The voice of Big 5 basketball is gone

When I was a kid, I loved Big 5 basketball.

My older brother Michael - Uncle Munk as he's referred to by the next generation of Herons - got me hooked when he attended La Salle.

That was when Hubie Marshall was leading the Explorers, dueling with stars such as Calvin Bryant at Niagara.

But the real essence of Big 5 was the double-headers at the Palestra, one of the true meccas of college basketball.

I'll never forget when my brother came home one Christmas and discovered he was in danger of missing the Explorers' participation in the Quaker City Invitational, a holiday hoops tournament.

Back then, we did not get UHF channels. We got 3, 6, 10 and 12. And those were a bit fuzzy depending on how the antenna and rabbit ears were holding up.

My brother immediately went on a quest to find something called a UHF converter box, which sat on top of the old console TV in the living room. That introduced us to the wonders of channels 17, 48 and 29.

And it brought Big 5 basketball into our living room.

It also brought someone else.

Al Meltzer - 'Big Al' to almost every in Philly - WAS big 5 basketball. To this day it is his voice that I still connect to those great old Big 5 teams. Even more so than the original voice of the games, Les Keiter.

Meltzer died Tuesday. He was 89.

In addition to calling Big 5 games, Meltzer was probably the best-known - and most recognizable - sports anchor in the city. We've lost an icon.

A great voice has fallen silent.

Rest well, Big Al. Thanks for the memories.