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Jeff Van Gundy Continues to Evolve

“We have an easy job,” expressed Van Gundy. “We watch the game and we try to convey what has happened, what could happen or what should happen. That’s not about preparation as much as it is [about] studying the teams over the course of the year.”

Derek Futterman

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Jeff Van Gundy
NBAE/Getty Images

While ESPN altered its NBA Countdown crew this year to include Mike Greenberg, Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon and Jalen Rose, the network declined to alter its lead broadcast team. Calling his record 15th NBA Finals, play-by-play announcer Mike Breen led the booth beginning in Game 3, with his absence in the beginning of the series being due to a positive COVID-19 test result. For 14 of those 15 NBA Finals broadcasts, Breen has been joined by two former NBA head coaches – Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy.

Van Gundy never played professional basketball, and has not coached in the NBA since his stint with his hometown Houston Rockets from 2003-2007. Growing up in a basketball-oriented family, both he and his brother Stan have served as head coaches in the NBA, and their father Bill was a head coach at the college level.

Van Gundy began his professional coaching career with the New York Knicks, first as an assistant coach and then as the team’s head coach. In this role, he led star players Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Allan Houston and his current broadcast colleague Jackson in the team’s quest to bring a championship back to New York City. While Van Gundy was never able to capture an elusive championship as a head coach in the NBA, he was never afraid to take risks – one of which was resigning as head coach of the team 18 games into the 2001-02 season. Although he came to admit that the decision came out of “momentary frustration” in a 2013 interview on The Michael Kay Show, what resulted was the start of a new chapter in his basketball life.

“I had no intention of broadcasting at all,” said Van Gundy. “I got into it because Marv Albert, who was the Knicks broadcaster at the time I was coaching the Knicks… pushed for me to get a chance at TNT in-between my time coaching the Knicks and going to the Rockets.”

Van Gundy’s first game as an analyst with Turner Sports came shortly after his departure from the Knicks, working alongside Albert and Mike Fratello. While he was coaching, Van Gundy was perturbed by the objectivity Albert communicated when broadcasting Knicks games on the MSG Network, and the two hardly spoke to one another. Despite the apparent animosity before they were colleagues, Van Gundy is grateful for Albert for believing in him and showing him the ropes of broadcasting, especially in a three-man booth.

“I was just fortunate when I started with Marv and Mike for television that they embraced me because I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t really know anything about broadcasting,” said Van Gundy. “Because I had three-man booth experience when I went to ESPN after I was done coaching the Rockets, I found it a lot easier.”

Few teams employ a three-man television booth on regional sports networks; however, most of the national broadcast booths consist of a play-by-play announcer and two analysts. Throughout his time in sports media, Van Gundy has usually been one part of a three-person booth, a variation of the traditional broadcast he prefers.

“I enjoy the three-man booth more than the two, which I think is a little bit… unusual because I love being around my friends,” said Van Gundy. “Mark and Mike taught me so much about broadcasting because when I came in, they had a lot of experience.”

Most broadcasters engage in extensive preparation for each game they call – whether it be through talking to team personnel, pouring over statistics and box scores or documenting key notes and storylines in personalized charts. For Van Gundy though, having a copious amount of notes can be counterintuitive – sure, there may be more information available for him to convey, but reading them in the midst of game action takes his eyes off the court, attenuating the effectiveness of his analysis. As long as he has kept up with the latest news around the NBA, and while at the arena, found dessert and a Diet Coke prior to tip-off, Van Gundy is ready to contribute to each broadcast.

“We have an easy job,” expressed Van Gundy. “We watch the game and we try to convey what has happened, what could happen or what should happen. That’s not about preparation as much as it is [about] studying the teams over the course of the year.”

Instead, Van Gundy and Jackson let Breen lead each broadcast, relying on his voluminous basketball knowledge and broadcasting ingenuity, along with his detailed preparation for each game. As analysts, their role is to enhance the points Breen is making, and center their comments on the game action, dispersing them when appropriate throughout the broadcast.

“Mike sets the tone, [and] we play off him,” said Van Gundy. “He’s like a great point guard, and you share. You don’t get to talk all the time, and that’s cool because that’s what being a part of any good team is – it’s about sharing and sacrificing. It’s not hard because I enjoy who I’m doing the games with.”

