Transcript: 2020 NBA Finals Media Conference Call with Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson


Transcript: 2020 NBA Finals Media Conference Call with Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson

ESPN analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson discussed the 2020 NBA Finals, amongst other league focused topics, during a media conference call this morning. The 2020 NBA Finals will be Van Gundy, Jackson and, play-by-play commentator, Mike Breen’s 12th time calling the NBA Finals together.

Game 2 of the NBA Finals presented by YouTube TV airs Friday, October 2, beginning at 9 p.m. ET exclusively on ABC.

Full Transcript Below:

Q. For Mark, I know you mentioned late last night about maybe the Heat should play their bigs more. Is that something you would encourage Spoelstra to do with either Meyers Leonard or Kelly Olynyk? And for Jeff, I know there’s probably no reasonable person who would have said in June that this Heat team looked like a championship contender. Have they done enough, regardless of what happens in the series, have they done enough in your mind to be viewed as a championship contender moving forward or are they one significant piece away do you think?

MARK JACKSON: Well, thank you. Erik Spoelstra doesn’t need my advice. He’s a future Hall of Fame coach. He’s done an incredible job with this team. My job is to take a look at what’s going on on the floor and analyze and give advice from a viewer standpoint and make suggestions. It doesn’t mean it’s right.

I just think that the size of the Lakers in starting Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, KCP, Danny Green, they just have tremendous size, and for Game 1 it worked in their advantage. Erik Spoelstra may very well decide to stay the same way, and I could be suggesting that Frank Vogel go small. But as of right now I thought the size and strength of the front line and the lineup in general impacted Game 1, and it was pretty glaring.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Yeah, I think that you have to say they’re a championship-caliber team because they’re playing for it. They’re four wins away.

Now, health obviously is a factor going forward. Free agency and — there’s roster manipulations happening all the time, and you don’t know what’s coming next, and so I think the way Miami goes about it, I’ve always appreciated their willingness to try to be good as they try to get even better, right. So the five years previous to this season, three of those five years they didn’t make the playoffs. They were in that same period, only eight games over .500 in totality. But the effort to win was always there. They were trying to constantly build a roster that could get them back.

When they looked stuck, just 14 months ago, they looked stuck, and they extricated themselves from some questionable contracts. They got better players. Internally they kept getting better, and then they had the free agent signing in Butler. That’s how quickly it can change, and it can change from bad to good and good to bad.

It’s constant; you’ve never arrived. They need to do what they’re doing, just put themselves in position, like they have this year, and keep trying to upgrade as you go along. But it never stops.

Q. Here we are in the Finals, you’re still there. This is whatever year for Jeff, for Mark, you guys are extending records for doing this job, and there’s coaching jobs out there again. Are we going to see you back here next year? Are you okay with that, or do you get to the point where you say, okay, it’s got to be this year where I’m finally going to get back to doing that other job which I’m pretty good at?

MARK JACKSON: Well, obviously it’s an incredible job we have and we’re blessed and fortunate to be able to call another NBA Finals. I think coaching is in both of our veins, and we look forward to the day — I know I can speak for myself and say I look forward to the day that I’m coaching again, but I’m having a blast.

What I will say is, we’re not in position to hire, so we have no control over that. I know if I was hiring, without a doubt Jeff Van Gundy would be my hire. He’s a brilliant basketball mind, an incredible basketball coach. I’m speaking of a guy that sat in a chair and watched him lead a team as my head coach. So I look forward to him having an opportunity, if that’s what he wants, because the game certainly needs his brilliance from that side because we witnessed it firsthand from this side long enough in my opinion.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Yeah, I think Mark said it so well: We’re blessed, incredibly blessed to be working for a tremendous company in a sport we love and during a time where so many people don’t have employment or lost employment or furloughed from employment. That’s not lost on us, just how fortunate we are.

Jack was kind to me, but I would say one of the most confounding things that I’ve run into in the NBA is the power brokers to be, how Mark is not being interviewed for every job. The job he did in Golden State was tremendous, and just like with Steve Nash, I don’t discount playing experience. Long playing careers should not hurt you from getting coaching jobs, they should help you, because the experiences of particularly really bright players that play is a great, great teacher to many of the things that you’re going to confront as a head coach.

