Mike Breen Q + A
The MSG Network, ESPN/ABC play-by-play announcer discusses calling NBA games.
SLAM: You brought up the pre-season game against the Celtics. Obviously that is the game where Garnett was thrown out after getting a couple quick technicals. What do you think of the new emphasis on technical fouls?
MB: I understand their reasoning that they want to cut down on complaining. There’s nothing worse than watching a game where every single call guys are complaining. But, I think right now what’s happening is they’ve taken it a little too far. It’s an emotional game and players have to be able to react. Now, if the reaction is harsh, if it’s profane, okay. But if it’s just a reaction, I think we gotta let it go. What I think the League is doing is they’re sending a message now and maybe taking it to an extreme just to put it in the player’s heads that they need to change their conduct, that they need to have more respect for the officials. I think eventually what will happen is the players will get the message. I’ve already seen a couple guys ready to argue and turn around and walk away, realizing they don’t want to get a technical. And I think it’ll go back to where the officials will be a little more relaxed, and we won’t see technicals handed out just for shaking his head or waving his hand.
SLAM: What have you noticed about player-referee interaction the last couple seasons?
MB: There was a bunch of complaining, but I didn’t think it was that much of an increase. Again, if a guy has an initial outburst because of a call, then turns and walks away, that’s fine. Let him do that, especially if it’s an important game. Or if a guy comes and curses a ref, if he MF’s a ref, then he deserves to be hit with a technical. But I think the officials have a really good idea of the balance. Most of the veteran guys know when to let them play and when to let off a little steam. Also, quite frankly, if an official makes a call and he’s not 100 percent that it’s the right call, he’s going to let that guy bitch a little bit more than he normally would. He’s thinking ‘Okay, maybe the guy has a point.’
The other thing that I’m worried about is the player-referee relationship and the dialogue that goes on. I think having dialogue between a ref and a player is very important. I think you can completely diffuse the situation if you’re a player or a referee if there’s a disagreement. And if you’ve taken that ability for the refs to communicate with the players and vice versa, I think that hurts the player-ref relationship. Now, the League obviously feels that it’s been carried on too long, that there’s too much dialogue, too much complaining. But I think eventually they’ll cut back a little bit and the two sides will find an even place to meet.
SLAM: Have you ever noticed a player asking a ref about a call, like if he didn’t know a certain rule was in existence?
MB: Oh yeah, they do it all the time. The smart players do it all the time. The smart players will learn all the officials’ names. They’re not going to go up to a guy ‘Hey ref, hey ref.’ They’ll know the official’s name and there are some real good relationships. You see it before games. Certain players and refs have great relationships. I think there are certain coaches that used to write on their white board in the locker room before the game the names of the officials. So, the players would be able to address them by names to improve their repoire. If a guy is just bitching and moaning every call, the ref is not going to listen to anything he says. It’s the Cry Wolf syndrome. But if a player picks his spots and treats the official with respect and, just as importantly, the official treats the player with respect, then they can have good dialogue. It’s more working together. I hope they don’t take that part out of the game.
SLAM: Can you sense when a tech is coming?
MB: Oh yeah. You can sense it in many cases by who the referee is. Clearly some referees are a little quicker to hit players with technicals. And then, again, depending on the situation, if a player has argued two or three calls up and down the court, you know the next time he opens his mouth he’s gonna get hit with one.
SLAM: Do you notice if fans are too harsh on referees?
MB: Yeah, I mean, it comes and goes. It comes with the job. If you’re a ref, you know you can’t have rabbit ears. You know you’re going to hear some ugly stuff when you’re going up and down the court. The good thing is in most NBA arenas, it’s so loud you can’t hear individuals. But if during a timeout a fan is really baiting him and giving him some stuff, a good ref will turn and have a funny comment. And all of a sudden, what’s that fan going to say? He’s completely diffused because the ref is engaging him in a fun, little back-and-forth. Now all of a sudden that fan becomes a fan of the ref. He realizes the guy isn’t a bad guy; he’s just out there doing his job. The good ones are able to take those situations and turn them into a positive.