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world of sports has had to remain vigilant in taking health and safety protocols to slow the spread of the disease with the understanding that players, team personnel and other employees, along with close contacts, could be sidelined from entering the arena with an inconclusive or positive test result. While Van Gundy was placed into health and safety protocols prior to Game 1 due to an inconclusive test result, he quickly returned for Game 2 after subsequent negative rapid tests. Yet Breen, along with ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, remained in protocols upon Van Gundy’s return, meaning that Van Gundy would work with play-by-play announcer Mark Jones for Game 2 of the Finals. Fostering a working chemistry between Jones, Jackson and himself was not difficult for Van Gundy though since he gets to work with a variety of different broadcasters throughout the regular season.

“Because we work with everybody during the course of the year, I thought it was really easy to work with Mark,” said Van Gundy. “Mark’s an outstanding broadcaster; he loves the NBA; he works exceptionally hard, and he just has a positive vibe to him.”

Sports media as a whole has and is continuing to experience changes because of evolving technologies, changes in consumer habits and increased accessibility for different groups of people to share their opinions to a larger audience. One of the changes that the industry has seen is the evolution of secondary or alternate broadcasts, especially following the success of Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli, also known as the Manningcast, and the recent introduction of Sunday Night Baseball with KayRod.

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the NBA, ESPN broadcast a throwback broadcast of a matchup between the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks, complete with graphics and visuals from various decades. Breen, Van Gundy and Jackson dressed in the signature ABC Sports gold jackets made famous by Howard Cosell, welcomed guests including Marv Albert, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton and featured special looks back into the storied history of the league.

“I enjoyed it tremendously,” remarked Van Gundy. “It’s a totally different thing than watching the [standard] broadcast that was done.”

Even though Van Gundy enjoyed calling an alternatively-presented basketball game, he still deviates towards the traditional broadcast style when it comes to watching the game for the sake of  closely viewing the action on the court.

“Options are always good, and I haven’t seen the Michael Kay-Alex Rodriguez one yet, but I did tune in every once in a while to the Manning brothers, and they’re obviously incredibly accomplished, knowledgeable and likable,” said Van Gundy. “I thought it was really good, and again, I’m not going to watch the whole game on one of those, but I love tuning in and then going back to a regular broadcast as well, so I think choice and options are great.”

Many NBA players are looking to be present in the media for more than solely showcasing their athletic skills, along with partaking in an occasional interview. A growing group of players characterize themselves as catalyzing a “new age” of sports media in which fans obtain analysis directly from active players, whether it be during the season or in the offseason. For example, Warriors forward and four-time NBA champion Draymond Green hosts his podcast, The Draymond Green Show, on Colin Cowherd’s podcast network “The Volume,” and also joined Turner Sports on a multiyear contract as a contributor on Inside the NBA.

Additionally, throughout the playoffs and at other points during the season, active players, such as Minnesota Timberwolves guard Patrick Beverley and New Orleans Pelicans guard C.J. McCollum, have appeared across ESPN’s programming to give their opinions on the game at large and participate in debates. As this age of “new media” has evolved, some basketball pundits have criticized these players for having other commitments outside of those on the court. As a former head coach, Van Gundy sees no issues with their endeavors – that is, unless they begin to interfere with their play.

“This is professional sports; how you spend your free time and what you do in your free time [is something] I had no interest in, other than making sure you prioritize your job,” Van Gundy said. “[In the] offseason – like McCollum and Beverley – I applaud them [because] they’re trying to position themselves for what’s next after playing, and these guys think a lot about that.”

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant recently made headlines when he stated on Twitter that analysts such as Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe have changed the game of basketball for the worse. Additionally, Durant applauded McCollum and ESPN analyst JJ Redick for ambushing Smith on-air about discussing Russell Westbrook’s appearance at new Los Angeles Lakers head coach Darvin Ham’s introductory press conference. As a former head coach, Van Gundy cannot speak directly to NBA players feuding with the media; however, he recognizes how fewer topics of discussion stay internal than ever before.

“It’s just so different because you tried to keep everything in the locker room,” Van Gundy reflected. “Now nothing stays in the locker room. It’s just different.”