You know, you have Mark’s playing experience, you have his tremendous coaching job in Golden State, and I think one of the great leaders that I ever witnessed in the NBA, you combine all that, and it does, it confounds me that he’s not being interviewed for every opening.

I think the owner and GM that are smart enough to recognize the mistakes of others by not doing that will be very, very pleased that they did.

Q. It looks like LeBron has a great chance to win his fourth championship with his third team in his 10th Finals appearance. Does that career stack up as good as Michael Jordan’s? Where do you guys stand on that, if LeBron wins a fourth with three teams.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I would say comparison is the thief of joy. I think it’s a far different discussion between who was the better player. That’s a discussion that I would always say you can have first pick, I’ll take second pick and I’ll be very, very happy with whichever player I got.

But as far as careers, when you talk about longevity, records broken, I don’t think at the end of the day LeBron James’s career will take a backseat to anyone. He could well become the all-time leading scorer in the NBA and that not being his greatest skill, and to me when you think of his passing is his greatest skill and he may well be the all-time leading scorer, that speaks incredibly to his versatility.

And then the winning that follows him everywhere, to win with multiple teams, I think — a lot of people talk about the championships or the Finals that he lost, but I’ve never looked at a team of his, other than maybe Dallas, where I thought they had the better team when they lost in the Finals.

I think he’s had a remarkable career that takes a backseat to no one.

MARK JACKSON: I’m in agreement. When you think about it at the end of the day, he could very well be the all-time leading scorer and the top 5 assist man in the history of the game, along with all sorts of different accolades that he will have accomplished. He won’t take a backseat to anybody as far as career is concerned, career accomplishments. I think about Michael, I think about Kareem, as Jeff mentioned last night, and Bill Russell, career-wise what they were able to accomplish last night, their body of work, and LeBron will be in the discussion with anybody that’s ever played this game.

Q. After seeing Boston pretty exclusively here in the bubble, what do you think they need to get to the next level? And how hard is it to find that big man like Miami’s Bam Adebayo? How hard is it to get a big man to be able to do some of the things that he did that kind of exposed the Celtics in that position?

MARK JACKSON: Well, I’m not sure you need a big man like that. You don’t need a superstar big man. Obviously, the Lakers have one in Anthony Davis, the Miami Heat have a star big man in Bam and what he’s been able to do. I think the Celtics — it’s a process, and they are going through the process of advancing and getting further and learning and experience.

I think the Gordon Hayward not being healthy impacted them to a certain extent. Kemba didn’t look like he was 100 percent, so it’s a process that you have to go through, and obviously they have outstanding coaching, they have tremendous talent, and the future is awfully bright for them, and I think it’s just a question of continuing to progress and continuing to get better.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I concur with what Mark said. They won a tough series against Toronto, who’s very good. They lost a tough series to Miami, who is very good. The difference between teams is minimal. Whether it’s a good shooting run or a bad health turn for an important player, that’s how these things turn. And I think one thing Boston keeps doing is they keep putting themselves in position, they’re knocking at the door, and I like their young players very much. Brad Stevens is a great coach who embodies everything as far as humility and servant leadership that you would want in a coach. They have great management; Danny Ainge continually restocks their talent. And they have ownership that’s committed to winning.

When you put all four of those things together, you’re going to be really good, and that’s what they are, they’re really good. And there’s nothing preventing them from taking the next step. Would you want to keep getting more talent? Absolutely, but you’re not going to be able to pay everybody, choices are to be made, and I like the choices that they’ve made. They just lost a hard-fought series.

Q. It’s obviously a strange season for everybody from fans to players to broadcasters. I wanted to ask you guys about the broadcasting experience. This is obviously unique for everybody. What have you learned so far, and are there lessons you can take — when things hopefully get back to normal, from what you’ve done in the bubble from sort of a logistical and technology perspective? What are the lessons learned and what hasn’t worked frankly?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I’m not a technology guy, so I think I’d be out of my league speaking about technology, but I think, just like you ask a player or a coach just to maximize their talent, that’s what the NBA and Turner and ESPN and ABC have done. They’ve taken a really bad situation and they’ve made it as good as it can be.