But they know it’s part of the deal. It’s just become a very stressful job. They think in some ways they’re over-scrutinized. These guys have every single play looked at, whether it’s a right call or a bad call. I think sometimes they’re too scrutinized. I think sometimes some of the younger guys might be looking over their shoulder and worry too much about whether they’re getting a call right as opposed to just instinctively making the call and going with the flow of the game. It’s a tough, tough job. It’s getting tougher every year because the players are so good and big and quick. It’s definitely not an easy job. I get accused all the time, I get ripped all the time for being too pro-ref. But I realize it’s a difficult job. I see the work these guys put in. I talk to them a lot and I think sometimes it’s unfair the criticism that they get.
SLAM: I think it’s a little bit different to see how tough it is to ref in person versus seeing it on TV.
MB: Right. What always comes across to me is how much they care. They want to get every call right. It kills them [to miss a call]. They care, they’re passionate about the game and they work so hard. They get a lot of calls wrong. But players miss a lot of shots. So nobody’s perfect, whether you’re a coach, player or referee.
SLAM: I don’t think people also realize their travel schedule. Sometimes you’re gonna be a little flustered if you’re traveling a lot and a bit tired. It’s human nature.
MB: And let’s not forget — refs don’t have any home games. They’re all road games.
SLAM: I typically hate asking questions about rankings but given you just came off a Game 7 of the Finals, where does that rank in your broadcasting career?
MB: I couldn’t give it a specific number…
SLAM: What stands out when you think about that game?
MB: First of all, and this is one of the first times I’ve seen this, how nervous the players seemed to be in the opening minutes. There really seemed to be nerves. Even some of the star players seemed to be nervous. I’m sure they’ll deny it. But there are just so many games that you kind of get a feel for that. Both so desperately wanted it. The title was right there for the taking. I just though there were some nerves. That was the first thing.
And the second thing was just how hard defensively they were playing. It wasn’t the prettiest game to watch from the standpoint of just basketball style. But I think it was just because it both teams played so hard defensively. To me, it was everything that’s great about the sport. Two teams going down to one final game for a championship and laying everything out on the line.
SLAM: Were you nervous to do the game?
MB: I had butterflies, sure. As an announcer, the number one thing you’d root for is to get a Game 7 of the NBA Finals. And to have it with the Celtics and the Lakers, the two most storied franchises in League history, it was a dream come true. I had some extra butterflies. But it was so much fun to do and to be apart of.
SLAM: With that kind of game, how do you know when to raise your excitement level to reflect what’s happening in the game?
MB: By this point, we’re doing so many games that you just have a feel. But in a Game 7, your excitement level is pretty high even from the opening tip. Knowing with these two teams, how each possession was so important, you had to have a high intensity the entire game. From the people I grew up listening to, there always has to be a place you can go. You have to go a little higher at the end. You pace yourself. Any announcer will tell you it’s a matter of you do enough games, you know when to raise the level of excitement.
SLAM: What are you looking for with this season?
MB: We have a couple of goliaths. You have the Lakers, you have the Heat. I would put the Celtics and the Magic in there. You have four teams that are capable of winning a championship, that are, to start the season, better than everybody else. You look to see how these teams take that role, especially with Miami and how they’re gonna blend. But then you look at who’s gonna be the surprise teams. Who’s gonna be the team that all of a sudden nobody wants to play? Can Oklahoma City take the next step and be the second best team in the West? Can Chicago with their tinkering and their great young point guard, with Rose, can they take the next step and be one of the elite teams in the East?
For me, the Knicks and all their different changes that they’ve made. There are so many storylines. I’m as excited for this season as I’ve been in a long time. I know I probably say that every year, but I’m such a fan of the game. There are always great storylines to watch.