The 2011 NBA Finals begins Tuesday, May 31, exclusively on ABC and ESPN Radio. Today, play-by-play announcer Mike Breen, analysts Mark Jackson and Dr. Jack Ramsay, along with Bob Rauscher, ESPN vice president of production, and Leah LaPlaca, ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions, participated in a media conference call to discuss ESPN’s multiplatform coverage of the 2011 NBA Finals.
Q. Just wanted to get everybody’s view on the level of the Heat’s defense. We all went into kind of the season thinking how is it going to work offensively with this team and how are they all going to fit with Wade and James, and I think a lot of people are surprised, but what do you think about the level of the Heat’s defense we’ve seen in closing out some of these games?
MARK JACKSON: To me I thought when this team was assembled; I really believed that they could be a great defensive team. First and foremost, because you come from a defensive background, Erik Spoelstra has emphasized defense from day one. And then when you put two perimeter stoppers in LeBron and Wade together and the way that those guys compete, their length, their strength, and then I think Chris Bosh was an underrated defender, and in this league schemes are so crucial defensively, and they do a great job of having principles and holding guys accountable. So it’s no surprise to me at all.
DR. JACK RAMSAY: Initially I knew the Heat would be a good defensive team because of what Mark said. Erik Spoelstra was an assistant under Pat Riley, and Riley was a great disciple of good team defense always, any team that he coached. But I was surprised that Joel Anthony could become such a factor within that defense. I think he was the key to their improvement as a defensive team when they were struggling early on, shot blocking, intimidating in the basket area, and he’s really been the glue. Now that Udonis Haslem has joined the mix, he makes them even better. In the ’06 championships when Miami stopped Dallas, it was Haslem and James Posey who did the defensive job that took Dirk Nowitzki pretty much out of the series after the first two games. Those two were terrific. Haslem retains that quality of defense, and it’ll be interesting to see. I would expect that Bosh will start off on Nowitzki, but Haslem will be waiting in the wings, and Haslem has been a big factor with the team since he’s come back. He’s only played six games, but he’s already arguably been the key player in one of them.
MIKE BREEN: Kind of like what those guys say, when you have your two star players commit the way LeBron and Dwyane Wade have committed, it makes it easier for everybody to follow suit. And the thing I think about LeBron and Wade, they’ve got uncanny timing in terms of shot blocking. For perimeter guys, and I don’t know if you want to call LeBron a perimeter guy, but for these two guys to also add the shot‑blocking ability whether it’s following on a fast break or in a half court set, I think that’s an added dimension in addition to their ability to shut people down. It’s pretty incredible what those two guys can do defensively. We talk about their dynamic offense, but what they can do defensively has been phenomenal.
Q. This question is for Jack Ramsay. How do you perceive the rest of the country perceives the Heat outside of Miami? I know you called their games for a long time. I’m not sure if you still live in the area. But I want to get a sense from you how you think the rest of the nation sees them compared to how they are seen locally.
DR. JACK RAMSAY: I think the rest of the country is growing to appreciate and in some quarters root for this team. They started off on the wrong foot and just aroused derision everywhere they went in the league. But they are so good. They are so dedicated. When you see, as Mike Breen said, their key players, LeBron James and D‑Wade, diving on the floor for loose balls, coming from the weak side and making incredible shot blocks, you have to acknowledge that. I think it’s happened for the Heat. They have become not America’s team but they’re now likable, and everybody loves a winner, and this team has been proved that it can be a winner.
MARK JACKSON: To me the bottom line is when you win; all of a sudden people embrace you. Those guys have done a great job of sustaining. They had a tough period during the course of the season, sticking with the game plan, and finally executing, and they find themselves with a legitimate chance to fulfill their initial dream, which was to win a championship. I think people embrace hard workers and the way that they have answered and responded to the critics and to the pressure.
MIKE BREEN: I agree with both of them, but I’m still hearing an awful lot of people, when they ask me about the Playoffs and talk to me about the Playoffs, say I want anybody to win but the Heat. I still think there’s a lot of people that don’t like them. But I agree with Jack. I think people have grown to respect them, and anybody that loves basketball, how do you not respect the way they’ve played, the way they’ve come together. But there’s still a lot of people who are rooting for whoever is playing the Miami Heat.
