Dipsey Do, How Do You Do?
Chick Hearn was imagination; Elgin Baylor was Houdini in basketball shoes
We have a policy of not writing about people who pass on because we think people worth honoring should be honored while they're alive. But these are different times. The imminent probability of a worldwide conflagration gives us little time to think about anything other than the future of humanity. And I resent that. So I've decided to honor one of my childhood idols, Chick Hearn -- an announcer who made basketball come alive in the imagination of children of all ages.
Published on LatinoLA: August 30, 2002
When he passed on recently, lots of national sportscasters commented about his many years as the voice of the Los Angeles Lakers, invoking the era of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Some mentioned the days of Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain. Few, it seems, bothered to mention Elgin Baylor, the player who put Hearn on the map.
Baylor was a magician who should've been a Harlem Globetrotter. If Julius Erving was the doctor, then Baylor was the league's brain surgeon. Compared to Baylor, Magic Johnson seemed quite mortal. The magic that Hearn brought to life was at a time when basketball on TV was still a rarity. Hearn was imagination. Baylor was Houdini in basketball shoes, and Hearn's radio voice was the connection to the greatest show on Earth.
Dipsey do, how do you do?
That was Hearn's description of Baylor's most acrobatic of moves. Everyone I ever knew wanted to play like him. His magic, as described by Hearn, was hanging in the air for a seeming eternity. It was spinning around, reversing directions in midair several times, rapping the ball behind the back, taking a nap, then faking out two or three more opponents. It was then capped with an alley-oop -- all this while eating buttered popcorn (making a cell phone call, in today's parlance) with the unused hand.
I had no doubts that Baylor, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and "Pistol" Pete Maravich all had at least three hands. None could dunk, yet all played with a bag of tricks that much taller players could only dream of.
That was my childhood -- listening to the Lakers by night and trying to play like Baylor by day. I practiced every move imaginable for hours on end. I shot through a wooden triangle (the ball barely fit) at home at night because we didn't have a rim. I even practiced every dribbling trick using my German shepherd as an opposing player, who futilely would try to steal the ball from me. Later, I remember not being permitted to play like that in school because my coaches thought that to hang and change directions in midair and to take fall-away jumpers was to take "off-balance" shots. They thought no-look passing, dribbling and shooting with the left hand was out-of-control basketball. No, I thought, it was total balance and perfect control. It was artistry, motion, science and geometry all at once. And it was all about teamwork and unselfishness, values that are with me to this day.
Some of my friends no doubt might claim I couldn't play like Baylor. Maybe not in school, but once out of high school, on the streets I felt released to play like the magician that Hearn had described over the radio waves. To this day I reminisce about the moves, the hang time, the dribbling between and behind the legs, the behind-the-back passes and especially the double fakes, which always sent much taller defenders into orbit. And the three-pointers -- always net. If I had been 5 or 6 inches taller ... well, maybe 11 or 12 inches taller.
That was the '60s and '70s. (I still play, though I'm currently on the injured reserve as I'm slowly recuperating from a sprained thumb). And then came last year's Spurs-Lakers championship series. Being a guest of the San Antonio Express-News and having arrived early, I walked around to the broadcast tables and suddenly, there he was. I flashed back to my childhood.
No way, I thought.
Wide-eyed, I shook Hearn's hand and told him I grew up listening to him and that I had become a writer. "You have to meet my wife," I told him.
Excitedly, I ran over to Patrisia and hurriedly dragged her across the arena. She thought I had met Kobe or Shaq (this while she was looking out for Rick Fox). Instead, I was telling her everything about this legend who I thought had passed on after I had left Los Angeles years ago. Upon introducing her, she said: "Dipsey do, how do you do?"
"Yes," he nodded wistfully.
Tears welled in my eyes.
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