ESPN team of Breen, Van Gundy and Jackson get an A grade for their call of Lakers-Bucks showdown

Folksy Breen often lets his two analysts interact informatively themselves. The three-man crew differs in rhythm from TNT's duo


Whom would you choose? TNT’s Marv Albert and Chris Webber or ESPN’s Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson? Their styles differ. Viewer preferences vary too.

The TNT team is more predictable, traditional and rhythmed. The ESPN crew is more free-flowing, chatty and breezy. Albert is more programmed. Breen is more folksy.

ESPN runs a three-man team which requires some attention to the time allocated among the group. TNT has the conventional two voices.

Breen backs off at times and lets his analysts, Van Gundy and Jackson, interact on their own. Webber addresses the audience more than exchange views with Marv.

Albert has done the NBA since the 1960s. He’s understandably old-school and until recently dominated the NBA television space. His staccato style and familiar voice inflections remain unchanged. Breen started broadcasting NBA games in 1992, almost thirty years after Marv.

Here’s how I saw the performance of Breen, Van Gundy and Jackson on ESPN’s big Milwaukee-Lakers showdown on Friday night.

  • The trio has great chemistry. The group provides few stories or player background information. They’re focused purely on what’s on the screen, what the viewer sees at home. To me, as an avid fan who’s familiar with the talent , I don’t require any quick thumbnail profiles, albeit fans not acquainted with the personnel might have found background thumbnails helpful.
  • The only extraneous remarks on items unrelated to the game came late when the camera focused on Jay-Z. At that point, Jackson asked Van Gundy about his favorite Jay-Z CD. The conversation lasted about a minute.
  • The exchanges between the broadcasters were invariably good. There were times when Breen would set up the other two, raising, for instance, the Bucks’ style of defense, which forces opponents to shoot threes and keeping them out of the paint. The defense works so well even in an NBA era when the three point shot is often the main focus of offenses. Van Gundy doesn’t miss a beat. He adroitly pointed out that free throws and dunks are the hardest shots to defend which is what tends to occur when a team gets into the lane. Preventing teams from getting high percentage shots like that is key to winning games.
  • But Jackson and Van Gundy didn’t need any prompts. Subjects surfaced seamlessly and flowed between the two naturally. Both are former coaches. Mark’s also a former player and a one-time Rookie of the Year. They both pointed out how much they loved when Lakers center JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard run pick-n-rolls with LeBron James. When McGee and Howard roll they aren’t looking for the ball. Instead, they seal off shot blockers. So when James erupts down the lane there’s no one in his way to block his shot. It was an easy enough point that even the average fan could follow.
  • Van Gundy noted how he believes there is no such thing as a red or yellow light when it comes to players shooting the three pointer. Instead now a days every player has the green light to shoot a three whenever they want.
  • Jackson said a move Brook Lopez applies when he is in the post, ripping his arms though the defender, creates contact and draws fouls. It reminds Mark of what James Harden does all the time. Harden is the best in the game at drawing contact and fouls.
  • Van Gundy shared what his strategy would be to defend Giannis in transition. He points out how most defensive players retreat, meeting Giannis near the basket. But VG said he would do the opposite. The ex-Rockets and Knicks coach believes it would be better to play up on Giannis to slow him down. If he beats you, the rest of the team has a chance to provide help defense at the rim. Jeff used video to demonstrate his point.
  • Van Gundy believes the Lakers biggest weakness is their lack of a second pick-n-roll ball handler behind LeBron. Jackson thus noted that this is why the team signed Dion Waiters a couple days ago. Mark believes that the move can help solve this issue. Jeff and Mark agree on how Milwaukee is going to need a consistent second star if they want to win the championship. During this game it was clear that Giannis didn’t really have much help. As well as he played, it wasn’t enough to take on both LeBron and Anthony Davis.
  • From an overview perspective, the broadcasters pointed out that The Greek has a bad taste in his mouth from last year’s playoff failure. Van Gundy maintains that the Clippers are the best team in the West. Jackson added that they’re the best team in the league. They all agreed that Milwaukee is the favorite in the East.
  • Mke Breen was superb but in the second half he started spitting out a multitude of statistics about the Bucks that weren’t supported by graphics. Thus the only one I can remember is that the Bucks have played in 15 games in which they never trailed.

As the NBA’s lead voice, Breen has become a very comfortable listen. He deservedly will receive the Curt Gowdy Media Award at the Naismith Hall of Fame induction ceremonies this summer. He will do his 15th straight NBA Finals this June.

The broadcasters lived up to the hype of the game with their coverage of it. Give them an A for their work.

Brian Seitz

Brian Seitz is a student at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism and hopes to pursue a career as a sportswriter.

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