DR. JACK RAMSAY: I don’t doubt that. And Dallas is on the contrary a likable team with the way they play, and we haven’t even mentioned them. They have a very good team, and it’s filled with guys that you kind of root for who nearing the end of their careers have another chance for a ring. Nobody on that roster has a ring.
Q. For Mike and Mark and Dr. Jack if he likes, have you ever done a series where the home team, the home market, thought you were rooting for the other market?
MIKE BREEN: Almost every series. It’s amazing, we’ll go in in an NBA Finals ‑‑ and just say, for example, last year, we’ll go into Boston and the Celtic fans will say, boy, it’s clear you guys are rooting for the Lakers, and then the series will shift to LA, and the Laker fans will say, boy, it’s obvious you guys are rooting for the Celtics. That’s just part of the job, and I’ve talked to announcers who do the World Series or a Super Bowl, and they get a lot of the same stuff.
It always seems that the teams, whatever city you’re in, they’ll tell you how you’re rooting for the other one. So that’s part of the business. You try and be objective and down the line, but you hear that all the time.
MARK JACKSON: I totally agree with that. I think that happens not just every series but every game. The team that loses or the team that plays bad, our job is to tell a story, and basically if you’re playing bad, we’re going to talk about that, and I think it comes off to a true fan like you’re disliking their team. So it’s quite amusing to me. But it comes with the job, and it’s a compliment, really, when they do that because it tells you that you spoke the facts.
Q. For Jack and Mark, two separate things. For Mark, if you could look at it from Spoelstra’s perspective about some of the toughest choices he has from a match‑up or lineup issue, whether it’s how to defend Dirk, et cetera, and what you would do. And then Jack, if you wouldn’t mind doing it from Carlisle’s standpoint; what are the toughest questions he has in this series as far as match‑ups or lineups.
MARK JACKSON: To me the main thing, first and foremost, when talking about defending the Dallas Mavericks, Erik Spoelstra has got to decide who his initial defender is going to be on Dirk Nowitzki, who is secondary and the third option is going to be defending him, how you’re going to defend him, whether you’re going to double, and if and when you do double, forcing the ball out of his hands, how you’re going to rotate to their shooters. So it’s going to be crucial, first and foremost, to contain Dirk Nowitzki and make life tough for him. And I think the other thing they’re going to really have to pay attention to is how to defend the pick‑and‑rolls of the Dallas Mavericks. When you’re talking about J.J. Barea and Jason Terry especially with Dirk Nowitzki, are you going to trap him, are you going to go under, how do you rotate. These are things that I’m sure the Miami Heat and Erik Spoelstra are going through with details today and until Game 1.
DR. JACK RAMSAY: For Rick Carlisle, of course the objectives are equally spaced between James and Wade. Don’t underestimate Shawn Marion as a defender. He did a phenomenal job in the Conference Finals in shoring up and putting pressure on Kevin Durant, challenging him on every shot, making it difficult for him to catch the ball. Surprising to me. I had never rated Marion as a great defender at his other stops along the way. He’s 33 years old. He keeps himself in excellent condition, and he takes the challenge. I would expect him to defend James. And while it might look like a big advantage for James, Marion is longer, he’s 6’8″, he’s got great hops off the floor from a defensive position. His block of a Durant shot at crunch time in Game 4 was unbelievable, the replay of that, the way he extended, got a piece of the ball with no contact on the shooter. Now, for D‑Wade, DeShawn Stevenson, everybody is going to say, who, or why do you think? This guy gets down, he’s strong, he is a dedicated defender, and he’ll give his team significant minutes. And there will be a point in this series where he will also defend LeBron James, as well. Dallas is a very good defensive team. They play a 2‑3 zone in addition to their man‑to‑man. It’s a match‑up kind of thing. It proves to be very sticky for teams that don’t have a good offense against the zone. It took the Lakers out of their series against Dallas in my opinion.
But these are good defensive players at two spots against the two best Heat players.
Q. For Mark and Mike, you’ve gotten to see quite a lot of the Mavs lately. What has impressed you most about the way they’ve been playing, the way they’ve been winning?
MARK JACKSON: I think the most impressive thing is how they have incredible poise. They’ve stayed calm in the face of tough runs. They totally believe in their system and in each other, and they find ways to win ballgames. I think ultimately when you’re talking about great basketball teams, you’re talking about teams that in spite of not playing their best, taking their game to another level and finding a way to win, and that’s been the most impressive thing for me about this Mavericks team.
