ATLANTA - "Hello once again everyone. Good evening from Atlanta."
With that, Steve Holman begins another night behind the microphone for the Atlanta Hawks, extending a streak of verbal continuity that has lasted through good times and plenty of bad ones, through the death of his mother, the raising of a family and the occasional illness, through more than 1,400 games of uninterrupted allegiance to his team and those listening at home or in their cars.
"He's the iron man of broadcasting," said Bernie Mullin, president and CEO of the Hawks.
The Cal Ripken-like streak began on March 1, 1989, with Holman taking over the play-by-play duties when John Sterling left for a job with the New York Yankees. It will reach 1,417 games in a row this weekend - and that doesn't include the preseason games he does every year.
"My dad used to tell me, 'When you go to work, you're paid to go to work every day,'" said Holman, a 52-year-old native of Lawrence, Mass. "So, yeah, I'm proud to have the streak."
Holman grew up listening to Johnny Most, the longtime radio voice of the Boston Celtics. At 17, he was bold enough to introduce himself to his favorite announcer, soon taking over as his assistant - keeping score, taking notes and learning the profession within earshot of his idol during the glory years of John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White and Paul Westphal.
Then, during a game in 1975, Most suddenly lost his voice and turned over the microphone to his protg. "Steve, do the rest of the game," he said.
Holman moved on to Atlanta in 1980, working on broadcasts for the NFL Falcons and the long-forgotten Chiefs of the North American Soccer League. Five years later, he hooked up with the Hawks, serving as the analyst and occasional play-by-play man. Finally, he got the chance to call games on a regular basis.
He hasn't stopped talking since.
Holman kept on caring even after the team fell on hard times. The Hawks haven't been to the playoffs since 1999. Last year, Atlanta endured the worst season (13-69) in franchise history.
"Nationally, no one ever says anything about my 1,400 games," Holman said. "If you are in New York, everything is magnified. If you are in L.A., the team wins championships every year. Then you get the national pub. But I'm not really interested in that. As long as the people I work for here in Atlanta like what I do, and the fans are happy with me, that makes me happy."
Holman certainly has no plans to hang up his headset.
"I don't ever want to retire," he said. "What else am I going to do if I'm not doing this?"
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