Wednesday, April 10, 2019

I'm going to miss Ralph Lawler

Tonight is the final regular season broadcast of longtime LA Clippers announcer, Ralph Lawler. For 40 years he has called Clippers games. And during that time no team in the NBA has lost more of them. Other than maybe being the announcer for the Washington Generals (the team that loses every game to the Harlem Globetrotters), I can’t think of a tougher assignment.

And yet, every broadcast, every year (even the year they only won 13 games all season) is a gem. Not only does he know the game inside and out, his play calling is superb, his voice is rich, enthusiasm infectious, and he has a great dry sense of humor. Ralph is retiring at 80. He sounds as good as he did at 40. Maybe better.

I have always been a Clippers fan. I loved the Lakers when Chick Hearn was their voice and Magic was their star, but there’s the draw of the underdog, and tickets were so much cheaper for Clipper games. I was an original Clippers season ticket holder. So I’ve seen my share of horrific basketball myself. Benoit Benjamin?  Give me a break!

I only gave up my season seats when I started to learn how to do basketball play-by-play and the Clippers graciously gave me a press pass. Back then they played in the old LA Sports Arena (now demolished) and I would have entire sections to myself.

That’s when I met Ralph. Not only was he gracious and supportive, he was also a mentor. He would sit with me and listen to my tapes offering great critiques. Some teachers point out what you did wrong. He always pointed out what I could do better. He showed me tricks, things to look for, ways of approaching game situations, and how to use my voice to tell the story. Even though I never called games professionally, I owe him a great debt. He had his work cut out for him because I was never that good. 

Ralph Lawler also had the misfortune not only of bad teams but being in the shadow of some iconic broadcasters. Here in Los Angeles we had Vin Scully, Chick Hearn, Dick Enberg, Bob Miller, Tom Kelly, and for a few years when the Raiders were here, Bill King. So Ralph never received the appreciation he deserved. He was inducted this year into the NBA Hall of Fame, which was maybe the best decision the NBA has made in five years.

I only wish he got to call a Clippers championship. Who knows? He’s got one last shot. It’s ironic that in the future the Clippers will be better, but with the loss of Lawler, not as good.

Have a great retirement, Ralph. And thanks for 40 years of championship broadcasts.


Mike Barer said...

I remember reading the NBA standings in the paper and the division was usually bookended by the LA teams. The Lakers on top and the Clippers on the bottom.

Bill Walton's Fused Ankle said...

I was an "original" Clipper season ticket holder, Ken. Didn't see you at the decrepit Sports Arena (the one still standing in San Diego and even more decayed after 35 years). Ralph Lawler was a mere pup then.

How he lasted under Donald T is something I've never understood. Have taken several depositions involving The Donald one way or another, and Ralph Lawler's survival is beyond miraculous. I'm sure he has stories. They all do.

Michael said...

I thought of Byrum Saam, who did the Phillies and A's from 1938 to 1949. Finally the broadcasts of road games would be live, so he had to choose which team to broadcast for. Since he was close to Connie Mack, he chose the A's ... and the Phillies went to the World Series. When the A's left, he went back to the Phillies and retired because of eye trouble at the end of 1975, the Phillies still not having won a pennant. And in 1976 ... the Phillies won the division. Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn and Andy Musser, their broadcasters, idolized By, and--bless their memories--had him flown to Montreal to broadcast the pennant clincher.

Todd Everett said...

Clippers used to have the greatest billboards. They'd say something on the order of "Come to these games and see..." followed by the names of all the great basketball stars in teams they'd wind up losing to.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Sure. I used to go to the Sports Arena to see the Clippers. I remember that one of the highlights of going to a game was playing, "Spot Ken Levine."
Just kidding of course. Back then I had no idea what you looked like. And there was no such thing as Google. I did see Billy Crystal, however. I also saw Patrick Duffy once. He was on "Dallas" at the time, but I yelled at him, "Hey! 'Man From Atlantis.'"

And you're right. Ralph deserved better than the Clippers. I too was hoping that he could have called a championship game. But, I guess it's not to be. I'm not sure who (whom?) will replace him, but I'm sure he, or she, will pale by comparison. Most of the current ilk of game callers are too bland, too generic. They don't have a unique voice both literally and figuratively.
Ralph was one of the greats. He will be missed.

BTW You left out Dick Lane from your list of iconic, L.A. sportscasters.

Anonymous said...

My dad used to listen to Ralph on KPRO, the Dick Clark-owned station in Riverside. Before hooking up with the Clippers he was a very good MOR DJ.


John Nixon said...

Wow...40 years....that is great! Stuff like this helps me to realize how much I've seen in my life cuz I remember going to some Clippers games in San Diego when I lived there and also seeing Chick Hearn on TV as the host of Bowling for Dollars.

MikeKPa. said...

Ralph was in Philly before he went to San Diego. From a Philadelphia Inquirer story last fall:

"I was there until 1978 and those were the four defining years of my career," Lawler said. "I didn't know much about Philly aside from the cold winters and the W.C. Fields jokes, but the job was too good to pass up. WCAU was a 50,000-watt clear channel radio station that my parents could sit and listen to in Peoria. That was a thrill coming from a little teapot station."

The thrills during his stay included covering or announcing the Phillies, Flyers and 76ers, along with Villanova basketball, Temple football, Big Five games from the Palestra, and all the attendant hoopla of the Bicentennial, which included the baseball, hockey and basketball All-Star games. Throw in the NCAA Final Four, a Stanley Cup, a trip to the NBA Finals and it wasn't bad.

"I did WCAU radio during the week and was the weekend sports guy on the TV station, and then did PRISM (a new local sports cable station) stuff every free night. I worked all the time," Lawler said, "but I was young, strong and eager and it was a great time professionally."

scottmc said...

I am watching the 'Adventure in Paradise' two part Frasier. For some reason it bothered sometimes when people would show up at Frasier's apartment unannounced. You'd think that the building had a good security system. Was this ever discussed among the writer's, or was it just accepted that the audience would suspend its disbelief?

Peter said...

1-877 Kars for Kids, K-A-R-S...

Oh shit, I knew it would happen.

J Lee said...

At least Ralph didn't have to also do the Clippers' formative years in Buffalo. That was pretty much Bob McAdoo and little else.

mdv59 said...

For years Lawler was the only reason to watch Clipper games. It would be great if you could get him as a guest for your podcast.