TALKING CLIPS WITH MIKE BREEN, ESPN/ABC
Prior to the Clippers matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder longtime NBA broadcaster Mike Breen sat down with Eric Patten from Clippers.com. Breen, who has led ABC’s television coverage of the Finals for the past nine seasons and is in his 19th season overall in the NBA, talked about Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin, what the Clippers’ emergence has meant to the NBA and much more.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Eric Patten: Mike, you saw the Boston series, both Finals, that Doc was a part of. What kind of an influence, from your perspective did he have on those teams, particularly the ‘07-08 title team? And then, do you think that he can have a similar influence on this Clipper team?
Mike Breen: I do. I think he has. He might be the best people person I’ve ever met in my life, and I mean in and out of basketball. He just has a way of relating and connecting with people, whether it’s his players, whether it’s his staff, whether it’s the fans, whether it’s the media. He just has an incredible ability to do that, so I think players tend to want to please him more, and are willing to sacrifice more, and are willing to put their own individual stuff aside for the betterment of the team. He’s always been able to do that, and I think that’s his number one strength, that he sees the big picture extremely well. I also think one of the reasons he’s such a good coach is he saw the game from a lot of different ways. He saw the game as an All-Star player. He saw the game as a reserve, and an ok player. He saw the game, he was injured, and he had a serious injury, so he saw the game as a player trying to come back from injury. So, he’s seen it from so many different angles, that I think really helps his ability to relate to each guy, up and down the roster.
EP: One of the things I’ve talked to him about, he played under some of the better coaches in the league in the last decade, maybe in history. Whether it is Mike Fratello or Pat Riley, he was there when Gregg Popovich was an assistant in San Antonio, in the beginning of Popovich’s start there. His son, Austin, played for Mike Krzyzewski. He’s been around a lot of great coaches, and he said he took a lot of what they said to him and what he learned from them, and kind of melded it into his own style. Do you see some elements from some of those coaches that he was around, in his coaching style?
MB: I do. The Riley part was important. Pat Riley might be as good a motivator as has ever coached at any sport, and Doc took that. And knowing when to use it, and when to, you know, really go to the well when you need something big. So, that’s one area that I saw, because I was around Riley a lot during the years with the Knicks and there’s no question that Doc took a lot of that.
EP: Two of the guys that he’s going to have, it’s funny to say, as big an influence as anyone on are Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Why do you think Blake Griffin gets the criticism that he does, from the national media and some of the pundits, whether it’s Charles Barkley or some of the talk show hosts around the nation?
MB: You know, it drives me crazy. The guy, he puts up incredible numbers. He’s helped the team win a lot of games, more than the franchise has ever won. Does he have some flaws in his game? Absolutely, but it’s not like he’s not working at it. He’s got a great work ethic. There have been very few, if any perfect players, and I think it’s unfair that he gets that. I think Russell Westbrook, who they play in Oklahoma City, gets the same thing. These guys, they compete every night, and they play hard, and they put up good numbers and their team wins. So, let’s pick apart what they don’t do. Well, they’re both still young players, and Blake is a young player, and he’s just getting better and better. And if he doesn’t, in five years from now, if he’s not a better jump shooter, if he’s not a better defender, maybe then you can criticize him. But he’s gotten better at those things each year, maybe not at the pace that some of the fans want, but who knows? He puts up terrific numbers year after year.
EP: As far as Chris Paul goes, you’ve seen some of the great leaders, from a point guard, or any position in the league. Where does he rank in that leadership category, and also as a competitor?
MB: Eric, I think you’re right in terms of leadership, and I think the league doesn’t have enough true leaders. They have a lot of great players, but I don’t think there are many true leaders. He’s one of them. And that I think to be a true leader, sometimes you have to understand that you have to say unpleasant things. And he can be tough on his guys, but he can also be very encouraging, and you have to combine that, and you have to be able to back it up by playing hard every night. And I think that’s one of the great things about Chris Paul, is that he just plays so hard. He plays so hard at both ends of the floor, and when guys see their best player doing that, you just pretty much have to follow suit.
EP: When he and Blake came together, obviously, the culture immediately started changing here. In the last two-plus seasons, they’ve won more games than they have in franchise history, and have done a lot of great things. What do you think the Clippers’ turnaround as a franchise has done for the city of L.A., but more importantly, the NBA as a whole?
MB: Well, it’s very similar to what Jason Kidd did in New Jersey. They were in many ways a laughingstock; they were the butt of jokes, as the Clippers were. They were the butt of jokes for a long time. And all of the sudden, they bring in this terrific All-Star player who’s also a leader, who, all he wants to do is win. He doesn’t really care how many points he scores or how many assists he has, he’s just going to do whatever it takes to win. And it completely changes the fan base; it gives the fan base hope. So now, fans are actually excited about the product instead of being embarrassed about all of the jokes on the late-night shows that are being made about them. And it’s again, the similarity, the Nets have always had trouble being number two in a city where the Knicks were always number one. And same thing with the Clippers, where the Lakers are always number one. And I don’t think either will ever be able to overcome that, just because of the history. But, all of the sudden, it makes the city abuzz with a great rivalry, and that’s great for the city, and that’s great for the league.
EP: In those two-plus years, is there any moment in the games that you’ve broadcast in this Clipper run, that’s stood out to you?
MB: I think the Playoffs, getting to the Playoffs two years ago, winning that Game 7 on the road, you know, that series, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were banged up, yet somehow they found a way. And that just, was not the Clippers. They never just found a way, but these guys found a way, and the grit and the toughness and the competitiveness of Chris Paul is a big reason for that.
EP: Last thing. Where do you think this particular group fits in in this Western Conference that looks to be six, seven teams deep?
MB: It’s so early to make a prediction. I think they’re one of the best teams in the West, there’s no question. They have a shot of making the Western Conference Finals. If you make it there, you’ve got a shot at the Finals, and if you make it there, you have a shot at the title. But, they’ve got to prove themselves first. Man, it is such a tough leap to go from, I think Doc said it, winning two playoff series in 40 years, now you’re going to have to win how many in one year? So, it’s an uphill battle, but I think they’ve got a lot of the right pieces in place, and I think they’re certainly one of the contenders.
Note: Interview transcribed by Brandon Ehrlich.