Jeff Van Gundy, ABC's lead NBA analyst and a former NBA coach, talked about the NBA Finals and his career during a media conference call Wednesday.
One of the obvious story lines here is that you have the league MVP in a guy who was second in the voting, and here is a chance to kind of settle this on the court. Do you buy that?
Well, it's certainly a great matchup. You can make a compelling argument for the two best players in the league. But what can't be argued is that they're the two best small forwards in the league. Whenever you have such greatness at one position that is going to match up head-to-head, it's certainly intriguing. But this is going to be about which team plays better. I think one could actually outplay the other, and let the other team win. Both guys carry a heavy burden for their teams, but not the only burden.
I think that Oklahoma City's coming in here hungry and healthy with incredible speed, quickness, length and athleticism led by one of the most humble stars in any sport in Durant. Then I think of LeBron James, how he held that team together through the (Chris) Bosh injury and through the up and downs of two incredibly tough series against Indiana and Boston, how he held it together showed just what a great, great leader he is, as well as a great player. I think it's going to be a great individual matchup for the fans to focus on. But the teams are only focused on the end result.
I know you coached Thunder coach Scott Brooks. Did you see him becoming a coach and succeeding this quickly?
Well, when you're coaching players it's hard to really see anybody as a coach right off the bat because they're so consumed with trying to stay in the league and prolong their career. But he always had the intangible quality that you would associate with a coach. He was tough, physically and mentally. He worked exceptionally hard at his skills, and he was deeply, deeply committed to the team that despite fluctuating in playing time. ... The career he carved out as a player has to make him awfully proud — undrafted and to be around as long as he lasted and to play for so many quality teams. But he's on the path to surpassing what he achieved as a player now as a coach. He has a chance with the team he built to, if everything goes right, to be a team that can sustain success for a long, long time.
Have you missed coaching?
Well, I do miss coaching particularly the competition and camaraderie. I think it's hard to have coached that long and not miss those two elements in particular. I think it's not a job; it's a lifestyle, because you're so entrenched and your schedule is completely dictated by the schedule of the NBA. And in that way, I do miss it.
How do you rate your performance as an NBA analyst?
As far as grading myself, I really don't think about it like that. I just try to do the best I can. If Mark (Gross, ESPN senior vice president) doesn't fire me after a game and I get to do another one, then I'm doing fine. I sort of let others critique and understand that they have a job. Some will like you, some you'll annoy, and others will down right detest the sound of your voice. But (I'm) just trying to do the best I can and be as fair as possible.