Transcript: NBA Final Media Conference Call with ABC and ESPN NBA Analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson


Transcript: NBA Final Media Conference Call with ABC and ESPN NBA Analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson

ABC and ESPN NBA Analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson answered questions on Tuesday ahead of the 2023 NBA Finals Presented by YouTube TV as the Denver Nuggets square off with the Miami Heat. For the 21st consecutive season, ABC will exclusively broadcast the NBA Finals beginning on Thursday, June 1, at 8:30 p.m. ET. For more on ESPN’s NBA Finals coverage, visit ESPN Press Room.

Q. Obviously nobody except the Heat expected them to be here. What things come to mind if I ask you what’s surprised you about their playoff run? There are many things, them doing it without Herro, how good Caleb Martin is. What specific things have surprised you about them accomplishing this?

MARK JACKSON: Well, I would say the thing that jumps out, and it’s not about the Miami Heat, anytime a team suffers the injuries that they’ve suffered and sustained their level of play. Not surprising that they would win a playoff series and compete moving forward, but no matter what their team looked like, losing key players, I wouldn’t pick that team to wind up as one of the last two standing.

It says a lot about their competitive spirit, their culture, says a lot about Pat Riley, says a lot about Coach Erik Spoelstra and the job he continues to do at an all-time elite level, and it says a lot about the guys in uniform.

That would be the thing that I’d say stood out the most as far as impressing me.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I think if they end up winning the championship, it’ll be the most unlikely champion that I can remember because they will have beaten the teams with the top two records in the NBA. They will then have beaten the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference in this playoff run.

The journey has been right through the heart of greatness, and that they’ve been able to answer the bell, I echo what Mark said. Everyone deserves an incredible amount of credit.

I just love their team toughness, both mental and physical. I’m watching Kyle Lowry, who obviously is not the same player he once was in Toronto, but he is one of the great competitors I’ve witnessed in the NBA, like tough, physical, and then the mental strength to know that you may be on the back nine but you can still contribute to winning and not pouting about what you used to be but still contributing for what you are, I find that to be — it doesn’t happen with every player. That someone like him, with as much as he has accomplished, be able to gracefully accept a new role and put everything he’s got into it, I have great admiration for that.

Q. Jeff, do you believe that their talent has been underestimated?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: As much as it’s a talent game, it’s a habit game. I think we oftentimes skirt over the habits of players and move directly to those things that we can look at and we can see.

I think anybody denigrating the talents of the Heat players is making a mistake, and they are overlooking the habits that have been formed that make these players — and I think Jimmy Butler said, they’re not role players, they’re exceptional players. You don’t get to where they’ve gotten to, earned the minutes that they’ve earned, performed the way they’ve performed and not have tremendous talent.

It reminds me of a saying I heard on “Bluebloods,” which was one of my favorite cop shows. When you listen to all the pontifications, it reminds me of the saying Frank Reagan said: “Rarely right but never uncertain.”

People that have said adamantly that this is not a talented team or they couldn’t win Game 7 I don’t think understands the habits of some of those tremendous key players.

Q. Jeff, I wanted to ask about your time at Rutgers here just to try to get a New Jersey angle in on this. What are your recollections of your year coaching at Rutgers, and what do you think of the job Steve Pikiell has done in recent years?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Oh, man. I’m glad we’re getting off topic. I love it.

I would say my year at Rutgers was — I worked for Bob Wenzel with Jeff Mitchell and Eddie Jordan, and it was one of the most satisfying years of my career. There has never been — I’d say I’ve been a part of many great coaching staffs, singular seasons, but my first year with Rick Pitino at Providence when we went to the Final Four in ’87, I think we beat Jack’s team like three times that year if I’m not mistaken. Just confirm that for me. But was the singular best coaching job to this day that I’ve ever seen.

Second would be Bob Wenzel in my year, it was ’88-’89, who took these disparate parts and made an NCAA Tournament team out of it.

What’s undersold about the Rutgers Athletic Center, it is I would say in the top five of all home-court advantages in college basketball. It’s loud. The students are incredibly passionate.

That Steve Pikiell has shepherded them from — it was rough. We were in the Atlantic 10 when I was there, and once they found success in the Atlantic 10 they moved to the Big East, so it was a struggle then, and then once they got their footing in the Big East, they moved to the Big Ten. It’s been constant shift.

