'Glickman' tells a remarkable story about a remarkable storyteller

Courtesy HBO Sports

The story of a man whose athletic dream was cruelly denied -- but that's only the beginning of the story.

We talk a lot about coaching trees in the National Football League, but what about a broadcasting tree? HBO's documentary Glickman (premiering Monday night at 9 p.m. ET) explores a man whose influence stretches from Marv Albert to Bob Costas to Ian Eagle and then to Mike Tirico. Those branches certainly seem to have a leg up on Bill Belichick's tree.

Directed by James L. Freedman (who also narrates) and produced by Martin Scorsese, Glickman tracks the remarkable life of New York-based broadcaster Marty Glickman. He spent many years calling games and hosting pre- and post-game shows for the Giants, Knicks, Mets, Jets, Nets, Rangers, Yankees and Dodgers. His life, however, goes far beyond that of your "normal" legendary sportscaster.

Glickman was slated to run the 4x100 meter relay at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but he was taken out to mollify Hitler by coaches of his team. The gifted multi-sport athlete -- and another Jewish runner, Sam Stoller -- were replaced by Jesse Owens and Mac Robinson (brother of Jackie). Glickman's dealings with anti-Semitism permeates a lot of the film and, years later, he was taken off the NBA Game of the Week on NBC because of it.

Most of the movie explains the character of Glickman and his rise as one of the great New York broadcasting institutions. It features his own words, through archival interviews. Though mostly positive, it shows Glickman himself expressing some of his regrets, including a college football game where he did not stand up for a black teammate.

One particular person interviewed makes for an excellent story. Louis Zamperini, one of Glickman's Olympic teammates, was a P.O.W. in World War II. Presumed dead, Glickman actually broadcast a memorial race in his honor. Zamperini was eventually found and, in one of the most darkly comic moments of the film, ran in his own memorial mile. Freedman -- who got his first job working for Glickman -- finds a number of entertaining vignettes like this to piece together the life of a truly interesting and talented individual.

The vignettes are as diverse. They move from the way Glickman integrated ads for a local hot dog joint into his broadcasts to how he influenced Kerouac's On the Road and even how he became HBO's first ever on-air personality. He not only became the voice and face of HBO Sports, but developed the legendary Inside the NFL for the network. Glickman is also credited with the idea of televising the early rounds of major golf and tennis tournaments.

Much of the rest of his story is told through the broadcasters on whom he had a great impact. Commentators from as diverse worlds as Larry King (kind of hilariously, in both a new interview and one from 1989), Frank Gifford, Bob Costas, Charley Steiner, Mike Breen, Elliott Gould, David Stern, Bill Bradley, Marv Albert and Jerry Stiller tell the tale of how Glickman found his niche as the man who essentially invented modern basketball broadcasting.

"As I saw it, I said it," he remarks in an old interview. "And I felt it, and the feeling is just as important as the description."

Glickman is really very well made, capturing the feeling that a lot of the broadcasters interviewed for this project describe. There aren't a lot of documentaries about sports announcers, but Glickman suggests that maybe there ought to be a few more.

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