This was not the voice that had introduced Hollywood to the
hardwood, nor the one that had called her name for nearly 64
years, but it was strong and powerful and Marge Hearn had to
listen. Sitting in her Encino, Calif., den last month, Hearn
found herself enjoying a Los Angeles Lakers broadcast by someone
other than her late husband, Chick. "I wasn't sure I could listen
to the games, but I had to try to see emotionally if I could do
it," says Marge, 85. "What I found is that it's fun, and that
Paul Sunderland is doing great. When he was just a fill-in for
Chick, it was different. It was as if Chick was a monkey on his
back. Now that the job is his, he's free to cut loose, and I can
hear more confidence in him. It's his job now."
Sunderland is flattered by the endorsement, but he's
uncomfortable with the idea that anyone could replace Hearn, the
team's radio and television announcer since the 1961 playoffs.
Between bites of a cobb salad at a Boston hotel recently, hours
before he would call the Lakers-Celtics game that night, he was
asked if he finally felt comfortable in his job. "I feel like
tonight might be my last game, but that's the way I am," said the
50-year-old Sunderland, who hosted the Lakers' pregame show on
Fox Sports Net from 1993 through last season and worked on and
off for NBC on regional NBA games over the last eight years. "I'm
not a compulsive worrier, but having been an athlete, I know
you're only as good as your last game and that anybody is
replaceable. Anybody except Chick."
Sunderland is 6'5" and looks as fit as when he was blasting
volleyballs as an outside hitter for the U.S. national team from
1975 through '84. Sunderland played basketball and club
volleyball at Oregon and later Loyola Marymount and was a member
of the '84 U.S. Olympic volleyball squad, which won America's
first gold medal in the sport. While playing for the U.S. in
Bulgaria at the '77 World University Games, Sunderland met
Maud-Ann Tesch, a two-time national fencing champion from Sweden.
By the end of the Games she had broken off her engagement to
another man; she and Sunderland were married in Sweden a year
later and have two children, Natasha, 19, and Leif, 15.
For all its glitz and glamour, the Lakers' announcing job is not
an easy one. Not only does Sunderland, as Marv Albert put it,
have to follow Sinatra, but he and analyst Stu Lantz also call
L.A. games simultaneously on radio and television. (The Lakers,
the Seattle Supersonics and the Utah Jazz are the only NBA teams
not to have separate announcers for television and radio.) While
Hearn was convalescing last season from heart and hip
surgeries--he died on Aug. 5 at age 85 from complications
following a fall in his backyard--Sunderland filled in on 56
broadcasts. In September he signed a one-year contract to become
the second play-by-play man in the Lakers' history. The
short-term deal is standard practice for a Lakers
broadcaster--Hearn did not have a multiyear contract until late
in his career. Though a half-dozen candidates were considered for
the job, Sunderland was the front-runner after getting solid
reviews--especially from owner Jerry Buss--for his work last
season. "Everything's always open for evaluation," says team
spokesman John Black, "but I don't see why we would not bring
Paul back. We brought him in on the assumption that he's Chick's
Marge Hearn thinks that would be fine with her late husband. When
Chick came home from the hospital last March, he would listen to
Sunderland call the games and was fond of his broadcasts. How can
she be sure? "If he wasn't entertained," she says, laughing, "he
would have turned it off."
COLOR PHOTO: NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES SHOWTIME Sunderland is L.A.'s second play-by-play man; Hearn (with Shaquille O'Neal) called games for 42 years.
COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (INSET) SHOWTIME Sunderland is L.A.'s second play-by-play man; Hearn (with Shaquille O'Neal) called games for 42 years.
Tough Act to Follow
Paul Sunderland isn't the first broadcaster to replace a legend.
Here are other storied play-by-play men and the announcers who
ANNOUNCER, TEAM OR BROADCAST YEARS SUCCESSOR YEARS ON JOB
Mel Allen, Yankees 1939-63 Joe Garagiola 1964-67
Johnny Most, Celtics 1952-90 Glenn Ordway 1990-95
Hockey Night in Canada 1952-78 Bob Cole 1978-
Harry Caray, Cubs 1982-97 Chip Caray 1998-