ESPN analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson participated in a media conference today to discuss the 2019 NBA Finals. Jeff Van Gundy will call his 13th NBA Finals, which is the most for a game analyst on television, and Mark Jackson will call his 11th NBA Finals, which is the most for an African-American game analyst for any major North American professional sports championship event. The duo will join Mike Breen and Doris Burke to round out the NBA Finals on ABC broadcast team. ESPN will produce the NBA Finals on ABC for the 17th consecutive year starting this Thursday, May 30, with Game 1 at 9 p.m. ET.
A transcript of the conference call follows:
Q. Does the prospect of a Durant missing the entire series make this more intriguing to you because of the possibility it evens the playing field or less intriguing because you want everybody to be at full strength?
MARK JACKSON: If I’m Toronto, I don’t want everybody to be at full strength. I want to win a championship. That’s just being a competitor. You want KD to be healthy and whole.
I wouldn’t mind him missing as many games as possible because the goal is to win a championship. Nobody will remember who played and didn’t play, the same way with the Warriors’ championships, Cavaliers’ championships.
As a fan, I just want great games. I think we have enough intrigue with the guys that will be in uniform, and the coaching matchups, that will make it exciting and very entertaining.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I think, as Mark said, there’s enough great players and two great teams. I think Toronto has a great chance to win it with or without Durant and Cousins and Iguodala. I think they’re a formidable opponent, no matter who plays for them. Obviously Golden State is a terrific team, terrific champion. It’s going to be a very competitive series.
Q. We’ve seen a little bit of a ratings dip in the regular season and the post-season. Kind of getting to a point where LeBron James and the Golden State Warriors are holding up a lot of NBA fandom, LeBron possibly facing the end of his career, the Warriors’ dynasty ending with transitioning into a new NBA era that might be a little less popular than it is now.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I truly don’t know what the ratings are. I can’t really speak to it. All I know is it seems like there’s a good amount of interest. There’s a lot of great players. Teams are playing good basketball. Series have been competitive.
I’m not sure about the ratings. Mark may know more about that than I.
MARK JACKSON: Way to put pressure on me (laughter). We got something in common. I don’t know about the ratings neither. What I will say, I’ll echo what coach just finished talking about. You look at the talent in this league, you look at the interest, not just during the course of the year, but when the season is over, when we crown a champion, the next thing will be the draft, free agency, the summer leagues.
I think the game is in an ideal place right now where we have a stay in the news year-round. It’s fun to be a part of it. I think it’s in great hands. I think the excitement that surrounds talent throughout this league is special and as good as it’s been.
Q. As your credentials were mentioned before the call, what has kept this job intriguing for you through the years? Is it something you ever imagined doing for as long as you both have been doing it?
MARK JACKSON: What keeps me around is working with family. They’re not just friends, they’re family. I think the world of this crew, this group. Sitting alongside and breaking down the game with Jeff, a guy who is as smart about the game of basketball as anybody I’ve ever been around. An incredible coach, an incredible mind. I continue to learn from him. I continue to listen and enjoy being alongside of this group of individuals.
It’s just a tremendous blessing for me. It’s something that as a kid I dreamt of playing in the NBA, I dreamt of coaching in the NBA, and I dreamt of calling games all at the same time. To have fulfilled that goal is absolutely unbelievable and something that I hope to continue to do.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I echo what Mark just said. We go way back. We’ve been together on multiple teams in different cities. To be able to do it, when neither one went to school for this, so it’s sort of accidental in some ways.
To be able to do it with great friends, it makes it really special. I think we both feel exceptionally fortunate that we get to work under Tim Corrigan, who as a producer gives us the leeway to talk about what we think’s important. We really appreciate that.
I was also thinking about the ratings again. Mark and I will take credit for any uptick, like great NBA players. We’re taking absolutely no blame. We’re going to blame Breen for any down-tick (laughter).
