My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana:
The NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final have been such a treat, and it goes beyond LeBron James and Stephen Curry and the excruciatingly-tight Chicago-Tampa Bay series. This is about the men calling the games.
In case you didn’t realize it, we are in the midst of a true golden age of broadcasting for the NHL and NBA. Years from now when a new generation of announcers takes over, a father will say to his son, “Yeah, but you should have heard Mike Emrick and Mike Breen.”
On alternating nights during the finals, there is Emrick’s voice moving at the speed and precision of an Indy car, matching the fast pace of hockey with brilliant eloquence. On the next night, there is the silky-smooth Breen, punctuating the big moments with just the right notes.
This is a gift, friends. A real gift.
I loved this opening by Tom Jones of the Tampa Times in a column about Emrick:
“If you’re lucky, you have tickets to the Stanley Cup final. But if you’re really lucky, you don’t have tickets to the Stanley Cup final. That way you can listen to NBC’s Mike “Doc” Emrick call these games between the Lightning and Blackhawks. Emrick is the Wayne Gretzky of hockey broadcasters. Best of all time. It’s not even close.”
It says something about Emrick’s talents that he has won three Sports Emmys as the best play-by-play man for calling a sport that doesn’t match the ratings of football, basketball and baseball. He remains a master of description, using a myriad of verbs and phrases that further enhance the picture we already see on TV.
I wrote a column for Poynter on what aspiring journalists and broadcasters—established ones, too, for that matter—could learn from Emrick. We discussed the importance of storytelling, a signature element in Emrick’s work.
“I usually have five minutes of material that I have to whack down to 20 seconds,” Emrick said. “But I think the stories are the most lasting. When I listen to someone speak, usually once a week on Sunday, it is the stories that I remember. The stories are far greater than statistics. Stats are here today, gone tomorrow. I remember stories from 20-25 years ago.”
Breen, meanwhile, flies a bit more under the radar compared to other No. 1 announcers. Fans might be surprised to learn that he set a record this year by calling his 10th NBA Finals. Dick Stockton and Marv Albert shared the old mark at nine.
In a story by Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press, Breen says he still considers Albert the voice of the NBA. Perhaps Breen does get eclipsed by Albert, who still is going strong for TNT. Yet Breen deserves his due as one of the best in the business.
Breen’s style is to fit in seamlessly with the game he is calling. He complements the telecast, knowing exactly how to set up his quirky partner, Jeff Van Gundy, and the steady Mark Jackson. He also will interject the pointed comment or criticism when warrant. When the big moment comes, as it often does, Breen rises to the occasion and delivers.
Breen said his approach is to keep it simple. “I just try and work hard and make sure I’m really prepared every time I go on the air and really sounds like there’s no place I’d rather be than calling that particular game,” he said in the AP story.