There are a ton of broadcasters out there that know the X’s and O’s of the game, but few offer the enthusiasm and charisma that Bob Rathbun brings to the table 82 nights a year with his partner and Hawks legend, Dominique Wilkins. For Hawks fans, it’s impossible not to feel joy when hearing Rathbun react to a big time play. Rathbun’s journey started when he was just 12 years old in his hometown, and he later obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in speech from Catawba College. While attending college, he served as the sports director for a local station in Salisbury, North Carolina, and he never looked back. For nearly two decades, Rathbun has been doing the Hawks play-by-play for Fox Sports South, and he is also the voice of the Atlanta Dream. Rathbun also did the Braves’ play-by-play for Fox Sports South from 1997-2006. He has also worked for several other professional teams during his career, such as the Detroit Tigers, Washington Bullets, and the Baltimore Orioles.
Rathbun has racked up the awards in his time as a commentator. He has won Sportscaster of the Year honors eight times, (six in Virgina and two in Georgia), and nine Southeast Emmy Awards. He also does appearances as a motivational speaker and authored The Fast Forward Winner, a book that offers strategies to help the reader achieve their goals. There are many commentators out there, but Bob and ‘Nique have to be the best duo in the league. There probably is a little bias in that statement, but those two know the game and have made some memorable calls each year. Dominique Wilkins is a Hall of Fame talent who offers great perspective on the game, and Bob Rathbun’s excitement is contagious. The Hawks are coming of the best season in franchise history, and watching Rathbun enjoy the season as much as the players did is simply wonderful. The only downside to the Hawks advancing so far into the playoffs is not hearing Rathbun call the games!
If you get to the games early enough, Bob Rathbun will also be ready to engage in conversation and really chat it up. The Atlanta icon was nice enough to go out of his way to do a quick Q and A on him as well as the Hawks’ past and upcoming seasons. Take a look on at our Interview with Bob Rathbun below:
Interview Conducted by Harrison Coburn and Michael Arkin
You’ve been with the Hawks for nearly two decades. How exciting was the 2015 Hawks team for you and what set them apart?
It was a magic carpet ride. When you put together a 19-game winning streak and go unbeaten in a month like we did in January, it’s mind-boggling. You just don’t think it’s real. Never have any of us experienced anything like that. It was so unexpected and fun to go through. We also saw the city catch fire, which was spectacular. It was so much fun.
How did you get into the business of sports commentary?
I began when I was 12 years old. I was a kid growing up in Salisbury, North Carolina, and I got a chance to broadcast a half inning of a baseball game. I called the radio station in my hometown and the announcer on duty invited me down for a tour, and on the tour I met the sportscaster and he was asked to help him broadcast games. I’d keep stats, get the guy Coke, etc. One night he asked if I was ready to make my debut and I said, ” I guess I am.” I got to call a half inning and one of our kids hit a home run, a first baseman, and from there that was it. I was on air full time when I was a sophomore in college.
You’ve also called games for teams such as the Braves, Tigers, and Orioles. What experiences have you taken away from your time with these teams and how does that affect how you commentate today for the Hawks and the Dream?
I did minor league baseball for 8 years. AAA in Norfolk, Virginia. I’ve always done a lot of basketball. I’ve done college basketball for years and really started doing NBA when I was in Virginia. I did a fill-in for the then Washington Bullets on Home Team Sports which is now Comcast. I always felt like I would do both, MLB and NCAA basketball. When I got the opportunity to come here, it was to do the Braves and the Hawks for Turner Broadcasting. Stan Kasten was the President of the Thrashers, Braves and Hawks at that time. I wouldn’t say working on one sport has helped me do the other better, they’re so different. But it was nice to be able to combine my talents for the two sports to get the opportunity to come to Atlanta.
You’ve had a ton of partners throughout the years, and I think Dominique is great. Which colleagues have you enjoyed working with most?
