On Wednesday night at MTR Western Sports Star of the Year Awards, Calabro will accept the Keith Jackson Award that honors a member of the media for communicating sports stories in the state of Washington.
If Kevin Calabro had grown up in the deep south, where football is king, or in hockey-mad Minnesota, the longtime Sonics play-by-play announcer might have latched onto a sport other than basketball.
But Calabro grew up in Indiana, where the Hoosiers are a cultural phenomenon and basketball reigns supreme.
“Growing up in Indiana, everybody is a basketball nut. You grow up wanting to play the game,” said Calabro, who holds fond memories of his father, a grade-school principal, opening the gym on weekends for him to play basketball with his friends. “That was the thing to do on a Friday or Saturday night. Indiana high school basketball was where the girls were, where the guys were, and where the popcorn was popping.”
For Calabro, 59, that youthful passion for basketball spawned a successful broadcasting career that helped him bring his love for basketball from the Hoosier state to the Evergreen state.
On Wednesday night at MTR Western Sports Star of the Year Awards, Calabro will accept the Keith Jackson Award that honors a member of the media for communicating sports stories in the state of Washington. Winners of the award include Dave Niehaus, the late voice of the Mariners, UW play-by-play announcer Bob Rondeau and longtime Washington State announcer Bob Robertson,
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Calabro was the voice of the Sonics for 21 years. His iconic calls of “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “Get on the magic carpet and ride” and “Flyin’ chickens in the barnyard” became part of Sonics lore and made Calabro a popular sports personality in Seattle.
Winning the Keith Jackson Award came as a pleasant surprise for Calabro, who has been less of a presence locally since he became an announcer for Pac-12 Networks in 2012.
“In 21 years, I guess you could say I was an institution (in the local sports scene) or a pain in the butt,” Calabro joked. “I had a measure of success. My intentions were to retire as the Sonics’ play-by-play guy.”
The Sonics’ move to Oklahoma City in 2008 ruined those plans, but Calabro stayed in Seattle instead of moving with the team because he wanted to raise his family here.
“Part of the allure of the job was living in Seattle,” Calabro said.
There was a palpable buzz around the Sonics when Calabro first moved to Seattle in August 1987 to become the team’s play-by-play announcer right after the Sonics had reached the Western Conference finals.
“When I got to town, they were on the top of the mountain,” Calabro said. “When they caught fire in 1987, they captured everyone’s attention.”
Over the next two decades, Calabro got to be part of the Sonics’ resurgence with the ascension of Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. Calabro still points to the 1996 NBA Finals as the most memorable event he has been part of in his broadcasting career.
That year, the Sonics lost to a Chicago Bulls squad led by a Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in the Finals and finished with a franchise-best 64-18 record. Those Bulls compiled a 72-10 record that stands as the best in NBA history.
“With all due respect to the teams from (the 1970s), that was one of the finest Sonics teams in the history of the organization,” Calabro said. “And that was the series that was the highlight of my career.”
Things have changed in Seattle since the Sonics left, and this is a Seahawks town now. But even though he’s happy working for Pac-12 Networks and ESPN, Calabro still hopes the NBA will return to Seattle.
If that day comes, you can bet he’ll apply to get his old job back.
MTR Western Sports Star of the Year Awards
- When: Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. reception; 7 p.m. awards show
- Where: Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine Street, Seattle.
- Tickets: Seattle Sports Commission at www.seattlesports.org.
- Paul Allen Award: Former Sonics owner Ginger Ackerley.
- Keith Jackson Award: Former Sonics play-by-play announcer Kevin Calabro.
- Wayne Gittinger Inspirational Youth Award: UW women’s basketball’s Katie Collier.
- Royal Brougham Award: Former Seahawks quarterback Warren Moon.
Female Sports Star of the Year: Jewell Loyd (Storm), Mary Lou Mulflur (UW women’s golf coach), Kelsey Plum (UW women’s basketball), Megan Rapinoe (Reign), Lianna Sybeldon (UW women’s volleyball), Kamilah Williamson (Special Olympics swimming).
Male Sports Star of the Year: Michael Bennett (Seahawks), Nelson Cruz (Mariners), Clint Dempsey (Sounders), Luke Falk (WSU football), Pete Fewing (Seattle University men’s soccer coach), Cheng-Tsung Pan (UW men’s golf).
Sports Story of the Year: Chambers Bay hosts the U.S. Open; Seahawks come back in NFC Championship Game; UW men’s crew team wins fifth consecutive national championship; Reign wins second regular-season NWSL title in row; UW volleyball advances to Elite Eight; Hisashi Iwakuma throws Mariners’ fifth no-hitter.