But Steve Pikiell and his staff have done a tremendous job attracting really good players and maximizing those players in a great atmosphere to play basketball.

Rutgers University, even though it’s been a long, long time, it’s one of the first checks I check in the box score every night because I’ll be forever indebted to Coach Wenzel, Jeff Mitchell, Eddie Jordan for one of the most special years I’ve ever had in basketball.

Q. Since both you guys have a connection to Coach Pitino, I’ll ask both of you what you think about Rick taking over at St. John’s, and Mark, how much can he get them back on the right track going towards the NCAA Tournament and eventually making a deep run in the tournament?

MARK JACKSON: Well, I think it’s an incredible hire. A can’t-miss hire. You’re talking about one of the great, not college coaches but one of the great coaches in the history of basketball, in the history of sports. An incredible mind, incredible job to impact and spark change. To me as a former St. John’s basketball player, I’m thrilled about what’s going on right now and what’s happening.

Retooled, got fresh talent, and I’m sure he’ll have them fired up and geared, and looking forward to not just one but many NCAA runs and an opportunity to compete for it all. It’s a thrilling time for us St. John’s people.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: There’s no doubt about his coaching greatness. I think Mark accentuated that very well, and I think like Deion Sanders at Colorado, the complete roster overhaul is unique, and these are certainly interesting times in college athletics.

But Coach Pitino has always figured it out, and I have no doubts he’ll figure this out.

I do want to say, though, that St. John’s disappointed me in how they treated Mike Anderson on the way out. It’s one thing to let someone go; that’s your prerogative. But to try to trump up some charges so you don’t have to pay him I think is below them as an institution, and I would urge them to rectify that, pay him what he’s owed, and do not denigrate what he accomplished there and the integrity with which he accomplished it.

As happy as I am for Coach and know that he’s going to do great things, I was really disappointed in St. John’s for how they handled Mike Anderson’s exit and firing.

Q. I have a question on Jimmy Butler. He was traded three straight off-seasons from the Bulls, then the Wolves, then the Sixers. The Sixers wanted him to stay. He took less money to go to the Heat. Do you think it’s kind of an indictment on those three organizations that they couldn’t figure out a way to build around him and accomplish what the Heat are doing with him?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, no, I don’t think it’s a bad reflection on them at all. Players when they reach free agency or they’re heading towards free agency, as we’ve seen in the last couple years, utilize their power in different ways. Chicago was going under a rebuild. He forced his way out of Minnesota. Then I’m not exactly sure why he left a really good team in Philadelphia.

But the idea of taking less money, I think it’s overplayed. How much less, the tax situation in Florida may equal that up. Everybody makes their choices for whatever reasons they have, whatever their priorities are, but very rarely do people give up a significant amount of money in the pursuit of getting to the place they want.

So, I think that’s often in my estimation an overplayed angle.

MARK JACKSON: I totally agree with Jeff. I don’t think at all it’s an indictment on the three teams. I think if Jimmy looked back, he would say there was some things he’d do differently, and he’s found a home, without a doubt, and he’s flourishing in that home, so give him credit, move forward.

I think of the 30 teams in this league, if you’ve looked throughout their history, they’ve lost talent at some point. It evens out. But fortunately for Jimmy, he’s in the NBA Finals and continues to flourish in a Heat jersey.

Q. I had a question for Mark and then one for you both. Obviously, Mark, with the understanding that this series and the narrative is not about you guys and not about you, I wonder if you could kind of humor me. I’m curious in the game sense how your interaction with Nuggets players, coaches, maybe even fans have been since the Jokić MVP vote and your apology, first off?

MARK JACKSON: Well, thank you for the question. I’ve had no issues at all, and I don’t expect any, other than one or two fans during one of the games in the Western Conference Finals.

Fortunately, out of the two people, two men, one apologized on the way out. So, nothing but class.

I understand the quick comments or the slick comments. I’m fine with that. There’s nothing but love, appreciation, and the story is Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, Michael Malone, the Denver Nuggets and their success, versus the Miami Heat. It’s going to be a tremendous Finals.

Q. What did you think about how Coach Malone has kind of used the national media and ESPN, to be frank, as kind of a motivational tool and kind of a crutch in this playoff run and the job he’s done in general?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, he’s done a tremendous job. Mark and I have both worked with him as a coach. He worked for both of us, and he’s done a tremendous job. Got unjustly let go in Sacramento when he was doing a good job, bounced back, and has done a tremendous job in Denver.

