It was fifteen years ago today, May 27, that sports broadcaster Marv Albert was arraigned on sexual assault charges. This post chronicles his comeback since his firing from NBC upon pleading guilty to assault charges (the sodomy charge, a felony, was dropped as a result of the plea deal).
May 27, 1997. A day that would greatly impact Marv Albert’s broadcasting career.
Fifteen years later, it’s as if Marv Albert never missed a beat.
It was fifteen years ago today that Albert was arrested amid allegations that he had bitten a female acquaintance on the back several times, allegations of which he initially pleaded not guilty on this day in 1997. He was officially indicted for charges of forcible sodomy, as well as assault, on May 19 of that year.
The charges stemmed from a tryst with Vanessa Perhach, whom Albert had known for ten years, and who had maintained a friendship of a mostly sexual nature, on the night of February 11, 1997. Perhach accused Albert that night of throwing her on a bed in a Virginia hotel room, sodomizing her, and biting her on the back up to 15 times, among other allegations. DNA tests would eventually link Albert not only to a bite mark on Perhach’s back, but semen collected from her skin and underwear. Yet the trial would commence on September 22 of that year.
Albert, who never testified during his trial, would eventually admit at his sentencing hearing that their sexual activities were “consensual” and that biting was a “normal” procedure. “I didn’t realize until her testimony that she felt she was harmed by it,” Albert said in court. “For that, I am sorry.”
There is a theory that the motive for Perhach to even pursue the criminal lawsuit against Albert in the first place was because after a decade of carnal collaborations, he decided that he was going to settle down with Heather Faulkiner, a producer at ESPN, and that didn’t sit well with Perhach.
Following jaw-dropping – or, if you prefer, hair-raising – testimony from a surprise witness, Hyatt Hotels concierge Patricia Masten, who recalled a night in Dallas in 1994, in which she saw Albert dressed in women’s underwear, and an awkward moment that came about when she rejected his biting advances (“I went to grab his hair, and his hair lifted off”), Albert decided to enter a plea agreement and end the trial after four days. “I just felt I needed to end this ordeal,” he said afterward outside the courthouse.
The sodomy charge, a felony, which could have possibly led to life in prison for Albert had a jury found him guilty, was dropped. But not before Albert pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor assault and battery charges.
Albert’s guilty plea led to his subsequent firing by NBC, ending a twenty-year relationship with the network, in which he called not only NBA games, but NFL and Major League Baseball games, as well as college basketball contests and NHL All-Star Games. Albert also ended up resigning from his duties at MSG Network, terminating an even longer business relationship with Madison Square Garden dating back to 1966, when he became the radio play-by-play voice of the New York Rangers.
Though he faced punishments of a year in jail and a fine of $2,500, the judge in the trial said that Albert can deter a prison term, so long as he maintains counseling and stays out of trouble.
And so, for the next eleven months, Marv Albert would not only stay out of trouble, but out of the limelight. It helped that his good friend-turned-plaintiff, Vanessa Perhach, never filed a civil lawsuit, which was speculated as a possibility, but never materialized. In fact, it’s as if she dropped off the face of the earth. I’ll admit I’ve had no luck in attempting to reach her for a comment on this post – though in fairness, I would certainly understand if she chose not to.
The road back to broadcasting for Marv Albert began September 14, 1998 – five days after he tied the knot with his fiancee, Heather Faulkiner, and just two weeks shy of a year since his simultaneous firing from NBC and his resignation at MSG Network. It was on this day that Albert resumed work for MSG, serving as anchor for “SportsDesk,” the network’s local version of “SportsCenter.” It was the first time he’s worked solo since his days as sports director at NBC’s flagship station in New York City, WNBC-TV, a post which he’d serve for thirteen years starting in 1975.
But before long, Albert would once again be calling Knicks games alongside John Andariese – just like they used to, starting in the early 1970’s. Though rather than calling plays on MSG television, Albert would be delivering game action on the Knicks radio network, which is operated by MSG. (It was at this point that Hall of Fame Knick Walt “Clyde” Frazier, a man of many words and just as many suits, had transitioned from the radio side to television.)
Albert’s first day back in the booth was February 7, 1999, calling the Knicks/Heat contest from Madison Square Garden. It was the Knicks’ home opener in a lockout-shortened season. (The Knicks would make the playoffs as the eighth seed and go all the way to the NBA Finals, losing to the San Antonio Spurs. Meanwhile, the Spurs appear quite dominant in this current lockout-shortened season… deja vu?)
