The baritone voice of Kevin Calabro, the Portland Trail Blazers’ television play-by-play announcer, which resonates even when he’s speaking softly, was filled with a sense of wonderment Tuesday afternoon in La Grande.
Calabro was standing near the intersection of Adams Avenue and Fourth Street late Tuesday afternoon, watching the La Grande Rip City Rally, one of five community festivals the NBA team is conducting this week in small towns, including a stop in Baker City.
“Look at that, it is still raining and (the community members) are still here,” said Calabro, one of the Portland Trail Blazer representatives at the event.
The festival site, rain or no rain, was a piece of heaven for Trail Blazer fans. The site was filled with Trail Blazer booths where fans could buy team memorabilia, see a life-size image of Damian Lillard’s game-winning shot against Oklahoma City in Game 5 of this year’s NBA playoffs, get photos taken with Blazer Dancers, participate in basketball skills competitions on a portable court, have Blazer slogans painted on their faces, see the Trail Blazers’ 1977 NBA championship trophy and more.
Mother Nature rained on the rally Tuesday, but she could not wipe the smiles off the faces of the several hundred people who attended the event.
“The excitement was off the charts,” said Todd Bosman, director of game operations and events for the Trail Blazers.
Lamar Hurd, the Blazers’ TV analyst who announces games with Calabro, echoed this sentiment.
“The fact that it is raining and it is cold out there shows how passionate these fans are,” Hurd said.
Calabro said events like these are conducted to let fans know the Trail Blazers belong not to Portland but to all of Oregon.
“We’re trying to reach people who can’t make the five-hour trip (to Portland) from Baker City or the four-hour trip from La Grande,” he said. “We are paying them back (for their loyalty).”
Calabro will soon begin his fourth year as the Trail Blazers’ play-by-play TV announcer. Before joining the Blazers, he was with the Seattle Supersonics for many years as an announcer and also broadcast games on the ESPN and TNT networks. He estimates that he has broadcast 2,700 NBA games.
“I used to think I would be happy if I could just broadcast one game,” Calabro said.
One of his most memorable broadcasts was Portland’s series-clinching win over Oklahoma City in the first round of the NBA playoffs when Lillard hit a tie-breaking long three-pointer at the buzzer. Calabro and Hurd both made riveting calls of the shot and then went silent for about 90 seconds, letting the sights and sounds of celebrating fans tell the story of an unforgettable moment.
“Less is more in broadcasting,” Calabro said.
He said there is a lot to like about this year’s Blazers team, including the leadership provided by Lillard. Calabro said he is impressed by the efforts Lillard makes to ensure everyone in the organization feels included.
“He wants to know the name of everyone, including the ball boys,” Calabro said.
The downtown rally was just a portion of the Blazer activities on Tuesday in La Grande. Trail Blazer representatives were busy in the morning and afternoon teaching basketball skills to students at Central Elementary School and joining a career panel in a class at La Grande High School. Members of the career panel, most from the Blazer organization, told students of the careers available in sports-related fields.
Early Tuesday evening, members of the Blazer organization conducted a 45-minute basketball clinic for youth at La Grande Middle School.
Hurd, who participated in many of the activities, said he knows of few NBA teams that put on community festivals like those the Blazers do each year.
“It is very unique,” he said. “It is special.”