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The NBA's Greatest Calls

Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mike Breen provide the voices for ESPN’s NBA broadcast Good call! A brief history of the ten greatest NBA broadcasting moments The NBA is in many ways a sport made for TV. The blistering pace of basketball, the huge, dramatic personalities, and the spectacular highlights all make for a compelling television experience as good as any superhero epic or sci-fi masterpiece. But quite a bit goes into making a great TV experience, from the shots, to the direction, to the audio, and few things are quintessential than the art of the call. Typically the NBA’s finest moments are punctuated by consistently great color commentary. From Mike Breen’s iconic “BANG!” to my hometown favorite Mike Gorman, with delivery as smooth as a Ray Allen jumper, the television or radio broadcast has become a key part of the best games and moments the league has ever seen. Without further ado, I present my authoritative list of the NBA’s ten greatest broadcasting moments. Johnny Most: “Havlicek stole the ball!”

We start, of course, at the beginning, with the first truly legendary call in NBA history. Usually monotone, Celtics broadcaster Johnny Most couldn’t contain his excitement when John Havlicek put on the cape and bailed Bill Russell’s Celtics out with his clutch steal in the 1965 East finals against Wilt Chamberlain’s 76ers. The sudden spike in pitch when Most sees the play unfold drives home how unexpected and remarkable this play by “Hondo” was. It perfectly captures the frenzied relief that the Celtics and their fans felt after such an exciting ending to one of the NBA’s first great playoff series. Ian Eagle: “Bi-YOM-bo! That’s a man’s jam!”

One of the best broadcasters working today, Ian Eagle’s signature “That’s a MAN’s JAM!” call gets a little extra oomph courtesy of Bismack Biyombo and his very cool name. The revered Brooklyn Nets commentator calls a thunderous dunk as well as anyone. Kevin Calabro: “Tomahawk Jam! YEAAAAHHHH BABY!”

An all-time great call on one of my all-time favorite plays. The Supersonics Kevin Calabro perfectly captures the “Kool-Aid-Man bursting through the wall” energy of Shawn Kemp’s vicious execution of poor Alton Lister. Stacey King: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING DRAGIC? DID YOU NOT GET THE MEMO!?!”/ “I WANT TO GO HIGHER!”

You really have to watch the whole video to see just how Bulls commentator Stacey King elevates what is a pretty-good-but-not spectacular dunk by Derrick Rose. King absolutely loses his mind on the call and appears to be genuinely mad at Goran Dragic. Marv Albert: “OH! A specTACular move by Michael Jordan!”

We couldn’t have a “great calls” list without paying respect to two OG’s in Michael and Marv. Albert’s emphasis on specific syllables was one of his best attributes as a talking head back in the day. He wasn’t always forgetting players' names on the air like his current incarnation. Chick Hearn: “2 Million dollars a year and he played with a ten cent thought!”

The late Lakers legend, Chick Hearn was an absolute savage on the mic. Watch here as he murders poor Tom Konkak in cold blood on the call. A “no vaseline” moment I'm sure Lakers superfan Ice Cube would appreciate. Mike Gorman: “Pierce...BURIES IT! RIGHT IN HARRINGTON’S FACE!”

I had to get my man Mike Gorman on here with his call on this incredible sequence from Paul Pierce. From the jabbing between “The Truth”, Al Harrington, and referee Joe Derosa to the shot, to the ecstatic “BURIES IT!” Gorman perfectly captures the pure swagger that defined Pierce’s career. Mike Breen: “CURRY. WAY DOWNTOWN, BANG! BAAAANG! OH WHAT A SHOT FROM CURRY!”

Breen’s signature “BANG!” call has been as big a part of NBA history as any piece of audio ever. This insane shot from peak Steph Curry also captures Breen, the best active commentator, at his highest of highs. Kevin Harlan: “LEBRON JAMES WITH NO REGARD FOR HUMAN LIFE!”

Two GOAT’s in one sequence. Harlan is, for my money, the best commentator to ever do it. It was nearly impossible to pick just one of his calls but ultimately his vivid description of King James’ vicious throwdown on Kevin Garnett takes the cake. Ralph Lawler: “It’s a physical GAME!”

Finally, my favorite call of all time comes from the late great Clippers mic man Ralph Lawler. This call is utterly perfect, from the timing as Lawler realizes what’s happening, to Blake Griffin’s monster throwdown, to the loud whistle, to the sheer cackling delight as Lawler finishes with his signature “OH ME, OH MY!” The stars and Kendrick Perkins aligned perfectly to give Ralph the greatest call the game has ever seen. Alex Goldberg is a passionate Celtics fan and a contributing writer for OTG.

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