Roughly one week after Albert started his new chapter in play-by-play, Turner Sports added him to their payroll to call NBA games on TNT. What started as a half-dozen game assignment on TNT in April 1999 would expand to 25 the following season.
At the time of his hiring by Turner Sports, Albert was quoted as saying, “I’m so happy with this situation. I don’t know what’s in store down the road.”
Clearly, he didn’t. NBC, the network that severed ties with Albert in the wake of his guilty plea to assault, announced that they would be rehiring him, just twenty-one months after firing him, a task that then-NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said the network “had to do” at the time. “But Marv did what he had to do in the interim,” Ebersol explained to the New York Daily News’ Bob Raissman in 1999. “He worked hard dealing with all aspects of his life.”
The fact that Albert, who for years had been the No. 1 NBA play-by-play man at NBC, was rejoining the network as their No. 3 guy did not make any difference to him. “I’m just happy to be back. The No. 1 announcer thing is not even a factor.”
It was to Bob Costas. The NBC veteran, who was thrust into the lead NBA play-by-play role by the network after axing Albert, decided that he would give up calling NBA games on NBC, in order to concentrate on a new HBO series, “On The Record With Bob Costas” – thus once again making Albert the network’s de facto No. 1 play-by-play voice. Admitting he could have easily balanced his “NBA on NBC” and HBO jobs, he chose to step away from the game of basketball because “it was time for Marv to come back.
“There’s a difference between doing something well and someone so closely identified with basketball as Marv is.”
Other than his Turner Sports employment, there would be no difference between his workload before the sexual assault charges in 1997 and after, as MSG Network would return Albert to the television side of Knicks broadcasts after working two years of Knicks games on radio.
Though he was not finished with radio at that point. In 2002, he signed on as the play-by-play announcer for the radio broadcasts of “Monday Night Football” on Westwood One Radio (now known as Dial Global Radio). Once again, he would be regularly broadcasting games for two different sports, just as he was for NBC up until 1997.
2002 would also serve as the final year that NBC would air NBA games. It was that year that ABC became the league’s new broadcast partner, a relationship that still exists today (though mostly made possible by ABC corporate brother ESPN). It would again mark the end of Albert’s tenure at NBC, albeit with far less fanfare than his ouster in September 1997.
2002 was also the year he and his TNT boothmate Mike Fratello were injured in a horrific accident, when the driver of the limousine they were sleeping in had made contact with a Dunkin’ Donuts truck on I-295 near Trenton. And it couldn’t have happened at a worse time: the NBA playoffs were due to start in hours. Recovering from his injuries from the accident, Albert returned to action calling a Western Conference Semifinials game; subbing for him during the quarterfinal round assignments was his old friend, Bob Costas.
While the auto accident hardly rattled him, Albert had become personally rattled by the seemingly inept play of the New York Knicks. The 2003-04 season, which saw a coaching change and another clinching of the eighth seed in the playoffs – though it would be a completely different journey than the 1999 campaign, as they were swept by the Nets in the first round – would prove to be the last season that Albert would call Knicks games. “It stopped being enjoyable for me, and I decided to move on.” So marked the end of an era – some 35 years starting in 1967 – as Albert mutually parted ways with MSG Network.
While not taking for granted the fact that he’s gained two regular gigs after having to start over six years earlier, Albert hoped that something would come along to fill the Knicks void.
Enter a network synonymous with Albert’s trademark call: YES.
The Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network had approached Albert about becoming the new lead announcer for New Jersey Nets games “and [I] just had to listen.” YES Network president Tracy Dolgin was adamant in hiring Albert. “It’s like getting the greatest basketball player. You do it,” he said in March 2005, when the network named YES officially hired the announcer who redefined the word, “Yes!”
And with the 2005-06 season, the Nets would be the local complement in Marv Albert’s trifecta of broadcasts, the others being national NBA telecasts on TNT, and “Monday Night Football” on radio. It would continue through the remainder of the 2000’s. Hard to believe that this was the same Marv Albert that was kicked to the curb by NBC after two decades of service, and having to step down from MSG Network after thirty years. (As an added bonus, Albert would be reunited with Fratello when he signed with YES Network in 2008.)