MIKE BREEN: Yeah, me too. I think it’s just a collection of these individual players who have all had their individual accolades, whether it’s All‑Stars, all‑NBA, Sixth Man winners, and they realize now all that stuff is nice but now there’s only one goal, and it’s the one thing missing from their careers, and they’re doing whatever it takes. They’re sacrificing; they’re defending, committed defensively. It’s kind of the old‑fashioned way. They’ve had enough of the individual success, now there’s one thing we want, and they’re doing everything possible. It’s really fun to watch all these veterans come together and sacrifice individual parts of their game to make sure the team wins.
DR. JACK RAMSAY: I’d like to add, Jason Kidd has been incredible. This guy, 38 years old, still runs the show on offense and is a surprisingly good defender. Did a great job against Kobe Bryant in the LA series in significant spots of games, and he doesn’t have the quick feet any longer, but he has great hands and great anticipation. The Mavs make a premium on defensive deflections of passes. In Game 4 against OKC, they had 19 deflections in that game. And these are all ‑‑ Kidd had his share of those. Marion, Nowitzki even, everybody who plays is conscious of that. Kidd is still running the show there. He distributes the ball. He gets the ball to a player who needs a shot, needs to make a field goal. He’ll throw cross‑court to Terry giving up a shot of his own so Terry can get a free look from three‑point land. This is a surprisingly tough team with veteran poise, as Mark said. That’s a key characteristic for them. And Tyson Chandler we haven’t mentioned is the defensive focus there and actually the spokesman of the team. He gets everybody going. He calls people out when they’re not getting their jobs done, and he defends the basket area.
Q. This is kind of a follow‑up on what Barry said with the fans thinking that you’re against their team, and some of the Thunder fans kind of thought that you might have been against the Thunder, and if Mark and maybe Mike want to weigh in on that. I know that Jeff Van Gundy is not there, but I guess he said at one point that the fans deserved a technical foul for booing a foul call on Dirk. Was that deserving?
MARK JACKSON: I can’t answer for Jeff on that statement. I don’t recall it. But there’s no way in the world that we ‑ I can speak for myself and I can speak for Mike and Jeff ‑ have anything against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Nothing but respect, appreciation and admiration for the organization from top to bottom, the way they’ve conducted themselves, and the success that they’ve had. You can ask, whether it be Sam Presti, Scott Brooks, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or any other player, the relationships that we have with them, and I’m sure they will tell you that no way in the world would they think we’d be rooting against them.
Our job is to speak the facts. The facts are that a couple of games in the series there were breakdowns and they didn’t play as well as they could have played. They had a couple of games won and they did not win them. Our job is to speak the facts, and that’s exactly what took place, but they had a great season and they should be extremely proud.
MIKE BREEN: And what Mark said before is so true. It’s usually especially after a loss. The team that plays poorly, the fans after that game are upset because obviously for some reason they played poorly and you have to be critical or you have to be honest as Mark says. And because also in the Playoffs the spotlight is so intense, and during the course of the regular season it’s such a long year, but in the Playoffs you really focus on individual plays. So I think overall broadcasts are more critical in the Playoffs in terms of what a team is doing and what a certain player is doing. And I think that’s why part of sometimes the fans might be a little sensitive, because also their emotions are running high. It’s a playoff game; it means so much. Playoff losses are so painful, and fans get very emotional watching those, as well.
Q. In the 2006 Finals when the Mavericks had that 2‑0 lead and then you look at their playoff history since then, they’ve sort of gained this label as soft. I wonder, do you agree that that’s been hung on them, and how do you think they’ve changed that?
MARK JACKSON: I don’t think they’re soft at all. I think they’re an extremely well‑coached team. Rick Carlisle does an outstanding job. I think they have tough, veteran leadership, and guys have been through stuff throughout the course of their careers and know how to respond in every situation. They’re certainly a different basketball team today, and I think no way in the world losing in ’06 was soft. I think it was basically allowing Dwyane Wade to play one‑on‑one and never got him out of his comfort zone. I think that ultimately cost the Dallas Mavericks a championship more than anything else.
