The Voice of the ’76ers

December 24th, 2010 at 11:02 am | 1 Comment |

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Dave Zinkoff passed away 25 years ago on Christmas Day.

You don’t know him?  Once upon a time, troche neither did I.

Fresh out of law school, I landed a job clerking for a federal judge in Philadelphia.  Judge Becker was great, but Philadelphia wasn’t – the transit workers, sanitation folks, and newspapers all went on strike during my year there.  Even so, for a devout NBA fan like me, the City of Brotherly Love was most welcoming.  Dr. J, Moses Malone, and a young Charles Barkley provided entertaining ball, but for some reason the 76ers weren’t embraced by the city.  Cheap tickets were readily available, and I took advantage.

The first time I set foot in the Spectrum, I instantly heard a voice boom over the public address, as if commanding me personally: “Take your seats IMMEEEEEEEEDIATELY.  Open your program NOW!”   As game time approached, the booming voice intoned that to protect players, officials, and fans, “We thank you for NOT [dramatic pause] SMOKING.”  Bruce Springsteen could grab your attention with a grunt, but no one before had made a no smoking announcement riveting.  Then came the game, which this zany PA guy dominated.  He treated 76er baskets as cause for celebration bordering on hysteria (“Julius ERRRRR-VING”) and created his own two-minute warning, screeching “TWO MINUTES LEFT IN THE QUARTER” as if announcing imminent nuclear attack.

In short order, I learned that the PA announcer was Dave Zinkoff, a legend in Philadelphia who should have been a legend everywhere.  He’d been spicing ‘76er games for decades.  Back in the day, he’d thunder “DIPPER DUNK” after dunk shots by Wilt Chamberlain (nicknamed “The Big Dipper”) and “GOLA GOAL” for baskets by Tom Gola, a 1950s star.

This fun became serious business when I heard about the annual “Zink-off” – a halftime contest in which fans imitated Zinkoff (doing their own version of “Two Minutes left in the quarter”), with the winner handed the mike for the second half.  The game was to be December 4 against the Bullets (now the Wizards), and I bought my tickets IMMMEEEEEDIATELY and commenced practice.  For the next two months, my poor wife was subject, on a daily basis, to my morning rants: “TWO MINUTES LEFT IN THE BED” and “TWO MINUTES LEFT IN THE SHOWER.”

I did some planning, too, lest I win the contest.  If the Bullets’ Manute Bol scored, I’d boom “BOL GOAL.”  Or maybe “BASKET BOL.”  The Bullets also had a guard named Jeff Malone, no relation to the ‘76ers Moses.  If he scored, I’d bellow: “Malone, NOT MOSES.”  But a friend proposed an alternative: “JEFF Malone.”  If preparation guarantees success, I was a shoe-in.

Then the anti-climax.  The 75 year old Zinkoff came down ill, was hospitalized, and the contest cancelled.  He never worked another game, and passed away on Christmas Day.  Few Philadelphians were sadder than I, but an amusing epilogue awaited.

A few months later, I was taking a lunchtime stroll with Judge Becker, himself a pretty good basketball fan, when he spotted someone he knew and excitedly called over.  An enormous stoop-shouldered man made his way to us, and Judge Becker did the introductions: “Tommy, I’d like you to meet my law clerk, Alan Hirsch.  He’s a big hoops fan.  Alan, Tommy Gola played for the 76ers.”  (It turns out the elderly hoopster, like the judge, had been active in local political circles.)

As we shook hands, and he stared down at me, Tom Gola said wistfully, “Oh, Alan wouldn’t know me.  I was before his time.”

I set the record straight.  “Are you kidding?  You’re the man who made Dave Zinkoff famous.”

The sad-eyed giant’s face transformed from January to June.  “No, no,” he said, with a smile that would melt Haagen-Dazs.  “The Zink made me.”

Almost me too, I thought.

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