Mike Fratello talks Heat, coaching and broadcasting in our Q&A



Mike Fratello has been a part of the NBA since 1977 as a coach or broadcaster.

Fratello was an assistant with the Knicks before becoming head coach for the Hawks, Cavaliers and Grizzlies. And he’s had several stops as an analyst, including NBC, TNT, NBA TV and currently doing Nets games for the YES Network. One of those was working with Eric Reid on Heat telecasts from 2002 to early in the 2004-05 season.

We caught up with Fratello to talk about the Heat and his career in our latest Q&A installment.

Q: Is Erik Spoelstra one of the best coaches in the league?

MF: “How many guys have gone to four straight NBA finals? That is a statement in itself. It’s not easy to do that. I don’t care what kind of players you have. Yeah, you have better players that give you a chance to win more games but still you got to coach them, you got to organize them, you got make game decisions. You draw up stuff in time outs. You go in at halftime and come up with something when it’s not going well that night.

“He’s done a terrific job with whatever management’s been able to give him. I said in in our broadcast (last week), how about losing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, possibly three Hall of Famers, and your job is just keep marching forward, somehow find a way.”

Q: You went from the booth as a Heat analyst to coaching the Grizzlies early in the 2004 season. Talk about that time?

MF: My last year I got about 15 games into the season and I was offered the Memphis job. I went to Pat Riley and told Pat what had come up. I felt I had an obligation to Pat and the organization and also TNT because I was working for both of them. I told Jerry West I would have to first go to them. They were friends and they were great to me so I didn’t want to upset them. Both of them were incredible.

Q: Compare preparing for a game as a broadcaster and preparing as a coach?

MF: “The similarities are that when you’re a coach you pay attention to detail and you do the same thing as a broadcaster. You want to have as much information. I have a lot of friends who are assistant coaches and head coaches, I use it to get a few minutes with them so I feel good talking about their team that night, what’s gone on. The rest is doing your homework on the team, knowing what the team has done lately, who’s been playing well, who hasn’t been playing well, who’s been missing games. You’re organized and prepared in coaching, you wind up doing the same thing when you’re on TV.”

Q: You have worked with a who’s who of broadcast partners. What’s your favorite story involving one of your partners?

MF: “My first game ever on NBC after seven years as the head coach in Atlanta. My partner would up being Marv Albert. Because NBC had never done an NBA game that summer they asked us to meet in New York to help them have a better understanding what’s important. While we were up there they asked me, ‘Have you ever used a telestrator?’ I said, ‘No.’ They brought me in a room and said ‘Here is what you use to draw with, here is what happens, you hit these buttons.’ You got all these bells and whistles. I tried it and they said, ‘You’ve used this before. You’re drawing like you know what you’re doing.’ I told them I’ve never used it and I said, ‘That’s what coaches do. We draw. That comes easy to coaches.’

“That August they had us do a game at Magic Johnson’s ‘Midsummer Night Magic’ All-Star game for charity. We come on and Marv says, ‘I’d like to bring in my new partner. … the Czar of the Telestrator, Mike Fratello’ I had no idea where that came from, nobody did. When he sprung it I nodded and said, ‘Hey, thanks.’ Who knew that was going to stick all these years later?”

Q: So you’re in an airport, what do people shout ‘Mike’ or ‘Czar’?

MF: “You hear both. The people that work at the airports a lot of those guys, they’re watching the games at night before they come to work at the airport the next morning when you come walking through and they’re like, ‘Czaaaaar.’”

Q: “You’ve won an Emmy and you won a Coach of the Year. Which one are you most proud of?

MF: “You just like doing well in whatever it is. Television you like to do well. Coaching you hope you won a lot of games and if you won a lot of games your players are doing things to help you win those games and you get lucky once in a while. That’s what’s happened in both situations. When you win no matter what it is you enjoy winning.

Q: “You worked with Heat play-by-play announcer Eric Reid for a little more than two years. What stands out about working with Eric?

MF: “He’s really good. He’s all about the team. When you’re doing national games you get told somewhere along the line about being objective. When you’re in Eric’s position you’re part of the team. Why shouldn’t you be more enthusiastic when they are winning and playing great and hit a huge shot at the end of the game? That’s fine. It’s OK to do that. That’s your team. He bleeds that red and black.”

Q: You coached the Ukraine national team from 2011 to 2014. How did that happen?

MF: “I had drafted a young man who played for me in Atlanta, Alexander ‘Sasha’ Volkov. He was a legend with the original Soviet Union team and when Ukraine separated from the Soviet Union, Sasha is from the Ukraine so he became president of the Ukraine basketball federation. He called me one summer and said, ‘Would you come and coach the team? We’re in disarray we just need somebody to come in here.’ I gave him a list of things I’d need. Everything we asked for he gave us. I brought six assistants over with me and wound up with two others from over there. We had the court covered. We were getting there early, stayed late. Their practice habits were incredible.”

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