Mike Breen still loves his basketball
Mike Breen already had called the Knicks-Heat game in Miami on Saturday and the Nuggets-Lakers game in Los Angeles on Sunday and was about to take a red-eye flight back to Miami to call Knicks-Heat again Monday.
But there was a logistical snag: The Clippers were on television, in the process of coming from far, far behind to stun the Grizzlies, and Breen was frozen in his L.A. hotel room, unable to pull away until it was over.
Eventually he made it to the airport, barely in time, with the help of a cooperative, fast-working cabbie. But the incident said volumes about the Knicks' play-by-play man.
Now in his 20th season, he remains the same hoopshead he was long ago in college, when he first set his career goal.
"If you'd have told me back then I'd be announcing the Knicks for 20 years, in my wildest dreams I never thought I'd be this lucky."
Breen's cross-country dashes not only illustrated his passion for the sport, but also his unique dual role.
With Joe Buck and Doc Emrick having given up their local gigs, Breen is alone among those who call the finals of major sports on national television and still remain a team's primary local TV announcer.
Breen credited ESPN with allowing him to remain with MSG, "because they don't like to let people do both. But they know how important it is to me."
OK, so Breen's enthusiasm sometimes borders on the corny, but it beats the cynicism that often is an occupational hazard of many years on the long NBA road.
When I suggested his schedule was a bit much, he said he would have it no other way, especially because the way the Knicks-Heat games fell he was set potentially to do every one, nationally or locally.
Breen works around 55 to 60 games for MSG in a normal regular season and about 30 for ABC or ESPN. That often requires complicated maneuvers, and he credited both networks for their understanding.
Only once has he missed a game because of travel complications, when a snowstorm in New York kept him from reaching Houston. Sometimes the biggest challenge merely is recalling his hotel room number after a stretch of four games in four nights.
Breen, 50, lives in Manhasset and usually takes the train to work, giving him a feel for the mood of fans -- which is far better now than during the dark years of the previous decade. In those days he tried to avoid the first train out after games.
"The fans are so hungry for any type of success that the atmosphere is as good as it's been in a long time," he said of the current season, which hangs in the balance as the Knicks return home Thursday down 2-0.
Breen generally is popular with fans, most of whom did not hold it against him when in 2004 he moved from radio to TV to replace Marv Albert, the long-time voice of the team and now Breen's national counterpart on TNT.
"The Marv thing was hard," he said. "Somehow you wish it could have been under different circumstances. I can't possibly be Marv. He's the best basketball play-by-play guy who ever called a game."
Breen will enjoy the view from courtside Thursday, as always, but he said one of his favorite moments of the season was a recent Garden game between the Knicks and Celtics. It was on TNT, so he had the day off.
"I sat in the stands for the first time in, it had to be 15 years," he said. "And boy did that bring the point home that I'm the luckiest son of a gun in broadcasting.
"To sit there as a fan, it was the most electric atmosphere and reminded me I have the greatest job. I still love the game as much as I've ever loved it and I don't take it for granted."'