Friend, colleagues remember Bob Harris, the ‘Voice of the Duke Blue Devils’

“They throw it the length of the floor… Laettner catches, comes down, dribbles… shoots…scores! … Christian Laettner has hit the bucket at the buzzer! The Blue Devils win it 104 to 103. Look out, Minneapolis! Here come the Blue Devils!”

That is how Albemarle native Bob Harris explained to Duke Blue Devil fans what happened on March 28, 1992, as players Grant Hill and Christian Laettner connected on “The Shot” against the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA tournament, a performance that is considered by many one of the greatest college basketball games of all time.

It is perhaps the most well-known call by one of the most well-known voices in all of college sports.

Harris, the longtime “Voice of the Duke Blue Devils,” died at age 81 on Wednesday.

Wes Chesson, who worked alongside Harris as color analyst for Duke football broadcasts, announced the death of Harris on a GoFundMe page for the family. The account was raising funds for his hospice care after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“It is with a very heavy heart that I report that Bob Harris passed away this morning with Bob’s wife Phyllis at his side, holding his hand. No memorial service plans have been made at this point, but I will send out an update as soon as I know something,” Chesson wrote. “To the 565 contributors who provided over $101,000 to Bob’s GoFundMe, Phyllis and the entire Harris family thank you for your love and support. Your financial support has significantly eased the monetary strain on Bob’s family and knowing that 565 people care about and love Bob enough to take the time and be willing to contribute to Bob’s support has made all the difference.

“Bob’s life on this earth has ended, but as he announced at the end of an assured Duke victory, today Bob is proclaiming ‘How Sweet It Is.’ ”

Harris and the late Woody Durham, who also grew up in Albemarle, were two members of the Stanly County Hall of Fame. They co-hosted the induction ceremony for most of its existence.

Mike Harwood spent several years as a member and chairman of the Stanly County Sports Hall of Fame Committee.

“Bob was what I would consider a true Southern gentleman,” Harwood said. “He never let his status as the ‘Voice of the Blue Devils’ override his love for his roots as evidenced by his book. He was in school with my in-laws, Reggie and Diane Chance, and he always asked about them when I would see him.

“During my time with the Sports Hall of Fame Committee, I could always count on Bob to be at our event,” Harwood added. “His proudest moment was when he brought Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) to Albemarle as our keynote speaker.”
Harwood is the official scorer at the scorer’s table of the Charlotte Hornets. The team has scored the NBA Finals six of the last seven years, including this year’s.

“Another testament to Bob and his relationship with the Duke players was confirmed to me this past weekend at the NBA Finals in Boston,” Harwood said. “I had a chance to speak to Grant Hill and J.J. Redick and told both of them about the email I received on Friday regarding Bob’s condition. Both of them were sincerely touched and Grant immediately asked for Phyllis’ phone number. That told me everything I needed to know about how respected he was. RIP to a great man and true Albemarle legend.”

Duke Athletics shared news about Harris’ passing on, along with several comments from university officials and stats from his career.

Harris served 41 years as the radio play-by-play broadcaster for football and men’s basketball before retiring in 2017, Duke said.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Bob Harris,” said Duke Vice President & Director of Athletics Nina King. “We send our heartfelt condolences to Phyllis and the entire Harris family. Duke, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the entire collegiate athletics community has lost a true icon. For over four decades, Bob represented Duke with the utmost professionalism while delivering to our fans worldwide an acute account of Blue Devil football and men’s basketball games. He will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live forever.”

Bob Harris, center, calls a game against Georgia Tech during his final season as the “Voice of the Duke Blue Devils.” (Photo by Toby Thorpe)

Harris received the North Carolina Broadcaster of the Year honor from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association three times, in 1988, 1991 and 2011. He called 471 consecutive games of football, beginning Sept. 11, 1976 with Duke’s season-opener at Tennessee and ending with the Nov. 26, 2016 season finale at Miami. He called bowl games in 1989, 1994, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

For Duke men’s basketball, he broadcast 1,392 games, with 13 NCAA Final Fours and 10 championship games — including all five of the university’s national titles in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010 and 2015. He also called 16 ACC Tournament championship game victories in 1978, 1980, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2017.

In a message through Duke Athletics, Krzyzewski said “Duke lost another one of its greatest treasures with the passing of Bob Harris.”

“For decades as our radio play-by-play broadcaster, Bob told the story of Duke Athletics better than anyone,” Krzyzewski said. “He was much more than an announcer to all of us. He was a family member who absolutely loved Duke and everything it stands for. We are so thankful that it was his voice that shared our journey each season with so many Duke fans around the world. He was adored by so many of them. The Krzyzewski family offers our deepest condolences to Phyllis and their loved ones. It was my honor to call Bob my friend.”

Harris retired as the longest-running play-by-play announcer in the history of the ACC. He is in the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame (2018), North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame (2006) and the Stanly County Sports Hall of Fame (1993).

Among his many honors were the ACC’s Skeeter Francis Award, an honor presented annually to individuals for distinguished service to the league, and The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, an honor presented by the governor of North Carolina for service to the state.

Harris began his broadcasting career in 1967 as sports director for WZKY in Albemarle. He served in the same position in Durham at WDNC from 1975 to 1997.
In December 2010, Harris released his autobiography, “How Sweet It Is!: From the Cotton Mill to the Crows’ Nest.”

Jim Lisk, former editor of The Stanly News & Press, was his childhood neighbor and college roommate.

“Bob has distinguished himself as the ‘Voice of the Duke Blue Devils’ and has been justifiably honored for his seizing the moments with elegance and candor. All personality roots were defined in that wonderful place we called home – Albemarle,” Lisk wrote on the back of Harris’ book.

Harris is survived by his wife of 61 years, Phyllis, daughter Bobbi Harris-McCoy, son-in-law Ron McCoy and two grandchildren, Tripp and Meredith Winkler.

Through a family friend, Phyllis Harris shared a thought about her husband’s final days. “You might say, ‘Bob’s preparing for his final broadcast, but this time we know he wins!’ ”

B.J. Drye is general manager/editor of The Stanly News & Press. Call 704-982-2123.