ESPN's Michael Wilbon, Mike Breen among honorees for Basketball HOF's Curt Gowdy Award

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- ESPN's Michael Wilbon and Mike Breen were honored with the print and broadcast versions of the Curt Gowdy Award on Friday night as part of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame's 2020 class of inductees.

Wilbon, who spent 30 years at The Washington Post in addition to spending the past two decades as the host of Pardon The Interruption, among other roles at ESPN, and Breen, the longtime play-by-play man for both the New York Knicks and the NBA on ESPN, who has called the NBA Finals a record-setting 14 times since 2006, have both been fixtures in the basketball world for over a generation.

In accepting the print award, Wilbon said he was thankful that the Hall of Fame is interested in honoring the art of storytelling as part of its annual enshrinement ceremonies.

"I'm grateful the Hall of Fame sees fit to honor the best in reporting and broadcasting basketball," Wilbon said, "especially when the art of storytelling has become so critical to consuming all the elements of sport."

Over those 30 years at The Washington Post, Wilbon spent time around the biggest names in basketball, including Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley, with whom he wrote two best-selling books. All three were in the audience Friday night, and he thanked each individually.

He also thanked several people who have died recently who had an impact on his career, including Hall of Famers John Chaney, John Thompson, Wes Unseld, Elgin Baylor and Kobe Bryant, who is part of this year's class.

"It's an honor to be included anywhere the memory of those men is held dear," Wilbon said, "and that fascinating stories can be told as long as we are able to tell them and audiences get to listen."

Wilbon, 62, thanked his wife, Sheryl, and his son, Matthew, whom he gently chided for his inclination to like players of today more than those in the past, joking that he "still has much to learn." And he also said that he was glad to be going into the hall that represents a sport that, he said, gives minorities the best chance to advance.

"I am grateful to be standing here tonight because basketball of all sports, to borrow from my great friend Tony Kornheiser, is maybe the closest thing our society has to a true meritocracy," Wilbon said. "Where probably more than in any industry a person of color can go from playing to coaching to being fired to being hired again."

He also thanked his editors at The Washington Post, including longtime sports editor George Solomon, who hired him at 21 years old.

"Talk about taking a risk," Wilbon said with a smile.

Breen, 59, has been the voice of a generation of Knicks and NBA fans, working in New York media for decades -- first at WFAN, the country's first all-sports radio station, where he started calling Knicks games on the radio, and later at the Madison Square Garden network, where he began calling Knicks games on television in 1997.

"I've had this enormous privilege to call so many great moments in NBA history, but the best part, the best part, has always been the lifetime of friendships that the game has given me," Breen said. "There's a phrase, or a wording that I've always loved. They say the true measure of a man's wealth is not how much money he has, but how many friends he has. If that's true, I'd like to thank all of you for making me feel like the richest man alive."

Breen thanked Knicks owner James Dolan and several members of the front office -- including president of basketball operations Leon Rose, general manager Scott Perry and front office executives William Wesley and Allan Houston -- for being in attendance Friday night. He also thanked his many color analysts over the years, a list that includes Hall of Famers Bill Walton, Hubie Brown and Doug Collins. But he saved special recognition for his longtime partner on Knicks broadcasts, Hall of Famer Walt "Clyde" Frazier -- "who has always been my basketball hero" -- and longtime ESPN/ABC co-workers Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, both of whom were in attendance, as was longtime producer Tim Corrigan.

"These two always hate it and they make fun of me when I get sentimental," Breen said of Van Gundy and Jackson, "but I hope you two know just how much you have meant to me over all these years. I laugh and learn every single game we do together. Thanks for a truly amazing ride. I'm here tonight because of our work together."

Breen also thanked his wife, Rosanne, and his children, Michael, Nicole and Matt, all of whom were in attendance.

"I am the world's luckiest husband, and luckiest father, because every day you fill my heart with love and joy," Breen said.

In addition to Wilbon and Breen, TNT's longtime pre- and postgame basketball show, "Inside The NBA," was honored with the Hall's inaugural Curt Gowdy Transformative Media Award for its incredibly long and successful run, primarily with Ernie Johnson hosting flanked by Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal.

"The thing about our group, I think, it's gone through so many changes," Johnson said during an on-stage interview of him, Barkley and O'Neal with ESPN's Lisa Salters, who hosted Friday night's event. "I've been there 31 years, and when I was doing the show by myself, then Kenny came along, and you bring on the guy that's changed the landscape of shows we do, Charles Barkley, and you bring on the world's biggest 14-year-old, and we have the time of our lives.

"You can't predict chemistry, you don't know how it's going to work, but we love each other. I grew up with three sisters, and this is the closest I will be to having three brothers."

Meanwhile, Jim Gray was honored with the inaugural Curt Gowdy Media Insight Award; Tim Nugent was honored with the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award; and Bill Russell, Wayne Embry and George Raveling were given the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award.

The rest of the Hall of Fame's star-studded 2020 class, which is led by Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame Saturday night at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN.

All of Saturday's inductees were honored with their blazers during Friday night's event, with Duncan, Garnett and Bryant being honored last.

Duncan's blazer was put on by longtime Spurs teammate Tony Parker, while Bryant's wife, Vanessa, put Bryant's on their oldest daughter, Natalia. The two of them also left the event with Bryant's longtime Lakers teammate, Pau Gasol.