must have liked listening to Red Barber too, right?

A: He was a different type of style. Yes, I enjoyed [Vin] Scully, I enjoyed Barber, I enjoyed Mel Allen. … If someone wants to be a sportscaster, you really have to listen to as many people as possible, and you pick and choose what you think is good or things you don’t like.

Q: What is your definition of legend?

A: I think the term is tossed around sometimes a little bit too much. But I think someone who people have great respect for and they admire what they do … be it a basketball player or football or whatever, Hall of Famer in sports … or an announcer (chuckle) I guess, I don’t know … or a newspaperman.

Q: How would you sum up what it’s been like being Marv Albert?

A: As I mentioned before, I’ve loved every minute of what I do. I think I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do what I do, and … I wish I could start all over again. At a much younger age, please (laugh).

Q: When the Eastern Conference finals end and the horn goes off, what do you suspect your emotions will be and you know that your retirement has begun?

A: I know it’s gonna be strange. It’s gonna be surreal. Even when I feel the game is like counting down, it’ll be like counting down (chuckle) on my conclusion, you know? It will be a very weird feeling knowing that it’s ending. It wasn’t until recent years I even thought … I just never pictured that because I’ve been enjoying so much what I do. It’ll be a little strange, I think.

Q: You’re taking a piece of so many of our youths with you.

A: People have been so nice over the years. … When Scully retired, of course I wasn’t hearing him on a regular basis when he’s in L.A., but I had such great feeling about his work. Yeah, I’m sure he’s missed. … Al Michaels told me the other day, remember this: Keith Jackson retired and then came back six years later. Barbara Walters came back twice (laugh). … I don’t think that’s gonna happen.

Q: What will you miss most?

A: I love every minute of what I’m doing, it’s what I wanted to do from the third grade on. That’s what I said I wanted to be. I realize how fortunate I’ve been to be in the right place for so many iconic events. You really have to have that kind of luck. I really will miss the preparation, and getting ready for big games. When the NBA season starts in late October, early November, I’ll miss it, but I’ll be OK because I felt the pandemic, even though it was obviously horrible for a lot of people, a lot of families, it was like a rehearsal for retirement. I feel 55 years of doing NBA basketball … that’s just about right. That’s enough. I still can’t believe it, but I turned 80. But you know 80 is the new 79.

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