The motivation issues, I think, again, their players don’t need motivation. Like they’re playing in the NBA Finals. This is all — like all these narratives about TopGolf and disrespect, it’s mind-numbing. With the Celtics, we’re talking TopGolf instead of them making 16 and 19 threes. There’s a huge difference between correlation and causation. I think sometimes with all of it, we minimize exactly what coaches are there for.

Michael Malone’s job is not to motivate Nikola Jokić. It’s to try to get the Denver Nuggets with the right habits, with the versatility that it takes to go through four playoff series, to be able to win on offense and defense, create a balanced team. That’s what he’s done.

It’s not that somebody from ESPN innocently mentioned that Jokić was even better in person than they would be watching at home. Like that’s just nonsense.

Mark is being kind to some of those fans. Some of those fans were clowns at the game.

It used to be when you say I made a mistake, it just goes away. Like the whole stuff about the disrespect is like — it’s tiring. It’s like, we’ve all done it as coaches, and it means nothing.

Q. Mark, did you have a take on Coach Malone?

MARK JACKSON: He’s done an incredible job, like Jeff said. Has worked with both of us, and extremely proud of the job he’s done, not just in Denver but from day one as a head coach, and certainly in Denver he’s been incredible from day one and finds himself on the verge of winning an NBA championship. He’s an outstanding coach, as hard a worker as you’ll find, dedicated, and disciplined, and I’m proud to know him.

Q. Obviously the Celtics have some decisions to make. They got out-toughed, out-hustled, outplayed, out-coached. What do they need to do next? And I know both you guys have been coaches; how tough it for a first-year coach and what Mazzulla has done, and is it ever right to, let’s say, what’s gone on this off-season with Budenholzer and Monty Williams where you fire a very good coach because he didn’t take you to the next level? And how should the Celtics — should they consider making any changes, whether it be the coaching staff or personnel to try to get over the hump because obviously their window is now?

MARK JACKSON: I’m sure Jeff will have a better answer and a more detailed answer, but as a former player and former coach, I can just testify that it’s not easy winning in this league. It’s extremely hard, as a player, as a coach, as an organization. The Boston Celtics have experienced tremendous, tremendous success under Brad Stevens, under Ime Udoka, under Joe Mazzulla. You can take that success for granted and think that it’s the norm when it’s actually not.

Look around the league; I think as a first-year coach, Joe Mazzulla did an outstanding job, had his team on the verge of an NBA Finals trip, and they fell short.

Sometimes it matters when your best player tweaks an ankle first play of the ballgame. Little things like that factor in when you’re talking about winning or losing.

I just want to just testify on the fact that how hard it is to win in this league. It’s a tough place to win.

Give credit to the Miami Heat.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Amen to what Mark said about how difficult it is to win one game, one playoff game, one series. If this was college basketball, we’d be lauding them for being in the Final Four. Somehow in the NBA, we look to scapegoat after every series loss.

Erik Spoelstra is now — I think this is going to be his sixth Finals in 15 years as a head coach. I think he’s missed the Playoffs three or four times. Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich, two iconic coaches, I think lost to lower seeds four times in their career.

The idea that you can’t get beat by a lower seed is ludicrous. The fine line between teams in our league is very, very small, razor thin.

Think I took over approximately the same age that Joe did, but Joe did it under much more difficult circumstances. I think he had like three or four days between when Ime’s suspension was announced and training camp started.

He had never been on the front of the bench. He’d only been in the NBA, I think, four years. So, he was placed in a really challenging situation.

I thought they handled — I thought the team, Joe and his coaching staff handled an incredibly challenging set of circumstances in a tremendous way. They had the second-best record in the league. They won an unbelievable Game 6 in Philly and then a tremendous Game 7 at home to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, and then obviously lost in a really tough seven-game series.

We always talk about “next level,” and I don’t think it’s given enough consideration that when you change from a highly proven coach like Monty Williams, championship coaches like Nick Nurse and Budenholzer and — who am I forgetting? Oh, Doc. That you’d better have a plan, because these guys are tremendous at their job and are proven. You’d better have a good plan.

We always talk about reaching the next level, but we never consider that the next level may be below where we’re at right now.

