Boston Celtics TV broadcasters Mike Gorman, left, and Tommy Heinsohn will face new challenges when calling games from the studio once the NBA resumes its season. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

 

Their 39 years together considered, Mike Gorman and Tom Heinsohn have an almost subconscious level of silent communication wired beneath their Celtics broadcasts.

“It’s very easy for me to elbow Tommy and for Tommy to elbow me – we have this whole body language thing going on while we’re doing the game,” said Gorman, who understands that now, with the local Celtics broadcast team likely working out of the station’s Boston studio once games resume in late July, that cozy physical element will be gone.

Just as NBA players are currently following a one-man, one-basket rule during informal workouts, Gorman envisions a one-man, one-monitor set-up, with Heinsohn seated eight feet away in the studio, and analyst Brian Scalabrine spaced in another direction, and the stat guru himself, Dick Lipe, sending over his numbers from some other distanced location.

If past coverage holds, and NBC Sports Boston broadcasts the Celtics’ remaining regular-season and first-round playoff games, the difference this time will be the crew’s dependence on a video feed from Turner Sports and ESPN.

That’s where the process will reverse itself for Gorman and Co. Their call will depend on what comes across the screen, as opposed to a full view of the floor.

“The most interesting thing from our point of view at NBC Sports Boston is it’s one thing to do a game off a monitor – where you can’t see things you would ordinarily see because you’re following where the camera is – but our director Jim Edmunds and our producer Paul Lucey are trying to reinforce things that Tommy says and things that Scal says with pictures,” said Gorman. “Now we don’t have any idea where the director is going to cut to next. You’re looking at the game, and suddenly you’re looking at the Celtics huddle, and then an official, and suddenly a coach.

“Where I might be talking about Brad Stevens, and Jim Edmunds immediately cuts to a shot of Brad Stevens, I’ll have to go the other way, and wait til the shot is cut, and try to talk to that picture before it leaves and goes to some other one. In the local broadcast we get a chance to lead, but in these we will very much have to follow.”

The crew most recently faced this challenge on Christmas, when a late change allowed NBC Sports Boston to remotely broadcast the Celtics’ game in Toronto.

Gorman also called games under these conditions during the 2016 and 2012 Olympics, when he handled duties for basketball and team handball.
As play-by-play announcer, he’s always the lead voice. But that role is about to expand thanks to his experience.

“It will be a challenge,” said Gorman. “Scal’s got very used to dealing with it because of his radio show and stuff like that. He’s come along quickly with it. It will be hard for Tom. He’s used to being able to look where he wants to look at what’s going on on the court. Now he has to look where the camera is pointing.

“The added complication is like playing a video game and some villain pops up you didn’t know about. What are they going to do with social distance? Tommy will be talking about Jaylen Brown, and all of a sudden they’re putting up a shot of Mike Conley. That’s gonna be interesting to see. I’ve always tried to let the viewer know I can see the picture they’re seeing, even if Tommy is trying to make a different point. I think there is a subconscious connection there. As long as you acknowledge that, then the viewer kind of goes along with you. You don’t acknowledge that, then the viewer says, ‘What the hell is Gorman talking about?’ That’s what we have to try to avoid.”

Though the local crew is likely to have only a remote view, Gorman is fascinated to see what a game without fans produces in terms of camera angles.

“ESPN and Turner will be able to put cameras wherever they want,” he said. “Because of not wanting to block fans and so forth, it’s always the same game we see on TV. The uniforms change, but usually it’s the same game every time. Now they’ll have a real chance to experiment – take the camera that’s hand-held under the basket, and stay on the camera for two or three minutes, let the fan really see not only what it’s like when the ball is in play, but when there’s a timeout what’s going on in there.

“There’s a real opportunity for a different look,” said Gorman. “We’ve seen basketball through the same eyes for 25 years. I can go back to games I did on CBS and ESPN in the late ’70s and run them up against college games from today, and one is a carbon copy of the other. The graphics are more sophisticated, but how you see the game is pretty much the same. Now is a time of innovation and opportunity to do things that you haven’t seen before, and I hope Turner and ESPN take advantage of that. It could become really compelling from angles you haven’t seen before, and keep you there in your seat.”

And as challenging as the job of calling Celtics games remotely may become, Gorman has worked under worse conditions – far worse. He called tennis on a broadcast team with Bud Collins and Vitas Gerulaitis during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The heat soared and the bright sun in the outdoor stadium forced everyone on the crew to wear hoods just to see the monitors.

“It was 90-degree heat, and you were putting this cover over your head,” said Gorman. “It was miserable.”

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