Kevin Harlan will sit in a chair courtside Wednesday night that, he feels, does not belong to him. It’s the same way he felt at the All-Star Game in February.
“I may be broadcasting this game tonight,” Harlan texted Marv Albert that night. “But this will always be your seat. This will always be your chair. ”
Harlan is Turner Sports’ replacement for Albert as the play-by-play voice of the conference finals. He’ll be joined by Hall of Fame player Reggie Miller and ex-coach Stan Van Gundy as the Dallas Mavericks face the Golden State Warriors in the opening game of the Western Conference finals.
His goal is an obvious one: rise to the level of Albert, who called NBA games for more than 50 years, and other greats who have preceded him, such as Bob Costas and Dick Stockton.
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“A voice that has enough to it and a delivery that has the right stuff to it that would fall in line with those voices,” Harlan told USA TODAY Sports last week.
With five Final Four broadcasts and 13 Super Bowl radio calls under his belt, Harlan has verbally painted pictures for viewers and listeners on sports’ biggest stages. It’s also not the first time he’s called the conference finals – more than two decades ago, Turner had the rights to one or two games before the rest of the series shifted to NBC.
“At the end of the day, it’s the game,” said Harlan, who was in his late 20s when he made his conference finals debut alongside Hubie Brown. “And you can not be too reeled in and drawn in by all the pomp and circumstance around it, all the glitz.”
Even though Harlan has a strong partnership and rapport with Miller, he’s excited by the addition of Van Gundy. Working with a coach is important in big games, Harlan said, because they add another layer of context and perspective that is “so vital.”
“And (Van Gundy) does it. He is so knowledgeable and is so well-prepared, I am in awe of his preparation for these games, “Harlan said.” I find him incredibly compelling. His addition will be just absolutely perfect for a game, and games, of this stature. ”
Harlan, a Wisconsin native, is a fan of the three-person booth, particularly the announcer-player-coach combination. Having someone named to the NBA’s Top 75 list and someone who has coached in big games at college and pro levels and is in tune with the game and team dynamics.
A Western Conference finals broadcast deserves that level of acclaim, he thinks, and it creates a “best of both worlds” dynamic. Harlan has often discussed the benefits of a three-person booth with his friend Mike Breen, who calls national games with Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy (the trio calls the Eastern Conference finals and NBA Finals for ABC / ESPN).
In a three-person booth, Harlan knows his job is to remain in the background and allow the picture to do the work.
“I know exactly where I fall in that,” he said.
‘I got the lottery ticket’
There is a sort of announcing nirvana Harlan tries to reach with each call. He wants to reach a place in which he’s “fully launched” into a game – perfectly in tune with every movement, each substitution, the updated stats, the toss to the reporter, the patience of reviews.
“I think your voice is at its truest and your delivery is at its most genuine level,” said Harlan. “You are truly not preoccupied with doing the mechanics of the game. You have infiltrated the game itself, where you feel the heartbeat of every player and every decision and every dribble. ”
Turner never announced a new No. 1 play-by-play announcer after Albert’s retirement following last season. Harlan’s presence in Albert’s former seat indicates the decision.
Throughout the series, Harlan’s TNT teammates and “Inside the NBA” crew of Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley are traveling to the game site. Their attendance will add only another layer of enjoyment for Harlan.
“I got the lottery ticket, man, and I’m not letting go of it,” he said.
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter: @BOOMbaca.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kevin Harlan dishes on replacing legendary Marv Albert in NBA playoffs: