Each summer, as soon as NBA schedule maker Eddie Gottlieb puts the finishing touches on his latest creation, Marv, Al and Steve Albert start planning family get-togethers. As play-by-play announcers for three NBA teams, they rarely see each other once the season begins, so the three or four times they greet one another across basketball floors are signal occasions for sports broadcasting's most extended family. And the brothers have plenty to reminisce about whenever they meet, because they all worked their way up from the basement to the booth.
Marv, 35, does Knick games on radio (New York's WNEW), a job he grew up wanting—and finally got in the 1967-68 season. Al, 31, now in his third season with Denver, doubles up on radio (KOA) and television (KWGN) for the Nuggets. Steve, 27, announces telecasts of Net games on WOR in New York.
It is hardly happenstance that all three of Max and Alida Albert's children earn their livings by sitting behind microphones at sports events. When they were kids in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, they turned their basement into a mini-Madison Square Garden. Knick fan clubs met there, and Marv organized Ping-Pong tournaments so he would have something to practice his play-by-play on. He even used commercials taped from broadcasts of Knick games during lulls in the action.
Though his parents packed him off to accordion and piano lessons. Marv's thoughts seldom strayed far from sports. "He'd come home from his lessons all blue and purple after mimeographing his fan-club letters," his mother says. "He took Alan to fan-club meetings, and they both coerced Steve into giving up art for announcing."
Along with a craving for jobs in sports broadcasting, the three brothers shared a last name that even Henry Higgins would have difficulty pronouncing. Their birth certificates show their surname to be Aufrichtig, but when Marv went to Syracuse University and began working at Upstate New York radio stations, his family decided to change it knowing that Albert would be a lot easier to sell in broadcasting markets. Steve was in grade school at the time, and he remembers telling his teacher, "Miss Shaughnessy, I have a new name. It's Albert." Up in Syracuse that same day, Marv opened his show, "Good afternoon, this is Marv Albert," and Aufrichtig vanished from the airwaves, although the old name still hangs over the family grocery store in Brooklyn.
Not that the hyperenergetic Marv needed any help when it came to salesmanship. In addition to announcing the Knicks, he does the sports news for WNBC-TV in New York, handles regional telecasts of baseball, pro football and college basketball on the NBC network and broadcasts the New York Rangers on radio.
"The puzzle fits together for Marv because WNBC gives him the flexibility necessary to do a variety of sports," says Steve, who broadcasts weekend sports news on rival WCBS and, therefore, is not free on Saturdays and Sundays to pursue other assignments.
Marv's puzzle began to fit together one night in 1963 when Knick play-by-play man Marty Glickman could not work a game in Boston. With 16-year-old Al as his statistician, Marv did his first NBA game. No one recalls if he punctuated his calls of baskets that night with an emphatic "Yessss!" but that word has since become his trademark. It helped establish Marv as one of the country's most readily identifiable basketball announcers; it probably helped to open some doors for his brothers, too.
Within a few years a second Albert voice was heard on New York radio when Al became the play-by-play man for the Nets, who were then based on Long Island. After four seasons with them, he headed for the Rockies, leaving comparisons with Marv for his younger brother Steve. Working in Denver, where the living is casual, has allowed Al to all but junk his vested suits and indulge a predilection for informal on-the-air attire that began in college.
"When I visited Alan in his sophomore year, he was doing play-by-play in pads and skates," says his father. Al was then a reserve goalie for Ohio University, and rather than have him sit on the bench, the coach assigned him to the announcer's booth. But by his senior season, he was good enough to start, and later he briefly played with Toledo in the International Hockey League. "At least I had a chance to understand what it is like to be in the pros," Al says.
Like Al, Steve began his career in college hockey. "I chose Kent State because it didn't have a team," Steve says. "I figured that if I organized one, then I could broadcast the games." During the two years it took to build the rink, Steve covered the school's jayvee basketball team. "Then suddenly I was president, traveling secretary, PR director and the voice of the Kent State Clippers," he says. Steve stayed with hockey after graduation, broadcasting games in Cleveland. It was not until two seasons ago that he began doing basketball regularly, and the quality of his NBA announcing is still not on a par with the supercharged style of Marv or the relaxed delivery of Al.
Even during the season, basketball is not enough for the boys from Brooklyn. Marv scampers between sports; Steve is looking for more sports to scamper to; and Al is devoting his spare time to developing a children's animated TV series. He is trying to sell it to a sponsor or a network. The Albert salesmanship being what it is, the eventual answer can't be anything but "Yessss!"