Last Sunday, the Portland Trail Blazers blew a 15-point, fourth-quarter lead to lose in Dallas. But first, Kevin Calabro caught the Holy Ghost.
"He's having an out-of-body experience!" the Blazers' play-by-play man screamed as All-NBA guard Damian Lillard drained a 3-point jumper. "Hearing voices! Seeing lights!"
Blazers fans are accustomed to Lillard's explosions—brief supernovas of otherworldly shooting. But pay attention to the soundtrack. Calabro, a longtime Seattle SuperSonics announcer, has brought a tent-revival enthusiasm to his role as the bard of Lillard Time. We're going to look back at Dame's big games and feel an extra glow because Calabro growled and gloried through them.
Calabro makes Blazers broadcasts fun, even when the team doesn't. In part, this is because he appears to be a genuine eccentric. For the better part of two years, I've kept a list of subjects Calabro discussed when he grew bored with a bad game. These include:
• Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner
• Whether you're allowed to ice-climb Multnomah Falls in winter (you are not, but Calabro maintains you are)
• Tasmanian devils
• The Tale of Peter Rabbit and its seasonal application to Easter
• Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots
• Hungry Hungry Hippos
• Autumn weather
• Gators, which cannot tell the difference between a seal and a human being
• The Wire
He also compared Jusuf Nurkic to a mighty sturgeon pulled from the Columbia River. It was poetry.
Many Blazers fans maintain loyalty to the pairing of Mike Barrett and Mike Rice—the legendary "Mike and Mike," who now hawk Subarus and sip vodka tonics, respectively—but they could be a sour pair, distinguished by their irritation with players, referees and each other, not necessarily in that order. Calabro and his broadcasting partner, former player Lamar Hurd, seem delighted by every chance to sit courtside. (Hurd adds a lot by serving as the straight man to Calabro, gently mocking his boomer blind spots.) Their good spirits are doubly impressive given how much of their job consists of bumpy red-eye flights on cramped charter planes.
The Blazers are a mediocre basketball team. Yet two of their contributors are transcendent. Those two are Damian Lillard and Kevin Calabro. We're lucky to watch one watch the other.