Everybody just assumes that you’re going to achieve this next level going up, but I’ve seen many times emotional, require casual change made, and it leads to a level as you go down.

I was disappointed in how cavalier people were talking about Joe Mazzulla’s job security was. Mark always tells me not to count others’ money. My counter would be also to never speculate on another person’s job. I think it’s just — I can’t tell you how disappointed I am when people do that. It’s dispiriting, and it’s really not thinking about the possible ramifications for people and their families.

I think Joe Mazzulla did a tremendous job in really, really unprecedented circumstance.

Q. Jeff, you just talked about the fine line between lower seeds and higher seeds, but you’ve had a pretty long run here as the only coach ever to lead an 8 seed to the Finals before this year. I know it was different circumstances with the Knicks in ’99 with the lockout-shortened regular season, but what similarities, if any, do you see with this Heat team and your team, and what do you remember most about that specific run with the Knicks?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: So, I think the one similarity is that injury impacted the regular season record, so the quality of team at the 8 seed in our year of ’99 and obviously Miami right now would have been a much higher seed. For us it was injury and a shorter season. For Miami it was injuries that impacted continuity of roster.

I think that’s the similarity. I think Miami had, like I said before, having to beat the two teams with the best record in the NBA is an incredible accomplishment. We beat two great teams in Miami and Indiana, and we beat Atlanta, who was a bit wounded when we played them.

Injury hurt us in the regular season, but just like Miami got a break with Giannis being hurt, I think in the second round we got a break when some Atlanta players weren’t maybe feeling their best.

But you don’t advance in the NBA Playoffs without great players. People say it’s a players’ league because it’s true. Players are — the level of player you have to be to help your team advance, you have to be highly, highly skilled. You have to have a toughness. You have to have an intelligence.

I think both of our teams, our team in ’99 and Miami’s team this year, shared that, as well. It’s all about great players who have great toughness and great intelligence.

Q. In the context of what the Heat did getting in as an 8 seed and even the Lakers through the play-in tournament to reach the Conference Finals, what did you think of how the Mavericks decided to finish their season after trading for Kyrie Irving, and was that the right move to secure the draft pick?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: The play-in tournament has changed a lot. Miami was four minutes away from not even qualifying for the Playoffs. Down three — I think it was 90-87 with 3:45 to go in the fourth after losing to Atlanta at home. We’d be talking about this — this is the razor thin edge that it takes or that separates teams. They’re 3:45 from not qualifying for the Playoffs and being labeled a disappointment. Instead, they found a way in that last 3:45 to beat Chicago and then go on this tremendous run.

Dallas, I just don’t believe in never doing your very, very best. Yet I understand what Dallas did because of trying to secure a way to surround Dončić, and I think from their standpoint, Irving with more talent, and having the 10th or 11th pick, whatever it turns out to be, gives them another way to better their team.

I understand the whys. But I also think, having looked at what Jimmy Butler and the Heat have done, you can undersell your great talent in Dončić. I’m not saying they would have advanced and made the Playoffs and won big in the Playoffs, but Dončić is that good where you always have a fighting chance.

It wouldn’t have been my preferred style if I was Dallas, and yet I understand why they did what they did. I would have just given Dončić and Irving a chance, or every chance they could have, to do the unthinkable.

MARK JACKSON: Not to dodge your question, but to quote the great Jeff Van Gundy, “What he said.”

Q. Having been with Mike Malone when he was younger, did you guys foresee this kind of success for him as a head coach? Was this apparent even back then?

MARK JACKSON: Well, I actually hired him as a lead assistant, knowing him from my New York days and watching him in Cleveland. I’m not surprised at all. He always was a tremendous worker, very prepared, knew his stuff, was able to execute it from the board, meaning the blackboard, to the court.

I’m not surprised at all. I’m extremely happy for him. Well-deserved opportunity, and when he got his opportunity, he was ready for it, and he absolutely knocked it out of the park.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I worked with him briefly with the Knicks, and I knew his dad better. I played for his dad at five-star basketball camp. His dad was integral in helping me get to my first college, and then we worked together at the Knicks.

The passion, the intensity, the ability to not only know something but be able to teach it in a manner that is understandable, I think Brendan Malone had that, and I think Michael has that, as well.

