His voice is a cross between a foghorn and a baying wolf. His hair resembles a darkened, upscale mop, sitting inelegantly on top of his overmatched head. His manner is a bit hyperactive, a 45-rpm rhythm in a world geared for a 33 1/3-rpm pace.
And yet, Marv Albert -- who may or may not be 44 years of age -- is undoubtedly the most imitated sportscaster in the nation, is possibly the most recognizable sportscaster in America and is arguably the best play-by-play man on any network.
Here is a man whose style may overshadow his substance. Beyond his trademark staccato delivery and brief bursts of energy lies an unsurpassed professionalism. For NBC, he does play-by-play on the NFL, college basketball and boxing and hosts the baseball pregame show; on a local level in New York, he does play-by-play of the NBA and the NHL. He goes from radio to TV and back to radio with unequaled ease. When you listen to him long enough, you realize that he is, syllable for syllable and nasal intonation for nasal intonation, as solid and mistake-free as anyone around.
John Andariese, a New York Knicks color commentator, likes to say that Albert "is the man who never has a bad day." That is all the more remarkable because Albert usually works more than 300 days a year; only in January did he finally give up his local WNBC-TV sports anchor responsibilities after 12 1/2 years, lightening his load so that he could increase his network and cable chores.
Albert's New York success story came much more rapidly than his national ascension. After spending much of his childhood practicing play-by-play at games or in front of a TV set, Albert began assisting veteran Knicks broadcaster Marty Glickman when he got out of college in the early 1960s. Glickman took him under his wing, and Albert's first big break came in 1963 when he subbed for Glickman on a Knicks-Celtics game.
By 1965 -- when Albert was only 22 or 23 or 24 years old, depending on your source of information -- he became the radio voice of the New York Rangers. Two years later, he began doing the Knicks on radio and TV. "I was a carbon copy of Marty when I first started," Albert said. "I even answered the phone like him, which drove my mother crazy. Finally, I got out of that. By being on so much, you develop your own style."
That style was characterized most succinctly by his signature "Yesss!!!" after certain baskets were scored. And as the Knicks won NBA titles in 1969 and '73, Albert's energetic play-by-play and unique recitations of names and phrases turned him into a Manhattan marquee star. Marv became Marv.
"When the team got good, some of my phrases were catching on and people were imitating me. And I grew more comfortable," he said. "Names can almost have a meaning the way they're said. Cazzie Russell, for instance, was a great name, and he had a line-drive jump shot that would drop in and demand a 'Yesss!!!' Bank shots also were naturals for 'Yesss!' Now, a looping or high-arcing shot didn't warrant that."
Albert's strength -- the ability to capture a dramatic moment with unmatched zest -- was developed in those years. "He can get to an excitement pitch as fast as anyone in the business," said Michael Weisman, NBC Sports' executive producer.
But Albert's on-air presence took a while to grab hold in the heartland. When NBC first put Albert on, Weisman said, "We got complaints. People in smaller markets thought he was abrasive. But it was just a matter of exposing him, and I think viewers adjusted."
It was boxing, which Albert had not done before, that gained him credibility. "Strangely, that is what led to getting the recognition in what I consider my strong sports," Albert said.
Nowadays, Albert is hotly pursued. He makes frequent appearances on "Late Night With David Letterman," which, along with the baseball pregame show, is a good outlet for his offbeat humor. And CBS has made him an offer to become its lead NBA announcer when his contract with NBC expires next year. Although Albert dearly would love to do the NBA on a national level, he probably will remain with NBC.
What remains extraordinary is that someone who can look a bit funny and talk a bit funny and appear on-air so frequently can wear so well with the public. Not to mention, he hardly ever ages.
"He's so likable and so sincere, people can see that," Weisman explained. "His style lends itself well to fast-moving action. It doesn't work for baseball, and I wouldn't want Marv on women's gymnastics . . . Also, Marv doesn't suffer fools. He doesn't make excuses and he has a sense of honesty. Marv doesn't come across to the public as a yes man, which, I guess, is pretty ironic."
Notes on Marv Albert's Age:
He claims his birthdate is June 12, 1943. . . . But when Albert was at Syracuse, he was a year ahead of CBS sportscaster Dick Stockton; now, he is listed as a year younger than Stockton. "Maybe Stockton went to kindergarten a year early," Albert said . . . "I have long contended that if he keeps this up long enough, he'll soon be the youngest of the Albert brothers," said longtime friend and Syracuse classmate Phil Hochberg, a Washington communications lawyer who is slowly pulling away from Albert in age . . . "Marv's been 44 as long as Jack Benny was 39," Weisman said.