Marty Glickman: One Voice Changed the Sports World Forever

By Benjamin J. Block, Posted: 08/24/13 11:47AM EDT

The awe-inspiring tale of a man whose life, at times, seemed as fictional as the Frank Merriwell character he idolized as a boy growing up in Brooklyn in the 1920s is finally being recognized.

Martin Irving Glickman—better known as Marty Glickman—became bigger and better than his beloved fictional hero. He championed football and track before going on to revolutionize sports broadcasting, all while overcoming racial discrimination and unlawful heights of prejudice.

 

Marty Glickman. (Photo: Glickmanthefilm.com)
Marty Glickman. (Photo: Glickmanthefilm.com)

"He was the voice of your childhood," said James L. Freedman—the one-time producer of Glickman's late-night talk show on WNEW, as well as the creative force behind making an enlightening film about the voice that changed the sports world forever.

Just like the compellingly descriptive, yet non-superfluous, play-by-play style that Glickman engrained in the minds of his listeners, the title of Freedman's upcoming HBO documentary is aptly named GLICKMAN. It airs Monday, August 26 at 9pm ET.

The terms pioneer and phenomenon are often thrown around too cavalierly, but those words couldn't be more apropos when pertaining to Glickman. In fact, Freedman likens Glickman's legacy to that of Marlon Brando's. "It sounds like a very odd comparison, but Marty [Glickman] revolutionized radio basketball broadcasting the way that [Marlon] Brando revolutionized acting. He [Glickman] literally changed the way it was done, and everyone followed him."

Whether Glickman was behind the microphone, playing boxball as a child in the streets of Flatbush, taking the baton pass from Jesse Owens, or in the backfield at Syracuse, he spoke of how there was one constant throughout his life. "I was always aware of the fact that I'm a Jew, never unaware of it under virtually all circumstances," Glickman uttered with sadness, as if he wished that race and religion didn't define a person.

In 1936, the vitriolic Adolf Hitler cemented this religious awareness into the consciousness of Glickman through his influence on Avery Brundage—President of the U.S. Olympic Committee. The day before the 4 x 100 meter relay, Sam Stoller and Glickman (the only two Jewish athletes on the team) were told they were being replaced by Ralph Metcalfe and Jesse Owens (two African Americans) to ensure victory and a gold medal, even though it was a foregone conclusion that the U.S. team would have won comfortably with the original team that included Stoller and Glickman. The U.S. went on to win gold, but Glickman and Stoller were crushed that they had been replaced because they were Jewish.

Marty Glickman (left) and Sam Stoller (right).
Marty Glickman (left) and Sam Stoller (right). (Photo: Glickmanthefilm.com) 

 

While Brundage publicly denounced rumors that he was appeasing Hitler's wishes by keeping Jewish athletes off the podium in Berlin, he was conveniently awarded the construction project by the Nazi's to build the German embassy in Washington D.C two years later.

"When I saw the footage of when he [Glickman] went back to Berlin 50 years later—wondering how anybody can do what they did to an 18-year-old kid, not just him, anybody, I realized I had the heart of my film," Freedman humbly claimed. "Marty happened to be Jewish, but this story is about what happens to anyone who suffers racism or prejudice at a young age."

Stoller was 21-years-old when he was denied the chance to race in 1936, and because there were no Olympic games in 1940 and 1944 due to World War II, he'd never get another chance to run again in the Olympics, plus his college career was all but over upon returning from Germany.

Glickman on the other hand, had three more years of college remaining, and unlike his Jewish counterpart, Stoller, he would triumph over the discrimination he faced in Berlin.

Boy, did he triumph.

Glickman made the seamless transition from a star college athlete to the man who created a broadcasting landscape that still serves as a foundation for aspiring announcers.

Brooklyn-born, longtime American television/radio host Larry King, said, "He gave me basketball in my brain." NBA commissioner David Stern—who is set to retire on February 1, 2014 after 30 years in charge of the league—claims, "Marty actually embedded the game into the consciousness of America."

Another pupil of Glickman—current New York Knicks broadcaster, Mike Breen—may have best captured the essence of Glickman's radio prowess in the most simple and profound statement. "How he stayed on top of the play was amazing. It was like his voice was attached to the ball."

Glickman had an innate ability to depict the geography of sports for listeners, and in his classic but relevant fashion, he coined iconic phrases like "the key," "the elbow," "the wing," the midcourt stripe," "the lane," "the top of the circle," and of course "swish!"

In the early 1990s toward the end of his fifty-plus year career, Glickman started to feel as if he was falling short of his own high broadcasting standards, however, peers and beloved fans alike begged to differ. New York Times columnist, George Vecsey, paid the legend an indelible compliment. "Marty Glickman is as good as ever. His voice still has the toughness of sidewalks, the speed of spaldeens and the richness of egg creams."

Glickman would serve as the broadcaster for the New York Knicks, New York Giants and New York Jets. He also lent his voice to programs such as High School Game of the Week, Today's Baseball and Paramount News Reels. He even called the action for track meets, horse racing, and yes, even marble tournaments.

Writer, Producer, Director and Narrator James L. Freedman.
Writer, Producer, Director and Narrator James L. Freedman. (Photo: Glickmanthefilm.com)  

According to Freedman, it didn't matter what Glickman was calling on the air, just as long as he was giving you his "word's eye." Freedman—who mirrors his writing and speach after his legendary mentor—had this to say about Glickman. "The kind of primal joy a child gets from having a catch with their father and that subsequent feeling of athletic achievement was precisely what emanated from Glickman during his broadcast."

What else can you say about someone who overcame adversity in his own life, and still continues to inspire generations? Freedman echoed, "He was something special."

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. 



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