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The Phone Call

A Reflection

I was sitting at my desk in the middle of the city room at The Record when the phone rang and a familiar voice on the other end of the line asked for  “Bill Glovin.” When I said that I was indeed him, the caller simply said, “This is Marv Albert. I understand that you would like to write a story about me. When can you come in?”

I can't remember if I fell off my chair, but I do know that no one that famous had ever called me directly. In fact, no one that famous has ever called since. But Albert was more than famous to me. He was a legend, the man who had coined  “Yes!”  to describe a basketball going through a hoop, “Downtown!” to announce a three-pointer, and  “Facial!” to emphasize a powerful dunk. He was the Knicks and Rangers broadcaster with the great sense of humor, who we had all grown up listening to. He was the man who—when I was age 15—had called the most important victory in Knicks history: the sixth game of the 1969 championship series against the Lakers, when the injured Willis Reed hobbled on to the court and dramatically hit the first two baskets, inspiring an upset over Wilt Chamberlin, Jerry West, and the rest of the star-studded, arrogant Laker cast. In those days, the blackout rule meant that the game wasn’t broadcast on TV in the New York City market. All we had was Albert’s voice to relay the drama on the radio, and he did his usual masterful job.

The interview in his office that afternoon at 30 Rock was thrilling (at the time, Marv wrote and delivered the daily sports news for WNBC-TV in the New York market). I think Marv sensed that I was slightly in awe, and was very generous with his time. At one point in the interview, I told him that I had recently gone out with a young lady from Fort Lee who had dated one of his sportscaster brothers. “All she talked about during the date was how great your brother was; it wasn’t a good sign,”  I told him. He chuckled. At the end of the interview, I wanted to demonstrate that I was a thorough reporter, so I asked him what he earned a year. He didn’t want to answer the question directly, but I threw out a number ($400,000) and he confirmed it. For a moment, I thought I had put one over on him.

As I reached for the door to leave, he invited me to stay and watch how he put together his sportscast for the news. I sat quietly while he banged out his report on a typewriter. I then followed him to the control room, where he and a video editor picked highlights to show in  his tight four-minute segment. I watched from the wings in the studio while he delivered his report.

I got a huge thrill when, the day the story came out, Marv told his color analyst on the Knicks TV broadcast that he had been profiled in The Record.

About a month later I was back at 30 Rock, interviewing Howard Stern for a profile. On the way out, while walking down the hall with an NBC publicist, we passed Marv’s office, and I asked if we could stop in and say hello. I knocked on the door and the familiar voice invited us in. Marv looked at be quizzically and asked me who I was. It was a valuable lesson about self-importance and my place in the media machine, one that I never forgot.

Years later, when Marv was involved in the scandal with a woman who claimed they had several liaisons where he had dressed like a matron and bitten her back in hotel rooms, I was horrified. How much of it was true I’ll never know. But it cost Marv dearly. He was removed from his post as lead broadcaster for the NBA, although they eventually brought him back as the number two guy. After a suspension, he came back to the Knicks, but eventually lost that gig when Jim Dolan’s Madison Square Garden network complained that he was too critical of their crappy team. Marv called it like he saw it, and in the network’s case, their public relations strategy was to kill the messenger. The signature voice for the Knicks moved the following year to the New Jersey Nets, but it never felt right.

Some thing’s in this world should never change, and Marv calling Knicks games is one of them. I’ll never forgive Dolan, and I think most Knicks fans feel the same way.