What’s the key to doing a good Marv Albert impression?
Intense desire and passion. And maybe a degree of sickness on the side. Bob Costas is very effective, as is Billy Crystal. And Billy Crystal’s accountant does a great impression. I’ll be in an airport in Chicago or LA or Detroit, and I’ll walk into the men’s room, and someone will come and stand right next to me, and just start an impression. They’ll say “1986!” and launch into something I once said. I usually just give it a rating, and say “That’s a strong 7.” One of the worst impressions is by Bill Parcells, head coach of the New England Patriots. He’s very confused with his inflections. But he’ll hear me do a game, and then no matter what else he’s working on, he’ll leave me a critique of my performance on my answering machine while doing an impression of me.
What’s the most unusual event you ever did play-by-play for?
When I first started at NBC, I was asked to broadcast a special for this anything-goes punching-and-kickboxing type of fight down in Memphis. It was ugly. I did the play-by-play, and then I had to do the post-event interview. I’m talking to the winner, and the guy says, “Excuse me,” turns away, and throws up. I just said, “Was it something I said?”
You’ve gotten a lot of mileage over the years out of needling your multitudinous color men.
I’ve always had that kind of personality. We’re usually the same on and off the air, too. I don’t like it when people are always agreeing with each other–that’s just not normal conversation.
How is calling a boxing match different from calling a hockey fight?
Rarely does a hockey fight turn into a real swing-out match. They’re bogged down with equipment, there’s the balance factor, other people hanging off the boards–it’s a joke. But sometimes you will find that there’s more explosive action than in a boxing match–when that happens, I find that I tend to go to the boxing terminology and lingo, and my partner Sal “Red Light” Messina looks at me strange.
Did you know Chuck D of Public Enemy has credited you as the main influence on his rapping style?
I was surprised by that–I didn’t think I had any influence on music. But I see what he’s talking about, the way he shades his voice in his songs. I was proud being able to tell Ahmad Rashad that. It’s been very emotional for me.
Have you ever said something on the air that you regretted?
I always drive myself crazy in the aftermath of a broadcast, looking back at tapes. I overprepare and get in maybe 15% of what I have in my charts. The key is putting in information at the right time, and not using it just because you have it. I can’t think of any time where I’ve regretted something I said, though.
How do you keep those charts organized?
The charts have the rundown on every player, with some stories, some histories, some trends. With football, it’s similar to crib notes, but it’s done by position. Doing the NFL, it’s a whole week’s project to immerse myself in two new teams. The Friday and Saturday nights before a Sunday game, I just stay in my hotel room. It’s like studying for a history test–you want to achieve a certain comfort level. But sometimes in the midst of a game, I wouldn’t be able to find the anecdote I was looking for on the table. I discovered that if I put an anecdote into my coat pocket, it was surefire. I find it a very effective filing system, although I’ve pulled out money and credit cards by accident.
What’s the busiest you’ve ever been as a sportscaster?
I did three games in one day once, which was definitely sickness.
Who are the best trash-talkers in the NBA?
Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Gary Payton. But they’re kidding around, doing it to motivate themselves. For some reason, you very rarely see centers doing it.
Tell me something about yourself that would surprise most people.
I played the piano for twelve years.
See? You’re surprised. My parents made me take lessons–I would practice an hour each day. They made my brothers play accordion. I actually helped my teacher give lessons. I took that job so I could use the mimeograph machine; I printed up my own newspapers and distributed them to people in my neighborhood. The papers had all the New York Knicks and Rangers information you’d want–I would watch games on TV and write them up. And important local stickball scores. I even sold some ads to local stores. Around the same time, I had my own imaginary radio station, WMPA. I was a very versatile communications mogul at age 13.
You’ve been in films ranging from The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh to Eddie. Do you have a favorite cinematic moment?
I’m always given a very difficult role to play–myself. It’s interesting seeing people directing you to play yourself. Sometimes they just want a caricature of a sports announcer. The hardest part was on the TV show Love and War–I actually had to walk and talk and interact with people while being myself on that one, so it was tougher. I’m a fanatical moviegoer, so I’m always interested in the production end. It’ll never happen, but if I could take off a year or two, I’d love to get into moviemaking.
Have you ever been distracted by a heckler?
Not really–it’s hard to hear through the headsets. But the language some fans use, people say it’s bad for women, children–forget that. What about the men?
You used to work in the Brooklyn Dodgers front office and as a ballboy for the Knicks. Were athletes actually friendlier when you were a kid, or is that just a myth?
I think they were more accessible–when I was growing up, I interviewed Stan Musial for my school newspaper at PS 225. I called him at the hotel and left a message; he called back because he thought it was his stockbroker.
Do you think you’ll be doing this job for the rest of your life?
Maybe not in this volume, with this kind of workload, but yes. How many people are doing exactly what they wanted to do in the third grade?
Would Marv Albert ever get a Prince Albert?
I actually met Prince Albert in Monaco, sitting on a table with John Stockton and Patrick Ewing. But are you asking something else?
A Prince Albert is a genital piercing.
Ah, a Details-type question. I would say that’s not in the future game plan.
Interview by Gavin Edwards. Originally published in the November 1996 issue of Details, in a shorter version.