Q. Do you see the Warriors, if Durant obviously heads elsewhere, next year being able to continue this run? Are you starting to see the last days of this dominance? Can you explain what happened in the Toronto-Milwaukee series? The Bucks looked good the first two games, then suddenly the Raptors took control, dominated the next four.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I have no idea what’s going to happen with the Warriors. I think one of the things that intrigues people is all the storylines or whatever they call it. That intrigues me not at all. I don’t know Kevin Durant. I have no idea what his priorities are going forward in free agency. But I do know he’s a hell of a basketball player. So no matter where he plays, the team that he plays for is going to be very fortunate and they’re going to win and win big.
The Warriors will continue on being an outstanding team as long as they remain healthy because of Curry and Thompson and Green. If they stay whole, they’re going to be a terrific team, as well, no matter what Durant does.
Then the Milwaukee series, it just shows you, again, why you don’t jump to conclusions off of one game or two games. It’s really hard to win a playoff game and a playoff series. Things can change and change quickly. It happened. Toronto did a terrific job. Then Milwaukee had their chances in Toronto in Game 6. But give Toronto credit, coming back and finding a way.
MARK JACKSON: I totally agree with Jeff and what he said about the Warriors. I’ll echo the fact that Kevin Durant is a game changer. If he stays with the Warriors, if he goes to another team, another team will have a legit chance of being relevant and winning. The Warriors will look to reload and find a way to fill in that gap.
As far as KD as a free agent, Draymond Green will be, Klay Thompson will be. This is a team that’s not going anywhere. The thing is we’re talking about a very good team or a champion team. I don’t put anything past their heart, determination and dedication to accomplish their goals.
Toronto, the thing that was interesting to me is I thought the Toronto Raptors did a great job of not panicking down 2-0. Give credit to their supporting cast who stepped in and made big plays, quality minutes, got back at home, got their groove back, their bounce back, were a difference maker the entire series.
Q. I understand you have no idea what KD may do. What are your thoughts if he should consider the Knicks as a free agent? Would you recommend he stays where he is so the championships can keep coming? Do you feel that the Warriors right now are playing a little looser, looking like they’re having more fun since the injury?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I was just saying, as far as Durant, again, I don’t know what his priorities are so I can’t even begin to give advice. He should do what’s in his heart, whatever brings him the most amount of happiness.
As far as how they’re playing, I know there’s a lot of talk there. I would say that you can’t be better than they’ve been with Durant. He’s been with them for two years and they’ve won two championships. He’s been the Finals MVP twice. You can’t do better than that.
As far as that record that they have without him, you also can’t, explain that away as some fluke. It just shows you how great they are. They can be missing this top-10 player of all time and still be able to dig a hole for themselves in three straight playoff games and come back, find their way out of a hole.
Curry, Thompson, and Green can play spectacular basketball. I’m amazed at everything they’ve done with and without Durant. It’s incredible.
MARK JACKSON: I’ll echo what coach said also. I want Kevin Durant to do what’s best for him, whatever he believes the best situation for him is. Wish him nothing but the best.
As far as the Warriors are concerned, they’re a great basketball team. I will say this: they are not a better basketball team without Kevin Durant. To me that is utter nonsense. You have to take my word for it. The players in uniform on the Golden State Warriors have stated it. It’s a no-brainer.
If you ask me I can face them with or without Kevin Durant, I don’t want him on the team. I’d rather face them without him. They’re still a great team, a champion-caliber team, but they’re not a better basketball team.
Like coach said, it just puts a stamp on how great and how committed those other guys are collectively and how much heart and desire they have, how extremely well-coached they are.
Q. A playful question about the telecast format. Also your predictions, if you don’t mind. What is your reaction when you read or hear things about Van Gundy and Jackson should just stick to the game, stop talking about the Houston Texans, Hawaii 5-0 whatever? What do you say to that?
MARK JACKSON: I think that was one question, right? Just making sure I didn’t forget anything.