Creating content has become much like an elevator pitch in the sense that you need to grab the attention of the consumer within the first few seconds to genuinely captivate them. As the average attention span of human beings continues to dwindle within a culture built on the principles of both immediacy and spontaneity, it may be time for professional sports to adapt before the issue becomes more aggrandized.

“I think every demographic would appreciate shorter games,” said Van Gundy. “I think trying to cut down the window to a two-hour window would be terrific. I would be for eliminating more timeouts, doing ads during free throws because no one cares about free throws until the last couple of minutes [in] a close game… I don’t even know if I’d have halftime – just play four straight quarters.”

The median length of an NBA game has been two hours and 12 minutes, and has remained within a few minutes of that figure over the last five years. Yet nationally-televised games, according to research published by Thehoopsgeek.com, averaged five minutes longer than games on regional sports networks this past season, largely because of additional time allocated for commercials.

Between the lines, Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are both on the path to basketball immortality because they changed the game through mastering the three-point shot. Four championships later, these “Splash Brothers” continue to prove to be must-see TV year-in and year-out, and seeing them live at the brand-new Chase Center in San Francisco costs a family of four an average of $740 according to a study by TeamMarketing Report. That figure ranks second in the league, only trailing the New York Knicks, an iconic original team in the NBA that consistently sells out games at Madison Square Garden, although the franchise has not won a championship since the 1972-73 season.

The Warriors are consistently televised nationally and are often talked about as the blueprint for success in the last decade, and their franchise value has soared to $5.6 billion valuation, second-highest behind the aforementioned Knicks. None of these accomplishments would have been possible though had it not been for a cognizance of where and how to improve. Outside of the lines, the same mindset has been adopted behind the scorers’ table since games began being televised, and now 20 years later, ESPN continues to position itself at the forefront of innovation and sustained success.

“In most cases after every broadcast, everybody says ‘Great job. Great job. Great job,’ [but] that’s not really helping you improve,” said Van Gundy. “[Mike Breen] thought it was imperative [for] everybody to find someone with the expertise in broadcasting who will tell you the truth…Having someone in this business be a truth-teller versus a back-slapper is incredibly important.”

Van Gundy knows he is lucky to call his colleagues his friends, and having that relationship has enhanced the quality of the broadcast over the last 15 years he has been on the other side of the scorers’ table.

“I had known Mike and Mark, and became friends with them for 30 years,” said Van Gundy, “and [I’ve known] Lisa since I came to ESPN and Tim Corrigan, our producer. That core group – I’ve developed deep and abiding friendships with. That’s what makes it truly enjoyable; you can do something with people you care deeply about.”

As his career in sports media continues, Van Gundy might want to try his hand at sideline reporting for either hockey or college football, but only as a substitute if one of the broadcasters has to miss the game. Other than that, he considers himself fortunate and looks forward to the years to come as a member of the ESPN broadcast team.

“To be able to go right from coaching to this [and] do it with friends – I’m just really beyond fortunate,” expressed Van Gundy. “I’m just thankful everyday that I’ve got a job.”

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How Advertisers Can Protect Their Digital Ad Spend

Invalid website traffic from automated scripts and “bad bots” will waste $71 billion this year.

Jeff Caves

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Graphic for digital advertising

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) partnering with digital marketing companies for their ad spend can enjoy significant advantages. Digital companies, such as many radio stations’ digital departments, often have more expertise than SMBs in spending money wisely to generate website traffic and, crucially, in avoiding the waste of ad dollars on fake traffic. Fake website traffic has increased by 33% in just two years. Invalid website traffic (IVT) from automated scripts and “bad bots” will waste $71 billion this year. Here are some questions advertisers can ask their digital partner to help eliminate fake ad engagement:

Make Data and Machines Work

Ask your digital partner if they use advanced data analytics and machine learning to optimize your ad spend. By employing predictive analytics—predicting future outcomes—savvy digital marketers can identify audiences most likely to engage genuinely with your ads. Inquire if they use Google Analytics and how it can help flag potential fraud and protect your investment.

Blockchain Technology for Ad Verification

To ensure transparency and security in your ad campaigns, some digital marketers leverage blockchain technology. This technology records every click and impression, guaranteeing that each interaction is genuine and that payments are made only for verified interactions. Blockchain makes it more difficult to change, hack, or manipulate data.

