Kevin Harlan On Calling His First NBA All-Star Game and Continuing to Chase the Standard

Courtesy Turner Sports
Courtesy Turner Sports /

Kevin Harlan will check off one of the few unchecked boxes on his broadcasting bucket list on Sunday night as he provides play-by-play for the NBA All-Star Game. He's part of a star-studded lineup Turner put together, which will include Draymond Green and Charles Barkley chopping it up concurrently on TBS.

Harlan, universally recognized as one of the top in his field, spoke to The Big Lead about what he's looking forward to about the assignment, chasing the high standard set by Marv Albert, and some wise advice from Verne Lundquist.

TBL: What excites you about getting to do something new for the first time at this stage in your career?

Kevin Harlan: Yeah, that doesn't happen very much. I've been doing this for so long and I've been with Turner over 25 years, so we've always had the gold standard doing the game. That opportunity just never presented itself, although I was lucky enough to do the Saturday night stuff and I always enjoyed every element of that, especially seeing everybody. It's one of the few times we all get together as a Turner crew. So this will be wonderful to bring something new into my career. But to sit in Marv [Albert]'s chair and try to measure up to what he did will be a wonderful position to be in. I'm hoping to continue that legacy he established.

TBL: Well, it certainly seems like a fun event to call. It's just constant action with highlight after highlight. Have you thought at all about how you're going to pace yourself? Does that present a different challenge than say, a Hawks-Sixers game in mid-March?

KH: Yeah, I think this is almost like a circus. Everywhere you look there's something going on. There's guy jumping on the the trapeze. There's a guy taming the lions. That's kind of how I imagine the All-Star Game will be. There's going to be a great pass on this play, on the other end there will be a great shot or a great move, just this cavalcade of soaring spectacular play.

I think a lot of times this stuff speaks for itself. This has the markings of every point scored will have some sort of artistry to it. It may be one of those broadcasts where a picture is worth a thousand words. That being said, I'm working with two people who appreciate that majestic play themselves in Reggie Miller and Dwyane Wade. I think their commentary will probably lead the way and I'll fill in on the sides, accentuate the kind of greatness we're seeing without getting in their way.

TBL: This is a hard left turn, but when someone is as accomplished as you are and in a place in their career that you are, how do you keep the drive to improve? And what might the improvement in year 30 versus year 29 differ from that between year 2 and year 3?

KH: I appreciate the kind words. I think Mike Breen leads the pack right now. We're very good friends and I've always told him that every accomplishment he gets — doing the Finals, the Hall of Fame — he has a bunch of us right in back of him cheering him on because we think so highly of what he's been able to do carrying the torch from what Marv established.

I've enjoyed every game I've done. I've enjoyed every partner I've worked with, I've enjoyed every person I've worked for. There is always the drive to get better. I use this philosophy doing my NFL stuff — I just finished doing my 12th straight Super Bowl — the same kind of question was asked by the media going into that. I'll quote John Madden, who said, "If you're not getting better, you're getting worse." That is so true in broadcasting. If you're not evolving, if you're not trying to improve and sharpen your tools, then you're in big trouble. There are examples of that in the past and I guess that fear of falling into that routine drives me enough.

Also, I'm always struck by the following of the NBA and how people are so into it. One misstep and people jump on you. Not that I'm a social media person at all, my daughters might tell me something that's said or out there but I don't go to that world. Verne Lundquist told me one time that he stays away from it like the plague and I kind of follow in those footsteps. But I know when I've made a mistake. I feel it. Sometimes you're just trying to constantly improve and not rest on what you've been lucky enough to accomplish.

TBL: Do you go back and watch your calls?

KH: I do and that becomes a torturous procedure because you never say it the way you want to. Perhaps you don't get the information out the way you want to but I love that challenge. And that challenge is there every single broadcast, whether it's at the end of November or if it's the All-Star game in front of a huge audience.

TBL: You said you were excited to be around everyone from the Turner team. What's it like when you all get together? Obviously the studio show is one of, if not the best in sports yet you so rarely get the chance to have that in-person interaction.

KH: It's a lot of fun. It usually happens in the green room where they have a big TV set up with food and refreshments. It's a place where we can hang. That's where a lot of the banter takes place. Whatever may be said is said and it's usually incredibly lighthearted and all in good fun and kind. I've always found that the biggest names — Charles and Shaq and Kenny — are some of the kindest people in the business. It really is nice because we're usually throwing to them from a distant location.

Last year when we did a lot of this from the Atlanta studios we'd run across them in the hall and it was tremendously gratifying, just to say hello and talk about the families, the league and players. That was a lot of fun. It really is like a family.

TBL: How do you think you've assimilated into the post-Marv Albert era? You spoke so glowingly of him before.

KH: I don't know that anybody can replace him. It's like replacing Vin Scully. He is irreplaceable. But what it does on the positive end is create a standard to live up to, a goal to try to achieve. And although you may fall short, it's this constant feeling of carrying on the established NBA broadcast. I'm sure Mike [Breen] feels the same way over at ESPN/ABC. We all feel like Albert put the bar so high and was in this incredible position for all these decades that we still look up. We will never look eye-to-eye but we try to apply it to our games. It's exhilarating and challenging. It gets us all in the right place.