Sport

Knicks voice Mike Breen’s dream began in basement radio station

Voice of the Knicks on MSG and national NBA announcer Mike Breen makes the call for some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: If you could go back in history and broadcast or announce one event, what would it be?
A: I think, because of my love of basketball, I would probably pick Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.

Q: You were just a kid, right?
A: I was 9 years old.

Q: That game was blacked out in New York.
A: It was on tape delay. Really it’s the most famous game in Knicks history, and I’ve been a Knick fan since I … could talk, so for them to win their first championship and to beat the mighty Lakers and do it with Willis [Reed] hobbling out, with the drama, I don’t think it gets much better than that.

Q: How would you describe Mike Breen’s broadcasting or announcing style?
A: Here’s what I hope: I hope the people who watch feel that I love what I do, that I love the game, and that I’m prepared.

Q: When was the first time you used your signature “Bang!”?
A: When I was a Fordham student, when I wasn’t doing the games, there was a group of us who used to go to every game — whether it was at Rose Hill or if Fordham played at St. Peter’s, we’d drive to New Jersey, if Fordham played at LaSalle, we’d drive to Philly. When a Fordham player hit a big shot from outside, I yelled “Bang!” as a fan. And I tried it on one of the radiocasts at Fordham, and I didn’t like it at first. So I kind of put it to the side and forgot about it. And then when I started doing Knicks radio, I started it again and I kind of liked the sound of it. … It’s usually for a big moment, when the crowd’s going crazy and the noise is loud, and your voice can’t really sustain being at that superhigh level for too long, so it’s a good one-syllable word at peak time to be able to say. I always feel at the big moments of a game when you’re making a call, that’s the time to be as concise as possible.

Q: Describe Dick Enberg.
A: One of my all-time favorites. Had the ability to convey warmth through the television. You just knew he was this warm, wonderful person. His storytelling was as good as anybody who’s ever done it. He made you want to root for athletes because he told their story.

Q: Vin Scully.
A: Had the greatest career in the history of play-by-play. No one could say they had a better career than Vin Scully, and did it with as much class and excellence as anyone who’s ever done play-by-play in any sport.

Q: Marv Albert.
A: The greatest basketball play-by-play voice who’s ever done it. No one conveyed the bigger moment better than Marv. And I also felt he was one of the first play-by-play guys who got involved in analysis. He wasn’t afraid to get into basketball strategy, not just calling the action, and so always felt that that enhanced his color commentator and his partner better.

Q: Al Michaels.
A: I think with Al Michaels, every second he’s on the air, he’s in complete control of the telecast. He is the just the master of play-by-play. He makes it look so easy, and he’s always so smooth. I can’t ever remember him making a mistake on the air.

Q: Verne Lundqvist.
A: One of my all time favorites. Again, you wanted to sit and watch the game with him. Another one who just conveyed this warmth, and no matter where he was, no matter what sport, no matter what event, he made you feel like there was no place else you’d rather be.

Q: Bob Murphy.
A: I may have listened to Bob Murphy more than anybody in my life, because as a Met fan you just watched and listened from when I was a little boy until when he retired. He was as much of a Met as any player who ever donned the uniform.

Q: Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson.
A: These two are a play-by-play guy’s dream, because every game I do with them, I learn from them and I laugh from them.

Q: What is your funniest moment with Van Gundy?
A: (Laugh) It’s almost impossible to pick one. … We were doing a game, and it was a blowout from like the beginning of the second quarter, and they’re the most difficult games to broadcast. And it’s probably in the middle of the fourth quarter and he’s had enough. And he decides he wants a new rule to be instituted in the NBA. That even if you’re down by 25, if you hit a shot from half-court, the game is immediately tied. (laugh) … The time during the NBA Finals, where in the middle of a sentence, he had to stop and talk about how beautiful Rihanna was because she just walked past our broadcast table.

Q: Hubie Brown.
A: I’ve learned so much about basketball from him, and still do every day. One of the great honors of my life and my career has becoming friends with Hubie Brown.

Q: How would you describe his style?
A: It’s just all about the game. Nothing else matters but watching the game, and teaching the game to the viewers.

