Mike Vaccaro

Mike Vaccaro


John Sterling not first local broadcast legend to leave behind massive shoes to fill

Mike Breen knows the feeling, believe that. He knows what it’s like to follow a giant, and he’s done it with the kind of grace and excellence that’s allowed him to somehow turn Marv Albert’s old job into his own. You never know how that’s going to turn out. For Breen, it’s been something plucked out of the pages of a fairy tale. 

“If you had ever told me I would be the TV voice of the Knicks for five minutes, let alone for 25 years?” Breen says, laughing softly. “I mean, that’s beyond my wildest dreams. It’s beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.” 

We grow even more attached to the folks who announce our team’s games, in many ways, than we do to the athletes who play them. It makes sense. A broadcaster spans generations. Marv Albert’s first Knicks game, Jan. 27, 1963, Richie Guerin scored 20 points. He called almost every game that the Reed/Clyde/Bradley/Barnett/DeBusschere Knicks ever played. Same with the Ewing/Oakley Knicks. 

You become the Voice of the team, yes. 

John Sterling speaks to the media during his retirement ceremony on April 20, 2024. Robert Sabo for NY Post

But you also become the face of the team, even if it’s on radio. John Sterling retired from the Yankees radio booth this week. There are others who’ve broadcast Yankees games in those years, notably Michael Kay — first Sterling’s partner on radio, then the featured man on YES. Kay has never wavered even in this belief, even in his 33rd season behind a microphone: Sterling is the Voice of the Yankees, the most prominent one since Mel Allen. 

This week, the Voice walked away. It leaves a gap. 

“Especially on radio, you develop a bond with fans,” says Breen, who made his bones with the Knicks on radio for five years. “You’re their eyes and ears.” 

The task now falls on a couple of very talented kids, Justin Shackil and Emmanuel Berbari, who for the rest of this season, at least, will do what feels like an ominous assignment, to fill the shoes of John Sterling, whose broadcasting shoes are at least twice as big as Bob Lanier’s famous size-22 sneakers. 

There’s a chance the Yankees will look elsewhere for a permanent replacement, because it’s a platinum-plated job. But it’s also worth rooting that either or both Shackil and Berbari earn the nod, because all across New York, kids grow up listening to iconic voices. And sometimes they become those voices. 

Gary Cohen and Howie Rose listened to Bob Murphy and Lindsay Nelson. Bob Papa grew up listening to Jim Gordon. All of them, at one point of another, listened to Marv and thought: Man, I’d give my left arm to do THAT. 

Marv Albert’s tenure as the voice of the Knicks spanned multiple generations. James Devaney/WireImage.com

Mike Breen, he got to do that. And it didn’t cost him an arm. 

But as easy as Breen makes broadcasting seem on MSG TV, it was anything but replacing Marv on the two times he was asked to do so, both under less-than-ideal circumstances — first following Albert’s legal difficulties in 1997, later when Albert was axed for telling too many truths about the Knicks’ poor play. 

Albert made the initial transition easier by reaching out to Breen, sending him a note that said, “Good luck, I know you’ll do a great job” before adding in quintessential Albert deadpan: “Condolences on having to work with John Andariese.” Similarly, Sterling told me this week: “I wish nothing but the best,” for his successors. “It’s the best seat in the house.” 

Breen admits he was fortunate on two levels: he’d already established a rapport with listeners on the radio when he assumed the TV role. And he had the time to grow into the job, to grow comfortable, establish his own personality. Marv joked easily with his partners: Andariese, Sal (Red Light) Messina, Mike Fratello. It took Breen time to feel comfortable doing the same with Clyde Frazier. 

Bob Murphy left behind massive shoes to fill as the Mets’ play-by-play announcer. ASSOCIATED PRESS

“The key,” he says, “is don’t change what got you here. Don’t ever try to be like Marv. 

“You have to be your own person; there’s a reason I got the job, stick with that. Maybe hardest was this: Don’t try to win people over right away. You won’t win everyone over and that’s no reflection on you, some people just wish Marv was still doing the games.” 

He laughs. 

“Hell, I missed Marv doing the games!” 

Shackil and Berbari have both done well subbing for Sterling in the past and they’re worth rooting for, local kids who’ve earned their moment. Same as a kid from Salesian and Fordham, kid named Breen, did. Look how it’s worked out for him. And the Knicks.

Vac’s Whacks

Sean Marks has now hired six coaches (if you count Jacque Vaughn twice) and the pity of it is that he actually got it 100 percent right the first time with Kenny Atkinson and would’ve been a lot better off staying loyal to him. 

Sean Marks has now hired six head coaches for the Nets. Noah K. Murray-NY Post

You know who does a terrific job day in and day out, game in and game out? Shannon Hogan of MSG, hosting Islanders games. 

My family, both sides, began their American stories in Corona, so maybe I am a natural audience for Frank Marotta’s wonderful book, “Alterations to a Life Jacket: Tales of a Young Man’s Survival.” But you don’t need to have grown up in the shadow of the Unisphere to enjoy this. It’s just a really good read. 

Is it too much to ask to get the Rangers and the Islanders together for a best-of-seven before we hit the end of the spring?

Whack back at Vac

Dave Gronsbell: The NHL playoff chase has been super exciting but what would make it even better would be to change the point system and award 3 points for a win in regulation. This would provide incentive for teams to get the W in 60 rather than award the same points for a win in OT or shootout. 

Vac: If we can vote on this, I’d vote early and often. This is exactly how to do it. 

David Bryant: Thank you for your column on Whitey Herzog. Compressed but critical Mets’ history: M. Donald Grant — disgraceful. 

Vac: It is important to remember Grant whenever we want to slip into hyperbole and describe a current team boss as “… the worst of all time.” Because MDG is really the gold — or zinc — standard. 

@WalterNagel3: I remember John Sterling when he was the announcer for the Islanders and New York Nets on WMCA radio when they played at Nassau Coliseum. That’s what got me into sports. 

@MikeVacc: Kudos to Brendan Burke, who on MSG paid homage to Sterling with a vintage “ISLANDER GOAL!” After their fourth goal against the Devils the other night. 

William Forrester: Four great voices: Pavarotti. Sinatra. Shepherd. Sterling. 

Vac: Knowing John, there isn’t a compliment in the world that can top that one for him.