Mark Jackson has always had a different way viewing sports. He didn’t just listen and watch, he observed the action.
The three-dimensional approach has served him well.
“I listened as a fan, I watched as a wannabe coach and wannabe player. I would listen to the games in a weird way as a kid, and that’s in every sport,” Jackson said. “Each time I learned, especially as an announcer, what to do and what not to do.”
Even some of Jackson’s favorite sayings — including “Mama, there goes that man” and “Hand down, man down” — came from his youth and playing pickup games.
After his 17-year playing career in the NBA, Jackson spent three seasons coaching the Golden State Warriors and has had two stints with ESPN as an analyst.
This is Jackson’s 11th finals working alongside Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, which is the most on television for any sport by a black game analyst. He is three behind Joe Morgan for most on TV and radio. Morgan called 14 World Series, with 11 on radio and three on television.
Game 5 is Monday night in Toronto with the Raptors one win away from knocking off Golden State and winning their first NBA title.
“As a kid, I dreamt of playing in the NBA, I dreamt of coaching in the NBA, and I dreamt of announcing in the NBA, and I’ve fulfilled each and every one of those roles, and I’m extremely blessed,” Jackson said.
His name has been linked with coaching openings the past few seasons and he said he does look forward to possibly leading a franchise again one day. Jackson was fired just before Golden State started its championship run but said he has had no problems broadcasting the Warriors’ five straight trips to the finals and three NBA titles without sounding bitter or jaded.
Van Gundy has said one of the things he has always admired about Warriors coach Steve Kerr is that he has been quick to share credit for Golden State’s success with Jackson, who took the franchise to two straight playoff appearances before being fired.
“I have tremendous faith and trust that things happen for a reason. If I didn’t I would have lost my mind a long time ago,” Jackson said. “I take pride in watching and knowing that our paths (his and Golden State’s) crossed.”
The chemistry between Jackson, Van Gundy and Breen is evident.
The banter and comradery between them go back to their longtime friendship when all three were with the Knicks. Jackson was the 18th overall pick in the 1987 NBA draft, Van Gundy was hired as an assistant two years later before becoming the head coach in 1996 and Breen started as the Knicks’ radio voice in 1991 before moving to television in 1998.
Because of their familiarity, the disagreements at times could sound heated. But as the 54-year old Brooklyn native is quick to point out, the same thing he would say at dinner he would say courtside.
“I think because Mark took me under his wing early on, taught me a lot about the NBA, this deep friendship developed, that we can be honest with each other, we can disagree without being disagreeable,” Van Gundy said. “We’re real fortunate that we can talk honestly and not feel inhibited that we may be hurting each other’s feelings.”
Breen said he was confident that Jackson would be successful in anything he decided to do once his playing career ended.
“He sees the game like very few others,” Breen said. “When he was a player, he had great court awareness. When he came back from coaching it gave him a different perspective and the ability to show what was going on with 10 players on the court.”
ESPN senior coordinating producer Tim Corrigan said that the traits that made Jackson successful as a player have carried over to the sideline.
“He sees, hears and recognizes things before they happen. He has an incredible belief in self and the unique ability to see things,” Corrigan said.
Barring any major surprises, Jackson will be back with ESPN next season, which he is just fine with him.
Said Jackson: “I’m cherishing being able to call another finals with friends like Jeff and Mike.”
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