It’s hard to get a second chance in the NBA, and when Michael was unjustly let go in Sacramento, that Josh Kroenke and Tim Connelly had the foresight to hire him and stick with him through the rebuild in Denver I think speaks volumes towards everybody in that organization.

Sometimes change for change’s sake sets you back. We all want to talk about emulating the Miami Heat or the San Antonio Spurs, and the one thing that those teams do that very few other teams want to do is have continuity at the coaching position, and what Denver has done so well besides build their talent up is provide continuity of that talent with Michael Malone.

I think that instills coaching confidence and allows you to be the best possible coach you can be, and Michael has hit it out of the park. They play great basketball at both ends of the floor. They’re fun to watch. Couldn’t be happier for him and his family. Just a tremendous basketball family.

Q. Jeff and Mark, I want to ask you about the TV appeal of this matchup. NBA Finals viewers are used to seeing Steph Curry, LeBron James, the Celtics, and now you’ve got the Nuggets and the Heat. How do you think this matchup appeals to TV viewers this year?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, we’re about to see. I hope it’s a resounding success and a celebration of two teams who did a tremendous job navigating their playoff runs. Even if it’s not the most highly rated Finals, and I don’t know if it will be or won’t be, but even if it’s not, I think it still speaks well about the league in that whereas some people before tuning in may not have seen much of Jokić, they’re going to be drawn more in as the years go on to watching his greatness.

If you’re not as clued into Bam Adebayo and the versatility of his game, you will be after watching this.

Where it may suffer a bit in ratings because people don’t know the competitors as well, I think if they give it a chance, it’ll be very, very well received.

MARK JACKSON: Totally agree. As a basketball purist and a basketball fan my entire life, what a time. You don’t get, like you talked about Steph Curry and LeBron James, but you get two great franchises that have done it the right way, that compete, play hard, leave it on the floor, defend, execute, and they’re led by superstars, one in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo with a brilliant basketball mind in Erik Spoelstra, and the other one by Nikola Jokić who is climbing the charts of all-time greats in the history of this game, not just today but all-time greats in the history of this game, and an absolute joy to watch, and has a sidekick that’s doing special things in Jamal Murray that could have very well been the Western Conference MVP for the job that he did if he wasn’t playing alongside an all-time great.

There’s tremendous stories throughout this Finals, and I’m just — I echo what Jeff talked about. Just give it a chance, and you will be absolutely floored at the product that’s on the floor.

Q. Jeff, we’re going to have, regardless of who wins, a fifth different NBA champion in the past five seasons. It’s been a long time since we’ve had that variety rather than dynasties. What do you make of that? What should we make of the apparent parity, the lack of super teams? What does that say to you?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, I think maybe the talent has been dispersed more. I love when new people and new teams come on the scene and they’re able to translate usually very good regular season success over a number of years and then have a breakthrough, and I think that’s what Denver has had.

I think Miami has been darned good for a long time, Finals, near Finals, and then back to the Finals.

I just think it’s really good. I think it’s really healthy that everybody understands that if you are a well-managed, well-coached team that accumulates really good players and then manages the salary structures and drafts well and all that, you too can make it. You don’t have to be from one of the premier, historically, great franchises. You can be one of those teams that has a breakthrough, and I think it’s wonderful to see.

Q. What jumps out at you about Erik Spoelstra as a coach, beyond the explicit support of his bosses, when you watch him do his job or even when he’s not in the spotlight, maybe things he does away from the court or in the practice gym? What do you think of with Erik?

MARK JACKSON: The thing that jumps out to me is, like Jeff talked about, the unwavering support of ownership and management, and then the ability of Pat Riley, for whatever reason, to hand-pick Erik Spoelstra. He saw something. He was an incredible pick by Pat Riley.

The job that Erik Spoelstra has done consistently through peaks and valleys, through being the favorite with a big three that matches any in the history of the game, to struggling at times and not making the Playoffs, but being consistent as a leader, being consistent as a worker, being consistent as a motivator has been inspiring for anybody across sports, not just basketball.

It’s a crime to say, he is absolutely underrated, and it’s great to see him getting back to the Finals and being recognized all of a sudden as the best in the business. He hasn’t disappointed from day one, and it’s a joy to cover and a joy to watch.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Yeah, I think the thing, without being there and watching like the daily work put in by Erik and his staff, the thing that stands out to me is their habits. Year to year, I think they do a tremendous job of going back to a Belichickian statement, if you want a tough, smart team, go out and find tough, smart players, I think they do that exceptionally well, and then they work with those tough, smart players and try to develop and envision where their game can take them.

