'As soon as possible'
Lakers' Hearn says he'll be back this seasonPosted: Friday January 18, 2002 7:09 PM
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Chick Hearn has attended numerous press conferences during his 40 years as the play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Lakers. This was the first time he starred in one.
Speaking in the Staples Center press room that bears his name, Hearn said he had no idea exactly when he would return to the microphone following open heart surgery -- but that it would be sometime this season.
'It's good to see you -- it's good to see anybody,' Hearn said Friday during his first public appearance since the Dec. 19 operation. 'I told my wife, `If hell is like this, I'm going to start behaving.''
After entering the room to a standing ovation from the media, Hearn cracked jokes and also got emotional at times when talking about his survival and the thousands of get-well cards he received from all over the country.
'Now that he's feeling better, we've started opening cards,' said Marge Hearn, Chick's wife of 52 years. 'We can't believe how wonderful the people have been. We are in complete awe of what's happened. We knew a lot of people like him, but just never realized that people would respond like this.'
Hearn, the only play-by-play voice the Lakers had since the move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1961, had not missed a game since Nov. 20, 1965, when bad weather kept him from making a flight.
Saturday will mark the fourth anniversary of Hearn's 3,000th consecutive broadcast, a streak he extended to 3,338.
Dr. Michael Soltero, a cardiovascular specialist who performed the 2 1/2-hour operation at Northridge Hospital Medical Center, noticed that 80 percent of the blood flow through Hearn's aortic valve had been blocked, putting extra stress on his heart and leaving him fatigued.
The valve was replaced with one made of cow tissue, which Soltero said has a very good record of success. Hearn was released from the hospital just four days later.
The primary thing delaying Hearn's return is the fact that he doesn't have the lung capacity to do an entire broadcast yet -- particularly with his trademark rapid-fire delivery. The surgery also has left residual pain in his back and shoulders, and also severely affected his walking.
Hearn started physical therapy Thursday, and next Monday will begin the therapy that conditions the heart.
'So far, the heart is ahead of the body,' he said. 'That treadmill work they put me through is hell on Earth, believe me. But overall, I feel pretty darn good -- and very lucky.'
Hearn's seemingly unreachable streak might be history, but not his broadcasting career.
'I feel like I could do a game tonight,' he said. 'I wish I was on the airplane going to San Antonio. But I can't do anything the doctors don't allow me to do,' he said.
'I can't tell you when I'm coming back, because I have no idea. Neither do the doctors. I guess, `as soon as possible' would be the best words I can use. By God, I miss it. Oh, how I miss it.'
Surrounding Hearn on Friday were three long banners containing get-well messages from fans who attended home games during his absence.