TV | May 26, 2019 11:37 am

Reckoning With the Complex Legacy of Marv Albert

Is the broadcaster’s career coming to an end?

(Photo by Mike McGregor/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald)
(Photo by Mike McGregor/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald)
Mike McGregor

At The Ringer, Bryan Curtis wrote about the unique play-by-play talents of Marv Albert, who’s been calling high-profile games since before a significant number of today’s basketball players were born. The question Curtis is exploring — one of them, at least — is what Albert brings to his field, and for how much longer viewers might experience his commentary. “With the exception of a very notable three-year gap, Albert has called the NBA Finals or a conference finals series every year since 1991,” Curtis writes. “But, at 77, he finds himself in the are-they-bringing-this-guy-back stage of employment.”

What emerges from there is an analysis of just why Albert’s style is so memorable. Curtis calls him “one of sports TV’s great absurdists,” and he makes the case aptly. This piece is part of a unique but eminently readable tradition of prose evoking the styles of some of the most memorable broadcasters to ever have worked. (See also: Elena Passarello’s exploration of the work of legendary Pittsburgh sportcaster Myron Cope.) At a moment when narratives about the media are followed as compelling narratives in and of themselves, this kind of analysis (and the memorable writing that results) is not unexpected. We live in a moment where there’s an acclaimed television series about a larger-than-life sports commentator, for one thing.

But the possible end of Albert’s career aren’t simply an instance for spotlighting a changing industry and a shifting media landscape — the tone of the article is elegiac, but it’s not exactly an elegy. As Curtis notes at The Ringer, Albert was accused of, and tried for, sexual assault in 1997. While the fallout from that briefly cost him a prime-time network job, his career quickly rebounded. “In the age of #MeToo, none of this would have happened: not the victim-blaming TV tour, not the instant rehiring, and certainly not a network gig within two years,” Curtis writes. “Though Albert insisted on his innocence, it’s not hard to think that, today, the second half of his career never would have happened at all.”

A 2011 Deadspin article provides more details about the assault, the trial, and its subsequent effects — or lack thereof — on Albert’s career. Pondering Albert’s work, it’s not hard to think of the ways in which he influenced future generations of broadcasters. But in thinking about his life and legacy, most readers will have a more complex set of emotions — some may mourn the end of a long career, while others might be frustrated that it didn’t end decades ago.

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