Hawks

An interview with an Atlanta legend: Bob Rathbun

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Bob Rathbun is a well-admired, longtime broadcaster who began his career in 1973 working for
WSTP Radio in Salisbury, North Carolina. He was the play-by-play announcer for the Atlanta
Braves from 1997 to 2006 and is currently serving in the same role with the Atlanta Hawks and
the Atlanta Dream. His voice is a staple of the city and his chemistry alongside Hall of
Famer Dominique Wilkins makes the games that much more exciting. Although, “The Smooth
Operator” has been with the Hawks since 1996, he has worked with many sports teams around
the country and finally found his home here in Atlanta. He won the Virginia Sportscaster of the
Year 6 times, the Georgia Sportscaster of the Year in 1998 and was elected to the Virginia
Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to one of the greats and discover more about his legacy
and insight to Atlanta Sports.

 Chase Pittman: You’re a legendary voice for Hawks fans everywhere. What made you get into
broadcasting? Is this something you’ve always wanted to do since you were younger or was it a passion later discovered?

Bob Rathbun: I actually started when I was 12 years old. I was a kid growing up in Salisbury,
North Carolina and I was always fascinated with radio, listening to not only ball games but news
programs. I loved everything about the radio. One day, I decided to pick up the telephone and call
the radio station and just complimented the guy who was the announcer on duty. He invited
me to come down and have a tour of the station. That began for me a Sunday ritual where I
would go and hang out at the station. One day the sports guy showed up and said, “Well if you
love radio and you love sports – baseball – help us broadcast these American Legion baseball
games.”

And I did just that. One day during the summer season, the announcer asked me if I was ready
to make my debut and I said I guess I was. I got the mic in the bottom of the 7th  inning of that
American Legion baseball game and our first baseman hit a home run with me on the mic! It
was amazing! That’s how I started, and I’ve been with it ever since.

Chase Pittman:  Of all the games you have called over the years, what are some specific,
favorite moments that stand out to you?

Bob Rathbun: Well, I would say that there are snippets of games. I wouldn’t say there’s one
game in particular. I would say that different things meant a lot to me. For the Hawks, it was
the 19-game winning streak during our 60-win season. That was the most incredible run I’ve
ever been a part of – to go unbeaten in an entire month in the NBA. That whole stretch right
there was probably the most memorable. But there were little bits and pieces of other games
I’ve done that some people will remember; some probably won’t.

I remember calling the Braves game when Andres Galarraga came back from cancer. It happened to be my game, and he hit a home run the first game back. That was pretty cool. Other moments include games that Maddux would throw a gem, or Andruw Jones had a great catch to preserve a Glavine shutout at Montreal – stuff like that – and of course, great Hawks performances along the way.
 
Chase Pittman: Speaking of the Hawks, what are your thoughts about this past season? What
do you think of the young rookie players, especially Trae Young and his unanimous first team
all-rookie selection?

Bob Rathbun: Certainly, Trae’s season stands out, and the game-winner he hit over Embiid late
in the year to beat Philadelphia was pretty cool. His individual exploits were also pretty
amazing. You know, he had great games early in the season too, like the one in Cleveland. He
supplied us with a whole season of highlights.

Chase Pittman: I read a previous interview where you discussed this upcoming season and John
Collins. You had to be impressed with him this year.

Bob Rathbun: Oh, he was terrific. He averaged close to 20 points and ten rebounds per game;
there aren’t too many guys in our league who do that. That was pretty impressive! The
chemistry he and Trae developed is just great and very exciting for their future. John is really
coming into his own, and it’s funny that his NBA career is paralleling his Wake Forest career. As
a freshman at Wake, he was kind of nondescript; solid, but nothing to write home about, and
then he exploded his sophomore year. It’s sort of that way with us [the Hawks]: a solid rookie
season, but then the second year he really took off. He’s well on his way to becoming a force.
Great energy, great hustle, terrific offensive rebounder. Collins really goes after it and plays
hard every second he’s on the floor. He’s special!

Chase Pittman:  I agree that John Collins is a super special kid. The fact that he was chosen at
19 shows that Travis Schlenk is a wizard on draft day. Do you think he has any tricks up his
sleeve this year with two top 10 picks?

Bob Rathbun: Hahaha. I don’t know, but Kevin Huerter was the 19th  pick too, so maybe we
should trade down. But, seriously, Travis is one of those guys who really doesn’t tip his hand as
to what he’s doing so we’ll find out with the rest of the world. I’ve been able to go to the
workouts, and they’ve been terrific – lots of different types of players. I think this next week
they’ll start to get down to brass tacks to figure out just what they want to do. But, I think as
flat as this draft is, we’re going to see a lot of movement and a lot of trades. I think it’s the kind
of draft where you just don’t really pay attention to the number of where they were picked. If
you like a guy, go get him.

 Chase Pittman: I have to ask you: how is it working with Dominique Wilkins? The two of you
have such great chemistry. What’s it like behind the scenes?

Bob Rathbun: Oh, it’s fantastic! He’s such a great guy, and the stories are remarkable. You
know, I’m sitting next to a Hall of Famer every night – the guy who lived it – who can relate
those stories to our audience and to me. It’s just great! Plus, he’s just a wonderful human being
and a great guy to be around.

Chase Pittman: If you played Dominique in a game of horse, how do you think you would fair?

Bob Rathbun: Me against him? Well, I wouldn’t want to embarrass him. As long as we don’t
have to dunk, you know, maybe I’ve got a shot.

Chase Pittman: Maybe we can see it postgame this year.

Bob Rathbun: Haha! Yeah. That would be must-see TV.

Bob Rathbun is a class, act and an announcer fans will always remember. It was a pleasure to
interview a man I have so long admired. While the heartbreak of Atlanta sports has taken its toll
on its most loyal fans, Rathbun continues to ease the burden. His voice is full of reason and
passion – one that certainly belongs in the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame.

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