J.J. Redick, Doris Burke, and Mike Breen ahead of an April 2024 game. J.J. Redick, Doris Burke, and Mike Breen ahead of an April 2024 game. (ESPN.)

With broadcasting, we often talk about people improving with repetitions. Those are important not just in general, but also in a particular medium (TV, radio, podcasts, print, digital), or even a specific genre within that medium.

Repetitions are often particularly important for game announcing crews. And that makes it quite rare to see a top crew undergo significant change. A mid-season change is more unusual still. But that’s what happened with ESPN’s top NBA team, which is set to call the NBA Finals on ABC beginning Thursday.

The remarkable thing with this crew of Mike Breen, Doris Burke, and JJ Redick (along with reporter Lisa Salters) is that it’s come from two separate shakeups. But only one of those was planned. The planned one was last summer, where Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were let go in favor of elevating Burke and bringing in Glenn “Doc” Rivers. The unplanned one came when Rivers left ESPN (shoutout to “CNN Sports“) after “many weeks of service” to coach the Milwaukee Bucks.

That led to a lot of discussions on what ESPN would do. In the end, they stuck with just Breen and Burke for a few weeks. They then promoted Redick (who was already calling games for ESPN, primarily with Ryan Ruocco and Richard Jefferson) to join that top team after the All-Star break.

Those mid-season moves are quite unusual. And they come with a lot of challenges. But this one seems to have worked out reasonably well for everyone involved. On a media conference call Monday, AA asked Redick about that transition, and he said he immediately felt like he fit in on game calls with Breen and Burke. He cited his previous experience as a player as a factor that helped him adapt.

“To be honest, it felt very natural,” he said. “I think when you live in a locker room for, basically, 30 years of your life, you’re very used to navigating different groups of people, and you always kind of intuitively understand what people need, what they want, what makes them great.”

For Burke’s part, she said earlier in that call that she enjoyed working with Rivers, but was surprised when he left.

“I will go back to Doc and say that it was, you know, a fun experience. He had a ton of NBA stories. He brought incredible energy every single day.”

But she said that, in an unusual combination of circumstances, she had been texting Redick about how she would love to work with him on a game before she found out Rivers was leaving.

“This is a little bit crazy, and please indulge me with this story. The morning I left for Dallas, and when I landed in Dallas, the story broke that Doc was involved in the Milwaukee job. And on that particular morning, the night before Joel Embiid had this crazy game, and I texted JJ Redick. And I said, ‘JJ, can you believe this guy? I feel like he barely broke a sweat.’

And he fired back his response in text and said, ‘Man, I wish they would let us do a game together.’

Somehow the process — I’m a believer in divine providence. The process has gotten us to this point.”

Burke added that Breen and Redick are the perfect people for her to work with in this booth, even getting a bit emotional when discussing what they bring to the table.

“I could not ask for two better partners in this endeavor. Mike Breen is the master of his position. He understands the differences between analysts and how to get the best out of them. And he, too, has had to navigate a difficult year for him, I’m sure.

“He’s never said it’s been difficult, but knowing Mike and the position he’s been put in, you know, this probably has not been easy, necessarily, throughout the course of the year. And there have been moments where Mike’s brilliance has let JJ and I, who are going through this for the first time, this deep a playoff run, going through it individually for the first time and going through it together for the first time; and there’s points at which Mike has navigated us through spaces, and I am incredibly appreciative.”

Burke said she recently reached out to Breen and told him how much she appreciates his work, and how working with him has enhanced her admiration for him.

“In fact, this may have been three weeks ago. I called him on a Monday after calling a Sunday game, and I said, “You know what, Mike? You’re like a great NBA player who I’ve started to take for granted. Because I’ve known you since 1997 when I met you in the WNBA, and I’ve listened to you.” I’ve been a part of Finals crews calling games, and I have heard all his signature calls, and yet somehow I started to take him for granted.

“I think it was Richard Deitsch who tweeted out one day, “If you are going to tell me Mike Breen is the greatest play-by-play voice in history, I’m not going to argue with him.” I’m going to co-sign on that sentiment.

“And JJ Redick, I have covered JJ since he was a pressure man at Duke. So I think you were probably 18 at the time, JJ. He has been as good a teammate on the air and off as I could possibly hope for.

“I’m so thankful for both of them. Sorry to get emotional. Those are my answers.”

There’s long been debate about the merits or lack thereof of three-person booths versus the more traditional play-by-play/analyst pairing. Redick said the three-person booth really enhances the necessity of chemistry and of boosting each other.

“I think when you are calling a game and you are working particularly in a three-person booth, that you have to be good at what you do, but what you are good at has to complement and help everyone else in the booth be good at what they do,” he said. “To Doris’s point, I think Mike does that better than anybody. There’s the reason he’s the GOAT.”

Redick said he felt that chemistry with Ruocco and Jefferson, but he wasn’t sure how quickly it would show up with Breen and Burke.

“Working with Ryan and RJ primarily for the last two years, and obviously I worked with Dave Pasch, as well, and Mark Jones in two-person booths, but with Ryan and RJ, RJ and I are the same generation of player. Ryan is our age. There was, from day one, just a natural chemistry.

