By Sam Rubenstein

Christmas Day is five days from now, and as you might know the NBA is attempting to build a tradition like the NFL has of using holidays as the time to showcase the big games. SHAQ VS. KOBE OMG!!! This time, the Disney Basketball Television Conglomerate has put together a tasty triple-header, the first two airing on ABC beginning at 2 PM, and the third at night on ESPN. It begins with Miami at Cleveland, followed by Phoenix at the Lakers, concluded with Seattle at Portland. Bad luck in two of those three match-ups with the Oden injury derailing the latest round of let’s play the Magic and Bird game again, and of course the melting of the Heat. Lakers-Suns has the playoff series bred hate in its blood, but I digress.

ESPN hosted a conference call with the main announcing team of Mark Jackson, Mike Breen, and Jeff Van Gundy. I was invited to call in, to ask a question if I had one, listen, sit back, and enjoy.

The call began with the announcement that Stuart Scott has been missing in action while dealing with a malignant appendix, which he will treat with Chemotherapy. We were told that Stu-yah is feeling upbeat about the situation, he’s addressing it on ESPN.com, and he’ll be back on the air soon. All the best to Stu.

Jeff Van Gundy was having some problems with his connection, and when my name was called out to ask a question, I was ready to go with something about Alonzo Mourning. Instead, I had to come up with something else, so I asked ESPN’s executive VP of production Norby Williamson about the wireless mics, the locker room cameras, all of that stuff. He was happy to run down the specifics.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I worked at ESPN up in Bristol, CT. for 6 months back in 2001. Norby ran the place like the Wizard of Oz. I heard of him all the time, but was only in a room with him a few times. I feared for my life each time.

I asked if he was disappointed that the Durant-Oden showdown blew up, and he talked around it, saying their concern is for the player not the game. Stephen A. is doing a sit-down interview with Durant though. Greg, that could have been you. Norby did say “It’s unfortunate.” Be careful Greg.

For the production stuff, Norby hinted at a new high def studio show, which means, I don’t know, NBA Shootaround might look like all of these futuristic game shows invading the airwaves I hear so much about but never watch. More of the microphones on players and coaches, cameras in the locker rooms. You name it.

Van Gundy’s phone was connected and somebody else asked him about Zo in light of what happened last night, if Jeff would put him in the Hall of Fame.

“I think he’s a all of fame competitor without question. When you coached against him, you know your team and the guys matched up against him were gonna have to bring a maximum effort. I never saw Mourning not compete to his utmost. That’s why I have great respect for all those Georgetown centers, Ewing, Mourning, and Mutombo. Tremendous competitive nature. Mourning put up good numbers obviously. Blocked shots, rebounds, but I think as far a being a Hall of Fame player, I think he falls just short.”

Jeff, you hateful little man! The paint is not yet dry on the canvas of the man’s career! This is why native New Yorkers fell in love with Jeff in the summer of ’99. He’s never afraid to piss in your lemonade.

Mark Jackson says he would put him in the hall, with lots of clichés “He left everything on the floor” and so forth.

The other notable parts of the studio production parts of the show are that they apologized to Jerry Sloan for catching him out there with the F bomb. Every other person on the conference call loves the idea of putting mics on every hidden corner of the globe loves it. LOVES IT! I Don’t want to make this all Van Gundy all the time, but he was the one guy who came closest to not toeing the company line. “I can understand the initial reticence of the coaches”, but then he gets with the program and says it’s great for the fans. And he goes farther, saying he wishes it could be more than just generic stuff, and become more technical and more strategic.

Someone asks about the Phoenix-Lakers game, and Mike Breen loves the Lakers “Good defensive team, they’re sharing the ball, Phil Jackson is very pleased.”

Mark Jackson make an observation, “You go from starting Smush Parker to starting Derek Fisher…” point taken.

Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic asks Jeff Van Gundy how he feels about the Jackson-D’Antoni squabble. The response is “Oh I love it! I think it’s great. The only true rivalries occur in the playoffs when teams see each other numerous times. It’s just natural when you play afainst teams over and over again, there’s going to be generated dislike. It’s a great subplot” and then he goes on to detail the greatness of both Phil and Mike as coaches stylistically.

Alright… I’m going too far making this all about Van Gundy. Is it my fault he carried the conference call single-handedly? Look, for some people their NBA dream is cross up Jordan, or to dunk on Shaq, or to hit the game winning buzzer beater for the championship. For me, I just wanted to have Jeff Van Gundy snap at me one time. Here’s your low quality audio excerpt, and you can hear him wax nostalgic about competing against Zo in his prime.

[audio:http://slamonline.com/online/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/espn-xmas-1.mp3]

Enjoy your NBA triple-header everyone.