Advanced Attribution Models

Check if your partner uses multi-touch attribution models, which consider all touchpoints in the customer’s journey to your website. This approach provides a comprehensive view of how each ad contributes to conversions. Algorithmic attribution models apply sophisticated algorithms to improve ROI measurement.

Partnerships with Anti-Fraud Organizations

Ask if they collaborate with anti-fraud organizations to reduce fraud in digital advertising. Some digital companies ensure that campaigns and partners are certified by organizations like TAG, guaranteeing that ad placements are genuine and not plagued with fake engagements.

Private Marketplaces

Ensure that ad placements are with trusted publishers, reducing the risk of fraud. Some digital companies use private marketplaces, where a limited number of advertisers can buy and access premium inventory that is less susceptible to fraud, ensuring higher-quality ad placements for your business.

Real-Time Bidding (RTB) and Enhanced Filters

Your digital partner should set criteria for real-time bidding to ensure only high-quality, vetted traffic is considered. Real-Time Bidding is an auction setting where ad impressions are sold and bought. And transactions occur within seconds. Once an advertiser’s bid wins the auction, their digital ad is instantaneously shown on the website or property of the publisher.

Dynamic bidding strategies can adjust in real time based on the quality and performance of the inventory, maximizing the efficiency of your ad spend. Attempting this on your own can be challenging and less effective.

Focus on User Engagement Metrics

Ensure that deeper engagement metrics are employed, such as time spent on a page, scroll depth, and interaction rates, to provide a clearer picture of ad effectiveness. Analyzing post-click behavior helps determine the quality of engagements, ensuring that clicks result in meaningful interactions.

By partnering with well-established digital marketing companies, SMBs can access advanced technologies and strategies to ensure that digital marketing efforts are practical and efficient. Make sure your website conversions are as high as possible. YouTube and Google Search are leading the way in combating bot traffic, while LinkedIn, Google Video Partners, and X are less effective at blocking “bad bots.” Finding a reliable digital partner is crucial to protecting your ad spend and maximizing your returns. Beware of the bad bot and ensure your advertising efforts drive genuine value.

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Ken LaVicka Looks Ahead Following ESPN West Palm Exit

“The last thing I wanted to do was bus throw.”

Derek Futterman

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Ken LaVicka
Courtesy: ESPN West Palm

Although April Fool’s Day had recently taken place, the message Ken LaVicka was delivering on the air early in the month was hardly a joking matter. In an announcement that came as a shock to listeners and LaVicka himself, he revealed that he was leaving ESPN West Palm after 17 years with the outlet. For the last three years, he was the co-host of the popular LaVicka, Theo and Stone midday program, which provided local listeners with discussion and revelry surrounding sports in South Florida and in the United States as a whole.

While it was insinuated to LaVicka that there were financial reasons for the exit, the entire move left him uneasy and uncomfortable, suddenly finding himself out of regular hosting work and looking for a new job. After all, he had been appearing on the air for the Good Karma Brands-owned radio station since 2007, one year after he completed college at Valparaiso University. Over the years at the outlet, he augmented his standing through shifts as an update anchor and fill-in host to eventually being granted his own full-time hosting slot.

The audience within the West Palm Beach and Treasure Coast marketplace had become accustomed to his voice and opinions for more than a decade, making the move difficult for both parties involved. In fact, as LaVicka was divulging the news in the last 20 minutes of what was his final show on the station, he articulated that it was not only he and his partners losing the midday show, but those listeners that encompass the audience as well.

“It was ultimately a corporate decision,” LaVicka said. “It was definitely not mutual. I would prefer to still be at ESPN West Palm. I am unhappy that I’m not at ESPN West Palm, but hey, we’ve been in the business a long time. I’ve seen a lot of friends end up losing jobs over decisions that come from a much higher paygrade, and so I think that ultimately that’s what happened to me.”

When reflecting back on the circumstances that led to his departure from the station, LaVicka believes that he was seen as expendable. Outside of his hosting work, LaVicka is a play-by-play announcer for Florida Atlantic University and calls NWSL soccer matches on various digital platforms. Although LaVicka is appreciative of the company’s belief for him to find his footing again, he is crestfallen to be off the air but conducted himself with professionalism throughout his egress.

