Marv Goes To The Showers

HE LOVED TO TRAVEL. AS THE VOICE of the New York Knicks and NBC's play-by-play man on basketball, football and boxing, Marv Albert lived on the road. ""I'd Love to But I Have a Game'' is the title of the sports announcer's autobiography. Its subtitle: ""27 Years Without a Life.'' One of Albert's life lessons: stay at the Ritz Carlton hotel chain. ""Really, really good,'' he writes. But on Feb. 12, Marv Albert's secret life caught up with him at the Ritz in Arlington, Va. There, says Vanessa Perhach, Albert viciously bit her back and tried to force her to perform oral sex. He denies this; indeed, over the past eight months Albert has been denying charges of everything from wearing women's underwear to demanding a menage a trois with a woman and a man.

When Albert pleaded guilty to assault and battery last week, it ended just one stage of his ordeal. Prosecutors dropped the serious charge of forcible sodomy, but Albert still faces up to a year in jail and will be sentenced on Oct. 24. Though the broadcaster is unlikely to do time, his legal team tells NEWSWEEK that it expects Perhach to launch a civil suit. The result: more trouble for a man who had enjoyed one of the best runs in sports. His cry of ""Yessss!'' was well known to sports fans. But NBC fired him within hours of his plea and Albert resigned from his cable gig. While the public has been shocked by the case, people who knew him well weren't shocked. ""No one who knows Marv is surprised,'' said one NBA player who asked not to be identified.

The reckoning came in one of Albert's beloved Ritz Carltons. In Washington to cover a basketball game, Albert met with Perhach, a 42-year-old hotel employee with whom he'd been having sex for a decade. They had first met when she was a hotel phone operator; that night, however, she charged that Albert went over the line, attacking her after she refused to give him oral sex or get a third partner, preferably a man. (Albert had denied all of Perhach's charges, but admitted to assaulting her as part of his plea.) Perhach got out of the room and called the police. He ""threw me on the bed and started biting my back,'' she said in a 911 transcript. Perhach revealed her identity last week to the New York Post, saying that ""I thought he was really going to get physical.''

As the trial began, Albert's lawyers managed to divert attention from the broadcaster to his accuser. Perhach, it turns out, had seemed to enlist a D.C. cabdriver in her cause, agreeing to give him $50,000 and a car if he would claim that Albert had asked him to procure ""a boy'' for three-way sex. What she didn't know was that the driver had made a tape of the call--and gave it to Albert's attorney, the famed Roy Black.

But no sooner had the defense gotten the upper hand than its case collapsed. The prosecution brought forward a second woman who told a story similar to Perhach's. Patricia Masden worked for Hyatt hotels. (""Darn good'' in Albert's lodging rankings.) Her claim: when Albert called her to his Dallas room in 1994 to help with a fax, he greeted her--sporting women's underwear and a garter belt. She charged that he tried to force her to have oral sex. She said she escaped, managing to yank off Albert's toupee as she ran off. Albert's lawyers maintain that that never happened. Furthermore, they add, when Masden came into court, Albert wasn't fazed. ""Marv leans in and says, "I know her. There's nothing there','' recalls Sandy Marks, his jury consultant.

The next day Albert accepted the plea bargain to the much less severe count of assault. Why? News accounts suggested that Albert feared that potential future witnesses about his sex life would be even more devastating. His lawyers, though, insist their client was simply fatigued. Afterward jurors said they were divided--an indication that the jury might have hung. But Albert, who faced 20 years to life on the felony charge, was apparently unwilling to run the risk of going to the jury.

Perhach seemed strangely conflicted about the end of the tabloid tale she had launched. After the plea, she said, ""I got justice. He admitted he did something wrong.'' But with Albert humiliated, she also struck a sympathetic note: ""I do not want him to go to jail,'' Perhach told the Post. Vengeance and mercy all in one week: in sports, and in life, you don't see many plays like that.