‘Nique is a rock star. He’s the life of the party, everywhere we go he signs every autograph and takes every picture. He’s one of my favorite people. I’ve had tremendous partners, such as Dick Vitale, Billy Packer, Dan Bonner, Steve Smith, Mike Glenn. I’ve had a wonderful, blessed career that my partners have been wonderful and on the baseball side, too.
Tell us a thing or two Hawks fans may not know about you.
If you saw the documentary the SEC Network and ESPN did on Nique, they interviewed me a bunch of times for it, and what many don’t realize is I am the only person who has broadcasted him in high school, college, and the pros. Now, he’s my partner, which is very unique. I also have an adopted daughter from China. She’s a figure skater.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become a sports commentator?
Well, you know it’s changed a lot since I started. There was no internet, no cable TV when I began, it was just radio and TV. I think the best way to learn this business is to start at the ground floor and work your way up. I know that doesn’t happen a lot these days, but I do think it’s the best way to go. The apprenticeship aspect of many jobs is gone nowadays. Like with ex-athletes, we just put a headset on them and tell them to be great, and it’s not that easy. I would suggest not to limit your options. If you want to get into sportscasting, try all aspects. Try writing, editing, producing, directing, audio, run a camera, and see what your sweet spot is. Try everything!
Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your career so far?
Oh boy, you know that’s a hard one to answer. Growing up in my hometown, we were the host city, and are to this day, of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and each year they host an annual awards ceremony. When I was 16 years old, I was running guys back and forth to the Charlotte Airport once I got my license. In the backseat of my car growing up I had the legends of broadcast. I had Chris Schenkel, Keith Jackson and Lindsey Nelson and all these guys. Marty Brennaman is another guy, he got me started when I was 12. He was a huge mentor but did not know it at the time. He had a great influence. However, I’d have to say the biggest influence was not from a broadcaster, it was from the head of the speech department at Catawba College, Karl Hales. He kind of took me under his wing, he said, “You know, we don’t get many guys like you, because you know what you want to do. Let’s cut out all the BS and get you a speech degree that can help you.” And my entire college career was broadcasting and sports. Learning how to speak, speak properly, all kinds of speaking on stage. Everything. I learned it all at Catawba. But when you’re a sportscaster, you learn a little bit from everybody.
Which player do you think grew most in the 2014-15 season?
The great thing about last season is that, with the exception of Pero Antic and Elton Brand due to the ending of their careers, every player on the roster got better.
Will Justin Holliday, Kent Bazemore, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Thabo Sefolosha be able to alleviate the loss of Demarre Carroll next season?
Well the offseason is not over and moves can be made, but I think these group of guys can. I think Hardaway Jr. will shine now that he’s out of New York. I think the addition of Tiago Splitter will be a godsend for the Hawks. The coaching staff will never admit it, but they know what happened on the glass last season, and Splitter will be a tremendous help.
What do you think sets our player development staff apart from other teams?
Well, Coach Bud brought it over from when he was in San Antonio. I think the difference is the emphasis they put on it compared to other teams. The players buy into Coach Bud’s system knowing it will make them better players. For example, Hawks fans could not spell Bazemore’s name a year ago, but he’s a guy they had their eye on. Bud showed a liking in him when he had to prepare for Golden State in the playoffs a few seasons ago and decided to keep an eye on him. They’re really sharp in that regard. They’re not the only team that finds talent, but I really like the way they go about their business. They know what they want, and bring in high character guys.
What was your favorite moment of the 2014-15 season?
It’s hard to say because there were so many obviously with the 19-game winning streak. I would say on the road against Portland on the second night of a back to back, the Golden State game, and the ‘Nique statue unveiling and the Cavaliers game that followed that night are all moments that stick out to me.
The best moment of our interview with Bob? At the end when he told us that, “if you’re a Hawks fan, you’re going straight to heaven. No matter what you do, you go straight to heaven.” Hey, if Bob said it, it has to be true. Thank you Bob for your time, and it was a pleasure to interview you.