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Originally published January 9, 2010 at 3:52 PM | Page modified January 9, 2010 at 4:23 PM

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Steve Kelley

Bob Blackburn's voice will live on in Seattle

From the Sonics' beginnings in 1967, when Seattle was just emerging as a major-league city, until 1992, Bob Blackburn was "The Voice" of the Seattle SuperSonics. He was a broadcaster who felt like a friend.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Before a recent screening of the remarkable documentary "Sonicsgate" at SIFF Cinema, an audio recording played the sweetest background music I've ever heard in a movie theater.

Bob Blackburn was calling the final moments of the climactic Game 5 of the Sonics' one and only NBA championship in 1979.

These may have been the most important minutes in Seattle's sports history, and you could feel the emotion building in Bob's voice. His speech quickened. His voice got higher. He was taking his listeners on the same euphoric ride he was on.

Bob not only described the action on the court, he told us what was happening on the Sonics' bench. Les Habegger, for instance, was dancing in front of the players as the final seconds slipped off the clock.

From the Sonics' beginnings in 1967, when Seattle was just emerging as a major-league city, until 1992, Bob Blackburn was "The Voice" of the Seattle SuperSonics. He was a broadcaster who felt like a friend.

The city grew up as a sports town with him. He took us from the expansion season through the dramatic signing of wunderkind Spencer Haywood and the hiring of the legendary Bill Russell as coach.

Owner Sam Schulman believed basketball should be an entertainment extravaganza, and Bob was the perfect emcee for Schulman's traveling show. He was as excited by the performances he witnessed as the most passionate fan. And that excitement always came across in his calls of the games.

Bob made us understand how wondrous it was to have an NBA team in town. He was there, courtside, when they all came to town, from Wilt Chamberlain and Russell, to Jerry West and John Havlicek, to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, to Michael Jordan.

If he ever got tired, we never heard it in his voice. He had as much energy at the end of a six-game East Coast swing as he did on opening night. And he could make a ho-hum game in Kansas City as exciting as Game 7 of the Finals.

His engine revved like Gus Williams on the break. He was so full of life, it made the rest of us jealous, wondering what he knew that none of the rest of us knew.

Whether it was on the tennis court, at an auction, at one of his favorite fishing spots or courtside in front of a microphone, Bob lived his life at full throttle.

More than anything, he was genuine and I can't think of a better compliment to give a person. He believed he had the best job on earth, and that belief came across every time we listened to him call a Sonics game.

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In a business full of cynics, there wasn't an ounce of cynicism in Bob Blackburn.

On Friday, the energy field we knew as Bob Blackburn finally rested. He died of pneumonia at the age of 85.

Bob was everything we wanted our sports heroes to be, and make no mistake about it, Bob was a sports hero.

He was married to wife Pat for 61 years. They had six kids, but the truth is, Bob belonged to all of us. He belonged to everyone who listened on wet, cold winter nights, from exotic outposts like Cobo Arena in downtown Detroit, or Chicago Stadium, or Madison Square Garden.

Those of who wanted to live that lifestyle envied his position. He was our travel guide, a National Geographic for sports fans, taking us to places most of us only dreamed of going.

Later, I was lucky enough to live that lifestyle with Bob. I remember one night, standing by the scorer's table before a game at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif.

To our left, Magic was casually lofting set shots. On our right, Fred Brown was launching jumpers as soft as snowflakes. Tipoff still was an hour away, but Bob's motor already was humming.

"This is going to be a great night," Bob said, as excited as if it were his maiden broadcast. "SuperSonics and Lakers. And here we are. And we're getting paid to do this?"

On its official Web site Friday, the Oklahoma City Thunder attempted to pay tribute to Bob. The very same people who robbed him of his team tried to make it seem as if he belonged to them.

He didn't. He doesn't.

Bob Blackburn is as Seattle as the Space Needle. He always will be ours. And his voice will continue to be heard in this town for eternity.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.

More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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