Kevin Harlan: Up High...and Down Hard!
Earlier in the year, we were joined by the former voice of the Timberwolves, who now handles play-by-play duties for TNT's coverage of the NBA playoffs. Harlan was kind enough to take some time to offer thoughts on both these 2007 playoffs and on the coming NBA Draft:
MT: Thanks for checking in with us back in Minnesota, Kevin. You've had some terrific games to call in these past few weeks...how are those vocal chords holding up?
Kevin Harlan: They’re fine, thanks. I’m enjoying these playoffs probably as much as I ever have, and this is my 11th or 12th year working for Turner Sports. I started on a freelance basis when I was with the Timberwolves back in the mid 1990s, so I’ve seen a lot of games. I love my partner, Doug Collins, I love the crew I work with, and feel like every year I learn something different about the game and my broadcast approach, which makes it more satisfying.
MT: You and Doug wrapped up the Golden State – Utah series on Tuesday night. What are your thoughts on Derek Fisher, perhaps the best story of this postseason?
Harlan: Derek Fisher has conducted both his on-court and off-court lives with great dignity. There was a time when he was part of a championship team with the Lakers, and he signed a free agent contract with Golden State. They dumped him, traded him for three unspectacular players to the Utah Jazz, and there was a built-in impetus going up against his former team that didn’t think enough of him to keep him around. Another interesting spoke in this wheel, of course, is that his infant daughter is battling retinal cancer, and had surgery right in the middle of the most prominent time of his season. Fisher was able to be with his wife and child in New York for the operation, yet came back to play with a heavy heart and performed at a very high level. He has been a remarkable story.
MT: My buddies and I get upset when we don’t get either you and Collins or the Marv Albert - Steve Kerr booth. Apparently TNT realizes this, because they’ve put you in a number of different buildings for what they consider the best matchup…
Harlan: We were a part of six different series in the first and second rounds in nine different cities, and each had it’s own aspect: whenever the Lakers and Phoenix get together after last year’s fireworks, that has a lot of intrigue; I enjoy covering San Antonio because of their professionalism and how they’ve stuck with the same system – which has proven to be almost fail-safe in so many ways – for so long; I enjoyed watching Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony in Denver with how they’ve developed; I loved watching LeBron in Cleveland the other night; I love Detroit’s professionalism. Even though they’re being pushed by the Bulls now I still like the Pistons in that series.
MT: Agreed. Now, if I can borrow one of your terms here: there's no way Baron Davis had any regard for Andrei Kirilenko's human life when he just stomped the Russian's yard in game four. Right?
Harlan: Hahaha. Well, the most amazing thing about that dunk, in my opinion, was that not only did he climb above Kirilenko – one of the premier shot blockers in the league – but the hesitation, the cocked right arm as he was airborn, with a slight pause at the very top of his leap? I don’t know. It made it that more dramatic. It was just amazing to watch him thrust that down. We didn’t get to announce that particular game, unfortunately, but it’s one of the best dunks I’ve ever seen in a game.
MT: We’re all upset that you didn’t get to call it. What line do you think you’d have dropped?
Harlan: Well, I haven’t used the “regard for human life” in a couple of years. Last time I used it was on a Kobe Bryant dunk at Madison Square Garden three or four years ago. I may have used it with Shaq, and of course it began with Kevin Garnett. But that Davis dunk might have warranted it. You try to pick and choose, and you never think about using a line in a game, but all of that stuff just comes off the top of your head. It just comes out, and thank god they had a lot of patience for me in Minnesota. I’m surprised I wasn’t fired over the years.
MT: One more Golden State bit for you. Here's a Steven Jackson quote: "I make love to pressure." Thoughts?
Harlan: Haha! Wow. He needs to tighten the screws on his personality and on his attitudes towards the game, officials and opponents. He’s a guy who when he continues to work on controlling his emotions and personality will find that his game will even out even more. He’s a terrific talent, but he lacks a lot of discipline, and that’s going to hurt him I’m afraid.
MT: If you had to pick one, what’s your favorite playoff atmosphere been to this point?
Harlan: I’ll tell you that Tuesday night in Salt Lake City for game five was probably the best. Our TNT crew had not done one there since 2002, and I had forgotten just how great a scene that arena is, and what great pro fans they have.
MT: It looked like a pretty special atmosphere in that Golden State sea of yellow as well.
Harlan: They have been so bad there for so long, this was the first time they were in the playoffs since 1994. That in a sense awakened the pro basketball fan in the San Francisco/Oakland market, which has traditionally been a very, very solid, educated NBA market. I was very happy to see them get back on the horse, so to speak, and enjoy some of the postseason success of their team.
MT: The Suns and Spurs have been playing some terrific basketball against each other, but wasn't it a shame to see Cheap Shot Bob deck Nash like he did? What’s your take on that entire scenario?
Harlan: First of all, it’s the job of the assistant coaches to immediately spin around, put up their arms and serve as a barricade for those players. The guys on that staff did not do that, so that’s problem number one. Problem number two is that the definition of the “immediate area” is a little bit hazy. Is it two feet? Is it five feet? But clearly, Stoudemire and Diaw were 20 feet away, and they were caught. There is precedent here, the rule is black and white, and you cannot leave the bench. You just can’t do it. It’s unfortunate.
MT: Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix’s leading scorer, and Boris Diaw missed game five, and San Antonio came back to win at the end when the Suns appeared to run out of gas. And just two games for Cheap Shot?