MIKE BREEN: I agree. I’m not going to call a team or a player soft, but you can say maybe mental toughness is something you develop, and I think that’s one of the strengths of this year’s team. They’re just mentally tougher. They’re older. They’ve been through it. And not just with Dirk and Jason Terry with Dallas; with what Stojakovic has done in some of his playoff losses and what Shawn Marion has done with his losses. You learn from these losses. You learn how to deal with the highs and lows of the Playoffs. And I think, again, the experience comes to the forefront. And also, too, in some of the years they just weren’t better than the teams they lost to. The Golden State loss in ’07 was so painful for the team and the fans, but it was a very bad match‑up for them. It just happened to be the worst possible match‑up for them. And now this year after experiencing all these difficult losses, whether you’re Jason Kidd or Dirk Nowitzki and you add a Tyson Chandler, now they’re just better than the other team. Sometimes the other team is just better, and it has nothing to do with whether a team is perceived as soft or fades in the crunch time areas.
DR. JACK RAMSAY: I’ve never seen a team that is so dedicated to winning a championship. Everybody talks the talk. These guys had focus on winning from day one, and it’s surprising to me because I didn’t think during the course of the regular season, especially at the beginning, I didn’t think they were that good a team. But they have become a great team. They have become a very resilient team, extremely poised, physically tough. The additions of Chandler, Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson along with Marion ‑‑ Marion is an incredible defender, and as I said earlier, I never knew he had it in him. But this is a tough team. This is no soft team, and very focused and very dedicated on winning the championship. There has been no celebration at the end of the regular season or any of the earlier rounds. Their focus has been on winning it all.
Q. For any of the announcers, I think one of the first things that people think of when they think of the Dallas Mavericks, especially going back to the ’06 Finals, Mark Cuban has for a long time been one of the major faces of the franchise, and I’m wondering if you can compare the Mark Cuban of ’06 to the Mark Cuban of today. And as a secondary question to that, what any of you make of his recent silence. Is he just trying to put guys like me out of business by not talking?
MIKE BREEN: This might sound silly, but maybe as an owner you learn from experience, as well. And although I think a lot of this has to do with being superstitious; he was quiet early, they started winning, so he figured, all right, let me keep my mouth shut and not say a word. I just think right from the start, he’s brought so much passion, and willing to do everything and anything to make the players ‑‑ give them the proper tools, whether it’s a great locker room, a great plane, a good coach, spending money on free agents, give their whole team the proper tools to win. He’s been all about that right from the start. Obviously he gets emotional from the fans. I think he’s been able to control that a little bit better, and maybe he was tired of getting fined and losing money for shooting off his mouth sometimes. But to me he’s always been ‑‑ all he wants to do is win, and he wants to give the fans a great product. You know, so much of the publicity about him has always been the fines and the controversial comments, but I think most NBA fans would love to have their team have an owner like Mark Cuban.
DR. JACK RAMSAY: I think some of it has to do with his confidence in Rick Carlisle. He has, and should have, a high appreciation for Carlisle’s talents as a coach and the way that Carlisle uses his personnel and controls the tempo of games and just monitors it, and in a very low‑key fashion. It’s wonderful to watch. I talked with Mark after they had qualified for the championship round, and I mentioned to him, “I thought Rick did a terrific job.” He said, “Rick has out‑coached everyone he’s faced in the Playoffs so far.” He said, “That’s no surprise to me.” So there’s a confidence in the coach that maybe was not there with his previous coaches.
MARK JACKSON: I just think ultimately when you look at Mark Cuban, you as a fan got to appreciate his passion for the game of basketball and his passion for the Dallas Mavericks, and he’s put them in a position to advance to The Finals. I think the difference between a younger Mark Cuban and an older Mark Cuban, I think right now he realizes ‑‑ or as he matured as an owner, he realizes that there are things that you should and shouldn’t say, not about whether it’ll hurt you but it could potentially hurt your basketball team; it could motivate another team. And I think he’s certainly matured and he’s done the right things. But the thing you love about him is his passion about putting this team in position to win. Any time, as long as he stays the owner of the Mavericks, they’re going to be a relevant team, not because of his voice but because of what he’s doing to put them in a position to win.
DR. JACK RAMSAY: I’d just like to add this: Early on he was in the huddles at times‑out and sometimes having some vocal comment to the coach or the team. That’s very distracting, very distracting, and undermines the authority of the coach. Well, you don’t see him do that. He’s nowhere in sight. If you look for him you can find him, I’m sure, but he’s not involved in the game process anymore, and I think that’s a good thing.