Q. And a prediction.
MARK JACKSON: I don’t have a prediction unfortunately. I think it’s going to be a great series. I think it’s going to be a very intense and intriguing series. I think it’s going to be a long series. Hopefully that gives you enough ammo.
I don’t read what they say. I’m living an absolute dream calling games with this crew. What you see on the broadcast is absolutely what you would see if you went to dinner with us. What separates us, I believe, is our ability to call the game, to see the action, then also to have fun with it.
Part of the reason why we’ve been able to hang around this long is because of that different look. What we don’t want to do is be anybody else in the booth. I think we’ve reached that goal and we want to continue to do it.
I don’t want to be fake and phony. What you see is what you get from us. Like I said, if you go to dinner with us, grab a bite, we’re going to continue to cover all the bases.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: As far as a prediction, I’m never right. It’s just embarrassing (laughter). I’m just going to stay away from that.
I understand everybody’s got different beliefs on the sanctity of a broadcast. Everybody does it a little bit different. I think even within our team, everybody does it different, right?
Mark and I try to do the best we can. Whatever criticism comes our way, you just got to take it because everybody’s got different beliefs on what should be or should not be included in a broadcast.
Q. Regarding KD, if you look at the Lakers in the ’80s, I can’t imagine them winning a championship without Magic, or the Celtics without Larry, the heat without LeBron. If the Warriors continue to be successful without KD, if they win the championship, is that a legacy among the all-time greats?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Listen, I think we’re in a time and place where we’re just absolutely dying to pick people apart, to negate their greatness. I’ve been so fortunate in my time in the NBA to have coached great players, like Mark, like Ewing, Hall of Fame-caliber players. I think I’m well-qualified when it comes to I’ve seen great players, coached them daily, competed against them, now watched them in this role.
We’re just in this time where we’re trying to pick apart greatness. Durant is great. I don’t know if he’s going to play in this series, if they’re going to win or lose. There is no doubt to me that he’s great.
Do they play a little different, with a little bit more movement when he’s not there? Yes, that gives them their best chance to win when he’s not there. Has Durant consistently won in two different spots? Yes, he has.
Like I said, he wasn’t part of the group that lost to the Cavs. He was the one that beat them twice. So I’m not really sure why we’re trying to, as a basketball community, nitpick him instead of saying, The guy is a great, great player, all-time great.
MARK JACKSON: Totally agree. The guy is absolutely an all-time great basketball player. There’s no nitpicking. They can win it, they might win it, they might lose. It does not matter to his greatness.
I will make this as Exhibit A. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is in the discussion to be the best that ever done it. Nobody talked about when Magic Johnson went to Philadelphia and played as a starting center and won a championship. It didn’t diminish Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Anybody would be a fool to say the Lakers were better without Kareem. They accomplished the goal of winning a championship as the captain was injured. It does not take away from Durant’s greatness, and it’s foolish to think otherwise.
Q. I’ll respond to that Kareem won a title basically by himself in Milwaukee. Would it help KD if he went to a place like New York and was successful?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Hold on, hold on. He didn’t win it by himself.
Q. He was the guy, though.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: No, no. But that’s the point. That’s the point. He was that great. I think he won in his rookie year, MVP his rookie year. But he won it with Oscar, with great forward play.
I mean, I know what you’re saying, but again, when you have to actually game plan against Kevin Durant, as Mark has done, it’s not like you’re sitting there saying, Yeah, like he’s not that good. You’re saying, This guy is an all timer.
Mark is as good a guy to coach defense in this league as there’s been. They’ll tell you, this is not something you take away one thing, problem solved. This guy is an all-time great, Golden State, any other team out there who has cap the. He can name his place. He can walk in. Anybody who has money will take him and let the tampering begin.
Q. Jeff, recently you went back and did a bit of coaching with the men’s national basketball team. I was wondering if that rekindled getting back into coaching at the NBA, or is ESPN where you want to be for the remainder of your career?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, I appreciate you mentioning the qualifying team because it was one of the honors of my professional life, to be able to coach those very deserving G League players, to help the great NBA players that will eventually be picked, to play in China this summer and fall. Tremendous group of men. I think it was over 60 guys that helped us over the last two years.