In 2010, roughly a week shy of his 69th birthday, Albert seemed as if he would start to scale back his tasks, as he abruptly announced his departure from “Monday Night Football” radio broadcasts after eight seasons. Earlier that year, his primary employer, Turner Sports, entered into a new multi-year, multi-platform deal with CBS to air the annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament. March of the following year would once again find Albert calling college basketball games during the early rounds of “March Madness.”
Then in 2011, roughly a week shy of his 70th birthday, Albert announced that he would be relinquishing Nets play-by-play on YES Network – no, he had no harsh criticisms about their underachieving play – in order to accept a position at CBS calling regional NFL games. Incidentally, the job offer came at some point during his NCAA work for CBS and Turner. And while he admitted the NFL role “wasn’t something I was looking for,” not only does it return him to the familiar territory of calling football games on Sunday afternoons, but it’s got to be far more appealing than calling Nets games – or for that matter, Knicks games.
So, let’s review: After losing two prime announcing gigs as a result of sexual assault charges fifteen years ago, Marv Albert immediately gained them back, and then some. What if he never entered the plea bargain, and the trial dragged out with perhaps even more sordid stories about his life off the air – and inside women’s underwear? Can you fathom CBS or Turner hiring him, let alone NBC and MSG rehiring him?
And Albert has to thank his lucky stars that the Internet age was in its infancy when the sexual assault allegations against him unfolded. Last year, San Francisco 49ers radio analyst Gary Plummer was fired by the team following an interview he conducted with a local radio program in which he went into vivid detail about his sex life as a member of the squad. Once a sports blog got wind of the interview and went viral, Plummer found himself out of a job.
Granted, Plummer’s exploits may have been tame compared to what was described at Arlington County Courthouse the week of September 22, 1997. But that’s beside the point. If Facebook existed back then, Marv Albert probably wouldn’t have a prayer.
Not to say that Albert lucked out by dodging the digital bullet. Regardless of that – and regardless of his sexual fetishes – it’s quite remarkable to see how an announcer that MSG Network has called “one of the preeminent play-by-play telecasters of his generation” (yes, that was after he left MSG in 2004 after being critical of the Knicks’ play) has, to borrow a common basketball term, rebounded, and become an even more eminent announcer of the Facebook generation.
Ken Fang, curator of the “Fang’s Bites” sports media news website, who was working at Clear Channel’s WHJJ-AM/WHJY-FM in Providence back in 1997, tells me he was “pretty shocked” when Albert was hit with sexual assault charges. “Marv had a clean reputation at the time. When the salacious details came out, it was extremely distressing.”
It was likely so distressing for Albert, he made sure to steer clear of the New York Post – specifically, its renowned celebrity gossip column “Page Six” – until his trial was behind him. Paula Froelich, who oversaw the Post’s “Page Six” from 1999 to 2009, shared with me her favorite Marv Albert trial memory: “The New York Post had the best headline ever during the trial: a picture of Marv snarling with wig askew: ‘Marv Bites Back!'”
That classic headline was sparked by Albert’s defense team gaining an advantage in Day 2 of the trial. And I’ve scoured the Internet and could not locate a JPG of that front page. Of course, had the trial taken place in 2007, that might be a different story. (For what it’s worth, E! Online used that same phrase as its headline for their item when Albert first returned to broadcasting in 1998.)
At the time of this post, roughly two weeks shy of his 71st birthday, Marv Albert is doing NFL games for CBS, NCAA playoff games for CBS and Turner, and he’s locked up until 2016 calling NBA games for TNT. Suffice it to say, life is good if you’re Marv Albert. He’s still going strong – a conclusion that likely would have been made had he not been arrested and arraigned on sexual assault charges fifteen years ago today. A big part of that has to do with his professionalism. People forget that his arraignment hearing was scheduled just after he called a couple of conference final round NBA games that weekend for NBC.
Then again, people have almost entirely forgotten about Marv Albert’s arrest. The lurid testimony. And yes, that mugshot.
Just as there were people who reminisced fifteen years to the day of O.J. Simpson’s car chase, I’ll be curious to see how many websites and blogs today will be asking, “Where were you when you found out Marv Albert was arrested?”
How about we pose this question: Who else but Marv Albert can return from a fall from grace with utmost grace?
And my response is this: Yes. It counts.
Fifteen years removed from his arrest, Marv Albert will be calling Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now that’s vindication.