After 35 years and calling over 2,600 NBA games, veteran NBA play-by-play announcer Kevin Calabro is “taking a break from the thing that I love to do most in the world” to focus on his family and his health.
The 64-year-old bombastic broadcaster with the signature catchphrases, “Flying chickens in the barnyard!” and “Get on a magic carpet ride!” parted ways with the Portland Trail Blazers, ending a four-year tenure with the organization.
“With everything that’s going on with COVID and everything that’s happening, I just decided this is a good time to step away,” Calabro said during a telephone interview Wednesday. “We’ve made a lot of sacrifices during this long and crazy ride. We’ve been apart for birthdays, holidays and everything. I just turned 64 and my wife is 67. We’re in great health, but we’ve got some things happening in family that I want to be a part of.
“And we got enough acorns in the nest, so I just decided let’s back off for a while.”
Calabro, the voice of the Sonics from 1987 to 2008, took over the TV play-by-play duties for the Blazers ahead of the 2016-17 season.
“The fans in Portland weren’t what I expected and they were a little apprehensive about the Sonics guy, although I hadn’t done the Sonics in eight years,” said Calabro, who hosted a Seattle radio show on 710-AM and called college football and basketball games for the Pac-12 Networks prior to joining the Blazers. “But they’re great fans. A lot of them are third and fourth generation Blazers fans. Their grandparents were around for the (1977) NBA championship and they know all the stories and stats.
“The first year was a little rough, but Year 2 we were catching on. By Year 3, we really had it going and Year 4 it was great. It was phenomenal. That’s why it’s difficult to push away. I feel proud of what we established down there.”
Jordan Kent will assume the Blazers play-by-play duties alongside color analyst Lamar Hurd.
During Calabro’s tenure, Portland made three straight postseason appearances, culminating with a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2019.
“The No. 1 moment for me by far has got to be the Damian Lillard 37-footer over Paul George, the walkoff bomb to send Oklahoma City to the sidelines in the first round of the playoffs last year,” Calabro said. “That was an incredible run, preceded by the run Damian had during the year. He had a streak in January where he was just phenomenal.
“He was putting 50-plus on the board and averaging close to 50 for a period of eight to nine games. I’ve been around some serious scorers, but this guy just takes the cake. He has the accuracy of Ray Allen from well beyond the three-point range and the toughness of a boxer. The willingness to go into the paint and go at the rim and take shots. He’s got Gary (Payton’s) heart, but with more discipline. Gary had an 18-year career, a championship and is in the Hall of Fame and that’s where Damian is headed.”
Calabro believes the trio of Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic will keep Portland in title contention for the next 3-4 years.
“This is a very hard decision because it’s a great club,” Calabro said. “Damian is the absolute best to work with. And the Blazer organization is phenomenal. That was never an issue. I love the team and the organization.
“It’s unfortunate I didn’t get a chance to have a little celebration and say goodbye the way I would like to. But I told everybody on my dime I’ll come back down and we’ll go to Jake’s and I’m buying drinks all night freakin’ long when it’s safe to go out.”
For now, Calabro and his wife will retreat to their home in Lake Chelan where he’s enjoying paddle boarding, biking and hiking. He’s also working on his golf game.
“I guess, I’m semi-retired,” said Calabro, who began broadcasting NBA games in 1983 with the Kansas City Kings. “I’m going to continue to work, but I won’t next year.
“It’s like in ’08 after the Sonics. If you had asked what was next, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Right now, I don’t know. You go from one chapter to the next. I still got the juice, I just need to slow things down, re-evaluate and focus on us staying healthy and enjoying our family for the time being.”
Calabro is asked if he has any desire to return to broadcasting with Seattle’s new NHL team that’s expected to debut next year.
“My first paid gig was minor-league hockey,” he said. “I was 24 and working for the minor-league team for the New York Islanders. It was an absolute gas, but my goal was to do NBA.
“I don’t know what the NHL owners in Seattle are looking for, but I assume they’re looking for somebody who has been in the hockey world. I know that’s not on the burner for me right now, but we’ll see what the future brings.”