Ira Winderman: Hank Goldberg hammered Heat, but also helped NBA thrive in South Florida

·4 min read

Shortly after Monday’s passing of former South Florida broadcast icon Hank Goldberg on his 82nd birthday, the Miami Heat took note of the moment, posting on Twitter, “We are saddened to learn of the passing of longtime Miami radio host and ESPN reporter Hank ‘The Hammer’ Goldberg. Our condolences go out to his family and friends. RIP.”

While football, and, more to the point, the NFL, was Goldberg’s forte, from his work as a Miami Dolphins radio analyst to his time as an ESPN analyst, The Hammer also recognized the impact of the NBA in South Florida, having been on the airwaves amid the Heat’s inception in 1988.

Understand, the bombast also was part of that equation, as well.

From Shifty Schaffel.

To The Weasel.

Shifty Schaffel was Lewis Schaffel, the sometimes-irascible initial general manager of the Heat, who drew both Goldberg’s respect and ire.

The Weasel was me (more on that later, including Mrs. Weasel).

But also understand that while football continued to dominate the sporting landscape in South Florida during those initial Heat years, Goldberg, dating to his baseball roots alongside his sportswriting father, also appreciated the need for more.

So once a week we would go a full hour on his top-rated radio show solely on the Heat. At the time, he was the only one in the market doing so.

And that’s the thing, Goldberg perceived early on what basketball could mean for South Florida, how the arrival of someone like Pat Riley eventually could take interest to the next level.

Even when he moved on from South Florida, when his kidney illness took him to Las Vegas to be closer to his sister, he would call for NBA updates ahead of making his picks for CBS Sports HQ (he was always making his picks, his cash riding, as well).

It also is what makes this past week particularly melancholy. This was supposed to be a week to get together during summer league, as we had in recent years, at the Red Rock Casino.

Which takes us back to The Weasel.

For as much of a raconteur as he stood, he also was a reporter and newsbreaker, among the first on the sports landscape in South Florida.

So back in 1993, before Riley’s arrival and the current code of silence regarding Heat transactions, Hank, through his sporting connections, including then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling, got wind of a planned Heat trade that would send Glen Rice out for Danny Manning.

He went on television that night and duly reported, just as I had for the next morning’s Sun Sentinel.

That next day, back on radio, he was typically cantankerous, referencing “The Weasel” who reported his scoop.

As it was, my soon-to-be-wife also worked at the radio station at the time, leading Goldberg’s producer and current Miami Hurricanes radio voice Joe Zagacki to stop in the hallway and make a point of saying hello to “Mrs. Weasel.”

You do not anger Mrs. Weasel. Joe learned the hard way. So did Hank.

And then, as with seemingly all things Hank, braggadocio turned to humility. Eventually, my son, Jake, would wind up working with Hank at CBS Sports HQ, helping him set up his televised appearances. All the while, Hank would ask about Sheri and Jake.

Yes, Hank could be an acquired taste. No, you did not want to get on the wrong side, as Schaffel often did, a pair of dominant personalities often squabbling on the team’s radio affiliate.

But when basketball was attempting to gain a foothold in South Florida, Hank Goldberg helped keep the NBA afloat in the market from the team’s 15-67 inception.

As for the Weasel moment, the Rice-Manning trade? Never happened. Sterling later that week said he had a dream of enduring Clippers greatness with Manning, calling off the deal as Manning prepared to board a flight to South Florida. That greatness never arrived, Manning dealt the following season to the Atlanta Hawks.

No matter, it gave Hank another moment to chide, chastise, castigate.

He will be missed by the South Florida basketball community, including by Mr. and Mrs. Weasel.