“The last thing I wanted to do was bus throw,” LaVicka said. “Was I disappointed? Absolutely. Was I bitter? For sure, and I still feel bitterness towards the situation that unfolded. But I also think that the positives of the opportunities afforded to me by Good Karma Brands for almost 20 years, and also at the end them trying to, while making a tough decision that was going to have an adverse effect on me, try and do it in the most professional and classy way possible that you could in that spot, it kind of allowed me this freedom.”

There exists a dichotomy between LaVicka’s time at ESPN West Palm ending and that of the midday program itself. Upon discovering that he would not be retained, he made this distinction and felt despondency towards having to leave his co-hosts Theo Dorsey and Stone Labanowitz. The broad age cohort on the program and varying perspectives on sports was an aspect that LaVicka believes engendered a unique offering on the air. LaVica has been at the station the longest among the trio, and his partners understood the importance of having the ability to say goodbye to the listeners through the platform.

LaVicka remembers starting at the outlet and describes the first office he worked out of as an “absolute closet,” but it proved to be a place where the business continued to flourish. Originally being from Chicago, Ill., he adjusted to living in southern Florida while also having an ability to focus on growing his career.

The perception that he had of sports talk radio when he was studying in college and participating in the student-run radio station differed from what he ultimately experienced working at ESPN West Palm. It was preceded by a year working at then-FOX Sports 100.5 FM in Madison, Wisc., also owned by Good Karma Brands. LaVicka accepted the role three days before he was supposed to move to Dickinson, N.D. to work as a sportswriter for The Dickinson Press, deciding to pursue his passion in radio.

Nearly two decades later, he evinces an ongoing, axiomatic shift pertaining to multimedia consumption and content creation. LaVicka believes it has become more difficult for terrestrial radio outlets to find businesses who want to associate with their work and delivery methods, although it is dependent on the marketplace. The apprehension he possesses in this regard, however, is in whether talented young people will be able to secure and subsequently capitalize off opportunities.

“Local radio will not die,” LaVicka prognosticated. “It’s still too much of a bonding entity for it to go away completely, but the expectations of how much money a local station can bring in just using traditional means as its way of bringing in income – there’s going to have to be some forward thinkers in that local radio space because you can’t just go, ‘The person goes on air – sell sponsorships’ It doesn’t work like that anymore.”

LaVicka himself is currently looking for a new role in the industry and is not opposed to moving out of south Florida if the opportunity is right for him and his family. Since losing his job at ESPN West Palm, he has endured many sleepless nights and pondered over the amount of fortitude and patience he has within the process.

Even though he is not ruling out an eventual return to ESPN West Palm, he views the outcome as unlikely. The value working there, however, comes in being able to relate and appeal to a diverse, transient audience residing within the locale. Good Karma Brands is assisting him with the process by promoting his work and providing him with financial assistance as he prepares for his next career move.

“I don’t want to come off as cocky, but I’m very confident in myself that given an opportunity; given a role – a sizable role that is something that’s going to be consumed by a lot of people – I get that opportunity, I’m going to excel in it,” LaVicka said. “There hasn’t been any point in my career on air where I haven’t been given an opportunity and then it didn’t completely expand past I think what the initial expectation was, and this includes my time at Florida Atlantic.”

While LaVicka is open to opportunities in terrestrial radio, he is also exploring working in the digital realm and recently started a YouTube show with WQAM digital content producer Zach Krantz titled By All Accounts. LaVicka first met Krantz at Miami Dolphins practices and training camps when he was working on The Joe Rose Show, and they shared several laughs and memorable moments.

When LaVicka and his wife welcomed their second child into the world, it required a stint in the neonatal intensive care unit at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Fla. Their newborn daughter ended up spending 72 hours there where her health improved. Krantz discovered the circumstance shortly after it began and reached out to LaVicka to offer his support, understanding the stress with the situation after his son was in the NICU for several months.

“[He] made sure to come find me at the hospital and put me at ease [and] talked me through the process,” LaVicka said, “and that was massively important to me, had a major effect on me and also gave me an idea of the type of person Zach Krantz is.”

