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Six Great Minutes With the Voice of the Finals

A Daily Babble Production

The Knicks' most consistent performer looks at ease.  He is only facing single coverage and handling that with a gentle smile as always.  When the coverage finally falls behind him, he is left standing wide open.

He doesn't figure to be a big part of Mike D'Antoni's plans to change the face of the team, but the Knicks plan to keep him around anyway.

His slim frame can't possibly be much taller than 6-foot-3, and the silver-grayish hair gives him a look that might make some wonder how he'll fit with a soon-to-come youth movement in the Sizable Apple.

But like any star, this particular individual not only represents the team from one city but also serves as an ambassador of sorts of the Association itself.

So when I see him spring loose of the coverage in a hallway in the depths of Madison Square Garden on draft night, I can't help but take a shot of my own at covering him.

It seems only right to begin with a move I'd been dying to pursue on behalf of many of the dedicated readers on this site. 

"Why do a lot of Celtics fans believe that you have something against the boys from Beantown?" I ask.

"You'd have to ask those people," begins Mike Breen -- the voice of the NBA Finals and the personificaton of putridity that is the New York Knickerbockers.

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"Usually when you do a national broadcast, when you’re in one city, those fans think you’re cheering for the other team," Breen continues, "When I’m in LA, they think I’m pro-Celtic.  When I’m in Boston, they think I’m pro-Laker.  You have to play it down the line, so you have to sometimes be critical of one team, and their fans don’t like it.  I can only be objective, that’s my goal in every broadcast.  If people think one thing or another, there’s nothing I can do about it."

That's Breen's answer, and he's sticking to it.  The lead national play-by-play man for ABC doesn't say that last part with an edge or any annoyance.  He seems a tad bewildered to stand accused of holding such a grudge, but the answer comes through as a simple matter of fact in that same calm, even voice that New Yorkers and the nation at large have come to know so well: A man can only do his best to be fair.

It really is Breen who has been the glue to keeping this franchise together over the past few lean seasons in the big city.  It is Breen who has such wonderful chemistry with on-air partner Walt Frazier and Breen who constantly entertains audiences with his candid descriptions of the action and the team along with his patented "Bang!" call after a big basket.

On television, Breen seems well-spoken, candid, patient and entertaining.   In person, those qualities only seem to grow exponentially.

There is a boyish smile on his face throughout the conversation, kind of like he is still in awe of the fact that he is the voice of the New York Knickerbockers and the NBA's biggest games.  Pleasantly surprised that someone would want his opinion rather than having him be the one to ask his analysts.

When the opportunity presents itself, the man is nothing if not sincere in his convictions.

It is clear that he would be content to sit and talk hoops and announcers all day if he had the time.  He would have been more than happy to extol the virtues of virtually every analyst with whom he has worked: "Mark [Jackson] has got such passion and brings a point guard’s mentality," Breen says, "Jeff [Van Gundy] is just so knowledgeable and so intricate in terms of X’s and O’s but can explain it in simple fashion.  Bill [Walton] has such love for the game and he’s got his fun aspect as well.  So everybody’s different."

Breen smiles when the topic of officiating comes up, since he possesses a long-held reputation for siding with the officials on the air, for which he is constantly ribbed by his partners.  But there's a method to what many fans at home would consider apparent madness: "I refereed when I was out of college for about seven or eight years," Breen tells me.  "I did high school and some junior college ball, so I know what it’s like to referee, certainly not on an NBA level, but I have at least a feel for what they go through.  I think that a lot of fans don’t understand first off how difficult the job is.  Number two, a lot don’t know the rules, so that might be one of the reasons why they’re screaming about that call or this call.  So if they really sat down and looked at it objectively as opposed to as a passionate fan – which we all are – they’d maybe realize that the refs are more right than we think."

The conversation turns to hoops, namely Breen's hometown Knicks, for whom he is about as much of a homer as Joey Dorsey is a clutch foul shooter.  No, the Gallinari pick isn't that much of a surprise.  Yes, he is supposed to have some skills, but no, Breen hasn't seen him play outside of highlight reels.  Yes, the Knicks are going to have a heckuva time adjusting to the new coaching system this summer.

And no, they can't win with pariahs Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph starting next to each other in the front-court: "I think those two are just not a good match on the floor, and not just because they both play the low post, but [because] neither one of them are good defensive players," Breen sighs.  "When you have your starting four and your starting five who struggle defensively, you end up behind the 8-ball almost every night."

It's clear from his slightly dejected tone that the 'passionate fan' within him doesn't much like to see his team like this.   But he isn't going to lie.  He sees a team that isn't very good right now, and he sees what part of the problem is, so that's what he says.

Maybe that's a given for most fans.  But when it comes from someone -- an announcer, no less -- who works for James Dolan of all people, it's a deep breath of fresh air to hear that sort of objectivity.

But there isn't much time to ponder that because we're moving on to the last question -- the one I've been waiting years to ask -- before the engaging interviewee has to do some filming for the MSG Network: Where did his trademark 'Bang!' call come from?

"It actually came from when I was a kid in college," Breen starts, "I went to every Fordham game, If we were in the stands and one of the Fordham players hit one, we’d yell out, or at least I would yell out" -- his eyes twinkle as he self-edits on the fly here -- "'Bang!' and I just kind of carried it over and later found out that Johnny Most, the great Celtic broadcaster, he used to use that as well.  I didn’t know that when I first started doing it, but if it’s good enough for Johnny Most, it’s good enough for me." 

If it's good enough for Johnny Most, it's good enough for Mike Breen.

Not bad for such a Celts hater after all. 

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