Q. Sorry for being the downer, but a quick business question for Mark and Dr. Jack. The owners’ latest proposal in collective bargaining was for a $45 million hard cap. If I’m doing my math right, right now LeBron, Wade and Bosh take up almost $45 million in salary. Could we be looking at a one‑year opportunity, whereas the new collective bargaining agreement might force the breakup of these Miami Heat?
DR. JACK RAMSAY: It could, but there has to be a provision for filling out your roster with players that takes you over the hard cap on players who are ‑‑ to whom the team has already committed. So I don’t know all of the ‑‑ we don’t know what the final contract is going to call for. But there has to be a provision for that, as there has been in previous contracts, CBAs.
MARK JACKSON: Yeah, I think it’s very early to discuss anything like that, and I don’t want to pretend ‑‑ make it sound like I know what I’m talking about from this end because I haven’t studied it as much. What I will say is that ultimately the best thing is for management, owners and players to solve this problem and make sure that there’s no stoppage of playing. That’s the best decision. I think the same thing what Dr. Jack talked about. There’s got to be a provision as far as contracts that are signed and players that are under contract today as opposed to moving forward.
Q. You do know management, though. Do you get a sense that the owners were bothered that the players seemingly controlled their own fate and took their fate in their own hands?
DR. JACK RAMSAY: I have no way of knowing.
MARK JACKSON: I have no way of knowing, either. I think it certainly helped the level of interest in the game, so I think that whether they are upset or not, they certainly embraced the interest in the game and the fans’ approach as far as excitement.
Q. To what degree does the NBA labor situation hang over this series, and do you think the NBA is happy to have such a star‑studded cast of athletes in this series so the talk isn’t so much on the labor?
DR. JACK RAMSAY: I don’t think anybody is thinking about that right now, and neither are these teams. They’re focused on winning the series. I talked with several of the players who are important ‑‑ Derek Fisher, who is the president of the Players’ Association, before the series, before his series, earlier series were completed, and he said, “We will do anything to get an agreement so that we don’t miss any games next year.” He said, “I don’t know what it will be, but we’re determined to work it out.” And I think they will. There may be a lock‑out initially, but I think they’ll come to an agreement because what’s happening now in the NBA cannot be diminished. This is an all‑time high in popularity for the National Basketball Association, and it should not go wasted, and I don’t think it will.
Q. Does the labor situation cast a shadow over The Finals, and will you be discussing it at all during your coverage?
MARK JACKSON: I’m certain that we will not be discussing it. When you talk about the great stories, there’s too many great stories in this final match‑up to discuss something that would happen potentially at the end of it. I think the thing we want to do is celebrate the game, celebrate the match‑up, and I don’t really think the fans are interested in it right now. This is the way the business is. I think you hope and pray that ultimately while it’s going on behind the scenes, there’s meetings and there’s discussions, you certainly don’t look forward to a lock‑out. But I think what we want to do right now as fans, not just as announcers, is celebrate these two great franchises.
MIKE BREEN: I agree with Mark. To me, I mean, everything is hypothetical. For us to get into a discussion on Finals games I don’t think is really appropriate, unless some kind of news comes out during The Finals concerning negotiations. But right now they’re trying to come up with stuff and a lot of it is posturing what you’re hearing. So unless there’s news I don’t think we’ll discuss it. The pregame show I’m sure at some point during The Finals we’ll have something regarding it, but we’ll just focus on the games unless there’s kind of news. And that second part of your question, I think the NBA, everybody likes to talk about how they want the Lakers in and they want the top markets, but I think they have two of the most compelling stories. What Miami has done has obviously got everybody’s interest. And I think Dallas has just picked up so many fans with the way Jack talked about it before, and Mark, with the way that they’ve played and the way these veterans are coming together. So I think the league people are thrilled with the match‑up for The Finals.
Q. My question is for Leah. Based on that wonderful answer that Mike just gave, from your standpoint, the cable numbers that TNT had with the Heat and that you guys had with Dallas and OKC, are you looking forward to this Final, and how are you going to promote it on ABC?
LEAH LaPLACA: Yeah, we’ve got a pretty strong promotional line‑up. We’re very excited about this match‑up. We think it’s going to be a great Finals. Obviously we’ve had record ratings all season long. We’ve had ‑‑ as the guys talked about, fan interest in the NBA this year has just been tremendous, and fans are caring about the league in a greater way than they have in the past, and so we think that’s going to carry through to The Finals. Obviously as these guys have talked about, the story lines are tremendous with both the Heat and the Mavericks, and so we’re looking forward to an exciting Finals.
