For the first time in his professional broadcast career, Mike Breen called a regular-season NBA game from home.
Over the past 29 seasons, Breen has provided play-by-play from a variety of different locations—most notably courtside during the past 15 NBA Finals, as well as in the since-removed lyric little radio bandbox atop the players tunnel at Madison Square Garden—though he had yet to do so from his basement. But that was exactly where Breen sat when welcoming viewers to the Celtics-Heat game last night on ESPN.
“Being away from the arena, it’s such a different kind of set-up,” says Breen, who called the game from his home in New York. “I did my preparation and tried to bring the same energy even though I wasn’t in the arena, and I hope I did it in a way where the viewers didn’t notice any difference.”
To avoid travel amid the pandemic, Breen is calling a handful of games this season from home. So instead of sitting courtside, he watched the game on a monitor. He was also equipped with a Mac that displayed a few extra camera angles, as well as another screen with stats from his statistician. He communicated with his producer through the headset, like usual, but the biggest difference was not having his broadcast partner—Basketball Hall of Famer Hubie Brown, who called the game from Atlanta—beside him.
“There is no replacing that human connection, sharing the game with someone you really like and respect,” says Breen. “Still, it is amazing to call the game on national television from my basement.
“I fell in love with the game of basketball because it was a team sport, and broadcasting basketball is a team sport, too. You’re only as good as the people around you, and our technicians and production people are remarkable.”
There was no guarantee any of Wednesday’s games would be played. A mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, leading to chaos that left four people dead, but the league chose to play the games as scheduled.
The Celtics and Heat issued a joint statement before tip-off, voicing a strong reminder not to forget the injustices in society, then kneeled during the national anthem. The surreal scene of a mob storming the Capitol building followed the disturbing news that broke on Tuesday, when it was learned that three police officers from Kenosha, Wis., will not face charges from the August shooting of Jacob Blake. The Bucks and Pistons protested that by kneeling during the first two possessions of last night’s game.
“These are more than just athletes. These are some of the most impressive men I’ve ever met,” says Breen. “I have such respect and admiration for them as fathers and as husbands and as sons. These are more than just basketball players. When they say something that’s important to them, I want to listen to what they have to say.”
The game itself marked the first meeting for Boston and Miami since the two teams squared off this past fall in the Eastern Conference finals, when the Heat eliminated the Celtics in six games en route to the NBA Finals. The fourth quarter featured a frenetic back-and-forth pace, as the Celtics used a 13–0 run late in the fourth to propel themselves to a 10-point lead, only to see the Heat answer back with a 10–0 run to tie the game. The winning basket came off an offensive rebound by rookie Payton Pritchard, giving the Celtics a 107–105 victory.
“These are two terrific teams, and they’re going to be two of the best teams in the East,” says Breen. “They’re also still navigating new circumstances, like the challenge of playing in front of no fans and being isolated on the road and having to deal with quarantines. They’ve got their own challenges that are unprecedented for the NBA, but to see a game go like that is exactly what you hope for. I say it every time—just give me a game decided at the buzzer and I’m a happy man.”
That put-back by Pritchard, which no doubt would have had the late Celtics legendary broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn hollering with joy, concluded a unique evening for Breen.
“I walked up the stairs at halftime to go visit my golden retriever,” says Breen. “That normally doesn’t happen.”
Whether calling the game from the American Airlines Arena in Miami or from his home basement, Breen expresses that it is a privilege and an honor to call the game of basketball.
“I get to watch the best athletes in the world play and compete, and I get to call some of the biggest games,” says Breen. “I grew up listening to some great NBA announcers, and there are so many great voices now in the NBA. When people say to me, ‘You’re the voice of the NBA,’ I don’t believe that. There are great voices all across the league, on ESPN and TNT, and from the local announcers. The voice of the Boston Celtics is Mike Gorman on TV and Sean Grande on the radio, and Eric Reid for the Miami Heat.
“This is the game I fell in love with a long time ago. I’m now one of a lot of people that bring the game to fans, which I’m grateful for, and I take that responsibility very seriously.”