LOS ANGELES — There could be two celebrations if the Orlando Magic wins the NBA championship: the one on the court and the one at the broadcast table.
Jeff Van Gundy will be working the games as an analyst on ABC, telling viewers what he thinks will happen. During these NBA Finals, that differs from what he hopes will happen.
Van Gundy calls the Los Angeles Lakers the favorites, but he's pulling for the underdog, because his brother Stan coaches the Magic.
"If they're fortunate enough to win the championship, I may have my bottle of champagne I pour over myself and Mark (Jackson) and Mike (Breen)," Jeff Van Gundy said, referring to his broadcast partners. "So I definitely want him to win, there's no doubt, but during the games I'm going to try to be as objective as possible."
Realizing that wouldn't be easy, Jeff Van Gundy discussed the dilemma with his partners and even told his producer that his bosses may want to talk about whether they wanted him to do the games. Nobody voiced any serious concerns.
"Obviously, I was a little bit leery of doing the games, and I remember speaking with Mike and Mark about it and I said, 'I don't know if I should do the games, because I'm not sure I would be critical of Stan,' and Mark said, 'Well, that's no different, you're never critical of any coaches,' " Jeff Van Gundy said.
"So that made a lot of sense to me because I know how hard the job is, and I think Mark and I both try to say what we may do, but we don't spend a lot of time second-guessing."
Norby Williamson, ESPN's executive vice president of production, said the Lakers haven't expressed any issues with Jeff Van Gundy during meetings, adding this situation isn't much different than Magic Johnson working as an analyst on the network's studio show.
Johnson was a Hall of Fame player for the Lakers who continued working in the organization in retirement, but he was critical of the team and certain players after their lethargic play in a blowout loss to the undermanned Houston Rockets in the second round. Williamson expects Jeff Van Gundy to show the same impartiality.
"The level of honesty that he portrays when he's on air makes him a great analyst and dealing with this situation is nothing different," Williamson said. "He's being honest about it, he's being open about it."
The Van Gundy brothers come from a basketball family in upstate New York. Stan Van Gundy, about 21/2 years older, played collegiately for their father, Bill, at SUNY-Brockport, while Jeff played at Nazareth College in Rochester.
This is their second attempt at reaching the pinnacle of the NBA. Jeff led the New York Knicks to the 1999 NBA Finals, where they lost to the San Antonio Spurs. He frequently sparred with Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who coached the Chicago Bulls during much of his tenure in New York.
Jeff Van Gundy said he's proud of his sibling's success, especially because Stan reaching the finals means they'll be able to spend time together that they normally wouldn't. And he doesn't plan to avoid his brother just so he could calm some Laker fans' fears of bias, since he knows part of being an analyst inevitably means being accused by one side of favoring the other team.
"All I'm doing is stating what I think would be the obvious, is that I want my brother to win," Jeff Van Gundy said. "So other than that, I don't really see it as anything unusual and I'm grateful that he's there and I'm grateful for the time I'm going to get to spend with him."