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Born to the Booth
Steve Wulf
November 02, 1992
Holy cow! The example set by the Carays and—yes!—the Alberts is being followed by other gabby clans as sports broadcasting becomes, more and more, a family business
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November 02, 1992

Born To The Booth

Holy cow! The example set by the Carays and—yes!—the Alberts is being followed by other gabby clans as sports broadcasting becomes, more and more, a family business

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Marv's career took off, as he would say, in spec-tac-u-lar fashion. Thanks to his distinctive style and herculean work ethic, he was soon a household name, at least in the New York metropolitan area. "Yes!"—an affectation Marv had borrowed from NBA referee Sid Borgia—became the call on every New York basketball court. Ranger fans, too, began to mimic Marv: "Kick save—and a beauty."

At one stage of his career, Marv was thought to be merely a New York guy, but NBC Sports changed that in the '80s, giving him more assignments in a variety of sports. At his peak work load he was doing the Knicks and the Rangers, boxing, football and pregame baseball for NBC, as well as sports at six and lion weekdays for WNBC-TV in New York. It wasn't unusual for him to do four games in 36 hours. As if that weren't enough, he would often appear on Late Night with David Letterman, calling elevator races or presenting his Albert Achievement Awards. During Letterman's viewer-mail segment one night, a viewer asked, "What happens when a guest cancels?" Whereupon Letterman left the studio to show people the small room in which he kept Marv Albert.

As we said at the top of the show, there are millions of people who do Marv Albert impersonations. "Billy Crystal is very good," says Marv. "Costas, Bill Cosby, Roy Firestone all do good Marv Alberts. Bill Parcells does a sur-pri-singly good me." But there is still only one Marv.

Even now, it's hard to explain his appeal. He could never have gotten past those media consultants who tell stations which broadcasters will boost their ratings. "When God asked me if I wanted a good voice or good hair," says Marv, "I chose hair." Hair, schmair. Too many sportscasters have gotten by on their looks or their voices. It's nice to have Everyman in the booth, especially when he's able to blend the significance of an event with humor and honesty.

The Yes! man is anything but. Oh, Marv can be too facetious, as when he ticked off Whitey Herzog in 1986 by asking the then Cardinal manager if he was interested in succeeding Bart Giamatti as president of Yale. But the bottom line is this: Nobody takes sportscasting as seriously as Marv does, yet nobody seems to have as much fun doing it.

And that goes back to Manhattan Beach and the Hamster Olympics. Is it any wonder that Marv's brothers dogged his steps? As a junior at Ohio University, Al performed the dual role of hockey announcer and reserve goalie, which Max says was quite a sight. The next year Al was the starting goalie. After graduation he had a brief stint in the nets for the International Hockey League's Toledo Blades, then caught on as a play-by-play man with the New York Islanders and the ABA's New York Nets. Meanwhile, Steve went to Kent State, where he organized a hockey team just to call its games.

Like all good brothers, the Alberts have shared. For a while, Marv did sports for WNBC weeknights at 11 and Al did them at six. Steve did sports for WNBC's Live at Five, and he and Al once alternated at WWOR-TV. Steve has replaced Al with both the Nets and the Islanders. "When Al was with the Nets, he had stomach trouble," says Steve. "When I took over, sure enough, I began having a bad stomach. I told him, 'I inherited your stomach trouble.' He said, 'No, you inherited the Nets.' For Showtime boxing, Steve now works with Marv's longtime NBC partner, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco. (Which brings to mind Marv's classic description of Pacheco on Letterman: "The Fight Doctor. Not the sort of physician you would like at the bedside of a loved one.")

There was one Net-Knick game in the mid-'80s for which all three brothers were working different broadcasts: Marv for the Knicks, Steve for the Nets and Al for USA Network. "At one point, I could hear all our voices going at once," says Al. "I half expected Alida to yell upstairs for us to shut the door."

These days the brothers don't see that much of each other, spread out as they are. "Marv is so huge now, he hardly has time for us," says Al. "Seriously, though, he has been great. He couldn't have done more for us. But there was a time a few years ago when I actually thought of changing my name to get out of his shadow. How does Al Costas sound?"

And now there's one more Albert: Kenny. "He cut his first audition tape at six," says his father. "And just like me, he had his own radio station. WKGA—Kenneth Gary Albert. Whenever an athlete came over to the house, Kenny held him hostage. Sometimes in the bathroom."

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