SEATTLE -- Bob Blackburn, the Seattle SuperSonics' first broadcaster and for 20 years the lone voice of Sonics history, died Friday after a lengthy illness, his wife Pat told The Associated Press. He was 85.
Known for his smooth voice and simple, colorful descriptions, Blackburn educated two generations of basketball fans in the Pacific Northwest. From Lenny Wilkens to Jack Sikma, Blackburn was the narrator for Sonics basketball, including the team's lone NBA championship in 1979.
"That beautiful voice. I fell in love with that voice," Pat Blackburn said Friday night.
A year ago Blackburn fell and suffered a severe head injury requiring surgery, his wife said. There were complications following surgery, but Pat Blackburn said her husband of 61 years bounced back. He eventually fell ill with pneumonia.
"He was a gentleman, and he said he wants to be remembered as a kind person," she said.
Bob Blackburn was already an established broadcaster when he beat out more than 100 other candidates to become the Sonics first play-by-play man in 1967. He held the position for 20 years by himself, serving as his own engineer in the early days before heart surgery in 1983 prompted him to slow down.
He was joined on the broadcast by Kevin Calabro in 1987 and the duo shared play-by-play duties. Blackburn retired in 1992, but it wasn't by his choosing, his wife said.
Still, the team retired his microphone and a banner honoring "The Voice" hung in the rafters at KeyArena until the team's move to Oklahoma City before the 2008-09 season. Seeing the Sonics purchased by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett and eventually leave the Northwest to become the Thunder was difficult for Blackburn, his wife said.
"He was tremendously disappointed," she said.
Along with calling the Sonics, Blackburn spent 18 years calling baseball games for the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League. He also called college sports for Oregon and Oregon State and has been inducted in the Washington and Oregon sports halls of fame.
Pat Blackburn met her husband when she was an undergrad at Fresno State and Bob was calling Fresno State football and basketball. They were married in 1948.
"I'm glad I found somebody like Bob. We had so many interests at heart," his wife said. "It's a terrific loss."
Blackburn is also survived by six children.