It didn’t rekindle anything. I never lost the desire to coach. I’ve always enjoyed coaching. But I do have a great job. I willingly acknowledge, first of all, that ESPN gave me some time off to go pursue this because I had to miss some games and some assignments. They were terrific in that. I just want to thank Jerry Coangelo, Gregg Popovich and Sean Ford for allowing me to do it because it was truly a special, special time in my coaching experience.
MARK JACKSON: I got to follow that up because he’s going to be nice.
In my opinion, without a doubt, there’s not another coach, dead or alive, that could have accomplished what Jeff Van Gundy accomplished for USA Basketball. Pulling that off was an absolute masterpiece in coaching. The guy is a genius as far as basketball is concerned, and as a partner and a friend. I couldn’t have been prouder of the job he’s done and did.
It amazes me when people say, you’re looking for a head coach, trying to hire a guy, forget about me, you give me an opportunity to hire anybody in the land right now, I’m hiring Jeff. He’s proven. When people said, Maybe the game has passed him by. In the toughest platform possible, you can ask Coach Popovich, he put together 60 plus guys and accomplished a goal where we now as a country have a chance to win a gold medal because of the job he’s done. He’s a heck of a coach and even a better guy.
Q. Hope he’s buying you dinner after this.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: First of all, the dude owes me two dinners because I bet him in the last two series. I’m killing him now.
But I appreciate that. When an ex-player says something like that, a guy you coached says something like that, I have to say, I mean, somebody gave me the statement, Don’t accept criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from. I take advice from Mark, and I’ve always been better off for it.
Q. Jeff, with the Raptors advancing, they’re only the sixth franchise in a league that have never gotten to a Finals. Only three of those have never even gotten to a conference final. I know you were around the Hornets for a while. Do you have any thoughts for what has kept them from reaching the heights that teams that have played in the league far less have?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: That’s a good question. When both Mark and I, he came in the league a couple years before me, when we were in there when Charlotte came in, it was one of the great draws in the NBA. As they progressed from an expansion team into a really good young team, they drafted exceptionally well, got the high picks, and they nailed them. Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning. They did an unbelievable job.
Then they had the team that we competed against in New York when they had Divac and Glen Rice and Mason, Dell Curry. They were right there. I mean, they were a mid-50 win team. They were terrific.
Then for whatever reason the talent dissipated and they morphed into a team that didn’t have much, didn’t do a lot of winning. The support dried up. Maybe ownership had something to do with that, some issues with ownership.
But I think the biggest thing in the recent times is they absolutely nailed the Kemba Walker draft pick. They’re going to have to draft better. They’re going to have to get in position to be able to draft a guy like Giannis, somebody in the Eastern Conference that develops into an all-time great, then stay patient with their coach.
Don’t do what everybody else in the NBA does: when it’s not going exactly right, think you’re going to change a coach and change your fortunes. It doesn’t happen.
Let the general manager, right now it’s Mitch Kupchak, let him develop a team, pick the players in conjunction with James Borrego, put together a roster that makes sense, then let James and Mitch run the show and everybody else stay out of the way.
Q. Win or lose, this is it for the Oracle Arena. Any final thoughts about that building, anything that comes to mind good or bad?
MARK JACKSON: I will say that arena has been as good to the league as any. You think about the history, you think about the fan base. You think about the greatness as far as teams, as far as individual players. This is an incredible time to go out, obviously moving but having another chance to win another championship.
You cannot tell the story of professional basketball without including Oracle. Those fans have been incredibly loyal from the beginning to the end. Their loyalty has paid off with what this team has been able to put on the floor consistently for years now.