I think the way it looks on TV, it comes across very well. I think for the players, it’s hard. They’re in the Finals. They’re at the pinnacle, and when they come on the court, it’s absolutely dead in the arena. It’s just like there’s no atmosphere. And that’s what makes it so impressive to me, what the players are doing. They’re playing these great basketball games, highly competitive, tremendous intensity with no crowd, no ambience. And I applaud what they’ve done.

I think the NBA and the TV people have done the best they can. The players have, as well. And for us, I don’t know if Mark differs in this, but it doesn’t feel any different other than our vantage point. We’re up. We’re not down on the floor. But we’re up a little bit, and we don’t talk directly to players or anything. Everything is Zoom. But I don’t think that’s been a problem at all.

From a broadcasting standpoint, I think it’s been pretty much similar to our experiences pre-pandemic.

MARK JACKSON: I would agree with everything that Jeff just said. I will say coming in I thought the one thing we would have to adjust is generating our own enthusiasm for the play, and that hasn’t even been the case. The NBA and its partners, ESPN and TNT, have done an incredible job from the top to the smallest guy, crossing every T and dotting every I to put it in position where it looks like a real game and sounds like a real game. They’ve done a spectacular job.

What I will say is from our standpoint of calling the game, it’s similar to an NBA team mentality. You win with talent. I’m playing with two of the best to ever do it in Mike and Jeff, and they truly make it easy, and it’s enjoyable for me. They’ve done — I can’t say enough about the job they’ve done, taking a bad situation, an unfortunate situation, and making it a historic event.

Q. I wanted to ask you guys, were you surprised with the Doc Rivers situation that he’s no longer there with the Clippers, and what do you think his strengths are as a coach?

MARK JACKSON: Well, he’s a future Hall of Fame coach, outstanding coach. He’s done an incredible job everywhere he’s been, tremendous leader. Obviously surprised that he was let go, whatever took place with the Clippers, but I’m sure as soon as he wants a job, he’ll have the opportunity to have a job. He’s an outstanding coach, a tremendous leader, and the game certainly needs him.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Yeah, I think the entire basketball community was shocked. I think Doc over his entire career, starting in Orlando through Boston and to the Clippers, has done a great job in leading his team and in maximizing their talents.

I think his leadership qualities during this bubble experience really helped show the way into how everybody, teams, players, coaches, could maximize their platform for change.

As far as with coaching in the future, I think obviously, as Mark said, he’s a Hall of Fame-caliber coach, and he can have his pick of jobs, I’m sure. I think Brett Brown did a tremendous job in Philadelphia, and they have some good returning pieces. Their roster on the perimeter needs work. But I think Doc or anybody there is going to be very successful.

Q. Obviously it didn’t go well last night for Miami –had some injuries sustained and the Lakers were able to pretty much dominate. What do you think Miami needs to do to get back into the series? Down 1-0 but it seemed like they were pretty thoroughly dominated last night.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, I think obviously you can’t gloss over the health issues. When you have three starters, two leave the game due to injury and one hobbled throughout the game, you just can’t withstand those type of injuries. The whole discussion can start and stop there if they’re not healthy.

If healthy, they have some things that they can build on from the first six to seven minutes of the game. Obviously, LA’s size really took over, and defensively LA is a tremendous team. And I think the more actions that Jimmy Butler participates in — I thought he got really high-quality shots and created high-quality shots for others. I thought clearly he was at a different level aggression-wise, assertiveness-wise, right from the tip offensively.

They’ve got a lot of questions to get answered. It starts with health. And you have to hope for some sort of regression from the early three-point shooting of LA. But Miami I would not discount them. Every game is an entity all to itself.

MARK JACKSON: I’m agreeing with everything that Jeff said. I think you don’t want to overreact, so obviously after the start, the Heat were thoroughly outplayed. You give credit to the opposition. The Celtics played well, their bench played exceptionally well. But at the same time it’s a series of adjustments. Health is a key point, but it can turn at any point, so you make the proper adjustments.

I think the size was one of the key adjustments that Miami will have to respond to, but they’re in the Finals for a reason. So I look forward to it still being a hard-fought battle in this championship round.

