Jeff Van Gundy will begin his record 11th NBA Finals as a television analyst on Thursday night, which matches the number of seasons he was an NBA head coach.
The fact that he lasted so long in both professions is itself a cherished accomplishment, he said Tuesday on a conference call to promote ABC/ESPN’s coverage of Cavaliers-Warriors III.
“It shocked me,” Van Gundy said of the fact he has analyzed more Finals than anyone else. His partner, Mark Jackson, is in his ninth Finals, having interrupted his TV term in 2012 and ’13 when he was busy coaching the Warriors.
“It just shows you how fickle the two professions Mark and I chose after he got done playing are,” Van Gundy said. “Coaching is a fickle one; so, too, is broadcasting. So I think I would speak for Mark in that we don’t take it for granted.
“I don’t think we ever envisioned ourselves maybe broadcasting, or broadcasting this long. But it’s been a blessing and something that I know I don’t take for granted. Because I’ve been treated very, very well.”
Said Jackson, “It’s very humbling. It truly is a blessing when you think about it. 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.
“To me, 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. 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.”
Mike Breen will call his 12th NBA Finals, extending his record over earlier, multi-year play-by-play men such as Chris Schenkel, Brent Musburger, Dick Stockton and Marv Albert.
It is a trio with a heavy Knicks influence. Breen still calls their games on MSG Network, Van Gundy coached them and Jackson played for them, in addition to being a New York native.
Doris Burke returns as the sideline reporter — the eighth time the quartet has worked a Finals together.
“It’s hard to separate for me how much I enjoy broadcasting from how much I enjoy broadcasting with great friends,” Van Gundy said. “I’ve known Mike and Mark and Doris for well over half my life now, and I consider them exceptional friends, and I love working with them.”
Van Gundy credited coordinating producer Tim Corrigan for “working with someone who is rough around the edges as far as broadcasting, because I never had the schooling or I don’t have the smoothness of Mark. He’s been great to work for.”
Said Jackson, “I don’t take it for granted, the relationships. The reason why is because as a fan of sports in general, I have listened to two-man booths and three-man booths and you read the stories of how they couldn’t stand each other and the lights come on and they sound great and did a great job, but the lights go off and they go their separate ways.
“What you see with us during the telecast is the same thing you would see with us sitting at a dinner table or breakfast table. We really enjoy one another, and the feelings spread out on the telecast. And there is nothing but true love throughout this group, and it’s something I don’t take for granted.”
Both Van Gundy and Jackson credited Breen with making the operation appear seamless.
“Mark and I have discussed this so many times,” Van Gundy said. “What Mike does, he makes look easy, but it’s very, very difficult. He, I think, has unbelievable NBA knowledge. He’s a student of the game. He understands the history. He knows how to make a big call, and he also encourages us to say what we think, within limits.
“Like Tim Corrigan’s the point guard behind the scenes, Mike is like the point guard of the game. The way he allows us to be ourselves and not go overboard is a really special trait. That’s why he’s going to go in the Hall of Fame. I forget what the name of that award is. I was asking Mark this the last game we had. I thought Mike was already in.
“I can’t believe he’s not in. I know he will be soon because he deserves it. He is the voice of the NBA.”
The Basketball Hall of Fame honors members of the electronic and print media for outstanding contributions to basketball with the Curt Gowdy Media Award.
Said Jackson, “I’m in total agreement. Mike will be in the Hall of Fame. He should have already been there. I really believe that the two best point guards in the business are [TNT studio host] Ernie Johnson and Mike Breen. 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, it’s unbelievable to watch from a distance with Ernie and in the field with Mike.
“He’s absolutely brilliant. It’s truly great to watch him control the game and control everything. 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.”