In 1963, Marc Zumoff and his father made the trip from their Somerton home to the old Philadelphia Arena at 46th and Market streets to watch the Sixers take on the Cincinnati Royals.
It was Zumoff’s first Sixers game. In fact, it was one of the first Sixers games — the team had just relocated from Syracuse, New York.
Thirty-one years later, in 1994, Zumoff became the team’s television play-by-play announcer, and chances are, if you have watched any Sixers game featuring Allen Iverson, Andre Iguodala or Joel Embiid, you’ve heard his voice.
Zumoff recently marked 25 years in the job. He has called more than 1,880 Sixers games, but keeping his enthusiasm up has never been a problem.
“It’s really pretty easy. I’m a fan,” Zumoff said. “Because I’m a fan I have an emotional attachment that goes into my very soul. It’s something I’ve always known. I’ve been a fan of the team since they first moved from Syracuse in ‘63, and I carry that with me everywhere I go.”
Zumoff was born in Mayfair and moved to Somerton at age 6. He attended Watson Comly Elementary School and graduated from George Washington High School in 1973.
While at Washington, Zumoff said he became fascinated with radio disc jockeys who would speak in between songs and over the music until the lyrics started.
“I started doing that on my own on my record player, and I found that I liked it,” said Zumoff, who now lives in Center City. “I was a big sports fan so what I started to do was turn the sound down of sporting events and announce games into a tape recorder.”
He joined the PRISM network in 1983 and hosted the Sixers pre-game, halftime and post-game shows before being promoted to announcer.
In May 1999, the Sixers made the playoffs after an eight-year drought. Zumoff had his first chance to call a home playoff game, and the team ended up beating the Orlando Magic in the third game of the series led by Iverson’s 33 points and playoff-record 10 steals.
“It was great. I don’t think anybody in the place sat down from tipoff to buzzer,” Zumoff recalled. “I always point to that game as one of my favorite moments in my career.”
Iverson, in his 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame speech, called Zumoff “the world’s best commentator, hands down.”
Over the years, Zumoff has become known for his creative catchphrases. For example, the Sixers “turn garbage into gold” when a player scores off an offensive rebound and “lock all windows and doors” when the team plays tight defense in a key situation.
“The source of creativity in artists is, I think, a bit of a mystery,” Zumoff said when asked about how he comes up with the sayings. “More times than not, that stuff just kind of came out of my head.”
Zumoff said the catchphrases have stuck because of positive feedback from fans.
He credits his childhood in Northeast Philadelphia for his passion for sports. Zumoff fondly recalled playing wireball, halfball and other street games in Somerton.
“It was a great environment for me to romanticize about what it would be like if I could play sports for a living,” Zumoff said. “Now I’m able to do the next-best thing: I announce, and that’s been a real privilege for me.” ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org