After 30 years of living his dream, Marv Albert last week was booted out of the broadcast booth and into his worst nightmare. He came off the sidelines and became a participant in America's No. 1 spectator sport: watching celebrities squirm. When this game was over, no one had to ask who won or lost; Albert was chewed up and spit out, which, some would say, means justice prevailed.
For three bizarre days in an Arlington, Va., courtroom, Albert was revealed to be, among other things, a dirty little man in ladies' underwear. The decline and fall of the rich and famous often makes for good theater, but in this case it was especially fascinating because Albert was not just, to steal a phrase, a bad boy. He committed another egregious offense: being a complete phony.
We now know with certainty that his hair was fake (a witness said she pulled it off during a struggle), his age was fudged (he's really 56, said his ex-wife, not the 54 he claimed to be in his NBC bio), his name was changed (from Marvin Aufrichtig) and his public persona, that of a sports nerd, was the biggest lie of all. No wonder he copped a plea: Another day of testimony and we would have heard all about his Press-on nails and false eyelashes. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, Albert's longtime paramour, Vanessa Perhach, it seems his teeth were the only things that were authentic.
Shortly after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery for biting Perhach 18 times during a rendezvous last February, Albert was dealt an even more devastating blow when he was fired by NBC and then had to resign from MSG cable network. A man who boasted of having no life away from the arena (obviously, another lie), Albert surely will feel emasculated without a microphone in front of him. The swift action of the networks drew sympathy for Albert from his allies in the media, some of whom thought he had a right to broadcast any game in which the likes of Dennis Rodman took part.
But there are major differences between the two most notorious cross-dressers in sports: 1) Rodman has yet to be convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery; 2) Rodman doesn't present himself as anything but a degenerate; and 3) Rodman is a player. Players matter. Especially good ones like Rodman. As loathsome as he is, Rodman has a direct impact on winning and losing—and thus on his league's profitability. Albert doesn't.
The lurid details of the case elevated Albert to the Dick Morris of sports: a man more famous for what he did in a hotel room than for who he was. Amid the frenzy we seemed to lose sight of the fact that Albert was just a sportscaster. What did he do to achieve his celebrity? We watched games, he told us what we were watching.
Oh, let's not forget—he also sometimes yelled, "Yes!" Now there's something that every hip young anchor at ESPN can only dream of coming up with. Yes! How are we going to make it through another sports season without Albert's genius?
Sure, Albert is very good at what he does, but no one has ever tuned in to a game just to hear someone do the play-by-play. Most likely no one ever will. Oh, gee, no Marv? Then the heck with the Knicks game. It's PBS for me tonight.
Television play-by-play announcers are like referees or people in the next seat on a long flight: You don't even know the best ones were there. Unfortunately Albert violated that axiom in a big way. He became the most notorious sportscaster in history—the play-by-play man in panties—and in the end he suffered self-inflicted humiliation. He declined a plea agreement offered in early September by Virginia prosecutors and smugly dared them to take their best shot. Then he and his lawyer-Roy Black tried to destroy his accuser rather than just beat the rap. That strategy exploded in Albert's face. And millions of curious Americans pulled up a chair and gawked at the train wreck that is his life.
A month ago a lot of Americans didn't know Marv Albert from Fat Albert, but today he is more infamous than Pee-wee Herman. Once just a guest on Letterman, last week he was most of the monologue. He became a running joke, a lasting monument to phoniness and counterfeit celebrity.