The voice of the Philadelphia 76ers speaks out on keeping the faith — in the team and otherwise.
Unlike many in his increasingly cynical audience, Marc Zumoff believes he’ll live to see the day when the Philadelphia 76ers master plan — to knock the team down below the ground, then build it all the way back up to an NBA championship — will come to fruition. And he insists it isn’t that far away.
Regardless, you’ll never hear him complain about his job as TV voice of the Sixers, a position he’s held for 22 years. Sure, he’ll be honest about what he sees on the court and longs for the day when this was a franchise to be reckoned with. But he wouldn’t trade places with anyone — even the big names broadcasting hoops on the networks.
After all, the kid from Northeast Philly is living his dream.
“This whole thing is an out-of-body experience,” laughed Zumoff, who turned 60 Nov. 18 and has lived in the same Fort Washington home with his wife, Debbie, since 1990, where they raised sons Jake (26) and Pace (22, named after his grandfather, Pesach). “I’m broadcasting the games for the team I grew up rooting for.
“Back in 1964, a little after my birthday, my father took me to a 76ers game. That was the first year of the team,” which had been transplanted from Syracuse, after the Philadelphia Warriors moved to San Francisco in 1962.
“So we go to Convention Hall, where they usually played and the guy at the ticket window says ‘There’s no game — we’re having a boat show.’ So he directs my father and me to the old Arena” at 48th and Market streets in West Philadelphia.
There, in the building the Eastern Hockey League Philadelphia Ramblers called home, young Marc got a glimpse of his future. “We get there midway through the first quarter and they’re playing the Cincinnati Royals with Oscar Robertson,” Zumoff picked up the story. “I remember the scoreboard had a hockey clock on it so you couldn’t tell how much time was left. It said ‘Visitors’ and ‘Ramblers.’ At one point in the game, there was a substitution and a gentleman with grey hair came in. I didn’t know who he was, but he played about 5-6 minutes. When I became a student of the game, I looked it up to find he was Dolph Schayes” — the greatest Jewish basketball of all time.
Enthralled with the game, Zumoff did what many kids his age did — and probably still do — in the basement of his home in the Northeast. “I’d come home and play fake basketball games in my basement,” said Zumoff, who graduated from George Washington High, then went onto Temple, where he became a mainstay on the Temple Ambler campus radio station. “And I’d announce them.”
When he graduated from Temple — one of many locals who’ve gone on to comprise what they call the Temple “sports journalism Mafia” — he began doing this for a living.
First it was at WHWH in Princeton, where he’d do play-by-play for Tigers football and basketball in the early 1980s. Coached by legendary Pete Carril, among the players then were David Blatt, current head coach of the Cleveland ‘LeBrons’ and Craig Robinson, whose little sister happens to be Michelle Obama.
From Princeton, Marc came back to Philly and worked as a freelance reporter and news anchor for KYW Newsradio, before catching his big break when he got a job with PRISM, the pre-Comcast sports and movie channel, which carried Sixers games.
“I started out doing these little shows at odd times between the movies, because — remember — they didn’t have commercials,” recalled Zumoff, taking a break from studying his extensive pre-game notes before a game. “Then I took the place of Jim Gray. He left and they promoted me to do halftimes. I’d never done anything in TV before.”
Zumoff picked a good time to start. That was 1983, the year the Sixers—with Julius Erving, the late Moses Malone and Maurice Cheeks — won it all. Of course, it hasn’t happened since.
Zumoff did just about everything in various capacities at PRISM, before finally taking on play-by-play duties in 1993. Along the way he’s learned much while working alongside skilled analysts like Steve Mix, Malik Rose and, now, Alaa Abdelnaby.
Then again, they say they’ve learned from him, too. “I’ve worked with a lot of guys and Marc’s right up there with the best of them,” said Abdnelnaby, who recalls Zumoff from when he played briefly with the Sixers towards the end of his career in 1996. “ It’s only been a couple of weeks and I feel comfortable. None of that happens without Marc.”
And the fact Zumoff is Jewish while Abdelnaby — who was born in Egypt and has broadcast games in Arabic, is from a different culture — simply isn’t an issue. “I’d say in short period of time, Alaa and I have talked about everybody and it’s amazing how close we’ve gotten,” said Zumoff, who also has been a broadcasting coach for over a decade and has even dabbled in some off-beat sports, most recently Paralympic sled hockey for NBC Sports. “We’re both professional. Those [religious differences] are not even close registering on anybody’s radar.”
Speaking of religious differences, though, Marc is going through a bit of a transition in terms of his Judaism. Bar Mitzvahed at Beth Chaim in Feasterville, before spending a couple of decades at Conservative Temple Sinai in Dresher, he and Debbie recently joined the Chabad of Montgomery County.
“It’s very intimate and certainly a lot smaller than Sinai,” he conceded, admitting it took a while to get used to the having the men women separated during prayer. “I enjoyed my time at Temple Sinai, but this has been a different experience for me, which I’ve enjoyed.”
He also continues to enjoy broadcasting these Sixers, even though the wins are few and far between, while frustrated fans keep hoping their fortunes will change. Zumoff tells them stay patient and eventually they’ll be rewarded.
“Sure, I would love the team to do better, but there’s a plan in place,” he said, echoing the party line. “I believe in what’s going on and I think it’s something that will bear fruit for a long time to come.”
Whether the mission ever gets accomplished or remains impossible, there’s no place Marc Zumoff would rather be than behind the mike — just as he pretended to do it ages ago. “I’m doing my dream job, being announcer for the 76ers. I’ve reached my ultimate goal and not many people can say that. I am more than content to continue this as long as they’ll have me. And I think I just wrote the end of your story for you.”
Always a team player, Marc Zumoff, you sure did.
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