Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Mike Breen don’t know politically correct. To them, that part of their job doesn’t exist. That characteristic of theirs, the refusal to downplay or generalize, which can be both annoying and refreshing, is part of what makes them a fun regularity during the NBA season. And this year? With all that has taken place this summer? We need P.C. like we need a lockout. Or like Barkley needs a muzzle.
With the amount of excitement the start of this new season is generating, it is only fitting that a few of the men who will be there to crown another champion this June should help usher us into what could become the most watched, anticipated and talk-about basketball season in a long time. We caught up to the guys to talk about the Finals, the excitement from free agency and who the funniest trio of commentators in sports really is.
Dime: Reflect on the NBA Finals a little bit. Was that the best Finals series in the past decade or so?
Mark Jackson: I really believe so. When you are talking about having the two best franchises in NBA history and then to go to a Game 7 with big-time finishes, big-time players, I thought it was a lot of fun and great for the everyday fan.
Jeff Van Gundy: I thought the series with San Antonio and Detroit that went seven was maybe a little bit better played, but when you consider the franchises involved and the closeness of the Game 7, it was a tremendous end to a very good series.
Dime: What was everyone’s take on “The Decision?” Was it like this every summer where players would meet up, especially big-name players, and try to play together or is that something new that has come about with this Draft class?
Jackson: To answer both of those things, I thought the decision was LeBron James‘ decision. I thought he put himself in position to give himself the best possible chance to win a championship and decide to go to Miami and team up with [Chris] Bosh and [Dwyane] Wade and that franchise. I have no problem with it at all. I think ultimately when you talk about me as a player, there has been times when you play in charity games where you have friends and you always entertain the idea of playing with each other and trying to team up. So that’s gone on forever.
Van Gundy: I agree with Mark to a point where obviously LeBron James earned the right to make his decision for whatever factors came into it. I was surprised by what he decided to do and then how he decided to announce it. I thought he would either stay in Cleveland and try to continue to build that franchise or go to a franchise like the Knicks who were down and needed a jolt. I was surprised when he made the decision to play alongside another great player in Dwyane Wade. What the ramifications of that decision will be for him personally and for their team remains to be seen. I’m fascinated to how it’s going to end up.
Mike Breen: He said all along that he wanted to go to a place where he thought he would have the best chance to win a championship. And with Wade and Bosh deciding to go to Miami, I think that’s the place where he should’ve gone if he wants to win the most championships. That’s puts them in the driver’s seat in the East. From that standpoint, I think he did the right thing. I personally would not have done it the way he did it. I thought the TV show was not a smart thing to do, but I think also the way people are just pouncing on him now is a little bit unfair. He didn’t commit a felony. He just made a bad decision that’s all.
Dime: With the coaching opportunities out there, how much longer do you think you guys will be courtside together doing games?
Jackson: Well, who knows? As far as I’m concerned, this is a great situation. I’ve got two guys who are not only co-workers, but also friends for life. I’m just having a great time doing it.
Van Gundy: I agree with that. My dad told me this a long time ago, never worry about what your next job is, just worry about what you are doing right then. As I grow older, I couldn’t agree more with that advice. Sometimes you get so worried about what’s next that you fail to appreciate what you have. We all realize what we have. We are very, very fortunate to be in this situation.
Breen: I’ve called most of the general managers in the NBA and spread false rumors about them, talking about that both of them have mental health issues, they are undependable and very difficult to work with. So hopefully, that’ll scare them off from hiring those guys and they will stick with us. (laughs)
Dime: Jeff, what did you think about your brother’s comments on free agency? He said Bosh was following Wade around like a “lap dog…”
Van Gundy: I think my brother really needs to let his guard down a little bit more and speak what he feels the truth to be. (laughs) One thing I’ve always appreciated about Stan is that he’s not afraid to say what he really thinks instead of giving the politically correct answers that we are so accustomed to hearing. You can disagree with him. You can disagree with him being as direct and as candid as he was. For me, when anybody ever calls me up and says, “Did you hear what Stan said?” I get on the edge of my seat because I have no idea what that could possibly be. I always find it very entertaining.
Breen: It’s obviously a family trait. (laughs)
Dime: Who is more entertaining: you guys or TNT?
Jackson: Well, what do you want us to say? (laughs)
Van Gundy: Let’s face it. There’s nobody who is as funny as Barkley when he gets on a roll. That guy…. And he has totally and complete leeway to say whatever he wants. We would all be fired for half of the stuff that he says.
Jackson: In all fairness to them, I think they do a great job. And it’s not about competition, it’s about the brand of basketball and they do a great job from top to bottom.
Van Gundy: Absolutely.
Dime: You all have Knick connections. How do you feel about their summer and their direction? Do you think the excitement is coming back?
Van Gundy: I think they’ve marginally improved. [Amar’e] Stoudemire, forgetting what they signed him for, he’s a very good player. They lost David Lee. They lost Al Harrington, Buckets Harrington. Both those guys are big losses. But, [Raymond] Felton‘s a solid player. I’m interested to see how [Anthony] Randolph plays given more time and the ability to expand his game. And then, I don’t know what to expect from the big Russian (Timofey Mozgov). I’ve never seen him play.
Jackson: Obviously it’s a bit disappointing because their hope was LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. They did not get either one of those guys. But, Amar’e Stoudemire is a big get. If you get the talent around him, who knows how it plays out? I remember as a kid, they used to say, “All you need is a dollar and a dream.” Well, now you know that isn’t the end all. I think it’s important for them to get back on track.
Breen: Well, Mark said it too. There is a huge no-LeBron letdown. But, once they get passed that, they are going to be a better team and will have a real shot at the playoffs. The Knick fans right now are just…they are so hungry for a good, competitive team that they will see them improving once they get over the fact that they didn’t get one of the stars.
Jackson: And they still have Spike Lee.
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