NCAA Tournament Broadcaster Kevin Harlan Reveals The Secret Behind The Perfect Live Read

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Kevin Harlan’s voice is unmistakeable. It’s at once authoritative and warm, squarely in “how a GPS should address you” territory. Behind every call is subtext, parentheses, a whisper of can you believe I get to do this every day? In a world where “love what you do” isn’t a mantra but, instead, a tool and trick to fool people into working harder and for longer hours for the same amount of pay, Harlan still truly loves what he does. He always has. And it’s hard not to return that love while watching the games he broadcasts.

Harlan is a snug fit in today’s sports ecosystem as a bridge between the past and the future. He brings with him decades of experience calling multiple high profile football and basketball games, mixing consistency with levity, and some of his best — or most memorable — calls border on the absurd. A streaker runs on the field? Harlan will call it masterfully. Someone chowing down on bison nachos heading to commercial? Harlan will give it the treatment it deserves. Today’s sponsors require mashing Grey Goose and “Taco Bell Nacho Fries” together? Harlan’s your man.

He’s seen true Cinderellas. He’s dealt with heartbreak and epic moments. He’s called games from unheralded players he’d later see again as stars in the NBA. And he seems to be enjoying every minute of it.

Dime had a chance to catch up with Harlan prior to the NCAA Tournament West Regional games in Anaheim which he called for Turner/CBS sports, and discussed the difference between calling NBA vs. NCAA games, finding humor in the call, and those masterful livereads.

When you’re pulling double duty like this with NBA and college basketball at the same time, how do you utilize one set of information to help inform and enhance your ability to continue to call games? You’re working with different partners, you’re going to different places, and it’s basketball at the end of the day, but it is an inherently different game and set of rules.

It is. College has I think a lot more breathing space for an analyst, and I think has a real good rhythm for a two person crew, three person crew. There’s time to get your point in, you’ve got a longer shot clock, you’ve got slower play, you’ve got lot of missed shots, the skill level is lower. So, it really I think is an easier game to broadcast from that standpoint.

To me, the NBA is very difficult, especially trying to get in an analyst, because it’s back and forth so quick, shorter clock, a great skill level, so much to look at, 1,000 moving parts in every play, and just so much to take in. You sometimes have an analyst covering a basket, which really shouldn’t be the case, but it happens a lot. And it’s inherent in the game, I get that, but I just think that probably a lot of times it’s incumbent on the analyst to make sure that either he has succinct comments and is efficient with what he says, or he just stays quiet until a series of plays are over to let the play by play guy do his job.

So, when both are going, and I do both, because I do CBS on weekends during the regular season, and then Turner NBA on Thursdays, the difference to me is incredibly noticeable. I’m one of the few that do both like that, and I can tell you that in terms of a broadcast and maybe ease of listen, the college game is probably a better listen, because there’s room for analysis between plays. Whereas the NBA, you could really just have a radio call, because it’s happening so fast, and there’s so much of it. And it’s hard, I think, for an analyst to be at his or her best, because there just is not time to get out and to analyze all the great things that you can see on a particular play or series of plays.