Self-deprecating humor aside about his record, Jeff Van Gundy was a good professional basketball coach. The fact that he has not gone back to an NBA bench since leaving the Houston Rockets in 2007 shows good judgment, too, because the league can be a grind.
But the best part of JVG’s career has been his time in broadcasting. Van Gundy’s stream-of-unconsciousness approach keeps blowouts interesting, and he’s as good as it gets when it comes to breaking down strategy in close games alongside Mike Breen and Mark Jackson.
We find out now, however, Van Gundy, 59, has been holding back. It’s OK, though, because he promises to make up for it on his way out the door.
Jeff Van Gundy is beginning his 15th season at ESPN
Jeff Van Gundy is a coach’s kid, so his career path became inevitable. After playing some Division III ball, he coached on the staffs of guys like Rick Pitino and John MacLeod before landing in Pat Riley’s coaching tree. He took the top job in the New York Knicks bench in early 1996 and later coached the Houston Rockets.
In parts of 11 NBA seasons, he compiled records of 430-318 in the regular season and 44-44 in the playoffs. The Rockets fired Van Gundy after a first-round exit in the 2007 playoffs and, though his name had surfaced occasionally in speculation, he has resisted returning to the bench.
Rather, Van Gundy went into broadcasting at ESPN and ABC, doing analysis on a couple of games a week. He maintains his home base in Houston, which makes travel to either coast a little less exhausting. And preparing for a couple of telecasts a week beats breaking down film, running practices, and coaching three nights a week.
His toughest job leading up to each new season is fulfilling interview requests. As a quotable and at-times brutally honest interview subject, Van Gundy is in demand with radio, TV, and online outlets.
Jeff Van Gundy’s goal: shorter NBA game to hold fans’ interest
When the Atlanta Braves beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-4, the other day in an MLB contest featuring just 14 hits but 11 walks, the game came in at just barely under four hours. Even a double-overtime NBA game takes much less time than that, but it’s still not good enough for Jeff Gundy.
If he could change anything about the NBA, he told Barrett Sports Media, Van Gundy would like to see regulation games fit into a tidy two-hour window. Van Gundy signed a multi-year contract extension with ESPN this summer and would happily make the tradeoff of talking less per game but for more years.
“I think we need to keep finding ways to reduce stoppages of play from timeouts,” he said. “I would either shorten or greatly modify halftime. I think (the NBA has) to constantly look for ways to shorten the viewing window and have as much action in that two-hour timeframe as (it) can.”
Broadcast partner Mark Jackson expressed admiration in the same interview for the ESPN approach to Monday Night Football that has retired NFL quarterbacks Eli and Payton Manning doing an alternative audio feed in ESPN2 that is entirely conversational rather than analytical-slash-clinical.
JVG reveals the plan for his last NBA game on ESPN
The most frequent criticism of Jeff Van Gundy as a broadcaster is probably that he can be a curmudgeon. He longs for the way basketball used to be played, which is to say with fewer 28-foot shots and better rebounding.
He generally comes across as genuine and honest, but Van Gundy has let slip in subtle fashion that he might not be the 100% frank NBA analyst that some assume. He pledges to fix that on his way out the door.
Van Gundy told Barrett Sports Media that he wants a shot at doing an NBA game Manning-style in his final TV appearance.
“I want to do one game, NBA on ESPN: The Entire Truth,” he labeled it. “(We would) be able to tell the entire truth — not 90% of it, not 80% of it, but the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
“I think that would be an outstanding, one-time broadcast as I sign off and finish my career.”
It would also guarantee a 100% share in the overnight ratings.