It's a Wednesday night at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, and, as is his wont, the 76ers' Julius Erving is driving down-court. He takes a giant step at the top of the key, lifts off, soars over Atlanta Hawks guard Eddie Johnson and then, with a windmill windup, brings the ball full circle over his head and jams it home.
The Doc's dunking is legendary in the Spectrum, and so is the voice that follows the ball through the hoop. "Ju-LEEEE-us ERRRR-ving," intones the Sixers public-address announcer, Dave Zinkoff. The crowd erupts for Erving, but one can't help feeling that Zinkoff is at least partly responsible for the fans' fervor.
Zinkoff is the best P.A. announcer in the history of basketball. Boston Celtics president Red Auerbach calls the Zink Philadelphia's "sixth man," and his picture hangs on the second floor of the Basketball Hall of Fame. He's the only P.A. announcer to be so honored.
Zinkoff's most obvious asset is his voice. His low tones rumble like a freight train, and the higher ones threaten to shatter backboards the way Darryl Dawkins used to. And volume? Zinkoff without a mike could be heard the length of Broad Street. "With pipes like these," he says, "I had no choice but to be an announcer."
The irony is that Zinkoff the Voice and Zinkoff the Man are a complete mismatch. Based on his voice, one would expect the Zink to be the size of John Madden. What a shock it is to see a cherubic, 5'8" man of 73 years.
Zinkoff is the George Burns of basketball, and not just because he's old. He has a dry wit, shows no signs of slowing down and shares Burns's appreciation of beautiful women. "I squire at least a dozen of the loveliest ladies in town," says Zinkoff, a lifelong bachelor, and he can produce clips from The Philadelphia Inquirer's society pages to prove it.
Zinkoff has other clippings in his cluttered JFK Boulevard office. They tell of the time he got Erving tickets to a sold-out concert by violinist Isaac Stern—Stern, you see, is an old buddy of Zinkoff's. There's even a yellowed clip of a story about the kosher salamis Zinkoff used to hand out like MVP trophies to notable players. And who in Philly can possibly forget Keep It On, the local hit single about the 76ers' championship drive last season? Zinkoff was featured in a rap segment, much the same as Vincent Price is on Michael Jackson's Thriller.
But back to that game against Atlanta. Philly's Moses Malone has just stolen the ball from Hawks guard Doc Rivers, and is lumbering full court for a two-handed jam. "MA-loooone A-loooone," Zinkoff says in a voice so low it must have originated somewhere around his ankles. It trails off like the sounds on a record when the turntable is switched off with the needle still tracking.
Alliteration, witty turns of phrase and rhymes are Zinkoff's shtick. "It all started with Tom Gola," Zinkoff says, referring to the La Salle All-America of the early 1950s. "I was doing the doubleheaders at the Palestra, always shouting, 'Field goal Gola, field goal Gola.' Soon it became 'Gola goal,' and everybody loved it."
From that evolved "Collins Mixer," for a basket by the Sixers' Doug Collins with an assist by Steve Mix; "Dr. J puts it away"; and "Dipper Dunk," that being the name Zinkoff gave Wilt Chamberlain's efforts after he informed Zinkoff that the sobriquet Wilt the Stilt made him feel like a broom handle.
Zinkoff's career began in 1935 when, as a budding student P.A. announcer at Temple, he tagged along to watch the Owls play Tulane in the first Sugar Bowl game. The scheduled announcer never showed up, so Zinkoff took over the mike. Temple lost 20-14, but Huey Long, then a U.S. Senator from Louisiana, was so impressed that he honored Zinkoff with one of the gold football pendants awarded to the Sugar Bowl winners.
Soon thereafter Zinkoff hooked on with Eddie Gottlieb and announced for Gottlieb's South Philadelphia Hebrew Association team, the legendary SPHAS, and later for Gottlieb's Philadelphia Warriors. That was the beginning of a long, warm friendship.
The Warriors left Philadelphia for San Francisco at the end of the 1961-62 season, but when Irv Kosloff and Ike Richman brought the 76ers (né Syracuse Nats) to Philly in 1963, the Zink was back in business. He vowed he would stay at the mike until his pipes gave out, but in 1980 then team owner Fitz Dixon hired Lou Scheinfeld as the Sixers' president. Dixon's orders to Scheinfeld were to institute any changes that would make a financial winner out of the money-losing 76ers. The Zink got the ax, and Scheinfeld became as popular with hoops aficionados as Ozzy Osbourne is with the chamber music crowd.
"There was a lot of confusion that season [1980-81]," says Erving. "Everyone was used to the Zink and loved him so much, as an announcer and as a friend. I was worried about him when they let him go. This is his life. He needs this."
That year, in a ceremony to honor Philly's championship team of 1966-67, Dixon asked Zinkoff to come back for one night to announce the players he knew so well. Zinkoff was introduced first and got a two-minute ovation. "I was trying to announce," he remembers, "but the tears were running down my cheeks. And those rascals—I would introduce them and they would come over and hug me. Wilt even picked me up."
In 1981, Harold Katz lifted Zinkoff even higher by buying the team from Dixon and insisting that Zinkoff return. "I'm a Sixers fan from way back," Katz says. "I remember 'Gola goal' and all that. And frankly, the Zink is the best...the announcer...the only announcer."
"I felt taller than Chamberlain when Katz asked me to return," says Zinkoff.
"We were all elated," says Erving.
The final buzzer mercifully sounds in Philly's 122-110 defeat of Atlanta. "Paaaa-LEEEEZ!!!" Zinkoff implores during his customary sign-off. "Drrrr-IVE with care, EHHHHH-ver-EEE-where." As the crowd filters out into the night, more than one echo can be heard of a fan in pale imitation saying, "Paaaa-LEEEEZ!!! Drr...."
Zink and mike: one of Philly's top teams.