In an age when statistics are available at the touch of an iPad, Hawks radio voice Steve Holman still does one thing the old-fashioned way.
When the legendary Johnny Most shows you how to keep track of an NBA game, well, you listen. As Holman prepares for his 2,000th consecutive Hawks broadcast Wednesday – not a regular-season or playoff game missed in nearly 24 years – he will ready the same hand-written scorecard the voice of the Celtics showed taught him to use as a teenager.
“I’m not smart enough to take time off,” Holman joked. “I love it every night. I really do. It sounds like a line, I guess, but it’s true, I look forward to every night. It’s 0-0. It’s a whole new game. I’ve always found that no matter what you expect, something is going to happen that you didn’t expect to happen. You say ‘Gee, I’m glad I was here. I’m glad I called that game.’”
Holman broke into the radio business as a high school student in Lawrence, Massachusetts at WCCM, a station owned by Curt Gowdy. The sportscaster told Holman went he went full-time that the pay was ‘$110 a week and all the records you can steal.’
Holman used the gig to get press passes to Celtics games and he eventually worked up the nerve to introduce himself to Most. The Celtics announcer finally let Holman keep his stat sheet. In 1976, when Most lost his voice, the 22-year-old Holman filled in for several weeks.
Holman remained in Boston working for the Celtics before eventually landed in Atlanta where he worked for the Hawks alongside John Sterling. When Sterling left in March of 1989 to join his new employer the Yankees in spring training, Holman stepped in.
And the streak began.
Holman, 58, said his work ethic came from his father, Harry, who worked as a draftsman.
“He went to work every day but he hated his job every day,” Holman said. “So he taught me to go to work every day whether you felt good or not. I just said to myself that when I got a job that I wanted to do, that I loved, that if he could go to work every day certainly I could go to work every day.”
Save for a three-year stint when he partnered with Dennis Scott, Holman works alone. With just an engineer at his side, Holman aims to paint the picture of a game his listeners come to rely on.
Brandon Leak works pre- and post-games on the Hawks flagship station and will often offer insight during the broadcast. Holman said he welcomes Leak’s point of view. For Leak, it’s Holman’s point of view that makes him a staple to Hawks fans.
“People want people in front of them who are authentic,” Leak said. “The things that he says, good, bad, humorous, he says the things that all Hawks fans are thinking. If there is a good shot people want to hear that it was a good shot. If there was a bad shot, or if there was not great effort on the play, they don’t want people trying to sugarcoat it. He calls it like he sees it. His calls are what Hawks fans are feeling. I think that’s why they appreciate it.”
Among the festivities Wednesday honoring Holman’s accomplishment will be an on-court ceremony during a first-quarter timeout.
Although, admittedly, the 2,000 straight games can run together, Holman shines when talking about the big moments. He points to Game 5 of the classic Hawks-Celtics 1988 Eastern Conference semifinal playoff game as a highlight. The Hawks won in Boston in a series they would eventually lose in seven games. Holman also fondly remembers Lenny Wilkens becoming the NBA’s all-time winningest coach and Dominique Wilkins becoming the Hawks’ all-time leading scorer.
Yes, the big moments. Holman was there for them all.
A 2011 inductee into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame, Holman says he has no plans to retire, calling his job “a once-in-a-lifetime job that you want to keep for a lifetime.”
“If I had to guess we’ll peel his cold fingers off the microphone,” joked Bob Williams, President of the Hawks and Philips Arena.
Holman makes no bones about where his allegiance lies. Although he grew up in Massachusetts and knew he wanted to be in radio as an eight-year old listening to Most call Celtics games in his father’s car, he is devoted to the Hawks.
“I’ve always been passionate about it, every night,” Holman said. “There is nobody that wants to see the Hawks win every night more than I do. And I don’t mind that people know that during the broadcast.”
As long as there is another Hawks game to call, chances are Steve Holman will call it.