Q. Just in Brooklyn with Steve Nash, you guys obviously have experience in that head coaching spot. He’s going there with no experience. What kind of challenge does someone in that position face, and do you feel that Steve is equipped to handle those challenges?

MARK JACKSON: Well, Steve Nash is one of the all-time great not just point guards but players in the history of this game, and I’m a guy speaking from experience. I really believe that if you played the point guard position the way it’s supposed to be played, you have been the lead assistant on any team you played for. I feel that way when you talk about Steve Nash.

He was entrusted with an offense that he was an extension of the coach on the floor night in and night out and had a career of performing masterfully at the point guard position.

I think it’s a new job for him, it’s a new task for him, so surrounding himself with the right people. I think he’s more than capable and qualified to do the job. You win in this league with talent, and I’m sure that his body of work as a player and as a leader speaks volumes for him, and he’ll be just fine.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I’ve always felt that people underestimate when they say a guy is inexperienced. They discount long playing careers. Those are incredibly important experiences that you gain as a star player and at that position in particular. So I don’t look at him as inexperienced.

I know this: I went from being an assistant coach to a head coach. The two jobs could not be more dissimilar. There’s nothing that you do as an assistant coach that even approximates what goes on as a head coach.

I think everybody is inexperienced until you do it. Whether you’ve been an assistant for 20 years or you’ve never been an assistant coach in your life. And I think Steve will do a tremendous job. They’re blessed with an extremely talented roster there. They have new ownership that is driven to win. Sean Marks is a proven leader, and I think Steve will assemble a tremendous staff, as well, to help him wherever he feels he needs help.

But I think people would be making a grave mistake underestimating Steve Nash’s experience and Steve Nash’s leadership ability.

Q. Commissioner Silver, on his State of the League address, was asked about the lowering number of black coaches in the NBA. Should there be a Rooney Rule implemented in the NBA, which he seemed to not like that idea? Mark, just talk about your accomplishments as being the longest running black analyst in any sport doing what you do.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Listen, I think everybody is concerned about opportunities for qualified minority hires, and we all should be. If we need to adopt procedures to ensure that, then we should.

I think we should be long past underestimating the greatness of so many Black coaches in our league, whether they played like Mark did, and I speak from experience, because I mentioned earlier in the call, I cannot believe how he’s been overlooked in both accomplishments and the qualities that anybody would need to lead a team. But we need to, like, make sure that these candidates are given a platform to truly be considered.

Now, the problem is no matter what rules that you possibly adopt, it still goes to the people doing the hiring to truly consider them versus just interview them. That’s a distinct difference.

MARK JACKSON: I’m in agreement with everything that Jeff just said. One thing I don’t want is, I don’t want to put in something similar to the Rooney Rule and have teams go through the motions just with a fake interview, just to make it sound like or seem like they interviewed a person, a minority.

I believe in the commissioner, the incredible job that he’s done. He’s well aware of what the numbers say, and I’m sure that things will change. There’re so many qualified individuals out there that deserve an opportunity and deserve a chance. I would be thoroughly disappointed if it continues to move the way that it has. Truth be told, there’s 30 job opportunities, so it’s not a big pool, but there’s opportunities where it should take place, and the best man should truly win the job.

So hopefully it changes, and I look forward to that.

On your second question, it is truly an honor and a blessing when I look at that note of the accomplishments, not just of myself and the historic aspect of the amount of championship games that I’ve called, but when I look at Mike Breen 15 years and Jeff 14 years — I thought about it yesterday sitting in my room and I almost was going to say it on the air, but the game didn’t call for me. But I sat in my room during the day and really started crying a little bit because just — you value these moments and how precious and fortunate we are to have the platform and the privilege of calling these games. I truly don’t take it for granted.

I was a kid dreaming to have a job like this and dreaming to play, dreaming to coach, and to be able to fulfill it, it’s a humbling experience, and I’m forever grateful.

