Mike Breen in November 2019. Nov 13, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; ESPN play-by-play commentator Mike Breen looks on during a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center. The Lakers won 120-94. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Breen is a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer and owner of the most iconic call in sports today. The decorated play-by-play man has called a record-setting 18 straight NBA Finals, and is on the cusp of announcing his 100th Finals game–by far the most of all-time.

Yet, Breen isn’t quite a household name on the level of Joe Buck, Al Michaels or Jim Nantz. When it comes to legendary NBA broadcasters, he’s still behind Marv Albert and Bob Costas.

With that in mind, it’s fair to say that Breen is the most underrated announcer ever. He’s called every one of LeBron James’ and Steph Curry’s championship wins; Kobe Bryant once gifted him an autographed jersey: “From one Mamba to another.”

He should be on the level of Buck, Michaels, Nantz, Costas and Albert. His body of work, and cultural impact, is paramount.

But he isn’t.


That’s not to say Breen isn’t enjoying his moment. After years of flying under the radar, he’s finally receiving his proper due. He’s been the subject of recent profiles in GQ, The Athletic and Front Office Sports; and during the Western Conference Finals, Denver Nuggets star Jamal Murray called his own “BANG!”

The ace shooter is 26 years old; and thus, probably doesn’t remember watching a big NBA game without Breen behind the mic.

Breen’s banter with often irreverent analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy is legendary, and maybe the most ubiquitous meme in sports today. During each NBA Finals game, Twitter users post imaginary exchanges between Breen and his two cohorts. They often look something like this:

Or this:

So back to the question: why is Breen underrated? More than anything, he’s a victim of the times. Outside of NFL games, there isn’t a single event on TV that’s drawing the same numbers as 25 years ago. That’s an important number to pick, because that’s when Michael Jordan won his sixth and final championship. The all-time great hit the title-clinching shot in Game 6.

It was maybe the most legendary Finals moment of Jordan’s career, even besting his “flu game,” which happened in the 1997 NBA Finals.

Each series averaged more than 26 million viewers per affair, surpassing 30 million on three occasions. The aforementioned Game 6 of the ’98 series garnered 35 million eyeballs.

Albert was on the call in ’97, and Costas was behind the mic in ’98.

They were big phenomenons, because they enjoyed huge reach.

The numbers for the NBA Finals now aren’t close. Last season, Celtics-Warriors averaged 12.4 million viewers per night, and they went six games. This year, the Heat and Nuggets are averaging 11.7 viewers per game through two contests.

Over the last two-plus decades, viewership numbers for the NBA Finals have declined by more than 50%. Even James, who’s on Jordan’s level as a cultural figure, has only attracted more than 30 million viewers once.

Breen is ascending to the top of the sports broadcasting pantheon when the NBA, and almost every live event in general, isn’t as popular as it once was.

The one exception, of course, is the NFL. Last year, the league accounted for 82 of the 100 most-watched shows on TV. Twelve games alone eclipsed the 30-million viewer mark, and 99.2 million people tuned in for the Super Bowl.

This season, Super Bowl LVII became the most-watched U.S. broadcast ever (115.1 million viewers).

Tens of millions of more people are exposed to Nantz, Buck and Michaels than Breen. It’s not even close. For the 2022-23 NBA regular season, the average audience across TNT, ESPN and ABC was 1.59 million. The 2022 NFL regular season averaged 16.7 million viewers per window.

There’s also the fact that Breen primarily calls the NBA, whereas other broadcasters in his class seemingly call everything. Nantz handles the NFL, the Masters and NCAA tournament. For years, Buck called FOX’s biggest NFL games and the World Series. Michaels, who’s called the Super Bowl and World Series multiple times, also owns the most well-known call in sports history.


Breen yelling “Bang!,” after a clutch 3-pointer is awesome, but it doesn’t compare to the U.S. ousting the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics.

Most of the contemporary announcing greats–Nantz, Michaels, Costas, Albert, Verne Lundquist, Dick Stockton–were calling big games in the 70s and 80s, when everyone was watching. Breen didn’t call his first NBA Finals until 2006.

With that in mind, it’s unfair for Breen to be compared to broadcasters who reigned during the golden age of TV. He’s not in the same class as Michaels or Nantz. But he’s more iconic than Chris Fowler, Kevin Burkhardt, Ian Eagle and other national voices who have risen to prominence over the last 15 years.

Breen also isn’t part of a great product, which doesn’t help matters. As Jesse Pantuosco recently put it, ESPN’s disjointed and constantly changing NBA pre- and post-game show is horrible. The NBA on ESPN experience pales in comparison to the NBA on TNT, the NFL on NBC and March Madness on CBS.

Breen is a legendary announcer, but he’s not part of a legendary package.

At 62 years old, Breen has many years left as the NBA’s lead voice. But he’ll probably never be as iconic as his all-time great predecessors, and that’s OK.

It’s a different time.