Monday, June 1, 2009

Can Jeff Van Gundy Be Impartial?

As we all know, Jeff Van Gundy is going to work along side Mike Breen and Mark Jackson calling the NBA Finals. And also as we all know, Jeff Van Gundy is the brother of Orlando Magic head coach, Stan Van Gundy. But the question is, can Van Gundy be a fair and impartial broadcaster with his brother on the other side of the court, coaching his team in an NBA Championship? It also adds fuel to the fire that no Van Gundy has an NBA Finals championship to their name. Michael Hiestand in the USA Today has a very interesting column on this matter.

Jeff Van Gundy says he last week asked his producer, who then talked to ESPN/ABC higher-ups, if he should be dropped from the on-air team — with analyst Mark Jackson and play-by-play announcer Mike Breen — scheduled to call ABC's NBA Finals. "I had absolutely no problems if they wanted to take me off games and put me in the studio or take me off altogether. It was right to discuss it. I'd be fine with anything. They're going to get criticized either way."

Undoubtedly. But Sunday, Van Gundy says he still has his assignment even after his sole sibling Stan coached Orlando to a win over Cleveland Saturday night and a berth against the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals.

Not that Jeff could watch that win. He couldn't bring himself to watch any of Orlando's playoff games live — "I take long walks and hope for the best" — and Saturday night went to a college baseball game "to kill time." He was ambling outside his house when he checked the score with 1:49 to play and felt Orlando's win was secure and thus the end was watchable.

Expect raw on-air emotion from Jeff if Stan's team clinches the title. In 2001, Fox's DarrellWaltrip choked up as brother Michael bore in on a Daytona 500 win. ABC's Bob Griese, who initially didn't call his son Brian's Michigan football games, was teary as Brian quarterbacked his team to a 1998 Rose Bowl win.

Van Gundy has hinted how he might react to an Orlando title, saying he might "cower" in a "fetal position." Don't laugh. "People take that as a joke. That's not a joke."

Jeff, who coached New York to the NBA Finals in 1999, says he won't be hard on Stan. Not because the coach is his brother. As an ex-coach open to returning to coaching — but not, says Jeff, "in the near future" — he's always easy on coaches on-air. "To think I'd sit there and go at my brother, that's just not happening. I was talking about this with Mark (Jackson). He said, 'You don't criticize coaches anyway.' And that's true."

Van Gundy will skip pregame talks with the Lakers — "I don't want them to be uncomfortable" — and isn't talking much during the playoff grind with Orlando's coach: Jeff and Stan usually talk every other day, but only about once per week during the postseason.

Van Gundy isn't promising on-air objectivity. "The myth of objectivity is just that. Everybody has their biases and prejudices. … I'm going to try to be objective, but I want my brother's team to win." Jeff, who says he and Stan figured they'd go into coaching "as soon as we hit high school," sounds almost protective: "The media has taken liberties with Stan. … They've taken shots at how he looks."

ESPN/ABC might have handled Finals coverage more creatively. Van Gundy works well with Jackson, whom he coached at New York and Houston. But Jackson could have moved to the studio to swap roles with Magic Johnson, the ex-Laker star who's now a team executive. Van Gundy and Johnson, on games, could then spar like two passionate fans — albeit ones with expertise. (Memo to ESPN/ABC: It's not too late.)
I would guess that not many people are giddy over JVG calling a championship series with his brother in it, but from the perspective of a sports fan who is borderline obsessed with announcers and not the biggest basketball fan in the world, I think this is interesting stuff and I am eager to hear Van Gundy on the call of the championship. It certainly won't be the most objectively called champinship there has ever been, and while that at some points could get irritating, the highs and lows and the emotions that Jeff Van Gundy will go through as he nervously and anxiously watches his brother could make for some rather compelling television and interesting moments in the broadcast booth. In a championship series that does not necessarily scream compelling at you, assuming Jeff Van Gundy stays with his assignments and calls the series throughout, this is definitley the type of thing that can keep me interested in the series throughout its duration and eagerly anticipating game days and the live blogs as this should make for some fun discussions.

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