I think Chet Kammerer is the most underrated person in their organization. His ability to consistently find the overlooked and then turn that overlooked player over to Erik and his staff and have him mold it and develop the habits it takes to win at the highest level, and as Mark said, to do it with different teams, to go to the Finals four years with James, Wade and Bosh and your cornerstones, then take a bubble team with Butler as your best player to the Finals, and now take — I really think they should be thought of as a 7 seed because that’s what they were until they lost that first play-in game, which when you think about it, would they have had the same path if they faced Boston in the first round, if they had beaten Atlanta in the play-in game? It’s funny to think about, but I’ve thought about that a lot. Would Boston have been better equipped then to have beaten them?

But I think to take these different iterations to the Finals talks about Erik’s consistency.

So, when I look at his teams, I think of habits and consistency, and I marvel at what they’ve been able to do.

But I want to reiterate, none of that is possible, none of it, if you don’t have the continuity. Whenever you coach a guy hard, you have to be worried if he’s going to go over the top of you to management and ownership and what type of — you don’t understand the dynamic if you haven’t been in that type of situation.

He’s in an unbelievable situation that very few are willing to do anymore, and I think it’s allowed him to be the best version of who he is. He’s a Hall-of-Fame coach, the best coach in Miami Heat history, obviously, like six Finals, two championships, and I marvel at what he’s been able to accomplish.

Q. Jeff and Mark, with the longevity you guys have as analysts, did you guys think you would be in your positions for this long since there’s constant speculation about former coaches returning to the bench?

MARK JACKSON: It’s an incredible run, and it doesn’t happen without a great team, just like in the league. When you’re talking about Tim Corrigan and the job he’s done producing us all these years, incredible mind, incredible leader, and sets the tone for all of us. We have the best point guard in the business in Mike Breen and the job he’s done making history and being on a short list of the best ever to do it in all of sports. Having Lisa Salters and the job she continues to do, the GOAT in my opinion in her particular area.

Then being alongside Jeff and his basketball genius, to me I would say I did not expect it, and when I say I did not expect it, it’s because I played for Jeff Van Gundy. He coached me, and I watched his genius. I didn’t expect him to still be calling NBA Finals 17 years later.

I expected him to return to the sideline in his rightful position because I know the impact he had on me and he has on me on a daily just by spewing basketball knowledge on a sit-down at a table having lunch or dinner, or sitting alongside of him courtside for all of these years.

That’s the one thing that I thought might stop it, but it’s been an incredible run and one that I truly don’t take for granted.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Yeah, and I want to reiterate what Mark said about the great people that we work with. Man, just really a great team. And to be able to do it with friends makes it very rewarding.

With all the upheaval that we have at times in TV, in management, to work with Tim and Mike, Mark and Lisa really makes it like it’s home.

As Mark spoke about me not being in coaching, truly he took the words right out of my mouth because I can’t really believe after the great job he did at Golden State that he’s still with us. I’m honored that he is, because he’s one of the — obviously he was a great coach, but he was one of those visionary players that when I came into the NBA, he taught me a heck of a lot more when I was an assistant coach than I taught him, and I’ll be forever indebted to Mark, Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley because when I came in the NBA at 27, they taught me far, far more about the NBA and really gave me a great jump start.

I’ll forever be thankful for that.

Q. Just going to coaching in general for a second, were you both surprised with the upheaval this year and kind of the fine line that three coaches that reached the Finals in recent years, and then Doc Rivers, too, in Philadelphia, were fired? Does it just speak to the fine line and upheaval that holding those jobs are at the moment?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, for me, let’s see what it leads to. Does it lead to more success? Was it a good move?

We love speculating about coaches’ jobs now. We almost revel in the upheaval.

It’s bothersome because then there’s never a thorough piece done on whether that change was good.

I think the slander against Doc Rivers is particularly appalling to me because there are some factual things that they have lost, like a couple of deciding games, but it overlooks the entire body of work that anoints him or should anoint him as one of the great, great coaches in NBA history.

