The chemistry of a sports broadcasting crew is vital for any sport on television. Strong crews enhance great games while bad crews can make some games unbearable. Finding the right mix of personalities is the key.
Since the ESPN/ABC trifecta of Mike Breen, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy took the lead on NBA games, it has been nothing but excitement, humor, and great rapport.
Never has a crew made a game feel more fun and entertaining on a consistent basis than these three guys. With Breen often working the angle of instigator/antagonist, he queries the men on points then sits back as his analysts duel it out.
Their differing perspectives are wildly entertaining—sometimes more so than the games they are analyzing. And they don’t restrict the commentary to just that game. They often take it to the NBA headlines and occasionally beyond. They are not afraid to voice strong opinions and spar over them.
Jackson delivers some of the best one-liners in the biz. It’s often punctuated by his trademark, “You’re better than that!” after hearing what he considers to be a feeble point. While some are definitely thought of beforehand, most seem genuinely freestyle and based on the moment.
He played in a few towns during his NBA career including my own, Toronto, which is where I remember him from most. As a superstar point guard, he was always the thinking man’s man, but I never remembered him to be particularly funny in interviews. He’s added that nicely to his repertoire since fitting himself in the analyst’s chair.
Last offseason, a minor tragedy in sports TV almost happened when there was talk that Jackson would take on the New York Knicks coaching vacancy. He definitely would have been smart to take it, had it been offered, but I was secretly (and selfishly) glad that it never came to fruition, just to keep these irreverent characters together.
In the other chair, Van Gundy plays the conspiracy theorist to perfection and is certainly not afraid to call Jackson or Breen on their points. He’ll always argue the opposite side, seemingly just for the sake of arguing—and for our entertainment. Their interplay is priceless, matching wits and opinions. Van Gundy coached Jackson in 2001 and 2002 and they probably didn’t agree much then either.
As an analyst, Van Gundy is the polar opposite of the no sleep, all business micro-manager who presided over the Knicks and then the Houston Rockets. Now he actually seems to be enjoying himself—somewhat.
The relief of not coaching has allowed the man to nap occasionally. For that his brain creates phantom arguments, rebuttals and theories that we are all the better for.
Breen is no slouch either. While he is far straighter-laced than his two cohorts, he certainly is not above stating his opinion also and joining the fray. As a part-time moderator between the protagonists, he drops the bait perfectly while the others bite every time. But what he does best is call the games with cool efficiency and accuracy. Never over-bearing or overly verbose, he is a great complement.
This trio has set the standard for basketball broadcast crews and their act will be hard to follow when one of the analysts inevitably gets a coaching job. Until then, turn on the tube, sit back, and enjoy a bunch of laughs served up with your hoops.