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Back in the booth

Lakers' Hearn calls game for first time since heart surgery

Posted: Wednesday April 10, 2002 2:09 AM

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Chick Hearn, the iron man of sports broadcasting, returned to the booth Tuesday night to call his first Los Angeles Lakers game in nearly four months.

Hearn, who did his usual simulcast -- the play-by-play account on radio and television -- was introduced just before the Lakers faced the Utah Jazz, and capacity crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center responded by giving him a standing ovation.

Hearn appeared a bit frail, and his voice sounded a little weaker than usual as he addressed the television audience before the game.

He thanked Paul Sunderland, who filled in during the 56 games he was absent, and lauded broadcast partner Stu Lantz, Hearn's color commentator.

"I'm here with Stu Lantz, you son of a gun, you've been with me 15 years and you get better every game."

About an hour earlier, Lantz said Hearn was "nervous, excited, a combination of nerves, excitement, anticipation.

"Butterflies are definitely in his stomach," Lantz said. "He's never gone through anything like this before, where he had to come back. I don't know if I've ever seen him this excited. This environment keeps him feeling young, that's what he needs. He feeds off of that."

The 85-year-old Hearn was calling his first game since Dec. 16. He underwent heart-valve replacement surgery three days later to end his streak of broadcasting 3,338 consecutive Lakers games dating back to Nov. 20, 1965, when bad weather kept him from making a flight.

Hearn's return was delayed when he slipped and broke his left hip while getting out of his car Feb. 17.

"I'm just happy he's able to get back to doing what he loves to do," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "I've known him since my rookie year, 1965, he's always been very kind over the years."

Hearn didn't do interviews before the game to save his voice.

"Yesterday, his voice was great," Hearn's wife, Marge, told reporters. "Today when he woke up, it was a little weak."

Sunderland, who normally does the pregame show on television at Lakers home games and works for NBC, said he was pleased to step aside.

"I, like everyone else, am absolutely thrilled and quite frankly astonished with what Chick's been through to have him back behind the microphone," Sunderland said. "I'm grateful to the organization, this was a great opportunity for me.

"I never once thought it was my job, it was like Kobe Bryant loaned me his Ferrari for the last four months."

Regarding Hearn's incredible run, Sunderland said it will never be broken.

"People fixate on the streak," Sunderland said. "The only reason the streak is as long as it was is he's the best that ever was. It's that simple."

Hearn is the only full-time play-by-play voice the Lakers have had since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1961.

Buttons were handed out to fans entering Staples Center with a photo of Hearn taken about 50 years ago -- when he was in his 30s. Around the picture were the words: "Win With Chick."

"We've all been accustomed to hearing Chick and Stu, it's not easy to have him missing," Lakers forward Rick Fox said. "I'm sure he's excited to be here, and I'm sure when they show him on the screen he'll get an ovation."

Fox was certainly right on that account.

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