Q. Will there be cross‑promotion on other programming, or is this just going to be a straight‑up situation for ABC?
LEAH LaPLACA: No. We’ve got several things planned that are still in the works; Good Morning America should have some coverage; obviously we’re going to have the Jimmy Kimmel specials on leading into our pregame coverage on ABC; and then we’ll have all of our standard promotional spots and that sort of thing across the ABC network as well as obviously ESPN and ESPN Radio and all of our platforms.
Q. Mark and Mike, just talk about what it’s like been working with each other and with Jeff these past five years.
MARK JACKSON: It’s been absolutely incredible, and the reason why is because you can call games with anybody, but to have an opportunity to call games with friends and guys who have no agenda other than calling games and enjoying one another’s company, there’s nothing that you can say or do, if either one of the three of us, that we would be offended or upset about, because we know it comes from a great place. It’s been a thrill, a joy and an honor to work beside two guys who I count as friends.
MIKE BREEN: Well, I think for me the uniqueness is watching Jeff and Mark together, because I don’t remember a dynamic where an announcer team had a guy who coached a player together, and Jeff not only respected Mark, liked Mark as a friend over those years but respected him as a player and the cerebral player he was. Mark not only likes Jeff as a friend but has so much respect for him as a coach, and to see the two of them, and I knew them back when Mark played for Jeff, and that friendship coupled with the respect I just think is an amazing dynamic. Like Mark said, those two guys, they can be 180 degrees different on an opinion about something, go at each other, and nobody but nobody gets offended. And for me personally, again, I kind of grew up with both of them in the NBA. Jeff was an assistant when I first started broadcasting game 20 years ago and Mark was a player with the Knicks. I’ve been around them a long, long time, and the stuff that they teach me all the time ‑‑ personally I get hurt when they rip me for standing up for referees and it’s something I don’t think I’ll ever get over, but other than that they’re as good as it gets for a play‑by‑play guy.
Q. I want to know how is it that Miami and a long line of NBA teams that seemingly are favorites in the beginning of the season, a team talked about able to win it, is able to flip the switch. I know that’s sort of an expression that gets overused, but how has this Miami team been able to do that because they didn’t play great for a long stretch and now right before the Playoffs they seemingly got really good overnight?
MARK JACKSON: A lot of times when you begin to get closer and closer to the finish line, defensive urgency picks up and the habits that you formed throughout the course of the season being drilled into your head, something clicks. And I think that ultimately is what happened to this Miami Heat team. They were so looking forward to playoff time, to putting a stop to everything that was said, and ultimately they have great talent. When you have great talent and you have great coaching, you will find a way to figure it out, and they’ve certainly done that when it mattered most.
MIKE BREEN: I don’t know if I’d go with the flip of the switch. They still won 58 games and they had stretches during the regular season where they just were incredible, that one stretch where they won 20 of 21 or something like that. Defensively they were dominant, and they were still trying to figure each other out, so we knew it was going to be a process. They’ve just ‑‑ like a lot of teams come playoff time, now all of a sudden you play hard defensively on every single possession. It’s almost physically impossible to do that in the regular season. I mean, you can’t expect guys when they’re playing their fourth game in five nights on the road to have that kind of same passion as they have now when they’re playing in a playoff game. I think between that and the fact that they’re just coming together is the major part of it.
DR. JACK RAMSAY: I think Erik Spoelstra has been overlooked in his part, his role in this process. It was expected right from the beginning, before the season began, that they were going to be, if not a championship team, in The Finals. To get a team to embrace his defensive philosophy, that’s the hardest thing to do. But he made that his number one priority, and they went through a lot of changes and a lot of different techniques, but they finally got their offense blended, where now, especially ‑‑ I say again, with the addition of Haslem back, I think they have become a very complete team at both ends of the floor, and I think Spoelstra has had a great hand in that.
Q. Bob, how would you assess LeBron James’ cooperation with your network this season regarding access and one‑on‑one interviews?
