The historic third consecutive NBA championship meeting between Golden State and Cleveland as the 2017 NBA Finals starts Thursday — some have dubbed it the “three-match.”
During Tuesday’s conference media call, the MSR asked about the possibility of fans and media being letdown by the long-anticipated match-up.
“No,” said Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy. “I’m not concerned about any letdown,” said Jackson. “The reason why is because there are great players and great stories throughout these Finals. I’m anticipating it to be an incredible Final series.”
There are story lines galore but one that’s not being talked about much, except by this reporter, is the historic diversity in ABC’s exclusive coverage of this year’s Finals — whether in the studio, pregame, during the game or post-game.
The longest tenured broadcast team: Mike Breen, who handles play-by-play, analysts Jackson and Van Gundy, and sideline reporter Doris Burke, will call the historic Cleveland-Golden State rubber match.
About one-fourth of the more than 50 ESPN commentators contributing to NBA Finals coverage are Blacks, including two former Finals MVPs Chauncey Billups and Paul Pierce; incoming Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady, and current HOF Scottie Pippen; SportsCenter’s SC6 co-hosts Jemele Hill and Michael Smith; Michael Wilbon and Stephen A. Smith among others.
On Thursday Jackson will work his ninth Finals and become the first Black analyst to call more NBA Finals, or any pro sport championships on television.
“It’s very humbling,” admitted Jackson, a former NBA player and coach. “It truly is a blessing when you think about; I’m not just a fan of basketball — I’m a fan of all sports. You think about…we’ve done it for quite a long time in a sustained period for a company that we absolutely love and treat us first class. I don’t take for granted also the blessing to be able to work with guys and girls that are absolutely incredible.
“We have the time of our lives supporting each other as truly a team,” he continued. “These are friendships that have come before my coaching career and early on in my playing career and I’ve been able to sustain them for so many years. It’s really a blast.”
“I’ve known Mike and Mark and Doris for well over half my life now,” noted Van Gundy, also a former NBA coach, “and I consider them exceptional friends, and I love working with them. I never had the schooling [and] I don’t have the smoothness of Mark.
“Coaching is a fickle one; so, too is broadcasting. I don’t think we ever envisioned ourselves maybe broadcasting or broadcasting this long. I don’t take [it] for granted,” he said.
“I really believe that the two best point guards in the [broadcasting] business are Ernie Johnson and Mike Breen,” noted Jackson. “The way that they control and dictate the pace, the way that they get guys involved, the way that they don’t get upset and they have no egos.
“Even when there are times I’m sure he’s frustrated with whether Jeff and I talk about a dessert or some other crazy thing that Jeff brings up. He [Breen] is absolutely brilliant. It’s truly great to watch him control the game and control everything.”
Also of note is that this is only the second Finals in NBA history since 1975 where both finalists are coached by Blacks — Al Attles in 1975 coached the Warriors to a title over Washington, coached by K.C. Jones. Cleveland’s Tyronn Lue is going for his second consecutive league title, and Interim Head Coach Mike Brown is subbing for Steve Kerr at Golden State.
For Brown, this is his second Finals since he led Cleveland to a 2007 runners-up finish, and twice-fired by the Cavs as well.
“I’m absolutely fascinated to see how often Mike Brown praises Cleveland management and ownership for a great job that they did and how well they treated him, while behind the scenes wanting to bust their ass for firing him after one year,” said Van Gundy, who coached New York to a runners-up finish in 1999.
“Having been fired, I know that you’re not fans right away of the people who let you go. I believe in my heart that he is absolutely ecstatic over having that opportunity [to coach against them in a Finals].”
“Why don’t we talk about Mike Brown,” said Jackson on Brown’s handling of the team thus far in the playoffs when Kerr’s health issues related to his back resurfaced.
Jackson noted that the two teams’ success isn’t just on the court but on their respective benches as well: “Larry Drew is over there as a number two guy with Ty Lue. We don’t shower him. I think we do a disservice across the board. I think both of these organizations have done an incredible job for three years now of preparing themselves and conducting themselves.”
Finally, both former coaches and now longtime analysts are ready for Thursday.
“We have the two best teams left in the Finals playing for a championship,” said Jackson. “We have the best players in the world, including [the] best player in the world in LeBron James on the biggest platform. I think it’s a great result for the NBA.
“Cleveland and the Warriors. They’re superior. They’ve played against good teams, but because they’re so talented, so deep and so disciplined, they were able to make those teams not look as legit as they were. It’s more of a credit to them as opposed to the rest of the league.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.