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HBO documentary recounts life of legendary broadcaster Marty Glickman

The HBO documentary on Marty Glickman, shown broadcasting a baseball game, captures much of the dynamic history of post-World War II America. (HBO)

The HBO documentary on Marty Glickman, shown broadcasting a baseball game, captures much of the dynamic history of post-World War II America. (HBO)

NEW YORK (JTA) — In 1936, despite calls for a boycott of the Olympics in Nazi-controlled Germany, 18-year-old Jewish track phenom Marty Glickman wanted to show Hitler that Jews could compete.

The Brooklyn native had made the U.S. team and was slated to run the 400-meter relay race, but was pulled along with the other Jewish team member, Sam Stoller, a day before the race.

American officials claimed the decision stemmed not from considerations of religion but were made for athletic reasons. U.S. coaches claimed to believe the Germany was hiding its best sprinters for the 400-meter relay and said they needed their top runners to compete.

Jesse Owens, a black athlete and the world’s fastest man at the time, urged the coach to let Stoller and Glickman run, to no avail. No secret German runners were used and the American team easily won the race led by Owens, who won four gold medals at the ’36 Games, refuting Hitler’s claim of Aryan racial superiority.

It would be more than a half-century before Glickman received a formal apology for the slight.

The story of how the man once known as the “Flatbush Flash” went from hometown hero to media sensation, then to legendary and beloved broadcaster, is the subject of the HBO documentary “Glickman.”

Directed by James Freedman, the film premieres Aug. 26.

It showcases the late Glickman’s magnetism, first through his ascendancy as a competitor, then as a transformative broadcaster who brought a populist appeal to his reporting.

A cast of sports and media luminaries talking about Glickman includes Marv Albert, Bob Costas, Mike Breen, Jim Brown, David Stern and Larry King.

As one of the first regular broadcasters of basketball games, Glickman would watch tapes endlessly until he came up with the jargon now widely used to describe the game. Lane, top of the circle, the wing, the key, the elbow and, most famously, swish — they’re all Glickman coinages.

Glickman also paved the way for today’s 24-hour coverage of the sports world. He convinced HBO to cover not only the championship rounds of events such as Wimbledon, but also earlier matches, a strategy that was hugely successful for HBO and other sports networks at the time.

In the twilight of his career, Glickman began to mentor the next generation of broadcasters, famously guiding Albert to find his own distinct voice as well as Gayle Sierens, the first female sports broadcaster on network television.

Using archival material, quotes from Glickman’s autobiography and recordings of Glickman, Freedman weaves together a loving tribute to a Jewish role model who gave his life to sports and to fostering a sense of confidence among amateur athletes through competition.

Glickman also took immense pride in his Judaism. At a time when many Jews changed their names for career reasons, Glickman refused.

“Glickman was a superhero to many children, especially the Jewish children,” said Jerry Stiller, speaking for a generation who grew up listening to Glickman’s broadcasts.

What elevates “Glickman” beyond the typical hagiographic sports documentary is its use of a personal as well as a historical lens. Glickman’s life, while notable in and of itself, captures much of the dynamic history of postwar America. His story — the story of an everyman elevated to celebrity status, an Army soldier and still an outsider fighting discrimination — is used to highlight shifting cultural trends in America.

Glickman retired from broadcasting in 1992 and was later inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the Broadcasters Hall of Fame and finally the New York Hall of Fame for his work.He had called more than 200 track meets, 1,000 football games, 3,000 basketball games and 15,000 horse races, among other events.

Glickman was immortalized by none other than Jack Kerouac in his seminal book “On the Road.”

“Man, have you dug that mad Marty Glickman announcing basketball games — up-to-midcourt-bounce-fake-set-shot, swish, two points,” Kerouac wrote. “Absolutely the greatest announcer I ever heard.”

Glickman died in 2001 from complications following heart surgery. He was 83.

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