His voice was as much a landmark of Philadelphia as the cheese steak or the soft pretzel with mustard on top. And when Dave Zinkoff died Wednesday, that city lost a joyful noise. To say that The Zink was the public address announcer for the 76ers is to say that Santa Claus runs a delivery service.
There was no one like The Zink. If you heard him once, you never forgot his sound and how it reverberated through an arena like 100 fur-lined trombones. He didn't just say a name, he caressed it:
Over his 40 years with the Philadelphia NBA teams -- first the Warriors, later the Sixers -- The Zink came to be as treasured as any player in the city, and that includes Tom Gola, Wilt Chamberlain and The Doctor. A few years ago, Fitz Dixon, who owned the 76ers at the time, was disturbed at the team's mounting financial losses, and hired a man named Lou Scheinfeld to straighten things out. Seeking a peppier, youthful image, Scheinfeld replaced The Zink with a local DJ. That next summer, in 1981, Dixon sold the Sixers to Harold Katz, and the very first thing Katz did at the press conference was promise, "The Zink will be back."
The Zink announced things other than the NBA. He did the U.S. Pro Indoor, a Philadelphia tennis tournament; the USFL Stars, before they moved to Baltimore; Temple football. In fact, The Zink was on the P.A. for the first Sugar Bowl, in 1935, between Temple and Tulane. But he was best known for basketball, starting in the 1930s with the Philadelphia Sphas in the old American League, before the NBA was formed. There, Zink worked for his good friend Eddie Gottlieb, and when Gottlieb moved into the NBA with the Warriors, so did Zink.
And then he said:
"Two for Shue" (for Gene's baskets, beginning in 1954); "Dipper Dunk" (for Wilt, of course); "Wally, by golly" (for Wally, later Wali Jones); "Gola Goal" (for Tom, Philly's homegrown darling); "Ohl Goal" (for Don); "Basket by Heard, of Buffalo" (when Garfield Heard played for the Braves); "Malone, Alone" (when Moses scored, unassisted).
But it wasn't just what he said, as how he said it. He could roll his Rs so the sound was a waterfall. The Zink intoning "That's a thhrrrrrree-pointer" was like a trumpeter's battle cry. When a sudden Sixers rally forced an opponent to take time out, Zink's contemptuous announcement of, "Boston calls tiiiiiiiime," made the act sound like a surrender. Red Auerbach called The Zink "The Sixers' sixth man" because of the way he could ignite a crowd and keep it crackling for those critical spurts in which games are won.
He was probably the only P.A. announcer to ever receive an ovation for a No Smoking message. He'd say, "Thank you for nahhhhhhhhhtttt smo-king . . . But if you must smoke, please donnnn't ex-hale." When he announced the night's attendance, he invariably made sure to thank "you, you, you and especially you" for coming. A favorite Zink-ism was his announcement of a particular car in the parking lot left with its lights on and its motor running. If no one went to that car's aid in the next few minutes, Zink would say, "Your motor is still running, but your lights are getting dimmmmmmmmmer," his voice trailing off icily at the end.
Gene Shue fondly remembered being one of the players that Zink favored with his trademark gift -- a salami. Over the years, there were hundreds of players Zink rewarded that way. They were his gifts of friendship. Who knows how a tradition starts, but Zink always carried a salami in his briefcase. At first, he got them free from Philadelphia's Foremost Salami Co., and in exchange he'd give the company a courtside plug. When Foremost shut down, Zink got salamis from Hebrew National. Harvey Pollack, the Sixers' director of public relations, said often, while visiting players were kneeling at the scorer's table ready to report into the game, they'd cheerfully ask, "Zink, how about a salami?"
Last month, while Zink was in the hospital awaiting heart surgery, he was honored in absentia. He arranged for everyone attending the dinner to receive a salami on the way out.
He was a gregarious, charitable man, a local hero, who was regularly found, at 2 and 3 in the morning after a game in the old days, at The Harvey House, an all-night place on Broad Street. There, Zink would shoot the breeze with anyone and everyone. The story is told that Zink's parents, immigrants from Russia who owned a deli in Philadelphia, disapproved of his chosen vocation; they loved classical music and thought sports were for adolescents. One day, the legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini performed at the Academy of Music, and Zink had the right connections to get his father a seat -- not just any old seat, but a seat backstage, not 15 feet from The Maestro. From then on, Zink was aces with his dad, just as he was with everyone in town.
"His is an irreplaceable loss," said Pat Williams, the Sixers' general manager. "An institution has ended."
Zink was 75 when he died, five days after undergoing surgery. He announced his last 76ers game Nov. 13. A lifelong bachelor, David Zinkoff is survived by the city of Philadelphia.