BOB RAUSCHER: He has been cooperative to us during our game telecasts and as we have looked to have his inclusion in interviews, whether it be at halftime or during the games, covered him extensively, everywhere from dot‑com to TV to radio throughout the season. I don’t believe he has engaged in a lot of one‑on‑ones, so there has not been a lot of the one‑on‑one type of sit‑downs. But we’ve had extensive coverage of him and have had endless and daily coverage of their successful season throughout the season.
Q. Have you specifically asked him through the Heat for a one‑on‑one interview?
BOB RAUSCHER: I personally have not asked them. We have standing requests in obviously, just like with Mark Cuban, for instance, who has not been doing a lot of media
since ‑‑ one‑on‑ones and a lot of other players and coaches and executives. Yeah, we always let our interest be known, and we respect the relationship and work with them and work within the framework of what we have available to us.
Q. So you have a standing request into the Heat for a one‑on‑one with LeBron, just so I’m clear on that?
BOB RAUSCHER: I would say ‑‑ I don’t know if it is a standing one. We have contacted them about our interest in it. So a standing one, yes. We go all in and say, yes, we’d like to sit down with LeBron, we’d like to sit down with the big three, we’d like to sit down with Pat Riley, we’d like to sit down with Mark Cuban.
Q. Bob, along the same vein, we haven’t seen very much of Mark Cuban on TV during the series. Is that just because he’s been so low key, or has he requested not to be seen?
BOB RAUSCHER: Yeah, I think you probably know better than we do. He’s been down there all the time. I think Mike alluded to it earlier, and Mark did, as well. It appears that Mark has just decided to take a little more low‑key approach. I think you saw that at the trophy ceremony. He was short and to the point with his congratulations to the team. But it was not an extensive post‑game commentary there from him. And again, throughout The Finals we’ll have him on our list of people we’d love to sit down and chat with.
Q. How about just camera shots during the game?
BOB RAUSCHER: You know, I think that when appropriate, it’s always an editorial decision. As the ebb and flow of the game warrants, you’re not going to be showing gratuitous shots, and you’re not going to ignore it, either.
Q. If I could ask Mike and Mark to talk a little bit about the level of respect you have for Dr. Jack. When you guys are 86 years old, you’re going to be calling NBA games, aren’t you?
MIKE BREEN: I don’t want to embarrass him, but he’s one of the most incredible people I’ve met in my life, and it has nothing to do with basketball. And the way he carries himself, with class and grace and dignity, every single day, again, I don’t want to ‑‑ I’m sure I’ve already embarrassed him, but to me it’s a badge of honor to be able to say he’s a friend. And then just to get the basketball knowledge ‑‑ we had breakfast the other morning in Dallas, and it’s like ‑‑ I am like a kid in a candy store asking him what he thinks about this player or that team. I just have learned so much from him, from hearing him, and I’ve learned so much from observing him. It’s been, like I said, a badge of honor to call him a friend and be able to be around him.
MARK JACKSON: I’m glad you asked that question, and the reason why is because I sat down in the lobby probably for about 30 minutes with Dr. Jack the other day in Oklahoma City, and we had a great conversation. And when the conversation was over with, I basically left, and I said to myself, You didn’t really tell him how much you appreciate him and respect him. And I said, I wish I had the opportunity again next time I see him to be sure to say that. And I thank God for the question because it presents me with the opportunity to say exactly what I feel.
He’s an incredible, incredible human being. He’s an all‑time great coach, and he’s an all‑time great person, and I have tremendous respect and appreciation for his faith and for the man that he is. I have nothing but rave reviews for Dr. Jack.
Q. Just a follow‑up on the Thunder for Mark and Dr. Jack. What does the Thunder need to do to take the next step?
DR. JACK RAMSAY: I think maturity is number one. They clearly shot themselves in the foot in Dallas, but Dallas had something to do with that, and Dallas demonstrated the poise and mental toughness that I think the Thunder has to acquire before they’re going to get to the next level. It’s a very good team. It’s well‑coached. They have very good young personnel; they play together; they like each other. But they need to mature so they can make big plays down the stretch, which they did not do in the series against Dallas.
MARK JACKSON: This is Mark. I totally agree with Coach. I think what they’ve gone through and the setbacks only make them better in understanding what it takes to win ballgames and how you close out games. They’re going to get better just for the simple fact of going through these situations. Last year losing to the Lakers and this year losing to the Mavs, they’re only going to get better and have a better understanding of how you bust through the door and ultimately win the whole thing.
NATE SMELTZ: Thank you for joining us this morning.