Albert, Marv (1941—)
Albert, Marv (1941—)
One of the most distinctive voices in sports broadcasting, Marv Albert prided himself on keeping his own personality subservient to the events he was covering. For most of his three decade career, the dry, sardonic New Yorker managed to hew to that credo. But when a personal scandal rocked his life off its moorings in 1997, the self-effacing Albert found himself the center of attention for all the wrong reasons.
Born Marvin Aufrichtig, Albert attended Syracuse University's highly-regarded broadcasting school. He mentored under legendary New York City sports announcer Marty Glickman and made his initial splash as a radio play-by-play man for the New York Knicks. A generation of New York basketball fans fondly recalls Albert's call of Game Seven of the 1970 NBA (National Basketball Association) Finals, in which an ailing Knick captain Willis Reed valiantly limped onto the court to lead his team to the championship. "Yesssss!" Albert would bellow whenever a Knicks player sunk an important shot. "And it counts!" he would tack on when a made shot was accompanied by a defensive foul. These calls eventually became his trademarks, prompting a host of copycat signatures from the basketball voices who came after him.
Under Glickman's influence, Albert quickly developed a personal game-calling style that drew upon his New York cynicism. In a deep baritone deadpan, Albert teased and taunted a succession of wacky color commentators. Occasionally he would turn his mockery on himself, in particular for his frenetic work schedule and supposed lack of free time. Albert worked hard to manufacture this image, even titling his autobiography I'd Love To, But I Have a Game. This self-made caricature would later come back to haunt Albert when a sex scandal revealed that there was more going on away from the court than anyone could have possibly realized.
In 1979, Albert moved up to the national stage, joining the NBC (National Broadcasting Corporation) network as host of its weekly baseball pre-game show. The announcer's "Albert Achievement Awards," a clip package of wacky sports bloopers that he initially unveiled on local New York newscasts, soon became a periodic feature on NBC's Late Night With David Letterman. Like Letterman, Albert occasionally stepped over the line from humorous to nasty. When former Yale University President A. Bartlett Giamatti was named commissioner of major league baseball, Albert japed to St. Louis Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog that there now would be "an opening for you at Yale." "I don't think that's funny, Marv," the dyspeptic Herzog retorted.
Nevertheless, Albert was an enormously well-liked figure within the sports broadcasting community. He appeared comfortable on camera but was known to be painfully shy around people. Sensitive about his ludicrous toupee, Albert once cracked, "As a kid, I made a deal with God. He said, 'Would you like an exciting sports voice or good hair?' And I chose good hair." Bad hair or not, Albert found little standing in his way from a rapid ascent at NBC. He became the network's number two football announcer, and, when the network secured rights to televise the NBA in 1991, the lead voice for its basketball telecasts.
The genial Albert seemed to be on the top of his game. Then, in the spring of 1997, a bombshell erupted. A Virginia woman, Vanessa Perhach, filed charges against Albert for assault and forcible sodomy. She claimed that he had bitten and abused her during a sexual encounter in a Washington-area hotel room. The case went to trial in late summer, with accusations of cross-dressing and bizarre sexual practices serving to sully the sportscaster's spotless reputation. While Perhach's own credibility was destroyed when it came out that she had offered to bribe a potential witness, the public relations damage was done. In order to avoid any more embarrassing revelations, Albert eventually pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge, and received a suspended sentence.
Albert's career appeared to be finished. NBC fired him immediately, and he resigned from his position as New York Knicks play-by-play man rather than face the axe there. Many sports fans declared their unwillingness to watch any telecast of which Marv Albert was a part. Most painful of all, the reclusive Albert became the butt of nightly jokes by a ravenous Tonight Show host Jay Leno.
Slowly but surely, however, the humbled broadcaster began to put his life back together. As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to seek professional counseling for his psychosexual problems. He married his fiancee, television sports producer Heather Faulkner, in 1998. By September of that year, Albert was back on the air in New York, as host of a nightly cable sports highlight show. The MSG Network also announced that Albert would be returning to the airwaves as the radio voice of the Knicks for the 1998-1999 season.
Albert's professional life, it seemed, had come full circle. He appeared nervous and chastened upon his return to the airwaves, but expressed relief that his career had not been stripped from him along with his dignity. To the question of whether a man can face a maelstrom of criminal charges and humiliating sexual rumors and reclaim a position of prominence, Albert's answer would appear to be "Yessssss!"
—Robert E. Schnakenberg
"Second Effort." People Weekly. October 5, 1998.
Taafe, William. "Warming Up the Airwaves? Yesssssss!" Sports Illustrated. September 8, 1986.
Wulf, Steve. "Oh, No! For the Yes Man." Time. October 6, 1997.