I’m always disturbed when we take a very small piece of the evidence and don’t give the preponderance of evidence its due. The preponderance of evidence when you look at Doc Rivers and his basketball life is incredible. It’s immense. I coached him as an assistant coach; he was a tremendous competitor and an excellent player, highly successful player. Then he became, right after his playing career ended, the top analyst or one of the top analysts in the game, and if he had chosen that path, he would have been an all-time there.

Then he went into coaching, and I believe he won Coach of the Year in his first year if I’m not mistaken, and every team he’s gone to has benefitted from him being there and has improved.

I just think a lot of these coaches, the decisions by their teams are at times maybe a bit illogical, but I think it’s spurred by the noise, because I think ownerships listen to the noise in the media. I think that’s why we have to be responsible or try to be responsible in the media for how we evaluate these coaches, because what we say has an impact.

I think you can make the case for Monty Williams. You’re not getting better than Monty Williams. You’re not getting better than Mike Budenholzer. You may get different, but it’s going to be hard for me to believe that somebody is actually going to do a better job, and I think the Doc Rivers piece really, really irritates me because I think so much of the evidence points to greatness, and it’s often overlooked so we can nit-pick certain bits of evidence. So that’s disappointing to me.

MARK JACKSON: I totally agree with everything Jeff said. To echo what I said earlier, it’s tough to win in this league. I don’t care who you are, as a player, as a coach, and sometimes you just lose to the better team.

I can remember losing Larry Brown or Larry Bird or Pat Riley or Jeff Van Gundy. I never felt like they didn’t do the job. Sometimes you’ve got to give credit on the other side of the floor you had all-time great talent or all-time great teams that just so happened to win ballgames.

If you put those coaches or those teams that I played for in today’s world, they would be killed and we’d be looking to blame instead of acknowledging the greatness of teams that just somehow made the right play. Today we get Monday morning quarterbacks, should he have called a time-out, should he have sat a guy, should he have played a guy.

What it’s doing, it’s recklessly changing the landscape of coaching in this league. Guys are finding themselves without a job because of it.

We’ve got some great basketball minds that are no longer leading teams, and it’s criminal.

Q. This is your 15th year covering the Finals with Mike Breen. I wanted to know what’s your most iconic memory of his greatest “bang” call.

MARK JACKSON: First of all, I will say it’s almost unfair to ask that question because you’re talking about Mike Breen, who we believe is the best to do it, and so many great, great calls. To narrow it down to one, which I can’t do, sitting beside him, watching him, not anticipate calling it, but time and time again, hit the right note, hit the right key, and hit it at the right time is like watching Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson or Nikola Jokić sitting alongside of us.

It’s something, like I said, I don’t take for granted. Unfortunately I can’t pick out one because there’s been so many great, great calls. I even find myself watching the Finals commercials and hearing call after call of Mike’s voice. It’s just a tremendous career and one that I hope continues for a long time to come.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: For me, the ones I remember are the Ray Allen corner three, Game 6, Miami-San Antonio; the chase-down block by LeBron James. It wasn’t a “bang,” but it was great play, great call. And then I think it was the double “bang” of Steph Curry against Oklahoma City. When you get a double “bang,” that’s something.

You know what I love, too? And Mark highlighted this. So many players now, if they hit a big shot, turn to the table and say “bang.” Mike can’t really catch it because he’s actually doing something. I’m spotting up in the corner and just watching a lot, and to see the respect they have for that call and what it takes to get a “bang,” and Jamal Murray I think was the last one, and Mark spotted it in Game 4 against LA, I think is pretty cool, too.

Q. I had a question about the NBA’s status right now and the ratings topic. Obviously, the ratings have been great throughout the Playoffs, but a lot of that has been because of a 38-year-old LeBron James, a 35-year-old Stephen Curry, and there’s a lot of question as to whether or not these teams, Jokić, Murray, Jimmy Butler, whether they will resonate with the audience. I wanted to get from both of you if you don’t mind just a gauge on where the NBA’s health is, if it is still dependent for its largest audiences on players who are not still going to be in the league in five years, while the current greats haven’t yet really broken through?

MARK JACKSON: I think the NBA is in a superb place, and that’s because of the talent we have in the league today and the talent that’s on the way, and that’s been the proof historically without the course of the league’s history. When you wondered what was going to happen when Magic and Bird left, when Dr. J left, when Kareem left, when Shaq and Kobe, LeBron, you can go on and on and on. Now we’re wondering about LeBron and Steph and the great players we have today.

