There are a precious few occasions in a person’s life where they can distinctly recall the exact specifics of a particular moment.
The smell of popcorn, fresh-cut grass and the proud feeling of being American at your first ballgame. Sweaty palms, some hybrid flower thing called a corsage and your first self booked hotel room at prom or your wedding perhaps, which for me is more than a lifetime away.
My first encounter with Hall of Fame broadcaster Marv Albert was one of those moments.
If you know anything about basketball, Albert is a living legend. His god sent voice and catch phrases are pure truths in the sports bible. No one can transcend a basketball game like Marv.
Heck, he was the reason I devoted my life to sports.
The irony of this individual situation, is that before I met Marv those few rare moments that you can recall so eloquently, for me at least, had to do with Marv Albert.
Um, with a splash of “Michael Jordan!” too.
When I recently had the chance to speak with Albert about calling the play-by-play for the 2011 NCAA Tournament for Turner Sports alongside Steve Kerr, I jumped on the first train to the Big Apple to talk to the new big man on campus.
Now, I have to admit I’m not one to get star-struck but this was one of those occasions where it felt good, it actually felt right, to feel like a kid again as Albert took the reigns of the conversation as only a grandfather figure could do.
You better believe I was ready to listen.
After decades of covering the greatest players in the world in the NBA how does a veteran like Marv Albert make the adjustment to the college level?
He does what all the kids are doing.
“I’m so proud I can actually watch the games on my iPhone,” laughed Albert. “I actually had to ask Steve (Kerr) how it works.”
His veteran status also helps his cause, especially in the laid back college atmosphere.
“The great advantage over the NBA is being able to go to practice,” said Albert. “To me it was always very very helpful to sit through the practice in terms of recognition of who the players are. To be able to sit down and talk to people that’s critical.”
There’s no doubt with Albert calling names like Jimmer Fredette (look him up) up until this years Sweet 16, players will be getting a little more recognition that usual.
But this isn’t the first time Albert has brought to light the stars of the future.
“Of course I called Michael Jordan back during the ’84 season,” recalls Albert.
Fittingly enough Albert would be the voice for the rest of Jordan’s biggest moments throughout his miraculous career.
But after Albert went full time broadcasting in the NBA he couldn’t help wonder what it would be like to continue to solidify players careers, like only he can do, on the biggest tournament stage.
“To me, it would be the Grant Hill pass to Christian Laettner,” Albert said with a pause. “I mean… wow. There’s others but not on the stage of Laettner.”
Laettner’s buzzer-beater to shock Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA East Regional Finals at the Philadelphia Spectrum is probably one of those rare moments, at least to Duke fans.
Imagine if Albert made that call. Wow.
At this moment Albert looked as boyish as I must have looked, especially when I mentioned that the Spectrum, the house that harbored this great memory for him, was being demolished as we spoke.
“The Spectrum is a great place. It’s sad to see it go. So much history there. The new place, whatever its called now, not so much.”
It took us a moment to run through all the names the now Wells Fargo Center has been called before we both agreed there’s only one place that might just be the Spectrum’s match.
“I remember calling games at the Palestra and it was great how we were right there. The crowd was right on top of us. The players the coaches everything is right there and we were in the middle of it all.”
If you’ve ever been to the Palestra on the University of Penn’s campus you’d know the feeling. Essentially it’s and over crowded, fire hazardous, high schoolish gym.
The perfect storm for an inner city Big-5 battle.
“Philadelphia is a great basketball city especially in the Chaney days,” said Albert.
I was back to feeling like a kid again.
“Even now Temple has a great program with all that Fran Dunphy has done. And with Jay (Wright) at Villanova, everyone — media and fans — seems to love him.”
Whether or not Albert loves Jay Wright and Villanova is another story. His Alma Mater is Syracuse, fellow Big East rival.
But like everything he does, Albert stays professional even if the Orangemen might pull off five overtime win with him at the mic.
“In my case I’ve done Syracuse in the past but I think objectivity is more important than anything else,” said Albert when I asked him if he had ‘Cuse circled on his bracket. “You just want a terrific game.”
I never did get that bracketology 101 from him but what I did learn is that Marv Albert know his basketball and he knows it well.
With the revolutionary teaming up of CBS and Turner Sports the NCAA is in good hands.
So who will be Albert’s next “Yes” man?
Only his voice will tell.