By Jim Williams
Special for The Examiner
The ABC/ESPN (ABC7-KGO) broadcast team of Mike Breen, Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy and Doris Burke could not be more excited about their role in bringing the NBA Finals between the Warriors and the Raptors to a large national audience.
For Jackson, however, who coached the Warriors from 2011-2014, and Van Gundy, who grew up in the East Bay as a Warriors fan, this year’s Finals has a special twist. It will be the last time they will visit a place that played a big part in each man’s life: Oracle Arena.
Win or lose, the Golden State Warriors will be moving out of a building they called home for he past 47 years and headed to a new home Chase Center in San Francisco. But for Jackson and Van Gundy the dusty old barn in Oakland holds many found memories.
“I will say that arena has been as good to the league as any,” Jackson said this week. “You think about the history, you think about the fan base. You think about the greatness as far as teams, as far as individual players. This is an incredible time to go out, obviously moving but having another chance to win another championship.”
It was easy to tell in Jackson’s voice that thinking about his time in Oakland was emotional for him.
“You cannot tell the story of professional basketball without including Oracle,” he continued. “Those fans have been incredibly loyal from the beginning to the end. Their loyalty has paid off with what this team has been able to put on the floor consistently for years now … As a former coach, as a former player coming into that building, as an analyst, it’s as good as it gets. To those people in that organization, in that fan base, we all say a big thank you.”
ABC and ESPN are broadcasting their 17th straight NBA Finals as a family of networks. Jackson is making history as he is calling his 11th NBA Finals, the most for an African-American game analyst for any major North American professional sports championship event. Sideline reporter Doris Burke has been the broadcast reporter for the event for the 11th year in a row, a record for a woman in a prominent NBA Finals on-air role.
Van Gundy is working his 13th NBA Finals — which is the most for a game analyst on television. This one, though, means something deeper.
“As a boy growing up, occasionally getting to go to a Warriors game … I really always appreciated Bill King,” Van Gundy said. “Listening to him, Jeff Mullen, the Hopper, all those guys, before it became fashionable to be seen at Oracle like it is now. They had a great fan base.”
While the Warriors are now in their fifth straight NBA Finals — something not done since the Boston Celtics of 1957-66 — they endured far more bad than good during their 47 seasons in Oakland. They missed the playoffs for nine straight years in the 1970s and 1980s, before the late-80s, early-90s resurgence that saw them make the postseason in five of eight years. Then, they suffered through 12 straight losing seasons before the the We Believe team upset Dallas in the first round of the 2007 playoffs.
“I think every franchise that wins, a dynasty like the Warriors have right now, you’re going to draw and have terrific support,” Van Gundy said. “But the real fan bases are the ones when you’re going through some mediocrity that they are still there and they’re loud and they are vociferous. They had all of that even through a long run of mediocrity.
“I remember coming in there as a Rockets coach, Baron Davis made a three late against us to win a game, and it exploded. It was like on the drive for a championship. They were a very average, maybe below-average team at that time … I’ve always enjoyed that there’s been a lot of great history there. Don Nelson, Manute Bol shooting threes. There’s been some bad times. Through it all, the fan base in the East Bay has been terrific.”
One thing Van Gundy made very clear that was his hope that passion for the Warriors that was so strong in the East Bay could be replicated once they move to the posh new Chase Center in San Francisco.
“I’m going to be interested to see if the passion carries over to San Francisco,” Van Gundy said. “Sometimes when you change arenas — like I would say in Indiana when they went from Market Square to the new arena — [it] wasn’t quite the same. Chicago Stadium to the United Center, not quite the same.”