As a former coach, as a former player coming into that building, as an analyst, it’s as good as it gets. To those people in that organization, in that fan base, we all say a big thank you.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Reiterating much of what Mark said, as a coach, as a broadcaster, but also has a boy growing up, occasionally getting to go to a Warriors game, the rough streets of Martinez, I really always appreciated Bill King, listening to him, Jeff Mullen, the Hopper, all those guys, before it became fashionable to be seen at Oracle like it is now. They had a great fan base.
I think every franchise that wins, a dynasty like the Warriors have right now, you’re going to draw and have terrific support. But the real fan bases are the ones when you’re going through some mediocrity that they are still there and they’re loud and they are vociferous. They had all of that even through a long run of mediocrity.
I remember coming in there as a Rockets coach, Baron Davis made a three late against us to win a game, and it exploded. It was like on the drive for a championship. They were a very average, maybe below-average team at that time.
I’ve always enjoyed that there’s been a lot of great history there. Don Nelson, Manute Bol shooting threes. There’s been some bad times. Through it all, the fan base in the East Bay has been terrific.
I’m going to be interested to see if the passion carries over to San Francisco because sometimes when you change arenas, like I would say in Indiana when they went from Market Square to the new arena, wasn’t quite the same. Chicago Stadium to the United Center, not quite the same.
It will be interesting.
Q. Jeff any down-tick in the ratings, I’ll say it’s the Canadians’ fault.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Listen, one thing that you learn in the NBA, you always have to have someone ready to blame because that’s how the NBA works. Whoever you’re blaming, just have your list ready.
Q. Most of the questions have been leaning towards Golden State. I’ll ask a question about Toronto. Can you speak on the fact how much of the foundation of them being there this year was built on the contributions that former coach Dwane Casey did? Jeff, how much of the foundation that Golden State has was built on the contributions that Mark Jackson did when he was there?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I’ve always been impressed with Steve Kerr as a player, broadcaster, but most importantly his humility. One of the things that stands out to me about Steve through all of this is his constant recognition of all that Mark did to set the table there and establish a new culture as far as winning, defensive minded, and giving these great players in Curry and Thompson not only the green light but the confidence to achieve what they have achieved.
To me, I’ve always admired Steve because he’s been so quick to share the credit with Mark.
As far as Dwane, it was one of the most brutal firings I’ve ever seen in the NBA. I’ve seen a lot of bad ones, but to see Dwane after all he put into that program, withstood some lean years, to continue to coach them up, deal with some disappointments, having to deal with James, that the moment James leaves to go to the Western Conference, and the conference championship sort of opens up, that he’s let go, that is a difficult, difficult decision.
Now, it turned out that it worked out for them. You got to give Masai credit for the trade for Leonard, the hiring of Nick Nurse. But that doesn’t diminish how badly I feel for both Dwane Casey and DeMar DeRozan that they put so much into that program and then weren’t able to see it all the way through.
I have such great respect for Dwane as a coach and as a man. The same with DeMar DeRozan. I think they’ve handled themselves incredibly well through it all.
MARK JACKSON: I agree with what coach said.
Q. Mark, with your record as an analyst, what does it means to be surpass company of guys like Bill Russell, Steve Jones. Jeff, pairing with you and Mark, why does it work so well? Kind of the former player-coach dynamic, two former coaches?
MARK JACKSON: Like I said, it’s unbelievable to me. It’s an incredible dream. It’s a true blessing. When you think about growing up, I don’t just look at basketball, but to talk about different sports, whether it’s Bill Russell or Steve Snapper Jones, George Foreman, Joe Morgan. You go on and on and on. Great guys that have had the opportunity to call games, being in our living room as we’re watching historic moments. I don’t take it for granted.
To me it’s truly a blessing to work with friends and work with people I enjoy being around. Jeff said it earlier: Tim Corrigan to me is the absolute best in the business. He gives us the space, allows us to grow and develop. He’s been a difference maker and a game changer for us. It’s something that I truly enjoy.
I don’t take for granted, and I look forward to continuing to do it.
