That’s how Chick Hearn shouted it into the microphone, making “slam” a two-syllable word, and punctuating it with at least three exclamation points. As the announcer for the Los Angeles Lakers, Chick coined the term “slam dunk”, along with “air ball”, “garbage time”, “no harm, no foul” and lots of others that are now commonplace in basketball’s lexicon.
Hearn called Laker games from 1961 until 2002, at one point reeling off a stretch of 3,338 games without an absence. He had a rapid-fire style; it was once estimated that he occasionally reached a breathless 200 words-per-minute pace. Now enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, Chick Hearn was one of the most popular Lakers ever.
Among his admirers was an elderly woman we called Donna. No one in the family knows exactly when she became a Laker enthusiast. To the best of anyone’s recollection, she had never shown any interest in sports. Donna became captivated by Chick’s accounts of the games, though, so on February 26, 1979, I sent Hearn this letter to tell him about her…
The whole family called Alice Stephens “Donna”. It was more a title than a nickname, like those given to Italian noblewomen. She was that sort of lady — courteous, proper, and unfailingly pleasant. But she also had unabashed enthusiasm for the Los Angeles Lakers.
I didn’t get to know Donna until she was in her eighties (she was my wife’s grandmother), but every time I saw her, we always talked basketball… no, not just basketball. Laker basketball. They were her team, and through your descriptions, she stayed current on Jerry and Elg and Kareem and, for that mattter, John Q. (Trapp, a Laker reserve).
There was one occasion at a dinner party when she brought a portable radio to the table with her. It seems the meal conflicted with an important game, and in spite of her otherwise impeccable manners, she wasn’t about to miss that broadcast.
My wife Sally and I want to thank you and the team for all the enjoyment you gave to an old woman. And somehow, we also thought you should know about the loss of such a loyal fan. Donna died in her sleep yesterday at the age of ninety-seven.
♦ ♦ ♦
A couple of weeks later, I got this handwritten note from Chick. One thing I treasure about it is the strip of adhesive that still clings to the paper where he ripped it from the note pad, suggesting that he wrote it in his usual high-velocity style…
Dear Tom + Sally
What a meaningful message!!! I am so grateful to you for sharing “Donna’s” love of the Laker team.
God bless you both + God have mercy on Donna’s soul.
♦ ♦ ♦
If you ever heard Chick Hearn call a game — that is, if you ever heard Chick give his “word’s-eye view from high above the western sideline” — his voice echoes in this note, doesn’t it?