Q: Walt “Clyde” Frazier.
A: It’s not every day that you can say that one of the heroes of your childhood had become not only your partner on the air, but a great friend for almost 30 years. He’s such a wonderful human being, in addition to being this New York sports legend. Still, some days I sit there, and I look to my right, and I can’t believe that I’m calling basketball games with Walt “Clyde” Frazier. There’s a poster of Clyde up in the house that I grew up in, and it’s still there to this day, my mother still lives in the same house in Yonkers, and I put it up when I was a little boy, and it’s still there, and it’s a great reminder that I’m blessed by being able to work with Clyde and call Knick games.

Q: Have you ever wanted to borrow one of his outfits?
A: (Laugh) No. … He’s actually had an influence. I was always a very conservative dresser, and I’ve taken some risks, because I know that even if it’s bad, if I’m in camera next to him, there isn’t a single person who’s looking at what I’m wearing.

Q: What’s your favorite Clyde outfit?
A: Oh, it’s the cow suit. And he only brings it out usually once a year, and it’s a big game.

Q: Doris Burke.
A: You can tell by listening to her that she has a love affair with basketball. And even though she knows so much, she still asks a million questions because she wants to learn so much more.

Q: How would you describe your experience with Don Imus?
A: He was brilliant in he knew how to do radio the right way, and he taught me an amazing amount, and it wasn’t just him, it was all the talented people that worked on the show. But he was the driving force. In the 14 years I worked for him, I was fired I think it was about 15 times. But he always took me back.

Q: Why did you tick him off so much?
A: (Laugh) You’ll have to ask him that question. But it was one of the great learning experiences. I felt if I could do a sportscast on that show, and make him laugh, that I could do anything.

Q: Describe Imus.
A: Unbelievably smart … great sense of humor … had a handle on current events, whether it was political or sports … so willing to laugh at himself … and extremely, extremely demanding. He wasn’t easy to work for, but he made everybody around him better. Here’s one of the things he taught me: I could come in and I’d have a day where every sportscast was perfect in his eyes, laugh at all of ’em, the funny material, everything. The next day, if I didn’t come back with something good, didn’t matter what I did the previous day. Every day was a new day. You could never rest on your laurels. He really pushed you.

Q: Bill From White Plains.
A: My favorite character during the Imus years. It started when I would be on the road with the Knicks, and Imus asked me to call in to bash whoever was filling in for me. And after I did it one time, he loved it, so it became a recurring character on the show. And every once in a while I’ll have an old Imus fan ask me did I ever meet Bill from White Plains? And I never had the heart to tell them that it was me, and I would always say, “No I never met him, but he seemed like such a nice guy.”

Q: Describe your most memorable Knicks moments.
A: When they won Game 7 against Indiana in the [1994] conference finals to advance to The Finals, and Patrick Ewing jumped up on the scorer’s table — it’s an iconic George Kalinsky picture, where he puts his arms out — and it’s like he’s embracing the entire crowd. … John Starks’ dunk [in the 1993 conference finals vs. the Bulls]. I was doing radio at the time. It was the most explosive big-time Knick shot I’d ever called, and it was one of the great moments in Knick history, ’cause of who he did it against, [Michael] Jordan and the Bulls. … It just seemed like he just kept going up and up and up and up. … And then Linsanity [in 2012]. Linsanity was two weeks of absolute fun on the air, watching this kid [Jeremy Lin] come out of nowhere to become one of the most famous athletes in the world for a couple of weeks.

Q: What was the Knicks’ locker room like after losing Game 7 of the ensuing Finals in Houston.
A: One of the great postgame performances I’ve ever seen was Derek Harper. He was devastated and he wanted to win as much as anybody. I don’t know how he did it, he was able to realize the type of season they had, and The Finals that they just had. … I’ll never forget that, how classy and how insightful he was after what had to be the toughest loss of his career.

Q: What are your most memorable sights and sounds at an NBA Finals game?
A: The Ray Allen in [2013] Game 6 when he hit the 3-pointer with 5 seconds to go to tie it and [the Heat] wound up winning in overtime. The thing you remember from that is, just prior to that basket, the NBA had put out the ropes to make sure everybody stays off the court because they have to do the championship trophy presentation right on the court. With under a minute to go, it looked like the Spurs were gonna win. All of a sudden the ropes went down, and they didn’t crown a champion that night.

