One irresistible facet of the Olympics, which NBC often highlights for viewers: all those family stories around the stars.
NBC’s Rio Olympic coverage itself involves one. But even though the father and son now working together for NBC in Rio might be having what will prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime Olympic family moment, it seems like the pair were bound to cross paths in the Games.
Marv Albert and his son Kenny, who clearly inherited the genes of a workhorse, are just that prolific.
Kenny, who has called NBC’s men’s and women’s Olympic ice hockey since 2002, is making his Summer Olympics TV debut as NBC’s track and field announcer. Marv, arguably the de facto voice of basketball given his longevity, is calling NBC Olympic basketball for the first time since 1996.
At this point, Marv, 75, is well past kibitzing about Kenny, 48, who began tagging along with his father on road trips at age 8. Marv, who also called NBC Olympic boxing in 1988 and 2000, says that when he called the iconic 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team’s games his son was on hand to help run the numbers before then “retiring from statistical work.”
Kenny has gone on to bigger things, as he now calls NBC NHL action (as well as NHL New York Rangers radio game broadcasts) as well as boxing on NBCSN. And just to make sure he doesn’t have much down time – a sort of family tradition -- he also call national NFL and Major League Baseball action as well as local New York Knicks TV.
By now, Marv doesn’t feel the need to pass on fatherly advice to Kenny “unless it’s something obvious. I don’t want to be one of those dads where the dad played something and then the son plays the same thing. I don’t go out of my way to say something to him, maybe just here and there.”
And Albert has a full plate of his own calling Rio basketball with analyst Doug Collins, who worked NBC Olympic action in the 2008 and 2012 Games. The on-air pairing is a good example of how Olympic coverage can bring together announce teams that work well, but aren’t possible in regular TV sports coverage. While Albert has a long list of on-air announcing partners – including Magic Johnson, Steve Kerr, Bill Walton, John Davidson, Sam Wyche and even Sam Huff – arguably one of his most successful pairings was with Doug Collins on NBA coverage, which ended when Collins moved from TNT to ESPN.
And Collins’ Olympic experience goes back even farther than Albert’s. He was in the spotlight as a U.S. player in an iconic episode in Olympic basketball history: The strange and controversial final seconds of the 1972 Olympic men’s basketball final, when the Soviet Union’s team walked away with the gold.
While that was arguably the most memorable moment in U.S. Olympic basketball history, Albert was courtside for the sport’s biggest blockbuster -- the 1992 Dream Team.
Though that squad was so dominant it was never really tested on-court, its novelty as the first U.S. team with NBA players and the happenstance that it included historic greats such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Johnson, makes it akin to legendary Olympic chapters such as the U.S. men’s ice hockey team’s miracle in the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics or Bob Beamon’s freakish longjump in the 1968 Mexico City Games.
“The Dream Team was unique,” says Albert. “The first time they walked out of the floor it was chilling. To me, that was the best group in team sports ever assembled.”
But while that group might have been unique, he says, there are things about it that might apply to the U.S. team in Rio.
Like how it handled playing time. Because the 1992 Dreamers were required to include a college player – Duke’s Christian Laettner, who understandably rode the bench – and had injuries to players including Bird and then-Utah NBA player John Stockton, the playing time could be split up into an effective rotation.
But Albert suggests U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski hasn’t been able to handle that as well, perhaps because he had to be mindful about spreading around playing time in Rio to help future Olympic efforts: “There are so many stars, you want to play people. Otherwise, when you go to recruit (NBA players) for future Olympics, they’re going to say, ‘Why should I do that?’ ’’
Although the U.S. men stepped up their defensive pressure in a 113-69 win over Venezuela Wednesday, Albert won’t pull punches about the team’s earlier play: “There should be no excuses. They have 10 or 11 of the world’s best players and there’s too much one-on-one on offense and the defense just didn’t react to teams that move the ball well.”
Albert, who’ll call some NBC boxing this fall, recently signed a new five-year deal for TNT’s NBA basketball to call about 65 games per year. “That’s perfect for me, I don’t want to do more for now.”
By Albert’s standards, that’s lethargy. Consider that while in addition to years at NBC, where he was an NFL and NBA mainstay and worked sports including MLB, horse racing and college basketball, Albert also spent nearly four decades as the voice of the New York Knicks and three decades calling the NHL New York Rangers.
And his Olympic tie-ins go back even farther than Collins’ play at the 1972 Games. He was a protégé of Marty Glickman, an iconic broadcaster himself whose on-air career included local Knicks and Rangers broadcasts. And the late Glickman, who was Jewish, is a fascinating footnote in U.S. Olympic history: At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he was replaced on a U.S. track relay team by Jesse Owens – allowing Owens to famously win four gold medals – because of what historians have argued was a concern by U.S. officials that a Jewish athlete winning gold would offend the Games’ Nazi hosts.
But despite Albert’s been-there-done-that life, one challenge remains – perfecting his acting. He’s popped up over decades in movies and TV series, ranging from the 1979 film The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh to TV’s 1989 The New Hollywood Squares to last summer’s Trainwreck where he “delivered some of the finest work I’ve done” in his recurring role of playing, well, Marv Albert.
Sadly, he’s always been typecast. And yet, he clearly hasn’t given up on perfecting his role of a lifetime, which is to play himself: “I might work on it by playing Shakespeare in the Park next summer.”
Even as Rio is now crossed off his list, there really are some venues that Albert still hasn’t worked.