Think of “The Zink”

UPDATED 6/25/09, 9:54 pm:
I found this 1984 Sports Illustrated article on The Zink. (H/T “rlee” on the Association for Professional Basketball Research forum)


As many Philadelphians know, the 42-year old Wachovia Spectrum arena — simply “the Spectrum” to aged purists like myself — is scheduled for demolition later this year. The Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA, one of the Spectrum’s principal tenants from its opening in 1967 until the opening of the CoreStates Center (now the Wachovia Center) in 1996, will return to the Spectrum for a single nostalgic farewell game this Friday night, March 13, against the Chicago Bulls.

I am happy to pass along word that the Sixers will not neglect to pay tribute Friday to their legendary former public address announcer, the late Dave Zinkoff. I loved “The Zink”. He worked the Sixer games at the Spectrum and before that, Convention Hall, until his death on Christmas Day, 1985. (In this 1982 picture, from Wikipedia, he evidently was working a pro wrestling event — look at the build of the athlete next to him.)

As reported by Dan Gross in the Philadelphia Daily News via Philly.com:

Late great PA announcer Dave Zinkoff‘s voice could be heard booming through the Spectrum the other day. It wasn’t Zinkoff, or a ghost, but comedian and master impressionist Joe Conklin, who was rehearsing and recording classic “Zinkisms” that the Sixers will play Friday when they face the Bulls in the team’s final game at the Spectrum, their longtime home.

Awesome! I’ll skip the game, as fun as it would be to be there, due to budgetary constraints (tickets were still available as of this morning starting at $19.76). I will, though, count on Conklin’s recordings eventually finding their way online at Sixers.com or JoeConklin.com.

A few of those recordings were aired today on the WIP morning show, and they sounded great! Better yet, they were Zinkisms I had forgotten about (these aren’t exact transcriptions but close enough):

There is no smoking permitted in the Spectrum [seating area]! It bothers the players, their coaches, and your fellow fans. If you must smoke, please do not exhale.

Tonight’s attendance: eighteen thousand two hundred seventy-six! The 76ers thank you — and you — and you — and especially — you.

Admittedly, a lot is lost in the translation to pixels. As SportsProf points out in his superb tribute to the Zink:

Okay, so perhaps you had to be there, but all I know is that up in the rafters of the Wachovia Center is a banner with The Zink’s name on it with a big microphone (instead of a number) on it, and it rests next to banners for Dr. J, Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham and Hal Greer, to name a few. He was that good at what he did.

Alas it’s no longer possible to be there with the Zink. But if you weren’t there, and you weren’t listening to WIP this morning, you can still get a feel for the Zink’s act these ways:

  • Listen to the recording of the Zink introducing the starting lineup of the 1979-80 Sixers the team released to hype this Friday night’s game. A link to the MP3 is posted at The700Level. It’s not the best sample, but it does include the Zink’s unforgettable introduction of Doctor J, Julius “Errrrrrrvinnggg”.
  • Find a recording of the song “Keep It On” by G-Five and listen for the Zink’s alternate take of his introduction of the Sixer’s starting lineup from their 1982-1983 championship season. I say “alternate take” because in this song the Zink introduces Erving next to last instead of last as he did at games. I have this on vinyl. If I post the audio or ever find it posted elsewhere, I’ll update this post with a link.

And like me, you will want to hold out hope that Conklin’s impressions will be available online. I’ll update this post with a link if and when I find them.

Back to the SportsProf’s tribute post. He doesn’t leave much out. Here I’ll add a few Zinkoff memories of my own:

  • The way Zinkoff said “three for two”: He dragged out the “three” by vibrating his tongue against his teeth. Is that called a trill? If you’re already a fan of the Zink, you know exactly what I mean. If not, you can probably figure out what I’m trying to describe.
  • I haven’t seen this Zinkism mentioned: “This — is the penalty shot”. I’ve irritated my sons with my impression of this one repeatedly over the years — but I’ll be damned if I remember the context in which I’ve used it. (As used by Zinkoff it referred to the extra foul shot awarded to the fouled team to penalize their opponents when their foul count during a given quarter exceeds the penalty threshold.)
  • The Zink’s style of announcing the last name of a visiting player upon their making a field goal (basket) — for example, “Havlicek”. He struck just the right balance between disinterest and contempt.

SportsProf’s story of his favorite Zinkoff memory, a certain Boston Celtics timeout in a playoff game, had me nodding in agreement about how effectively the Zink added drama to timeouts.

The Zink made those moments all the more worth savoring, a point I’ll use as a springboard to changing the topic slightly to other Sixers-at-the-Spectrum memories and the attraction of going to basketball games …

In a basketball game between closely matched teams, the momentum inevitably ebbs and flows several times over the course of the game. Coaches often use timeouts to try to prevent their opponent from building up enough momentum to break the game open. For me one of the best things about going to games in support of the home team is when I’m moved to spontaneously stand with the crowd en masse and applaud the team’s play — that is, go nuts — when the visiting team calls this type of timeout.

I remember one such moment in game 6 of the 1980 NBA championship finals between the Sixers and the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers led the best-of-seven series coming into the game 3 games to 2. Their hall of fame-bound center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, had been injured in game 5 and would have to sit out this game. Like many Sixers fans I thought this game would be a cakewalk and the series would then come down to a decisive game 7. We were wrong.

In what would be one of the most famous games in NBA history, the Lakers got amazing performances by guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson (42 points), who played forward and center as well as guard during the course of the game, and forward Jamaal Wilkes (37 points) and won going away, 123-107. Watching the Lakers earn the championship in the Spectrum was a bitter disappointment.

But anyway, the moment I remember was the Lakers calling timeout just after the Sixers had whittled a 15-point fourth quarter deficit down to two points. When the timeout was called, I’m sure the Zink announced it, but I’ll bet it was hard to hear him over the din.

That was one of the things about the Spectrum — the way it multiplied crowd noise. At moments like this it seemed like the building was shaking. A beautiful thing — scary, perhaps, if you hadn’t ever been to a critical game.

My brother came to that game with me. As we walked into the building, he said he had a headache. By the end of the game I suspect it got a lot worse. Our seats were near the top of the second level, and his headache couldn’t have been helped by the fact his seat one row above me lacked the headroom to enable him to stand erect. I remember feeling sorry for him, but not sorry enough to offer to trade seats.

Teaser alert:
My most memorable Spectrum moment occurred on my 30th birthday in 1986 when I took seized the initiative to make myself part of the evening’s entertainment. This post is already long enough, so I’ll save that story for a future post — when the demolition gets closer.

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