Mike Breen ahead of an Oct. 13, 2023 game. (Melina Pizano/ESPN Images.) Los Angeles, CA – October 13, 2023 – Crypto.com Arena: Mike Breen at the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers regular season game. (Photo by Melina Pizano / ESPN Images)

It seems less common, but some play-by-play announcers are lifelong fans of the teams they call. This deepens their connection to the fanbase, allowing them to capture the fans’ emotions in a way outsiders might not. While announcers from outside the fandom bring different stylistic approaches, there’s a unique energy from a genuine fan calling the game. We see this with Gary Cohen’s infectious enthusiasm for the New York Mets and Mike Breen’s passionate calls for the New York Knicks.

And with Breen, he understands the angst of being a fan of New York’s premier basketball team while the Knicks are one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference — and perhaps the NBA when healthy — this is a fanbase that has been tortured for years by incompetent basketball decision-makers, who sunk the team to new and new lows.

Breen’s Knicks calling career began on the radio with WFAN from 1991 to 1997, then transitioned to television for a season on MSG Network in 1997-98 following Marv Albert’s infamous sex scandal. After Albert’s return, Breen returned to radio while serving as Albert’s backup on MSG until 2004, when he finally became the Knicks’ permanent television play-by-play announcer.

Unlike his predecessor, who was (partly) fired for criticism, Breen hasn’t hesitated to voice his honest opinions on the Knicks, even when those opinions reflect the team’s struggles over the past few decades.

In a new Ringer feature, Breen delves into his on-air magic with Walt “Clyde” Frazier, revealing how their transparency fosters a unique connection with listeners.

“I’ve been a Knicks fan since I was a kid, so I know what Knicks fans feel,” Breen says. “I know what gets them upset; I know what gets them happy because I’m one of them. I wouldn’t want anything but honesty from the Knick announcers when I was watching as a fan—and I think that’s what the fans want.

“Part of the job, and it’s not the part that you love, but part of the job is critiquing and criticizing,” Breen continues. “But I think if you do it in a respectful way, then you’ll be respected for that.”

The Knicks have been one of the NBA’s worst teams since the early 2000s, with only three winning seasons since 2001. Despite this, Breen’s commentary has consistently captivated audiences. The recent emergence of Jalen Brunson as a star likely makes his job just a bit more enjoyable.

“The key is, you have to remember who you’re broadcasting to,” Breen says. “In the years where they were terrible, the people that were watching [were] the diehard Knick fans. And what they wanted to know is, ‘OK, the team’s not very good, but is the first-round pick who’s now starting to play more minutes, does he have potential?’… Often, on those nights, especially with Clyde, I can ask him about the old days. A lot of Knick fans—and I’m one—could hear those stories over and over again and never get tired of them.”

So, while the Knicks haven’t always delivered wins, Breen sure has. And with that, his voice has remained a steady source of connection and entertainment for Knicks’ fans, especially in years past.

[The Ringer]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.