“And I think there was not a concern [about joining Burke and Breen], but there was certainly, like, a thought, ‘Hey, what’s this going to be like.’ I had only called two games with Mike. I had never called a game with Doris. And I have to be honest with you, from the very first game, it felt very natural.”

On a conference call in April, ESPN head of event & studio production David Roberts said he was confident Burke and Breen would be able to adjust to working with Redick given past projects with him.

“It’s been a seamless transition for them because they have worked with J.J. on various projects before, so he’s no stranger to them. The fact that he was able to step right in and just in fact elevate the role has been just a tremendous opportunity for sports fans and for us here at the network.”

Roberts said at that point he was thrilled with the results of that pairing.

“The new team has done a tremendous job. When you talk about J.J. Redick, you talk about someone who is well-liked, well-respected, and who is well prepared to do his job. He has complemented Doris Burke and Mike Breen extremely well. And along with Lisa Salters, we’re not missing a beat as we head towards the NBA Finals.”

He said Redick stands out for his versatility and his variety of approaches, from appearing on debate shows to in-depth Xs and Os talk on social media and podcasts.

“J.J. Redick and the majority of our talent are not cookie cutter. So, you know, if it fits their style and it fits the content objectives of our company, then they can be their authentic selves. And J.J. is a prime example of that. So, hey, that’s the type of versatility we’re looking for. The last thing we want is talent that’s all the same, which amounts to nothing more than elevator music.”

Redick said Monday the new booth has made some mistakes, and they are improving with more time together. But he added that he’s been impressed at how smoothly it has gone.

“Now, have we gotten everything perfect? No. No. But I would venture to say, you’re going to have very few perfect broadcasts. That’s just the way life works. Doc Rivers always used to talk about the game of basketball. The game of basketball is a game of mistakes and in some ways, a broadcast, you can have some mistakes but you can still have a fantastic broadcast. But it’s all felt very natural.”

Redick added that he wasn’t expecting to be working the Finals this year, but he’s thrilled that he is.

“I had plans after the second round of the playoffs. I’m not supposed to be here. So Dave Roberts and Jimmy [Pitaro] and Burke [Magnus], they gave me this opportunity, and I’m so grateful for it. I said this when I got the job. I recognized the responsibility that comes with this.”

Redick said the group he’s working with makes this particularly special.

“Our first game together was at the Garden, Boston/New York, Saturday ABC game. I just remember the open and working with Mike and Lisa and Doris and [producer] Tim Corrigan, and I had been working with this group for five minutes. And I said to myself, ‘Holy s, — I’m going to get so much better from working with these people.’ Like, this is greatness personified in this space.”

He said working with Burke, who he’s long admired, has made this very special.

“I’ve known Doris for over 20 years, as she mentioned. And I’ve always felt this about Doris, and I’ve told her this and she knows this, but I’ve always felt she was the best of us. I’ve always felt she’s been phenomenal in any role she’s had. When she started calling NBA games, I thought she was the best of us. And to get to go work alongside of her, it’s exceeded any expectation I’ve had.

“I will also say she’s been an incredible teammate. It’s been fun to know someone for 20 years and then get thrown into this situation and develop a real friendship, and I just — I recognize, like, me calling this, not that big a deal. But the fact I get to do it with Doris, I’m just — I’m so pleased that she’s my teammate on this.”

Redick said it’s still wild for him to think about getting this opportunity so quickly after his retirement., especially as his first ESPN deal didn’t specifically include calling games.

“I go back — I’ve been retired a little less than three years, and when I signed with ESPN, I asked them, it was not in my contract to call games my first year, that first one-year deal. And I asked them throughout the season, ‘If there’s ever any opportunities, please keep me in mind, please keep me in mind.’

“Dave [Roberts] and Tim [Corrigan], they gave me a couple regular season games in March of that year. I ended up calling a couple playoff game. And then when I re-signed, I had a games package.”

He said the Finals is the peak of NBA broadcasting, and it’s one he hoped to reach someday.

“RJ and I talk about this all the time, and Ruocco as well. If you are doing this for a profession, and Doris, I’m sure, will tell you the same thing: absolutely the apex of calling NBA games is being able to call a Finals game. So this was always the goal. Once I started calling games, it was always the goal.”

But Redick said he thought that would take more time to achieve. And he’s thrilled to get this chance so quickly and to be a part of history.

“It happened a little faster than I thought it would. And I’m just — again, I think it’s important to note, like, I love this sport. I think that comes through in everything that I do.

“I am a fan of this sport. And I think about watching Finals when I was growing up, watching Finals when I played, playing in the NBA Finals in 2009, and these are just, like, iconic moments, and I get to be a part of this. I get to be a part of documenting history.”

He said that the idea of helping to make history sticks with him, and that’s notable considering this Finals matchup.

“We are going to have one of [Jayson] Tatum or Luka [Dončić] as the best player on the best team for the first time. And there’s, you know, for a long time it was four or five guys that could hold that title. Last year, [Nikola] Jokić made it six. We are adding a seventh this year, and that’s exciting.”

“And it goes back to what I was saying earlier about the passing of the torch. This is a new generation of players that are just insanely talented. And I get to be part of that documentation, and I’m incredibly grateful for it.”

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.