Q. You were just talking about the difference between kind of lip service interviews for minority candidates for coaching and actually considering them. Do you see signs that the powers that be are actually doing those things? Are you optimistic that not only in this coaching cycle but in ones that are coming up in future years that that can actually be something that happens, and not having the same discussion next year?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, when I said that, I don’t mean to imply that in this cycle any of those coaches that were hired were not eminently qualified. And I’m also not even beginning to imply that the people doing the hiring didn’t have the right intent. So I want to make that very clear.

But at the same time, we all have to be alerted to trends. The trend in this year is that the minority coaching population has dwindled, and I think we need to be alerted.

I don’t think — there’s never been a guy I’ve talked to, a minority candidate, a Black coach, that wants a gift of a job. He wants equal opportunities to get jobs. I think the NBA has strived to do that.

I think this is an anomaly this year. But you also have to be alerted to the trends, and you have to be aware and you have to have people question you, particularly in the hiring practices, to make sure you are truly seeking out all candidates that are qualified and not just the ones that you may feel most comfortable with.

But that’s not to imply that the guys who got hired in this cycle aren’t great. They are. Unfortunately, there’s so many more guys who are qualified to be head coaches than head coaching jobs exist. But I just think when you have the responsibility to do the hiring, you have to make sure the people around you that are helping you make you aware of all candidates and all biases that might creep in and crop up.

MARK JACKSON: I can’t say it any better than what Jeff said, so I’ll leave it alone.

Q. Mark, I’d love to know, especially given the current climate of the country, what it means to you to have this mark of having the most NBA appearances for a Black co-analyst for any major pro sports championship, and also if you had spoken — Jeff, maybe you would know this, as well, if you had spoken with Doris and what it means to her to be the first woman to serve as a game analyst. She’s done so many firsts, but I’m just wondering specifically, Mark, for you, what the meaning is, and if you had spoken with Doris at all about the meaning for her, as well.

MARK JACKSON: Well, thanks for the question. It truly is humbling. I said it a couple minutes ago. I’m extremely grateful, fortunate and blessed to have an opportunity to have fulfilled this. I remember when I was a kid seven years old sitting in the corner of my room listening to Knicks games, dreaming of playing in the NBA, as if I was Earl Monroe. At the same time, I was dreaming of coaching in the NBA; I was Red Holzman. And at the same time, I had called the action, as if I was Marv Albert. To have lived the life to have fulfilled each one of those dreams and still adding on is incredible, and I’m fortunate enough to do it with guys that are family to me in Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, who I love to death and I have the time of my life doing it.

I understand the call. I’m humbled by the opportunity to even read that, to realize that I’ve been blessed to work at ESPN, and I’ve got people like Tim Corrigan and people above him that believe in what we’re doing and have given us this platform. It’s great.

And I also realize the people that have come before me, that may not have done it as long but they’ve certainly put a stamp on what I’ve been able to do, and they allowed me to dream.

As far as Doris, we talked briefly, see her at the game and see her obviously around here, she’s a legend, and what she’s been able to accomplish should be respected, in the same way that I’ve just finished talking about the accomplishments that I’ve made, as a woman, she allows so many behind her to dream. And I wouldn’t even minimize it as a woman. She’s changed the game as an announcer in general.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Doris, in this broadcasting situation, she’s right behind us, and we’re in the same hotel, same bubble. She’s very humble about all she’s done, but we’re so proud of all she’s accomplished and all her efforts being rewarded because she’s truly a great NBA broadcaster. It has nothing to do with her gender. It has everything to do with her knowledge, her passion, her preparation, and just a knowledge and enthusiasm for the game.

What a wonderful broadcaster she is, and she’s gotten so many rave reviews because she’s earned them all.


Shakeemah Simmons-Winter

I am a senior publicist for men’s pro sports, working predominantly with the NBA and FIBA properties. I’m a Jersey City, NJ native, so I cheer for all New York sports and athletes, win or lose. I began my sports career as a small forward for JCPS #9’s elementary basketball team, and then years later gave up my hoop dreams (sort of) to work as the Public Relations Coordinator for the New York Knicks. Prior to working in sports, I briefly worked as an intern turned production assistant for the Wendy Williams Show. I earned a B.A. in Communications from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, where I met my husband Matthew, and later attended New York University to earn a M.S. in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. I am excited to continue my sports journey with some of the most knowledgeable professionals in the sports industry.
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