Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| April 3, 2006
He is inextricably tied to the history of the Seattle SuperSonics history. Virtually every Shawn Kemp dunk, Gary Payton
dish and Ray Allen
3-pointer has been accompanied by a corresponding call from the Voice of the Sonics, Kevin Calabro. For nearly 19 seasons, Calabro has brought Sonics action to fans watching on TV or listening to their radios.
Tomorrow night, when the Sonics host the Houston Rockets at KeyArena, Calabro will broadcast his 1,500th regular-season game with the Sonics. It is a milestone that is testament to Calabro's dedication, consistency and excellence.
"I don't think you do anything 1,500 times and pay the kind of dues that I've paid without really loving what you're doing."
"It just means that I've been dedicated to it and had a love for it and a passion for it," says Calabro. "I don't think you do anything 1,500 times and pay the kind of dues that I've paid without really loving what you're doing. It's a lot of time away from home, a lot of sacrifice from your family for you to pursue a passion and a love. I've been blessed to be able to do that."
Calabro's sidekick, color commentator Craig Ehlo, is more impressed.
"It's a tremendous milestone for him," says Ehlo. "To be in one organization for so long speaks volumes."
When he was hired by the Sonics in the summer of 1987, Calabro was just happy to be back in the NBA. After spending a season doing play-by-play for the Kansas City Kings in 1983-84, then the youngest announcer in the league at age 26, Calabro lost the gig when the team's broadcasting rights changed stations. He bounced around before coming to Seattle and, a few months later, getting a chance with the Sonics.
"I felt blessed just to be back in the game in any capacity, let alone as being a play-by-play guy again," he says. "I just vowed that game to game, I wouldn't take anything for granted, that I would show up and do the best job that I possibly could and be as passionate about it as I possibly could."
That approach has taken Calabro a long ways. Widely recognized as one of the league's top play-by-play broadcasters, Calabro has been named "Sportscaster of the Year" for the state of Washington five times by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association of America. He's done national work for TNT, TBS and currently ESPN Radio, calling a nationally-broadcast Game of the Week on Sundays. There have been other opportunities, but Calabro has remained loyal to the Sonics, making him an icon in the city of Seattle.
Over the course of 1,500 games - not to mention more than a hundred playoff games and nearly a couple hundred preseason games - Calabro has seen a lot. He's worked with seven head coaches, well over a hundred players and 15 regular color commentators.
"I remember when Shaq (O'Neal) came into our building as a rookie with Orlando," Calabro explains. "I remember interviewing him and thinking what a nice kid he was and maintaining that opinion of him ever since - what a nice gentleman he is now. Maybe he wouldn't admit it, but he's within sight of calling it a career now. That's the biggest thing, I think, when you've done it for 19 years. You see these guys come into the league, you see them at the height of their powers and then you see them fade away and retire. That, I think, is the most astonishing part of our job."
Included in that group, naturally, have been the Sonics own stars.
"To see Gary Payton play all those years and reach that point where everyone reaches where it's time to move on," Calabro recalls, "and see them trade for one of the great shooters of all time in Ray Allen and see him close in on Dale Ellis for #2 on the all-time 3-point shooting list is special. What a great shooter and scorer he is, and a great guy."
As for color commentators?
Fill-ins include Dave Harshman, Jerome Kersey, John MacLeod, Tim McCormick, Chuck Person, Steve Scheffler and, for one preseason game in Europe, NBA Commissioner David Stern.
"Boy, there's been a lot of guys I've worked with," Calabro muses. In addition to Ehlo, the list includes Sonics President and CEO Wally Walker, 2001-02 Coach of the Year Rick Carlisle
and two of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players (Rick Barry and James Worthy).
"I think back to my first color announcer partner, Rick Barry," Calabro says. "Here's one of the 50 Greatest players of all time. I learned a great deal from him. He'd worked at a network level with CBS. He's quite a character, quite a different person. I had that first experience. I think back a lot to working with Rick. I enjoyed it. I got along with Rick quite well and I think I earned his respect.
"To do, then, his son's games, to have his son join our organization and become friends with Brent, I thought was really cool too. You don't expect those kinds of experiences when you get into the job. They just come along, and you really treasure those friendships.
"Working with a guy like James Worthy was gratifying, or Sonics legends like James Donaldson. Working besides a really gracious gentleman and a guy who loves basketball and has done so much for basketball in Seattle in Jim Marsh was great. He was our community relations-slash-do-it-all guy in the front office and also did color."
Calabro's longest-running duo paired him with former UCLA and NBA star Marques Johnson from 1994 through 1998, when Johnson moved on to work for Fox Sports Net as an NBA and later Pac-10 analyst. Calabro and Johnson had an instant rapport.
"Working with Marques was fabulous," says Calabro. "He's a great gentleman and a guy who knows a lot about basketball, the history of basketball, the mechanics of basketball, the fundamentals and also a guy who likes to have fun on the air and clown around and is an entertainer as well as a very good analyst, that was gratifying."
Calabro considers himself lucky to have had strong relationships with each of the Sonics coaches during his time in Seattle.
In honor of Calabro's 1,500th game, KJR 950 AM has put together an audio tribute featuring some of Calabro's best calls. Click here to listen!
, obviously," Calabro says. "George (Karl)
was always a barrel of laughs to work with. He was a different guy. K.C. Jones, the Hall of Famer. I really have been blessed. I've been able to enjoy all the coaches they've had. We've had all kinds of different characters. We've had the truly free spirits like George Karl and a guy I would have to say is ultra-conservative like Paul Westphal. I've been able to work with all of them. All of them have been able to express themselves pretty freely around me and trust me. Bernie Bickerstaff
always had some great stories about his days as an assistant in Washington, and K.C., obviously, had all those stories about his Boston Celtic days and players of legend he had played with and against."
Over 19 years, Calabro has been the constant.
"I think I'm the same type of announcer that I was when I started at the age of 30," he says. "I still have the same passion, I'm still opinionated, I still like to have a lot of fun. I'm still very energized."
Sonics fans wouldn't have it any other way.
Calabro went into the vault to share some of his favorite old-school Sonics memories:
Sonics upset Houston and Dallas in 1987 Playoffs (Calabro covered this series for a Seattle radio station, though he was not yet broadcasting Sonics games)
That was highly entertaining. Then they play L.A. in the Western Conference Finals and get swept 4-0, but in the last home game of the season, the crowd was chanting, 'Bernie! Bernie!' I'd never seen a crowd react to a coach like that nor have I seen it since.
1988 Playoffs against Denver
Just the fact that I was back in the league and in the playoffs my first year doing the broadcast for a team that was very exciting - scored a lot of points and had some talented players.
Tom Chambers beats his former team (3/24/1990)
I remember going down to Phoenix and him putting 60 on us, which still is the opponent all-time high. He was hitting everything that night - 3s, dunks; he just crushed us.
1992 Playoffs against Golden State
Beating Golden State in that first round was great. Shawn Kemp just went off. Gary Payton threw a lob to him, and the crowd went nuts. Everybody was ready to just explode, and they did. I made some mention about the "Reignman" dunking on Alton Lister. We hadn't really called him the Reignman at that point, though it was on this poster that they were marketing - badly - at the time; that's where I got the name. So we rolled with Reignman; people seemed to like that.
1993 Playoffs run to Western Conference Finals
I just remember the great camaraderie of that team.
1996 NBA Finals
The matchup of Dennis Rodman against Frank Brickowski. I'm one of those guys that thinks that we'd have had a pretty good chance to beat them if Nate McMillan had been healthy.