Krantz came up with the idea to start a program with LaVicka, reaching out to him shortly after his exit from ESPN West Palm. Within his proposition, he explained that they already possessed strong chemistry and rapport and would work together to begin a show from phase one. Despite the program still being in its early stages, LaVicka can sense palpable growth potential that could perhaps turn into its own sustainable entity if it continues to grow. The venture is not evanescent, but rather something he is committed to growing in the long run as he discovers the media landscape and searches for the most optimal long-term solution.

“I want this thing to be broad,” LaVicka said. “I want it to be fun, but I think that I also want to make sure that it at least plays to our strengths, which is being petty sports fans; which is showing favor to South Florida sports, making sure that we’re being extremely relatable in the grand scheme of things.”

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NBA Basketball Media Continues to Pile On The Boston Celtics

These Celtics have yet to win a ring and that is on them, but the media criticism levied against them has been inane.

John Molori

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Logo for the Boston Celtics and screengrabs from ESPN
Screengrabs from ESPN's First Take and Get Up

They are the most unfairly criticized team in the NBA, a team that cruised to 64 victories and earned the number one seed in a very tough Eastern Conference. As of this writing on Thursday morning, May 23, they have taken two NBA playoff series in five games respectively and lead the Eastern Conference Finals 1-0 versus Indiana.

I speak of the Boston Celtics, and despite these sterling facts, their two superstars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and the team as a whole, continue to garner criticism from the roundball media.

These “experts” say that the Celtics cannot be trusted and that they have not played to their potential. The Celtics have been to the Eastern Conference Finals six times since 2017 and made it to the NBA Finals in 2022, losing to the Golden State Warriors, but to listen to the basketball cognoscenti, you would think they are a bunch of green-clad slugs.

I get it, the Tatum-Brown Celtics have yet to win an NBA Championship, and I agree that if they don’t win it all this year, it will be a failed season for sure. After Boston defeated Cleveland in the Eastern semifinals, TNT analyst Draymond Green stated that no one cares that the Celtics once again made it to the conference finals. He is 100% correct, but that does not mean that the Celtics are utter garbage.

It’s really hard to win an NBA playoff series in five games. The Celtics have already done that twice in these playoffs, but instead of giving the Celtics credit for taking care of business, many commentators have denigrated them for how they are winning and the teams they have faced or did not have to face.

Joel Embiid was hurt. Giannis Antetokounmpo was hurt. The Knicks were banged up and the Cavs lost Donovan Mitchell. Well, too bad. Injuries are a part of the game. Are we forgetting the Celtics have been crushing playoff series without Kristaps Porzingis? When the Celtics get attention from the national media spotlight, it is usually with an air of disappointment and disgust. I’m wondering why.

ESPN and FS1 give endless attention, hope, positivity, and forward-thinking to the Los Angeles Lakers. Simply put, the Lakers are a mediocre to decent basketball team at best. They were dumped in the first round of the playoffs and if not for their history, LeBron James, and the city in which they play, they wouldn’t even be in the discussion. They are the New Orleans Pelicans with Snoop Dogg at courtside.

Still, the Lakers remain in the A block on many network hoops shows. Do you want to talk about a lack of trust, disappointment, and not reaching potential? How about the defending champion Denver Nuggets?

Yes, they have a two-time MVP in Nikola Jokic, but what about his team this year? They fell to a bunch of playoff neophytes called the Minnesota Timberwolves, losing Game 7 at home. Meanwhile, the Celtics took out an always tough Miami Heat team and a highly competitive Cavaliers team, 5 games each. All these Celtics do is win. Does it matter if the wins are pretty? Since when is that the media litmus test?

In a recap of Game 1 of the Eastern finals, a thrilling 133-128 overtime win for Boston, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps said that the Celtics almost “coughed up” another game at home. He went on to say that all the Pacers had to do was inbound the ball and hit a free-throw, and they would have won. Fine Tim, but guess what? They didn’t get it done and the Celtics did. Mistakes and capitalizing on mistakes are a big part of basketball.

Bontemps went on to say that if the Celtics don’t win Game 2 vs. Indiana, the Game 1 win will not matter. This is quite possibly the most foolhardy statement uttered in this year’s NBA playoffs. When four games win a series, every win matters. I understand that the Celtics lost Game 2 at home in their first two series, but so what? They righted the ship and swept both series the rest of the way.

