Tuesday October 3, 2023

BANG! Mike Breen Sounds Off On NBA Finals And Signature Call

  • ESPN play-by-play announcer calling record 18th NBA Finals.
  • Breen won the 2023 Sports Emmy for play-by-play.
Mike Breen
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Play-by-play announcer Mike Breen is calling his record 18th NBA Finals for the Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN/ABC.

He’s joined by ESPN analysts Jeff Van Gundy, calling his 17th Finals; Mark Jackson calling his 15th Finals (most ever for a Black analyst in any major championship); and fellow Emmy winner Lisa Salters as sideline reporter. 

Breen will also reach another historic achievement, barring unforeseen circumstances; Game 5 would be the announcer’s record 100th NBA Finals game.

Front Office Sports senior writer Michael McCarthy went one-on-one with Breen about the matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat, winning the Emmy, and why so many great announcers hail from the New York area. 

On the challenge of covering the Nuggets and Nikola Jokić, a team and two-time MVP that fly under the radar.

Breen: To me, it’s a wonderful opportunity because he’s truly one of the special players I’ve ever seen. He’s the most unique player I’ve ever seen at his size to be able to do what he does. And the fact that he’s all about his teammates. He’s all about winning. He’s so humble. He does not want the spotlight on him. As soon as you ask him about him, he switches it to his teammates. 

He’s just a spectacular basketball player, who carries himself the way you, you want your superstar to carry himself. I think it’s beautiful basketball, and I think it’s a great opportunity for fans who don’t get a chance to see him. 

There’s a lot of fans out there who don’t have League Pass, who can’t afford League Pass…Well, now they’re going to get a chance to see one of the special players in the history of the game. I love that.

On the origin of Breen’s signature “BANG!” call.  

Breen: When I was a Fordham (University) student, there were about 10 of us that we went to every single game.

Now, there were always two of us who would broadcast the game for the college radio station, WFUV, and the rest of us would just go and sit in the stands. So when it was my turn, when I wasn’t broadcasting, I would be in the stands…

Whenever a Fordham player hit a basket, and there was no three-point shot, then, whenever a Fordham player hit a basket, that’s what I yelled in the stands. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll try that on the air.’ And I tried it on the radio at the Fordham radio station, but I didn’t think it really worked. So I kind of shelved it.

But then, when I started doing TV play-by-play, there were a couple of instances I was doing these high school games of the week. The crowd on a Friday night at a high school game is just going crazy. And I thought, ‘Let me try it here.’ And I liked it because when you were up against a big crowd, and the roar of a crowd, it was a good, concise way to punctuate a big shot. And not try to override the crowd.

I’ve never felt my voice was one of those big baritone types that can overcome a crowd. So the shorter the call, I always thought, was the better. That was a one-syllable word. It seemed to work and I stuck with it. 

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Is ‘BANG!’ now as familiar to viewers as Marv’s ‘YES’ to previous generations?

Breen: No, I can’t say that. As somebody who looked up to Marv and worshiped the way he called the game, and the influence he had. He’ll always, for me, be the voice of the NBA. I’m just glad that people like it and that even some of the players now like it. 

The other night in Denver, Jamal Murray for the Nuggets, he hit a shot and as he was going back after hitting a three pointer, he pointed over at our broadcast table and he yelled out, ‘BANG!’

So it’s very flattering that people like it. I love the game so much and if it adds to an excitement of a moment, then I did my job. Because that’s the whole idea –  to enhance the moment. I try not to use it too much. I never want to overdo it because then it gets tired. Hopefully, fans enjoy it because that’s the whole objective.

Why are there so many great sports announcers from the New York area? You? Marv Albert? The late, great Vin Scully?

Breen: I wish I had an answer. Maybe the fact that those two gentlemen that you named are a big reason why. I can just imagine how many young broadcasters were influenced by Vin Scully growing up. Not that they wanted to be Vin Scully, because nobody can. But model themselves after Vin Scully – which is obviously a successful formula. 

From my generation, growing up listening to Marv, the amount of influence that he had on me and probably hundreds, thousands of young broadcasters. Again that’s a great formula for success. So that might have something to do with it.

Because you grew up as kids and listened to two of the greatest announcers of all time. It puts a thought into your head, first off, of even going into the business. Then having listened to these two greats, and how they approach their craft on a nightly basis, I think that has to go a long way in terms of making you better as a kid wanting to do this. And eventually, when you finally get a chance to do it. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind. Especially after you mentioned both of them…

When I grew up, I was a crazy (New York) Mets fan. So Bob Murphy and Lindsey Nelson were two guys I grew up listening to. Do you remember Jim Gordon? He was great. He was great on the (New York) Giants, he was great on the (New York) Rangers. So for me, growing up hearing all these amazing announcers, if you go into this business, it has to seep in terms of how you approach it. Because I listened to them more than anybody. That’s a big influence on any young broadcaster. Where they grow up and who they listen to.

Jokic in NBA Finals

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On winning 2023 Sports Emmy:

Breen: I fell in love with basketball because of the team sport aspect of it. There was just something about being able to work with four other players on the court with you and making something good happen.

I feel the same way about broadcasting basketball. It is the ultimate team sport. You have so many great teammates around you, starting with your analysts, your sideline reporter, producer, director, cameraman. It all clicks and comes together. And if it doesn’t, if one person’s not doing it, if I’m having a bad game or the cameraman’s having a bad game, it just doesn’t work as well. But when it all works together…I’ve been blessed to have these amazing teams that I work with both at ESPN and MSG. You’re better because of the teammates around you. To be able to accept it on behalf of all the people that are part of the telecast, to me, that’s the most rewarding.

Will his record of 18 Finals, and counting, ever be broken?

Breen: All of us play-by-play geeks, we always say that every record will be broken. So I’m sure it will be. But when I hear that number, it’s impossible to fathom that I’ve had what I call the honor to call it all these years. 

I grew up listening to Marv and Dick Stockton, who, to me, is one of the most underrated play-by-play guys of all time.

Back in the 80s, he was the guy that I fell in love with basketball in terms of the national stage. That was before Marv was doing NBC (Sports). When I think about that, that I’m able to do the same job as those gentlemen and others, Bob Costas and Al Michaels, sometimes it’s hard to process. I feel so blessed. 

I don’t mean to be a sappy pain in the ass. But I’ve had so many people who’ve helped me along the way. Whether it’s support, whether it’s encouragement, whether it’s criticism. Again, the best part about it is being able to thank people for what they did to help you in your career, to enable you to do something like this. So I take it as an honor and a responsibility. It’s just hard to believe that this will be No. 18. 

His most memorable moments on-air?

Breen: That’s always been a really hard question for me to answer. I can’t give you one. For me, any Game 7 of an NBA Finals. I’ve had a chance to do a few of those. That was always special. Gold medal games and Olympic play, there’s something so special about that as well.

I’ve had some great moments with Knicks basketball. First on radio when they went to the NBA Finals finals in 1994. The ‘Lin-sanity’ (with Jeremy Lin in 2012) was one of the most enjoyable couple of weeks I’ve ever had. There’s just so many that I’ve felt privileged to be able to call. So it’s really hard to narrow it down.

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