He might also tell you that on Sept. 9, Albert, 57, finally married his stalwart steady, Heather Faulkiner, the 40-year-old ESPN producer who stood by him throughout the scandal. The two were wed, both for the second time, in the penthouse of a New York City hotel—"It was a nice, quiet cocktail reception with some close friends and family," says Faulkiner—and the next day flew to Miami for a brief honeymoon. "We'd sit by the pool, look over at each other and say, 'We're married,' " says Heather. "You just get this incredible sense of commitment."
As it happens, marriage isn't the only thing the newlyweds have to celebrate. Five days after the wedding, Albert returned to the microphone on MSG, the New York City cable network he had long served as the voice of the National Basketball Association's Knicks, to anchor its SportsDesk half hour. Pending resolution of an NBA labor dispute that threatens the season that is scheduled to begin in November, Albert will soon be back providing his distinctive play-by-play on MSG's radio network, with a return to TV play-by-play a future possibility. "It's very exciting," he says. "The marriage, getting back on the air, getting back to Knicks games."
For Albert, who began calling imaginary games as a child in his bedroom in Brooklyn and broadcast his first real game (between the Knicks and Boston Celtics) when he was only 23, getting back to broadcasting is like a return to life itself. Universally regarded as one of the top play-by-play men in sports, he has been off the air since September 1997, when he was fired by NBC and resigned from MSG after he brought his trial to an end by pleading guilty to one misdemeanor count for assaulting his longtime mistress Vanessa Perhach. (By copping his plea, Albert received a one-year suspended sentence but avoided felony sodomy charges that could have sent him to prison for five years to life.) "I'm just so happy being back," he says. "It's just so nice going to the office, taking work home, looking at tapes. I'm just thrilled."
Although Albert says many fans, players and colleagues stuck by him during his career implosion—"The thousands of calls and letters kept me going," he says—MSG didn't rehire him on blind faith. "We had our psychotherapists visit with his," says MSG president and CEO Dave Checketts. "I felt he was truly sorry for the hurt he had caused people. He has been tortured enough."
Others are not so forgiving. "I am appalled," says Patricia Masten, a hotel employee who testified at Albert's trial that he had made sexual advances to her in a hotel room while wearing panties and a garter belt but that she had escaped after distracting him by yanking at his toupee. "I don't think he should be in a public forum yet."
"To see him rehired so quickly just encourages that kind of a wink and a nod that we've seen in the sports culture about violence against women," says National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland. "What many of us are looking for from him is some real sign of understanding, some real sign of his having looked in a mirror."
In fact he has done so, insists Albert, who plans to continue seeing a psychotherapist after his court-mandated year of treatment ends next month. "It's been great for me," he says. "I think I'm a better person now, although I'm still a work in progress. While I still have a sense of humor, I'm much more serious about things than I was. And I'm talking more to my family." (Albert, whose brothers Al, 52, and Steve, 47, are sportscasters, has four children from a previous marriage: Kenny, 30, also a sportscaster, Jackie, 25, and twins Brian and Denise, 24.) The plus side of his career meltdown, he says, is that "it's given me time to spend with my children, with my brothers, with Heather. Now Heather and I talk about everything. I never did that before. I always thought things would work themselves out."
For Faulkiner (the Canadian-born daughter of a retired mechanical engineer and his wife), who met Albert in 1985 when both worked at NBC, choosing to remain at his side throughout the legal and media maelstrom wasn't easy.
"It's very difficult trying to explain things to your mother in a situation like that," she admits. "You go through phases: First you're angry, shocked, kind of numb. Then you get really angry." Talk, and the simple passage of time, seemed to help. "When this first happened," she says, "he sat down and had to tell me everything. Not just once. I like to discuss things three, four, five times—which was not very pleasant for him. Some days were horrible, others better." Why did she stick it out? "I made up my mind that he was worth it to me. We've always had an incredible relationship."
Aside from the trial itself, perhaps the nadir for Albert came last June, during the NBA finals. "He was pretty quiet on the couch next to me," recalls Faulkiner. "He really missed being there. And I really missed listening to him."
For Albert, who shares a penthouse on Manhattan's Upper West Side with Heather and their two pugs, Lulu and Ruby, his return to the air has left him feeling "sensational." And his bride is optimistic about their future. "We are so happy now," she says. "When you go through something like we did, you can get through anything together."
Mary Green in New York City
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