A voice always accompanies the game’s most iconic moments. Play-by-play and color commentators have the ability to elevate the intensity of an on-court rivalry or perfectly immortalize a historic buzzer-beater. Here are the top five commentators in the NBA this season:
5. Bill MacDonald and Stu Lantz
As the local announcers for the Los Angeles Lakers, they carry the task of commentating for one of the most storied franchises in the league. These two have been through the highs and lows of Laker basketball, with the 17-65 roster in 2016 to the reigning champions of the current year.
Most announcers hold a clear bias for their respective teams, but MacDonald and Lantz always demonstrate a healthy balance between praising the Lakers players and also giving opposing teams credit where credit is due. For many games, they like to reward the Player of the Game title to the most deserving player on the court, even if they are wearing an opposing uniform. Lantz also had the privilege of working with the late Chick Hearn, the greatest NBA play-by-play commentator to ever live. His experience with Hearn allows him to be a perfect compliment with MacDonald, with insightful analysis and tasteful commentary.
4. Doris Burke
Burke will no doubt go down as a trailblazer and a pioneer for women’s broadcasting. In 2017, she became the first woman to serve as a full-time NBA network analyst. She also became the first woman to call an NBA Conference Final and Finals game on ESPN radio.
Like many game commentators, she also played basketball at a high level. She has a deep understanding of the game and an ability to analyze intricacies that the casual fan may gloss over. In addition, she brings an air of authenticity and genuine passion in her voice, while also a fearlessness to assert her own perspectives and opinions.
Jefferson is the new kid on the block, having just retired as a player in 2018. He led a successful 17-year career and won a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. Nowadays, he calls games as a color commentator for ESPN and the Brooklyn Nets’ local network.
Throughout the mainstream media, Jefferson is an obvious fan favorite. He is charming and blends his distinct style of humor and enthusiasm in every broadcast. Jefferson is very well-versed in popular culture and greatly appeals to younger audiences. Unapologetic and charismatic, Jefferson is a breath of fresh air in the broadcasting world and is most definitely here to stay.
2. Mike Breen
His familiar cadence and his signature “BANG!” phrase puts him as one of the most preferred commentators for nationally televised games. He is the play-by-play announcer for Finals games, televised ESPN games, and local New York Knicks games.
Fans associate his voice with so many prominent moments in the game’s history. These include Kobe Bryant’s game-winner against the Phoenix Suns in the 2006 playoffs, Ray Allen’s miraculous three-pointer to keep the Miami Heat’s Finals hopes alive (where they ultimately became champions), and Stephen Curry’s incredible 38-foot shot against the Oklahoma City Thunder to win one of the best regular-season games ever. He is always unbiased and consistent and continues to be one of the most dependable announcers for televised games.
1. Kevin Harlan
Harlan, a chameleon in broadcasting, is a world-class announcer for the NBA and the NFL. He regularly calls games for TNT and CBS. Harlan has the ideal repertoire for an ideal play-by-play announcer: a recognizable voice, excitement and creative catchphrases.
He possesses the rare aptitude to immediately bring a jarring electricity to big plays. Whether it is a posterizing dunk like J.R. Smith’s slam over Gary Neal (“We just saw man fly!”) or a buzzer-beater like Kawhi Leonard’s infamous shot to advance the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals, his legendary booming voice allows fans to experience a stunning appreciation for the feats of our world’s greatest athletes.