Harlan: I almost wish it would have been longer; you wonder if they should have taken Horry out of the series completely. I’m glad it was at least two, because there was a cheap shot, and no intent to slow down Nash; there was intent to hurt, and anything but a basketball defense move. That to me is very disconcerting, though you have to remember that the atmosphere of this series is very edgy, very physical, very intense. Nash jumped back up, but it was a shot that I’m sure Horry regrets. It’s done nothing good for him, unless you look at it in a twisted way, where San Antonio got that clear advantage playing on the road.
MT: Generally speaking, the physicality and athleticism of the Suns-Spurs series has been great…
Harlan: I think you always welcome physical, intense, hard contact. That’s how the league got elevated a little bit – showing people that these big bodies are moving at great speeds, they have great skill and they’re also physical. So I welcome all that. I just don’t think a Baron Davis elbow away from the ball on Derek Fisher’s head is a good basketball move. A hard foul? That’s another thing.
MT: Before I forget, Kevin, your former broadcast partner here in Minnesota, Tom Hanneman, sends his best.
Harlan: There is not a day that goes by or certainly a night when I’m in my deepest of dreams that I don’t dream of Hanny and our years together.
MT: After you finish calling games and toss it up to Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith in TNT's Atlanta studio, do you ever get a chance to watch their terrific show, "Inside the NBA"?
Harlan: Often we’ll get back to our hotel room after a game and they’ll still be on. I think that show has so much incredible chemistry. That probably is the number one thing you look for in a studio show like that. It’s all unscripted, and it’s just the best studio show on TV. It continues to amaze me that those guys stay fresh, controversial, and mix it in with their knowledge. They’re very good friends and it’s like a family there. A terrific production.
MT: Here's one of my favorite quotes from Kenny and Charles:
Kenny: "There's guys who go over to Europe and play overseas from America, and they dominate!"
Charles: "Those are called 'brothers.'"
Harlan: Hahahaha! Well. Haha. All I’m going to say is that we’re increasingly seeing the international influence on this game. In our country, all parents want to see is their kids play games. Overseas, the number one thing they do is practice their skills: shooting, passing, dribbling, rebounding, and everything else. That’s all they do. You have teams like Phoenix, San Antonio and Utah that have many foreign players on their teams. That should be a big wake up call to coaches in this country. You don’t have to look any further than Dirk Nowitzki, the first European born player to win an MVP.
MT: The two years before that, we had a Canadian MVP in Steve Nash. Meanwhile, China’s Yao Ming and Italy’s Andrea Bargnani were No. 1 overall draft picks. And Frenchman Tony Parker is dating Eva Longoria.
Dirk told NBA.com that: "It is a little hard for me to be happy with the way the postseason went. It puts a shadow on the regular season we had." You've seen a lot of Dirk this year. Did he just run into the worst possible matchup for him and his squad at the worst time?
Harlan: Bad matchup, wrong time. It was a tired team, and he was tired. They put so much emphasis on getting that No. 1 seed, and had 67 wins. I think he carried that team in so many ways in so many games that he was just exhausted. It showed against a team that plays a frenetic, scrambled game like Golden State does. He was just never a good fit in that series. I don’t know if you blame Dirk or how the coaching staff responded, but they could never catch their breath. It was a snowball rolling down the hill, because with every game and every win, Golden State got more confident, showed more bravado with each shot, and they were falling despite an incredible degree of difficulty.
MT: But you’re a fan of awards being bestowed when they are, correct?
Harlan: Yes, the one thing I’ll say about these awards is that they do give credibility to the regular season. People pooh-pooh the regular season, but there is so much that goes on that has a direct impact on the playoffs. That’s why when people say the regular season isn’t worth watching, I say, “baloney.” It’s like watching NFL preseason…so much goes on in those games, even though they don’t count in terms of wins and losses. But with players developing and emerging, it’s huge, and the same happens in the NBA regular season. The fabric of your team, your rotation, and how you handle those things during the year are what pay off in the postseason. So I like how the MVP rewards the regular season. It just happens to be painful in this particular case, because if the votes were to be taken now, Nowitzki may not be taken in the top four or five.
MT: We’ll get you out of here with a few NBA Draft questions. This year, Minnesota has a 5.3 percent chance of getting the top pick. You covered a lot of big NCAA games this year, including the NCAA Tournament. Who do you like?
Harlan: I love Kevin Durant. Just love his game. They have the big specter of Greg Oden, but I wouldn’t want to be in a position to pick between those two guys. I’d prefer the second pick. I also saw a lot of Al Horford and Cory Brewer down in Florida, and I really like Brewer. He has the quintessential NBA body, and so does Horford. There are a lot of guys that I saw throughout the season that I like. Julian Wright from Kansas has a Brewer-type physique and game, though he doesn’t shoot outside as well. But he passes well and does a lot of nice things. Plus, there are a ton of international players as well, and that’s going to be interesting. It’s a very deep draft, because of the freshman rule and everything else going on.
MT: Wouldn't it be funny if Minnesota sent Crunch to represent the franchise at the Draft Lottery?
Harlan: I love Crunch. I’d like that. It would bring a little pizzazz and a little flair to that pick and put some emphasis on the Wolves.
MT: I'm not sure if David Stern would share our sentiment, so Randy Foye's going to be the guy. Alas, thanks so much for your time Kevin, it was great speaking with you.
Harlan: Very good. Thanks a lot, take care.