Q: Describe LeBron James’ first championship, when the Heat beat the Thunder in 2012.
A: What I saw that night, and what I see every time somebody clinches a championship, it’s one of the great joys of the job. You see these grown men, who make, in some cases, hundreds of millions of dollars, they’re all wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, they’re celebrities everywhere they go, yet when they win the title, they all act like little kids who just won their CYO championship.

Q: Describe the 2004 Malice at the Palace.
A: What was so scary about it, it seems every time one of the altercations calmed down, another one broke out. And then another one broke out, and it seemed like the security could not get a handle on it. Scores of people were coming down toward the court, and you were afraid more spectators were gonna get on the court, because they couldn’t stop it. It seemed like it went on forever.

Q: Describe commissioner Adam Silver.
A: Brilliant. Whose ability to get along with people is just remarkable. The only thing more impressive than his intelligence is his humility.

Q: Former commissioner David Stern.
A: All of us who have ever worked in the NBA and love the NBA owe him an unbelievable debt of gratitude. His vision was just extraordinary. It wasn’t an easy job, and he had to make tough decisions, but he did all of them for the sake of the game.

Q: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
A: He’s funny, he’s friendly, he’s very humble, and has a great perspective on everything inside and outside of basketball.

Q: Pat Riley.
A: I remember my rookie year, I was so intimidated by him, and I had to do his pregame show every once in a while with him, but it was all business. I think all season long, there may have been one or two lines of social banter, I didn’t have a lot of interaction with him, he was so focused, and I was just a radio guy. About a week after the season ends, I get a handwritten letter from him thanking me for my professionalism and he appreciated all the work that I put into that season. And it blew me away. I didn’t even think he knew my name.

Q: David Fizdale.
A: He’s the perfect coach for this team. He’s such a people person, and so optimistic. He’s got a really hard job because he knows this team’s gonna lose a bunch this year, and he’s so competitive, but he knows the priority is to develop young players and look at the big picture and look in the long run.

Q: Will he be able to attract free agents?
A: It’s incredible when we travel around, the respect the opposing players and coaches have for him. Some people just have a gift and ability to connect with all different kinds of people, and he has that gift.

Q: Describe Carmelo Anthony’s legacy in New York.
A: Just sorry that it didn’t work out — they had the one really fun year — because he really cared, and it meant something to him to come back to New York. I wish it would have finished better for him, I wish he would have had a chance to win more.

Q: Describe Amar’e Stoudemire.
A: He embraces New York, not just the team, but the city, the fans, as much as any free agent athlete that I’ve ever seen.

Q: Kevin Knox.
A: Love the kid. He’s got all the skills to be a top player in the league, and from what the coaches tell me, he’s got the work ethic as well.

Q: Is it fun to broadcast this team?
A: It’s fun because there’s hope. There’s hope in that right culture’s being built with some really nice young talent. The phrase growing pains — well, emphasis on the word “pain” some nights — but these young kids are working hard, and you can see that a lot of ’em are gonna be around the league for a long time, so I think Knick fans finally feel like there’s some real hope for not just oh an occasional good year, but for sustained success because they’re building the right way.

Q: At what point was it as a kid when you decided this was your dream?
A: I would say around 15 or 16. There was a fella in the neighborhood named Tony Minecola who went to New York Tech, and he worked at the college radio station. And he built a little radio station in his basement, and all the neighborhood kids would go hang out while he was doing his radio show, he was a deejay and he’d play music, and read weather and stuff, and that’s how I got the bug. I saw what he was doing, it looked like fun, he allowed me to try it. I started realizing around that time that I was not gonna be a professional athlete, much to my chagrin. The play-by-play stuff, I didn’t do that until I got to Fordham. That was one of the game changers of my life because of the college radio station [WFUV] that was 50,000 watts.