The league is in great hands. It’s an exciting brand of basketball. You talk about Victor Wembanyama coming into the league next year, as good a talent as we’ve seen coming into this league historically.

We’ll see how it pans out, but it’s not just him, it’s talent coming out alongside of him moving forward, so I think it’s in a great place, and it’s an exciting brand of basketball. And we have one of the truly great players in the history of the game who will be highlighted in the NBA Finals this year alongside of some historic talent that’s going to make an exciting NBA Finals.

It’s going to be fun to watch, and I think it’s in good hands.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I agree with Mark. I was just trying to think back, LeBron James, I think it was 2007 was his first Finals, and if I’m not mistaken, it was one of the lowest rated Finals of all time.

I think so much is, you have to allow these players to become what they eventually become. At first glance, maybe they don’t tune in to see the Heat and Denver or Jokić and Butler and Adebayo and all those guys in the same manner that they may tune in in two years to see them. I don’t know.

I know I’m excited about getting a chance to see Jokić play over and over and over again, and Murray, and all the great stories in Miami.

I think if you’re a league, you almost can’t worry about it because you know, as Mark said, that eventually it’ll be fine because there’s great talent coming in. Fans appreciate great basketball. You have to let these guys grow into their stardom to become household names. It doesn’t happen for most.

Now, maybe for James it started that way, for Wembanyama maybe it’s going to start that way. But for most people it doesn’t work like that. I think you have to have some growth years, as well.

Q. Denver and Miami were both on ABC just once in the regular season, once each, Saturday afternoon windows, not the primetime. How much responsibility, and either of you can take this, do you think that the NBA and ESPN, ABC, TNT have to get these teams out in front of an audience during the season?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, for me, none. Their job is to make as much money as they can for their partners, right, so they’re going to do what they think is in their best interest to capture the audience. I don’t think it’s on ESPN, ABC or the league.

I think their job is different than it is for the teams. The teams are trying to become as good as they can to win championships, and the broadcasting angle is to try to find games and match-ups that attract the most customers and consumers.

I don’t look at it as they owe anybody anything.

San Antonio next year is going to be highly viewed. Small market, Wembanyama, that’s who I think fans are going to want to see. Golden State before Curry, I didn’t think they were owed anything. They were put on TV because they were a great team and they had an iconic player.

Yeah, that’s how I look at it.

MARK JACKSON: I totally agree. I think at the end of the day, if you’re either one of those teams, be upset, but understand the business of basketball. If you want to be on TV, be one of the last two standing. That’ll force them to put you on TV.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: And by the way, they benefit from — players, teams, organizations benefit from the money made and the money spent. You can’t take the money and complain about the coverage, too.

Q. My question pertains to, we have a media deal in the NBA that expires in the next few years. When these national broadcasts differ from local, what do you believe can be done with the national broadcast, and this year in the Finals, to continue evolving with the modern basketball coverage and keeping consumers engaged with the broadcast?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, the thing I would do is, I would try to get it to a two-hour window, and my biggest rule change would be to eliminate free throws until the final four minutes of the game. So if you’re fouled in the penalty, you’d just get the two points. If you’re fouled in active shooting, you’d get the two points or three points, until the final four minutes of the game.

I’d also cut back on halftime. I think it’s a waste of time. Cut it down to like five minutes. Then we also wouldn’t have to hear the term “halftime adjustments,” the most cliche, overused term in NBA basketball history.

Those would be my two things. Speed the game up. Keep the window as short as you can. Try to fit it into two hours.

MARK JACKSON: Did this dude just say give the two points or the three points for a free throw? What are we doing?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I did. I did, and I believe it. You’re late to my ideas, but you’ll come around.

MARK JACKSON: I’m not coming around to that one. But I do agree with cutting halftime shorter, and I believe in the replays can be a lot shorter and quicker with decisions made upon review. Those two things shortening the game would be two things I would definitely co-sign, but the first thing he talked about, I totally disagree.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: This guy has no clue, but the other thing we should think about is getting rid of that replay center. Like just eliminating it. Like except for the final shots of quarters or the three- and two-point shots that can be done without stoppage of game.

I think we have to ask ourselves, is our game benefiting from the constant reviews? I think there can be a huge case to be made that there is nothing beneficial about it.


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