Following In The Footsteps Of A Legend

Posted: January 04, 1986

Jim Wise thinks about Phil Bengtson.

"Most people never heard of us, Phil Bengtson and me," he says, "because there is no slot in the record books for what you might call famous followers."

Phil Bengtson, you may not remember, was coach of the Green Bay Packers for three years in the late '60s and early '70s. All he had to do was follow the legendary Vince Lombardi, whose teams won league championships in each of the three years before Bengtson's takeover. Bengtson never made the playoffs during his three years as head coach. Phil Bengtson is now in the real estate business in San Diego, Calif.

Jim Wise is thinking about Phil Bengtson these days because he has been named to replace the legendary Dave Zinkoff as the public address announcer for the Philadelphia 76ers' games at the Spectrum.

Dave Zinkoff was a colorful performer and a popular personality in Philadelphia for 50 years. Jim Wise is a soft-spoken, rather modest young man, and he takes over his new position at courtside with considerable trepidation.

"Nobody can replace Zink," he says, "and I won't even try. That would be a slap at both of us."

And, although it may be of little consolation to Wise, he is not alone. He is following in the footsteps of countless footstep-followers of the past, both in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

Some, like Bengtson, have been so overshadowed by their illustrious

forerunners that they remain in obscurity. Who can remember the successors of such Philadelphians as William Penn and Connie Mack?

And how many people know who replaced such giants of history as Charlemagne, Muhammad, Hammurabi, Attila, Pancho Villa and Gorilla Monsoon?

Others, however, have followed in famous footsteps, and their reputations have not been diminished by the inevitable comparisions. Riccardo Muti, who in 1980 replaced Eugene Ormandy as conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, is an example.

So is William Green, who followed one of the city's most colorful and flamboyant mayors, Frank Rizzo.

"I never thought of it (being compared or contrasted to Rizzo) as one of my problems. You bring your own personality and talents to every position," said Green.

Green had some advice for Jim Wise, whom he has never met: "The person who replaces Dave Zinkoff shouldn't worry about filling his shoes. The idea is to start out with a new pair of shoes."

Even more specific advice came from the Rev. Henry Nichols, who knows all about assuming the position of a legendary public figure. He took over as president of the board of education after one of Philadelphia's most dramatic, effective and colorful public figures, Richardson Dilworth.

Mr. Nichols, pastor of the Janes Memorial Methodist Church, thinks that former Mayor Green's "new pair of shoes" theory is sound. Moreover, he says, it may sometimes be wise to follow a deliberate policy of emphasizing the differences in style between yourself and your predecessor.

"People knew that I was a minister and of a very different temperament than Mr. Dilworth," said Mr. Nichols, who became president of the board in 1971. "I think they were looking for a change in the style of leadership, and I made it clear right from the start that this would be the case."

This, Mr. Nichols emphasizes, does not imply any criticism of Dilworth, who was mayor of Philadelphia from 1956 to 1962 and school board president from 1965 to 1971.

"I sometimes wish we had more people of his caliber in public life right now," he said.

Still, that doesn't mean others should try to copy his style.

And Jim Wise, the new Sixers public-address announcer, has no intention of trying to copy the style of the legendary "Zink," whose distinctive, sometimes nasal and often explosive verbal style became familiar to professional basketball fans here during a career spanning five decades.

"That would be futile as well as silly," he said. "Dave Zinkoff had developed his skills and style over the years to the point where his persona was somehow bigger than the game itself. I don't want that. I don't think there ever will be Jim Wise sound-alike contests among the fans, as there were with Zink. And that's good."

Wise is sports director for radio station WIIN in Atlantic City. He has worked for a number of stations doing news and sports reporting since graduating from Seton Hall University in 1980. He had been sports director for the university radio station before graduation.

Wise had covered the 76ers as a radio sports reporter and had done some interviews with John Nash, assistant general manager of the Sixers. When Nash needed some one to sit in for the ailing Zinkoff, he called Wise, who took over the courtside microphone for the first time on Dec. 4, 1985.

He had never done anything like it before, and he has done two other games since then.

"It's a lot different than broadcasting the game as a sports broadcaster," he said. "You have to learn to say a lot less, and you have to be careful about not making any calls until you get the official ruling from the referees.

"But I like the job. There is a great deal of excitement about being right down there by the court and being part of the game. I like it."

Wise said he probably would finish out the current season as Sixers' announcer. The toughest part, he said, will be working the team's next home game, Jan. 8.

"There will be a memorial ceremony for Dave before the game," he said. ''I guess I will be more conscious of being his replacement on that day, and I guess the fans also will be more conscious of it."

comments powered by Disqus