Q. With you and Mark, the dynamic banter, is it the player-coach relationship that people can view on television? What’s your perspective on why it works so well?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Like I said before, I’ve coached incredible athletes, Hall of Famers, near Hall of Famers, some guys that were good players in the NBA. But not everybody that you coach along the way do you develop a deep friendship with. In that way, I was so fortunate from the time I came into the Knicks that Mark Jackson, Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley, they took me in. I learned a heck of a lot more from them than I gave knowledge to them early on because I was coming from college.
I think because Mark took me under his wing early on, taught me a lot about the NBA, this friendship developed, this deep friendship developed, that we can be honest with each other, we can disagree without being disagreeable.
Mike Breen does such a great job, he’s a great, great point guard. He sets us up, throws us lobs that we can just dunk in.
Mark just mentioned again Tim Corrigan, incredible at what he does. We’re given some latitude. Sometimes I have to be snapped back into place. Other than that, we’re real fortunate that we can talk honestly and not feel inhibited that we may be hurting each other’s feelings.
Q. Who as a cover man did you listen to growing up who might be influencing your style? For instance, depth of strategy versus stats, talking in measured intervals? Mike Breen will be doing his 14th NBA championship, more than any other network television announcer ever, and he has not yet been recognized with the Curt Gowdy Award at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
MARK JACKSON: I’m a big fan of all sports. I listened, I watched, I listened as a fan, I watched as a wannabe coach and wannabe player. I would listen to the games in a weird way as a kid, and that’s in every sport. I’d watch the athlete, the trainer or the coach and listen to the announcer. Each time I learned, especially as an announcer, what to do and what not to do. Who is great, who do I think is just okay, who do I think is bad. What can I put into my game that would make me better, prepare me down the road.
Really everybody has played a role. On top of that, you can even go to radio guys, radio deejays in New York City, a guy like Steve Harvey. Doesn’t matter. I learned from each and every one of those categories, how they talk, how they prepare, what they do that’s good, what they do that’s not good. It’s been a learning process for me.
I continue to do that. Coach will tell you, watching games, you take and choose different things, and you learn from them.
The other thing I will say as far as Mike is concerned, it is an absolute crime that Mike Breen is not in the Hall of Fame when you look at his body of work. Jeff and I agree, with Ernie Johnson, they’re the two best point guards in TV. Their ability to set guys up, play the role, be a star at times, then at other times pass the ball off and allow us to be the Steve Kerr or Craig Hodges, Byron Scott, whoever it may be. The guy is incredible at what he does. He makes life so much easier for us.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I want to echo what Mark said about Mike. He’s an incredible talent who has been diligent at this craft for a long, long time. It’s not because he’s on the Finals that he should be recognized with that honor of the Curt Gowdy Award, it’s because of his greatness over a long period of time.
Mark and I saw that early when he was with the Knicks, then he was at NBC. He’s been able to make a number of different partners look good. He loves NBA basketball. He loves broadcasting. He loves to help others achieve their goals, as well.
I don’t really know lot about how the Hall of Fame works. Not really sure. Less sure about what it takes to get a Curt Gowdy Award. If Mike Breen, with all that he’s done, hasn’t earned his way into that role, that award, I’m not sure what more he could possibly have done.
As far as growing up, like I said before, grew up a Warriors fan, listened a lot on the radio. Bill King, Yo-Yo Dribble. Not that I’ve incorporated, because I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m just talking, but I loved listening to him going to sleep every night they played. That was back in the days of the radio, you’re trying to keep it low so mom doesn’t hear.
I was a Raiders fan. I was a Warriors fan. I was an A’s fan. I was born at the right time with the A’s being the greatest baseball team ever, ’72, ’73, ’74.
MARK JACKSON: What? I can’t let you get away with that (laughter).
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Ever.
MARK JACKSON: I’m from New York. We have a team called the Yankees. You might have heard of them.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: They’ve been great.