Sonics broadcaster Kevin Calabro was offered the chance to stay with the franchise when the Sonics left for Oklahoma City. But he didn't go and says he doesn't regret it, even with the Thunder playing in NBA Finals.
Kevin Calabro spent a few desperate moments in the Denver airport Sunday afternoon looking around for a sports bar and a few empty seats to watch the end of Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
Had things turned out differently, it might have been him with the best seat in the house Sunday, again living out the announcer’s dream of calling a championship series, as he did in 1996 with the Sonics.
Calabro, though, says he has no regrets about not following the Sonics to Oklahoma City.
“You can’t constantly go back and ask yourself ‘What if?’ ” Calabro said Monday. “That to me is a loser’s exercise to ask ‘What if?’ and have regrets and second-guess yourself. You just can’t do that. You have to make a decision and move on and work hard, so that’s what I’ve done.”
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It’s a decision that makes him the most visible of those left behind when the team relocated. Some had no opportunity to move on, not having been given the option of remaining with the franchise.
But some team employees such as Calabro — whose broadcasting career with the Sonics started in 1987 — were approached about following the team to Oklahoma City.
A few did, such as Marc St. Yves, a Seattle native who became a ball boy for the team in 1979 when he was 13 years old and later became equipment manager. St. Yves is now the director of team operations with the Thunder. Brian Davis, the former Seahawks radio voice, also followed the team after being let go by the NFL team and became the Sonics’ pregame host for TV broadcasts. He’s now the Thunder’s TV play-by-play announcer, the job Calabro could have had.
Calabro says his decision was more nuanced than a simple “Hell no, I won’t go.”
The biggest factor was family. Calabro has four children, now 16 to 27.
“They were at a real crucial point in their lives and my feeling was I just couldn’t lift everybody up and transport them to a city we had never been to, where we didn’t have any acquaintances,” he said. “I looked at it from a family standpoint and thought, ‘That’s not going to be healthy.’ “
That, and his heart was in Seattle.
When the team was purchased by Clay Bennett in 2006 and rumors began to circulate about a move, Calabro was asked by some outside the organization what he would do if the team relocated. He said his initial reaction was a simple no, he wouldn’t go.
However, he researched it a little in the interim — debating briefly whether it would be worth commuting. But when a few members of the organization approached him during the 2007-08 season when it became apparent that a move was imminent, he held firm to his decision to stay. He said he held out hope that maybe, somehow, it would all work out.
“I was maybe naive, but every thought I had was one of optimism, that this is a great market, the league would never allow that to happen, they will find some way (to keep a team in Seattle),” he said. “Maybe he (Bennett) will flip it, trade this franchise for another.”
None of that happened, and when the team left in the summer of 2008, Calabro — a nine-time winner of the Washington Sportscaster of the Year award — was without a full-time NBA announcing job after 21 years with the Sonics.
He filled the void with a steady stream of freelance work — he says he’s done roughly 35 college and NBA games a year for various outlets — as well as a talk show on ESPN 710 Seattle. The first year without the Sonics he was also the voice of the Sounders. He wasn’t retained, due in part to his schedule, which caused some conflicts, though he also acknowledges, “I realized that I’m not a soccer guy.”
His NBA work with ESPN has made him a somewhat frequent and ironic visitor to Oklahoma City, including working a few early-round playoff games this year. That inevitably led to encounters with team management.
“I see everybody,” he said. “I don’t really have conversations with them about what happened in the past. I kind of keep it very shallow and professional.”
Calabro says he might feel like he’s missing out more had he not been part of Seattle’s run to the 1996 Finals, saying he at least got the opportunity to do something few announcers experience.
He also prefers to think about what the past four years have given him — more time with his family, such as a trip last weekend for his parents’ 60th anniversary that led to the layover in Denver, and working events he wouldn’t have otherwise, such as the NCAA tournament.
But Calabro, who turns 56 later this month, says the goal is to eventually get another full-time NBA job. He hopes it’s in Seattle with a new version of the Sonics. He emceed a rally put on by Chris Hansen last week to generate support for a new arena and says he has not pursued other opportunities that would require relocating. Once his youngest son is out of the house in two years, though, he says he might be more willing to move.
“It was kind of my intention (before the Sonics moved) to do one more contract and call it good,” he said. “But sometimes life steps on our plans and we have to go in another direction.”
Just not to Oklahoma City.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.