Yesssssss! Marv Albert, the onetime boy wonder of New York City broadcasting, has finally transcended Gotham and gone national. As Marv would say in that emphatic voice that sounds as if he had just escaped from a laryngitis clinic: "The man is on fire, raging out of con-trol as a network ce-leb-rity, and to be honest, he is [catches breath here] un-con-scious of the way he has de-vel-oped [catches breath again] a cult following!"
Albert has been working major sporting events for NBC since 1979, but he owes his recent surge of popularity to his new baseball studio show, which airs before NBC's Game of the Week, and his wacko "Albert Achievement Awards" on Late Night with David Letterman. He is part of a mid-'80s trend in sports TV—the emergence of a new breed of pop-star sportscaster. John Madden, Bob Costas, Albert and one or two others now report, inform, pontificate and entertain, all in equal measure.
Albert's humor is of the cynical variety. Last April, for example, when Tommy Lasorda rattled on about the need for every captain to pilot his ship through storm-tossed seas, Marv cracked, "Tom, you've got me psyched. Who do you like in the Calgary-Edmonton playoff series?" Sometimes, however, Albert's yuks can really bomb. Jesting with Whitey Herzog about former Yale University president A. Bartlett Giamatti's selection as president of the National League, a job for which Herzog had been mentioned, Albert said that if Whitey ever wanted a career change, there now would be "an opening for you at Yale." Said Herzog, "I don't think that's funny, Marv."
Albert is comfortable before the camera but painfully shy around people; in hotels on the road he becomes a recluse. In airports he puts on sunglasses and changes out of his NBC blazer so he won't be recognized. Though a family man, he is also so obsessed with his career that he would probably never see his wife, Benita, and his four kids if they didn't keep stats at games or go along on some of his trips.
There are two things in life Albert is terribly sensitive about: his age and his hair. He says he's 43 but may be 43-going-on-46. (CBS's Dick Stockton, who was one year behind Albert at Syracuse, never lets him forget that somewhere along the line Marv got a couple of years younger.) And the Marvian mop of hair, which he wears in a neo-Beatles style, is reportedly mostly a weave. Asked about it, Albert says, "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."
The Albert schedule is just this side of psychotic. He works 12 to 20 boxing matches a year, does the baseball pre-game show from April through October, and is NBC's No. 2 NFL and college basketball announcer, behind Dick Enberg. Albert has been the TV and radio voice of the New York Knicks for 19 years—it was in that capacity that he invented his signature "Yesssssss!" after particularly dramatic baskets—and the radio voice of the New York Rangers for 22 years. He also does the 11 o'clock weeknight sportscast for WNBC-TV, often within minutes of Knick or Ranger games, and he does the monthly lowlights on the Letterman show. With all income streams flowing, he makes $1.5 million a year, believed to be good for second place on the TV sports announcer list, behind Brent Musburger of CBS.
Much of Albert's popularity lies in his manner, which once held him back at NBC because it was considered "too New York." Says NBC executive producer Mike Weisman, "Marv has a terrific staccato in his voice. He can get to an excitement pitch more quickly than any other announcer."
And no one on TV knows sports better than Albert. "The Russians could be marching into Paris and Marv would be preparing for a hockey game," says his boxing sidekick, Ferdie Pacheco. "You don't ask him about Mozart."
If you did, it would go something like this: "Rudolf Ser-kin and the London Sym-phony...as they take on Pi-ano Concerto Number Twenty-one by the [pause for breath] tire-less Wolfgang...Amadeus...Mo-zart!"
The Albert Achievement Awards, a big hit on "Letterman," made Marv a national star.