Mike Breen gracious as Hall of Fame induction nears

By OSDB Staff | Posted 8 months ago

Mike Breen suspected basketball was his calling. The journey didn’t turn out as he expected in his youth.

Breen, who turns 60 May 22, was a high school and junior college official. That led him to think he could become a basketball referee. He was on the right track, just the wrong train … of thought. 

The longtime voice of the New York Knicks and ESPN NBA play-by-play will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame along with the rest of the 2020 class this weekend. The ceremony was delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those fellow honorees are the late Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.

Incredibly, this all started in a basement at an innovative friend’s house in Yonkers.

“We used to play Wiffle Ball,” Breen said, recalling when he was 16. “Tony Minecola built a radio station in basement of mother’s house. The broadcast went … to the next room.

“He said try it and I did it. But I didn’t know if I was any good. It sparked enough of an interest where I thought maybe I will try this and go into broadcasting.

“I thought maybe I could be a DJ and loved spinning records on WGBC … he made up the names. When you were in the DJ chair you had to operate like it was professional. It lit a spark that made me think it could work.”

Breen interned under Ed Ingles, a legendary New York sports voice.

“He gave me so much great advice,” Breen said of Ingles who passed away in March 2020 at 87. “I always said I want to be Ed Ingles, so good at what he did, respected and liked.”

Mike Breen and Michael Kay were students at Fordham, with the Yankees’ play-by-play voice and ESPN radio host a year ahead.

 

Breen credits Kay for opening the door for him at WFUV.

 

“I met him as a freshman and he was a sophomore,” Breen said. “I was introverted and shy. College radio for freshmen is intimidating. Sophomores looking at freshman and juniors doing the same with sophomores when it came to finding airtime.

 

“The first few weeks didn’t make friends. I saw this guy in an animated conversation with the best-looking girl at the station. He had such confidence, so funny and I thought maybe I could be friends with this guy.

 

"He introduces me to all his buddies and before you know it I have 10 new friends."

 

Kay confirmed the story about his close friend.

 

“Mike always gives me credit for bringing him into my circle of friends but I always looked at it as just adding another friend into the circle,” he told OSDB. “He seemed like a good guy who reminded me of me the year before, looking for a place to fit in. I was glad to bring him in. And a lifelong friendship was born.”

 

Breen has broadcast NBA games for 29 seasons, beginning with the New York Knicks on WFAN in 1992, He is also the lead play-caller on ESPN and ABC.

Breen has covered the WNBA as well as men’s and women’s basketball at the 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympics. That body of work led to him being announced as the Curt Gowdy Award winner in the Electronic category on Feb. 14, 2020.

“I was so emotional when I first heard,” Breen told OSDBSports recently. “The day they made the announcement public I heard from so many people, 500 texts I got. I tried to answer all. I started tearing up.

“I had so many people help me every step of the way and the best part has been able to thank them for everything they did for you. It is very emotional because of what it means to me about all the help I received and some of the people that are no longer with us.”

One of those being honored is Bryant, who lost his life with his daughter Gianna and seven others in January of 2020 when a helicoptered crashed in Calabasas, Ca.

Breen recalled Bryant’s NBA career and having the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with the Los Angeles Lakers’ star in Las Vegas.

Bryant was more relaxed after he retired despite saying he was busier due to a variety of endeavors and projects. One, “Dear Basketball” captured and Academy Award in 2018, and allowed Breen a light moment with Bryant.

“I did a voiceover for it and told Kobe I was expecting him to send me an Oscar for the performance.”

Breen saw similarities and differences in other honorees.

“One of my alltime favorite players is Tim Duncan because of the way he carried himself,” he said of the San Antonio Spurs star. “He wanted to crush his opponent as much as anyone who ever played. Never did anything to embarrass a teammate or opponent. So admirable. Such a great player. All he wanted to do was win for his teammates. 

“He did not like doing media because he wanted to be private. He could sit down with us and I always wished he would do it more because he was such a great interview. Thought and respectful. Perfect role model for young players.”

The other player was Garnett, who came to the Minnesota Timberwolves straight from high school.”

“Garnett’s first years in Minnesota, he was a wide-eyed kid with so much talent,” Breen said. “He was different than Duncan in many ways. He wanted to step on opponent’s throat but did it with passion and energy. So different but so similar. 

Breen lives in Long Island with his wife Rosanne. They have three children, Michael, Nicole, and Matt. 

While the rewards are great, the stress that comes with an NBA schedule causes many compromises, especially when it comes to family.

“I used to ask them all the time when they were little do you want daddy to work less and not be on the road as much. Do I need to cut back or try something different? Breen said regarding conversations with his children. “They never complained about me missing birthdays, dance recitals. Holidays.

Breen took steps to make sure he found quality time for his wife and children, deciding to pass opportunities in the summer so he could be home June through October. He said his wife reminded him that afforded dad a chance to spend more time with their children than many other working parents.

“Rosanne was the key to me being to chase this dream,” Breen said. “She was home taking care of the kids and everything else while I traveled around the country.

“She’s the best person I’ve ever met.”

His parents played an influential role. He is the same person he was when calling Marist basketball games decades ago. Humble, honest and caring. It came from his upbringing in Yonkers.

“Why should I change, just because of my occupation? he asked. “I grew up with two parents who said treat people the way you want to be treated. My dad was kind, always had a nice word. My mother was most selfless person I ever met. They were my role models.

“I just feel like my whole life I have been blessed, great parents, brothers, Rosanne, children.”

Which brings the story full circle to Friday May 14 in Connecticut and the Hall of Fame ceremony. Breen was host for years and says he never thought one day he would be an honoree.

“You can’t let yourself think that way,” he said. I hosted the ceremony a number of years and you would see how much it meant to people. Boy would it be nice to get up there to pay tribute to everyone who helped you along the way. It just seemed like a beautiful thing. People at the end of their careers.”

And now it is Mike Breen’s turn.

“My faith has been a big part of my life,” he said. “I put my faith in God my whole life I don’t understand why God’s blessed me like this.”

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