ESPN/ABC's No. 1 broadcast team of play-by-play announcer Mike Breen and analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson will call the NBA Finals beginning at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Miami. The trio called the Thunder's final seven games this season, including the Western Conference Finals.
In a recent conference call, Breen and Jackson discussed complaints from some viewers that they were biased against the Thunder. Jackson and ESPN radio announcer Dr. Jack Ramsey also discussed what the team needs to do to improve next season.
Q. Some of the Thunder fans thought you might have been rooting against the Thunder. How do you respond to that?
Jackson: “There's no way in the world that we have anything against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Nothing but respect, appreciation and admiration for the organization from top to bottom, the way they've conducted themselves, and the success that they've had. You can ask, whether it be Sam Presti, Scott Brooks, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or any other player, the relationships that we have with them, and I'm sure they will tell you that no way in the world would they think we'd be rooting against them.
“Our job is to speak the facts. The facts are that a couple of games in the series there were breakdowns, and they didn't play as well as they could have played. They had a couple of games won, and they did not win them. But they had a great season, and they should be extremely proud.”
Breen: “For the team that plays poorly, their fans are upset because obviously for some reason they played poorly and you have to be critical or you have to be honest as Mark says. ... I think overall broadcasts are more critical in the playoffs in terms of what a team is doing and what a certain player is doing. And I think that's why sometimes the fans might be a little sensitive, because also their emotions are running high. It's a playoff game; it means so much. Playoff losses are so painful, and fans get very emotional watching those, as well.”
Q. Is this a common criticism in the playoffs?
Breen: “Almost every series. It's amazing. We'll go into the NBA Finals and just say, for example, last year, we'll go into Boston and the Celtic fans will say, ‘Boy, it's clear you guys are rooting for the Lakers,' and then the series will shift to L.A., and the Laker fans will say, ‘Boy, it's obvious you guys are rooting for the Celtics.' That's just part of the job, and I've talked to announcers who do the World Series or a Super Bowl, and they get a lot of the same stuff.”
Jackson: “I think that happens not just every series but every game. The team that loses or the team that plays bad, our job is to tell a story. Basically, if you're playing bad, we're going to talk about that. I think it comes off to a true fan like you're disliking their team. So it's quite amusing to me. But it comes with the job, and it's a compliment, really, when they do that because it tells you that you spoke the facts.”
Q. What does the Thunder need to do to take the next step next season?
Dr. Jack Ramsay: “I think maturity is No. 1. They clearly shot themselves in the foot in Dallas, but Dallas had something to do with that, and Dallas demonstrated the poise and mental toughness that I think the Thunder has to acquire before they're going to get to the next level. It's a very good team. It's well-coached. They have very good young personnel. They play together. They like each other. But they need to mature so they can make big plays down the stretch, which they did not do in the series against Dallas.”
Jackson: “I think what they've gone through and the setbacks only make them better in understanding what it takes to win ballgames and how you close out games. They're going to get better just for the simple fact of going through these situations. Last year, losing to the Lakers and this year losing to the Mavs, they're only going to get better and have a better understanding of how you bust through the door and ultimately win the whole thing.”