With 79-year-old Marv Albert, Turner Sports’ broadcasting mainstay, not participating in this year’s NBA playoffs at the Orlando bubble and Kevin Harlan working the NFL for CBS VIAC , Brian Anderson will be on the call for TNT during the Western Conference Finals for the first time in his career. When the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets tip off the series on Friday night, Reggie Miller and Chris Webber will be the analysts and Allie LaForce will be the reporter.
“I’m happy to be available to do it,” Anderson told me from Orlando. “At the same time, I realize why I’m here in this position. I know my place with the company and on this totem pole and I’m really happy to have the flexibility and the availability.”
Anderson got to call both the Lakers and the Nuggets in their respective second round series wins and also was part of Turner’s coverage of some of Denver’s second round games last season against Portland, a seven-game loss, alongside analyst Kevin McHale.
“I’m fascinated by the Nuggets, and I’m even more intrigued because it’s mostly the same group of guys,” Anderson said. “And Michael Malone is a heck of a playoff series coach. The adjustments they’re making, the way they’re hunting the weak link for the opposition defensively, I really have come to enjoy our meetings with him and having him talk through some of his decision making process. I love that the Nuggets were the underdog and they’re using that to their advantage.”
But make no mistake, Denver is far and away the underdog in this series, with the Lakers at -750 to win on FanDuel’s books, an 88.2% implied probability, according to The Action Network.
“The Lakers have earned that place as the favorite. They had the best record in the West and have LeBron James and Anthony Davis,” Anderson said. “But the Nuggets are enjoying the greatest place to be in sports competition, the underdog role. That’s the sweet spot for an athlete. And if you’re there enough and succeed enough, then you’re no longer the underdog. So they get to enjoy that this year, but the way they’re playing and clipping off these teams and coming back and being at their best when the season is on the line, 6-0 in elimination games, now they’re developing a new reputation.”
Aside from the Lakers, there have been plenty of upsets at the NBA bubble. Denver ousted the L.A. Clippers and the top two seeds in the East, Milwaukee and Toronto, were ousted by conference finalists Miami and Boston. Anderson has been there to witness it all, calling numerous games with either Webber or Stan Van Gundy as his analyst.
Calling games in the bubble haven’t been difficult, Anderson said, but they’ve definitely been different than he’s used to at NBA arenas.
“And it’s different in a way that you’ll really never get used to,” he said.
Anderson is also Turner’s lead voice for Major League Baseball, along with the regular voice of the Milwaukee Brewers, and will go from Orlando to the American League playoff bubble in San Diego to call playoffs on TBS. And in calling thousands of games over his career, he’s always used to being next to his partner and using non-verbal communication with his coworkers. Whether taps on the shoulder, hand signals, pointing to things on people’s note boards, everything is more difficult by being separated from everyone by six feet of plexiglass.
“The sensation would be a pilot in the cockpit,” Anderson said. “Once you sit down, you’ve got the plexiglass around you. So there is some glare to deal with, the visuals of looking at the actual floor, things are in front of you, especially on the near corners for 3-pointers and whatnot. You don’t quite see that like you would if you were down on the floor.”
And without fans at these games, Anderson said that it feels like you’re shouting alone in your car during big games without fan noise, which he’s found awkward. From a preparation and storytelling standpoint, Anderson, Webber and Miller can’t talk to the players in the locker room or on the floor before or after games, which obviously hurts their abilities to sprinkle in bits and pieces of story or information during the games. Reporters have access to the players and are doing as best they can, Anderson said, and is limited only to Zoom calls with the head coaches.
“I think one thing we’ve all noticed as play-by-play announcers is how much we truly feed off the crowd, not for energy or enthusiasm but you get a sense of the moment or the play or the reaction based off the crowd’s reaction as well,” Anderson said. “And that’s not here. I didn’t think that would be an issue, but we do really depend on the waves of the crowd reactions to determine how we’re gonna call it. We navigate our sounds based on their sounds. And when there are no sounds, then it’s a bit of an unusual existence.”
Another facet of Anderson’s existence over the past couple of years is the persistent notion that he’s Albert’s heir apparent at the network, waiting in the wings to officially become TNT’s lead basketball voice. Anderson made clear that there have been no discussions about anything of that nature between he and the network.
“I’m an employee of Turner Sports, and I go where they put me. There’s been no discussion about the future, moving forward,” Anderson said. “For me personally, this is Marv Albert’s series. This is what he does for our company. And he’s done it so well, at an all-time level, for so long. I’m under no thought that this is a permanent change. This is me filling in for him because he can’t be in the NBA bubble. That’s what it is right now. That’s the way I’m treating it, with the understanding that Marv can’t be here and Kevin can’t be here. I’m next on the list, and I’m happy to be available to do it.”