After 30 years of living his dream, Marv Albert last week was
booted out of the broadcast booth and into his worst nightmare.
He came off the sidelines and became a participant in America's
No. 1 spectator sport: watching celebrities squirm. When this
game was over, no one had to ask who won or lost; Albert was
chewed up and spit out, which, some would say, means justice
For three bizarre days in an Arlington, Va., courtroom, Albert
was revealed to be, among other things, a dirty little man in
ladies' underwear. The decline and fall of the rich and famous
often makes for good theater, but in this case it was especially
fascinating because Albert was not just, to steal a phrase, a
bad boy. He committed another egregious offense: being a
We now know with certainty that his hair was fake (a witness
said she pulled it off during a struggle), his age was fudged
(he's really 56, said his ex-wife, not the 54 he claimed to be
in his NBC bio), his name was changed (from Marvin Aufrichtig)
and his public persona, that of a sports nerd, was the biggest
lie of all. No wonder he copped a plea: Another day of testimony
and we would have heard all about his Press-on nails and false
eyelashes. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, Albert's longtime
paramour, Vanessa Perhach, it seems his teeth were the only
things that were authentic.
Shortly after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and
battery for biting Perhach 18 times during a rendezvous last
February, Albert was dealt an even more devastating blow when he
was fired by NBC and then had to resign from MSG cable network.
A man who boasted of having no life away from the arena
(obviously, another lie), Albert surely will feel emasculated
without a microphone in front of him. The swift action of the
networks drew sympathy for Albert from his allies in the media,
some of whom thought he had a right to broadcast any game in
which the likes of Dennis Rodman took part.
But there are major differences between the two most notorious
cross-dressers in sports: 1) Rodman has yet to be convicted of
misdemeanor assault and battery; 2) Rodman doesn't present
himself as anything but a degenerate; and 3) Rodman is a player.
Players matter. Especially good ones like Rodman. As loathsome
as he is, Rodman has a direct impact on winning and losing--and
thus on his league's profitability. Albert doesn't.
The lurid details of the case elevated Albert to the Dick Morris
of sports: a man more famous for what he did in a hotel room
than for who he was. Amid the frenzy we seemed to lose sight of
the fact that Albert was just a sportscaster. What did he do to
achieve his celebrity? We watched games, he told us what we were
Oh, let's not forget--he also sometimes yelled, "Yes!" Now
there's something that every hip young anchor at ESPN can only
dream of coming up with. Yes! How are we going to make it
through another sports season without Albert's genius?
Sure, Albert is very good at what he does, but no one has ever
tuned in to a game just to hear someone do the play-by-play.
Most likely no one ever will. Oh, gee, no Marv? Then the heck
with the Knicks game. It's PBS for me tonight.
Television play-by-play announcers are like referees or people
in the next seat on a long flight: You don't even know the best
ones were there. Unfortunately Albert violated that axiom in a
big way. He became the most notorious sportscaster in
history--the play-by-play man in panties--and in the end he
suffered self-inflicted humiliation. He declined a plea
agreement offered in early September by Virginia prosecutors and
smugly dared them to take their best shot. Then he and his
lawyer Roy Black tried to destroy his accuser rather than just
beat the rap. That strategy exploded in Albert's face. And
millions of curious Americans pulled up a chair and gawked at
the train wreck that is his life.
A month ago a lot of Americans didn't know Marv Albert from Fat
Albert, but today he is more infamous than Pee-wee Herman. Once
just a guest on Letterman, last week he was most of the
monologue. He became a running joke, a lasting monument to
phoniness and counterfeit celebrity.
His sentencing is set for Oct. 24, but by then sending Albert to
jail will seem almost redundant. He has already received a life
term. He lost his dream job and is locked in his own personal
No microphone. No game. No crowd. No intoxicating thrill of
sitting so close to the real stars that you start feeling like
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: EVANGELOS VIGLIS [Drawing of reporters around Marv Albert, who sits in star-shaped hole]