Jeff Van Gundy has no ulterior motives – he clearly admits that he wants the Orlando Magic to win the NBA title, at the expense of the Lakers.
Anyone watching his work as an analyst for ABC during the NBA Finals starting Thursday doesn’t need to wonder otherwise.
Blood will be apparently thicker than a watered-down, bags-under-the-eyes broadcaster when it comes to pulling for his brother, Stan Van Gundy, the Magic head coach.
“Once the game starts, I’ll try to be as objective as possible,” Jeff Van Gundy said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning. “But if the Magic is fortunate enough to win the championship, I may have a bottle of champaign under the table that I bring out and pour over us. I want them to win, no doubt.”
The problem, of course, is the perception of an unbiased broadcaster working for the main media outlet covering the league’s championship. In a league hit with all kinds of conspiracy theories at every level, this could be a sticking point with some viewers – especially Lakers fans – who already have their fine-tuned antennas up for any kind of slanted coverage.
When the possibility started to emerge last week about a Lakers-Magic final, Jeff Van Gundy said he went to his immediate superiors and asked if they thought it would be wise to take him off the broadcast team with Mike Breen and Mark Jackson - a team that has been together ending their third season.
Van Gundy had already done a Magic game, against Boston during the regular season, for ESPN (not with Breen and Jackson) and said he “felt nervous” for his brother, “but it’ll be nothing like being in the finals.”
Norby Williamson, ESPN’s executive vice president of production, said he wants to embrace the Van Gundy brothers storyline – it includes the fact that this is the first time two brothers have taken teams to the NBA finals, coming after Jeff’s appearance with the New York Knicks in 1999.
“Our main concern is making sure Jeff is comfortable,” said Williamson. “We’ll be as transparent about the situation as possible.”
Williamson also notes that ESPN employs former Lakers star Magic Johnson, who even has an ownership stakes in the team, as a studio analyst, and “if you look at some of the things Magic has said in the last two or three weeks, he’s been as critical of the Lakers. …
“At the end of the day, you have to gauge the person’s objectivity. In sports there are a lot of allegiances. We’re not trying to follo anybody. The goal is to always take the viewer inside with an objective presentation in an entertaining way.
“Magic will always be a Lakers, just like (Larry) Bird will always be a Celtic. We tend to focus on what the perceived areas of conflict may be, and rightfully so. But Magic has called the Lakers soft in the last 10 days. He’s been hard on Lamar Odom. He calls it as he sees it.”