Steve Holman is on a roll. Really on a roll.
The longtime Atlanta Hawks play-by-play caller hasn’t missed a game since early 1989, the year of the Berlin Wall’s fall, Nintendo Gameboy, and the first-ever episode of The Simpsons.
Through bouts with the flu, the death of son Steve Jr. and getting smacked squarely in the face by a rocketing basketball while calling a Hawks-Bulls game, he has been behind the mic for more than 30 years of consecutive “basketball battles,” as he likes to call them. That covers every game during the regular and postseasons (he doesn’t count preseason games). He said he has announced 2,703 games as of mid-April. That’s second only to the late Chick Hearn, who called 3,338 L.A. Lakers games without a miss.
The Lawrence, Massachusetts, native got into radio in high school working at the legendary Curt Gowdy’s station in his hometown. He worked with and learned at the knee of Johnny Most, the longtime voice of the Boston Celtics and scored a Boston radio gig before coming to Atlanta, working as a radio sports anchor and doing Falcons games before heading courtside in the mid-80s.
Senior Life contributor Mark Woolsey caught up with the self-described “spry” 67-year-old recently as Holman drove from his Newnan home to State Farm Arena for a Hawks-Suns game.
Q. What took you from small-town Massachusetts radio to the deep South?
[Johnny Most] lost his voice in November of 1976 and I took over for him. I wound up doing a couple of weeks’ worth of games. Then I got hired at the [Boston] CBS station by a guy who’d heard me. In 1980, Mike Wheeler, who was my boss in Boston came to Atlanta and to start the All-News station WGST (where Holman anchored sportscasts for years) and he called me saying, “Do you want to come to Atlanta?” I said, “I’ve never been to Atlanta.”
He asked me to call him back in 15 minutes then said, “We’ll give you two tickets to Atlanta [to check it out] or we’ll give you $800 toward moving.” I took the $800 and came to Atlanta sight unseen.
Q. How has basketball changed since you started doing the Hawks?
A. In the late ’80s with Dominique Wilkins and Carl Malone and all of those guys, it was kind of a rock-em, sock-em NBA back then. Now it’s evolved over the years into a very offensive-minded game and with the 3-point shot, that’s one of the big things that’s changed. It’s not nearly as physical as it was back then. Otherwise, it’s still a great game and I still look forward to it and love it every night.
Q. Who have been your favorite players down through the years?
A. It all starts with Dominique [Wilkins]. I mean, I sit across from him on the charter flights. I was broadcasting his games in 1985 and we’ve been friends ever since. Dikembe [Mutombo] is up there too. Also, Doc Rivers and, believe it or not, Jon Koncak. I really like our current team, too. I am a big fan of John Collins and Trae Young,
Q. What’s behind the way you call a game?
A. I let whatever happens on the floor come to me. It’s not like I have lines I practice or think about. One of the things that makes my broadcast better is I just say what I think happened. I don’t try to stage anything.
When I say something, I like to think that I am saying it for the fans…that they’re saying the same thing I am. And if they’re not playing well, I’ll say that too.
Q. You are reputed to be meticulous about how you prepare for games. What does that look like?
A. I am still [at it] the old-fashioned way. I write out my scorecard every day and put my stats on there. I use the computer as well, of course; there are a lot of computer statistics that are available to us and I use that on a regular basis. I use the same scorecard that I used to make for Johnny Most. Same format and same style and I find that keeps me in the game better.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Hawks’ fan base these days?
A. We have terrific fans. We have a very likeable team right now and I think our fan base now is as passionate as it’s ever been. I’ll run into people at Publix or Kroger or walking in the neighborhood with my dog Gowdy and people I don’t really know will say “Go Hawks” or “The Hawks are great.”
Q. What do you think is the future of radio play-by-play?
They have discounted radio several times over my 36 seasons. But I think what has happened now is that radio has become more popular and important because of the internet and Sirius-XM and the NBA App that can be used anywhere and anytime. So, I think the future is brighter for radio than it was 20 years ago.
Q. What do you do to relax and recharge?
A. A lot of times I’ll watch games. That’s basically what I do. I watch the news and I watch a lot of games. I used to play golf, but I sucked at it, so I don’t do that anymore. I like to hang with the grandkids. They have become a very important part of my life.
Q. The streak is obviously important to you. What do you think are the prospects for passing that one guy still in front of you?
A. I feel I am probably in the best shape of my life. All summer long, I was walking 10 or 11 miles a day. Now that the season’s started again, I’ve cut back to six-and-a-half a day. So, I don’t think there’s any reason I can’t pass Chick, God willing.
Q, If and when you do hang up the headphones, how would you like to be remembered?
A. I just want to be known as the guy who was the Hawks announcer. One of my great joys in this job now is that someone in their 30s will come up with their own child. And they’ll say “Johnny, this is Mr. Holman. I used to listen to him when I was your age.”
I just want to be remembered as the Hawks Guy, that’s all… a guy who loved the Hawks and loved his job. And like I say I have no plans to ever sit on the porch and retire. They might have to peel my frozen hands away from the microphone.