Q: What are your favorite Olympic experiences?
A: In ’96 in Atlanta was the first time I did the Olympics, and the American women won the [basketball] gold medal, and they won it at the Georgia Dome, with 40,000 people [in attendance]. And the medal ceremony was right afterwards, and 40,000 people sang the national anthem, and it’s the first time I’d ever seen that, and it was very emotional. So that’s a scene I’ll never forget. The other one was I was in Beijing [2008]. And I was in a taxi. And the cab driver noticed that I had NBC on my shirt, and he asked me if I knew Kobe Bryant. And I told him, “Yes, I know Kobe Bryant.” And he said, “Have you ever met Kobe Bryant?” I said, “Yes, I’ve met him.” And, he broke down and cried. I mean sobbed, because he met somebody who had met Kobe Bryant. And that day really showed me the global reach of the NBA.

Q: Breen on ski jumping.
A: (Laugh) Here I am, I’m announcing ski jumping on national television, and I’m fairly certain that nobody in the audience knew that I had never even been on skis in my entire life. Fortunately, they paired me with Jeff Hastings, who was an American ski jumper, who was so good and knew so much about the sport, I basically said, “OK, here’s Joe from Switzerland, here’s Bob from Italy,” and Jeff took it from there. I think kind of the questions that I asked and the way I approached it, is the way most people at home were thinking, so I think in some ways it was beneficial to the viewer that I knew nothing about skiing.

Q: What is the best call you made doing Marist basketball?
A: I was the color analyst. They needed somebody to work with the play-by-play guy whose name was Dean Darling. And Dean Darling taught me so much about TV play-by-play. You knew Rik Smits from when he first started at Marist that he was gonna be in the NBA someday.

Q: What is the most nervous you ever were before an event?
A: Game 1 of the 2006 NBA Finals — it was my first Finals. And I had received advice like, “Hey, you’ve gotta be careful on the Finals because you have a lot of casual fans who are watching who really don’t know a lot about the NBA, so you have to explain a little bit more.” I just remember I was saying the most obvious, silly things the first couple of minutes of the game. And during the first timeout, Hubie reached over and he grabbed my arm and he looked me in the eyes and said, “Hey kid, just call the game like you always do, you’ll be fine.” And it completely put me at ease.

Q: What do you do for voice maintenance?
A: You get sore throats, and you have green tea with honey. Once a year your voice gets a little hoarse, and you just gotta kind of fight through it. But I’ve never done like voice exercises or maintenance. … During the season, I don’t sing as loud in the car as I normally do to save my voice. I’m a great singer in the car. One of my passions in life is listening to music.

Q: How often are you recognized?
A: I take the Long Island Railroad into every Knick game. Sometimes people are really cool, and they want to talk about the Knicks … sometimes after the games, they’ve had too much to drink and they want to tell you about the Knicks. But it’s all fun, I love when you get a chance to talk to the fans.

Q: You’ve finished three New York City marathons.
A: I remember one time, I’m at the starting line, and there’s a guy standing next to me, and he’s in a full-body, head-to-toe Scooby-Doo costume. And he’s like making the Scooby-Doo noises and I’m saying to myself, “Look at this idiot.” And the race goes on, and I’m struggling. And who comes running past me, but Scooby-Effin-Do. And I said to myself, “There is no way in hell that this guy is gonna finish ahead of me.” And because of him, I got a jolt of energy and was able to run past him and finish the Marathon.

Q: Boyhood idol?
A: My first boyhood idol was Bud Harrelson. I grew up in a family of six boys, so all we did was play sports every day. And my dad was a Met fan, so I was a Met fan, and I was a shortstop on my Little League team, and he was the shortstop on my favorite team, so I wore No. 3 on pretty much every Little League and farm league team. I was skinny and small like him.

Q: Three dinner guests?
A: If you give me time, I’ll give you 400 people I’d like to have dinner with.

Q: Favorite movies?
A: “Shawshank Redemption,” “Hoosiers,” “Godfather,” “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Q: Favorite actor?
A: Gene Hackman.

Q: Favorite actress?
A: Melissa McCarthy.

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
A: [Bruce] Springsteen.

Q: Favorite meal?
A: My wife’s rigatoni with Pork King sausage.

Q: Your Christmas Day broadcast?
A: Always fun on Christmas Day, especially when you have LeBron going up against the defending champs.

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