During Game 1 against the Pacers, the Celtics jumped out to an early double-digit lead, but Indy came back to tie the game as good NBA playoff teams are known to do. ESPN’s Lisa Salters asked Boston guard Jrue Holiday how the Celtics lost the early lead. Holiday calmly replied that the Pacers are an NBA team as well. Exactly.

At the end of Game 1, after Boston stormed back in regulation and dominated the OT, ESPN play by play announcer Mike Breen said that the Celtics “survived” Game 1. It was an interesting choice of words that underlined the unfair criticism of Boston.

Coming back in a game, hitting big shots, and winning when it matters is not surviving. It is stepping up, closing the door, and being clutch. Breen is probably unfamiliar with these words because he’s been hanging around the Knicks too long.

On the May 21 edition of ESPN’s First Take, the talented and eloquent Andraya Carter questioned whether the Celtics can be trusted pinpointing Jayson Tatum in the conversation. Austin Rivers vehemently disagreed and the two engaged in a lively debate. The morning after the Celtics won Game 1 vs. the Pacers, ESPN’s Get Up crew still dogged them.

The eminent host Mike Greenberg asked the panel how Jaylen Brown could get open for the “easiest” three-point shot of the game to tie the game with just seconds left in regulation.

If you watch video of the shot, however, it was hardly easy. Brown was in the far corner with the 6-10 Pascal Siakam in his face and the Indiana bench just a couple of feet away most likely yelling Dicemanesque obscenities his way. These are the types of unmerited insults tossed at the Celtics. Brown hits an amazing shot with everything on the line and it is somehow considered the easiest shot of the game. Really?

Much of the rancor toward the Celtics is based on their stacked roster and the perceived lack of talent in their opponents but let me get all historical on you for a minute. The nearly unanimously coronated greatest player in the history of the game, Michael Jordan, did not play all-time great teams in winning his six NBA Championship series.

In 1991, it was an old Lakers team. In 1992, it was the utterly forgettable Portland Trailblazers. In 1993, it was an aging Phoenix Suns team with Charles Barkley trying to get a ring. In 1996, it was a good, but not great Seattle Sonics club, and in 1997 and 1998, it was the Utah Jazz. I’ll give the Jazz Karl Malone and John Stockton, but the rest of the team did double duty in a men’s weeknight league at the Northern Utah YMCA.

In fact, a team’s competition is trivial. If you win, you win. It doesn’t matter who is on the opposite side of the court. These Celtics have yet to win a ring and that is on them, but the media criticism levied against them has been inane.

Even the legendary Michael Wilbon piled on saying that if the Knicks were completely healthy, he would have picked them to beat the Celtics. All due respect to Mr. Wilbon, but a fully healthy Knicks team still may not have beaten the Pacers, who are sharpshooting like Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon.

On Get Up this past week, ESPN’s Alan Hahn said that Jayson Tatum is not in the same league as LeBron James. No kidding, Alan. LeBron James is the leading scorer in NBA history, a man who has defined the sport for two decades. Hahn doubled down however, stating that Tatum is not in the same league as Luka Doncic.

Doncic is an immensely skillful player, but that’s about it. His Mavericks are in the conference finals for only the second time in his career. He has taken his team absolutely nowhere. Doncic is the Josh Allen of the NBA. Super stats, but not a sniff of a conference championship to his credit. His name is Luca, and he lives on the second bill to Tatum.

On the May 22 edition of First Take, Stephen A. Smith noted that Jayson Tatum scored 12 points in the Game 1 overtime period, but also added that Tatum shot 2-10 in the fourth quarter and early in overtime.

Fair enough, but he then stated, “You’re looking for him, and he was nowhere to be found when it really counted.” Huh? So, it didn’t really count in overtime? Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Celtics and the Pacers was a tremendous NBA playoff game, one that should go down in history as a classic.         

Instead, it became a springboard for continued unfounded Celtics trashing. Not every competitive NBA game is perfect. Teams make mistakes and miss shots. That’s basketball.

The bottom line is that heading into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics were 9-2 in the playoffs with multiple trustworthy players delivering in the clutch. This series might end in 4 or 5 games, or could go 7, but to once again paraphrase Draymond Green, nobody cares as long as you win. Despite the baseless media negativity, that is exactly what the Celtics have been doing.

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