In the depths of Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke radio announcer Bob Harris put his hands on his head and leaned back against the wall.
“I’ve got to tell you one story,” he said.
He told one. He told another. It seemed like he could tell them for a lifetime – and perhaps, after having called 1,358 basketball games in his career, he could.
But Harris, Duke’s play-by-play man since 1976, now has fewer than 40 games to add to that number. The native of Albemarle will retire following the 2016-17 football and basketball seasons, as the university announced Tuesday and Harris discussed at a news conference Wednesday.
The list of accolades Harris has received is long: three North Carolina Broadcaster of the Year honors, a North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame induction, one Order of the Long Leaf Pine award from the governor.
The list of games he’s missed is short, but it does include one occasion when Duke football was playing in Durham and Duke basketball was playing in Massachusetts on the same day.
Harris followed the advice of basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski to call the football game that day, and has kept his streak of now 459 consecutive football games called alive ever since.
When he announced his first football game on Sept. 11, 1976, he set up his own radio broadcast without an engineer – a stark difference from today’s complicated technology. He’s also seen massive change in the university’s on-field success, as Duke did not have a single winning season from 1995 to 2012 before qualifying for four straight bowl games, which he said tested his ability to keep listeners optimistic.
But it’s inside the press box of basketball arenas nationwide where Harris has made his biggest impact. His call of Christian Laettner’s shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA tournament is now included in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“I’ll never be here, but at least my voice got here,” he said he told his wife of 53 years, Phyllis, upon visiting the museum.
He said that his signature line, “How sweet it is!” – also the title of his 2010 autobiography – was borrowed from both late Pittsburgh Pirates announcer Bob Prince and late TV actor Jackie Gleason. But it has become associated by thousands of Blue Devils fans with Harris.
Harris emphasized the closeness of his relationship with Krzyzewski, whose early-year frustrations he experienced firsthand prior to the program’s first national championship in 1991, as one of the most impactful aspects of his tenure with Duke.
“He’s been a great friend – not just in the office, wherever, on the court, but he’s been a great friend, period,” said Harris, who was born in 1942.
The idea of announcing his retirement a year in advance was proposed by the university, Harris said, but he called the ability to enjoy a farewell tour an “honor.” After his retirement, he plans to travel, play golf and stay involved in some capacity with Duke athletics.
And to keep telling the stories of a 41-year career – just off the air after this season.