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Escapism From Debate Hell Found In Usual Places

“As the next moderator seeks a mute button, America can get away to a LeBron-dominant NBA Finals, the quick-out MLB playoffs and … oops, the NFL and college football are in a predictable Covid crisis.”

Jay Mariotti

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As our hearts pound in horror, our stomachs tumble in nausea and our heads throb in disgust, we ask: What now, fellow Americans? In a nation lampooned wherever laughter exists on this planet, a country where the President is a cartoonish hooligan who won’t condemn white supremacists while his Botox-ed rival stoops to name-calling and Elks Club-level taunting (“Will you shut up, man?’’), no one is sure where we turn next, man.

The best answer is a permanent move to Croatia or Kyrgyzstan, but short of that, I suppose we escape again to sports. You might argue, of course, that Donald Trump and Joe Biden have become our only sport, a hybrid of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and the classic MTV hoot, “Celebrity Deathmatch,’’ where two claymation figures batter each other in a ring. A hundred or so cable channels allow daily visits to the unflushed Trump-Biden toilet bowl if you so choose, until a first Tuesday in November that can’t arrive soon enough, when the conversation shifts to tampering and fixing and whether a crane or bulldozer will be required to extract Trump from the White House.

Our President can’t even claim his usual ratings victory — the debate numbers were down appreciably from 2016 — which suggests the next moderator have a mute button similar to the one on my old ESPN show, “Around The Horn.’’ Clearly, people were tuning out. To quote Vladimir Putin, which is appropriate in the aftermath of the Cleveland disgrace:  “When people cross certain boundaries, boundaries of decency, they don’t look strong. They look weak.’’

Or, there is convenient solace in a barrage of meaningful sports events (courtesy of Trump) that, alas, come with the relentless medical risks of Covid-19 (also courtesy of Trump). In a dizzying week in American history, as the NFL is slammed by its first major coronavirus outbreak, escapism is available in the round-the-clock form of another LeBron-centric NBA Finals and the quick-out Major League Baseball postseason, among other options. Trump’s fantasy of winning re-election via football is crumbling in a heap of positive coronavirus tests, including campus outbreaks that already have broken the college season. Anyone foolish enough to think the sport was immune to the pandemic — hello, American South — can stop writing me after I predicted a Covid crisis in August on Paul Finebaum’s ESPN show. What NFL quack assumed the Tennessee Titans would be safe from a heap of infections — nine total, including four players — because they didn’t allow their Covid-ridden outside linebackers coach, Shane Bowen, to travel with the team to Minnesota? And what NFL doofus continues to think the Titans can play the Steelers on Monday night in Nashville, which sounds like a blueprint for a coronavirus spread? Just as we saw MLB struggle outside a restrictive environment with a flouting of protocols, we’re seeing NFL coaches refuse to wear masks and Raiders players not wearing facial coverings during a charity event in Las Vegas. You snooze, you lose.

You sneeze, you lose worse. And if the coaches don’t follow the plan? The league is threatening to sock them with suspensions and lost draft picks, which sounds much like local governments that issue warnings of prosecution to maskless Covid-iots, only to stop short of enforcing the so-called policies. All of which feeds the political invective that has turned America into the hottest of messes — and one that put LeBron James at the intersection of sports and society one night after a debate that hopefully is a one-off, for the sake of our collective wellness.

It’s much too simplistic to say James is en route to a fourth NBA title with a third team, the Lakers, or even that he’s honoring the memory of the late Kobe Bryant. As witnessed in Game 1 against the refreshing but already battered and lost Miami Heat, this one will be easier to navigate than past roller-coaster rides, armed with a deadly accomplice in Anthony Davis. James’ aim is to combine a 2020 championship — which would be the most unique and challenging ever won by a sports legend — with the demise of Trump, a mission he has plotted for years via his belief that the President is a racist. “PLEASE VOTE!!!!!’’ he tweeted after the debate in his native northeast Ohio, where his 2016 comeback triumph with the Cavaliers was assumed to be his career touchstone … until this hellish year.

Suddenly, almost 36 and only a year after he looked ready for retirement and a Hollywood mogul’s life, he is looking at an unprecedented survivalist takeover: overcoming three months in a depressing Bubble, a dissension-plagued franchise, the helicopter crash that killed Bryant before they ever had a chance to meet for dinner, his polarizing embrace of activism and Trump-bashing amid the police shooting deaths and Black Lives Matter protests, a geopolitical flap in which he was widely ripped for his pro-China view after Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong tweet, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Luka Doncic and a faux Clippers team that splashed LeBron-mocking billboards throughout Los Angeles — remember “We Over Me’’ — when James was the one who united a team. Oh, and he also made “Space Jam 2,’’ though it won’t open in theaters until theaters can be opened.

Do not make the mistake, as some have already, of declaring LeBron as the Greatest Basketball Player of All Time if he pulls it off. Michael Jordan is the G.O.A.T., no recall vote permitted. But Jordan, I dare say, could not have withstood the year’s non-stop trauma and drama — never bearing the burden of activism during his playing career, for instance. James is about to slay not only the Heat, but opponents — attrition, mental and physical health, isolation, American misery — never tackled by his all-time brethren in sports.

“It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through,” he said of central Florida confinement, which keeps him from his just-purchased $36 million Beverly Hills mansion. “I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the Bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it’s been extremely tough. But I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to compete for a championship.

“That was my mindset once I entered the Bubble, once I entered the quarantine process the first two days. Then, right from my first practice, my mindset was to — if I’m going to be here, make the most of it and see what you can do and lock in on what the main thing is. The main thing was for us to finish the season and compete for a championship. So that’s just been my mindset throughout these — I don’t even know how many days it is. However many days it is, it feels like five years. I’ve been as locked in as I’ve ever been in my career.”

The Lakers are far from perfect, which is why Heat leader Jimmy Butler said before Game 1, “Not going to say that we’re any better than anybody else, but I just don’t think that we’re underdogs. I don’t.’’ LeBron’s cast includes hotheads who go off for the wrong reasons and three-point shooters who often don’t go off when needed. But after all the Miami injuries and all the obstacles he has overcome, LeBron isn’t going to falter now? With emerging star Bam Adebayo nursing a shoulder strain after a collision with Dwight Howard and Goran Dragic finished with a tear in his left foot, the Heat could be swept. Plus, there’s the Miami grudge factor. James is facing Heat patriarch Pat Riley, who brought him to South Beach, then seethed when he returned to Cleveland. And Erik Spoelstra, the coach he initially didn’t accept in Miami, who since has become a strategic wizard and master developer of homegrown pieces Adebayo and Tyler Herro.

Losing to the Heat, before they are ready to win championships, would be devastating to LeBron’s legacy. It would make him 3-7 in the Finals, this one against a team he was favored to beat. Only a catastrophe can stop James and Davis, by far the best two players in the series, from winning the Lakers’ 17th NBA title. “To be back in the Finals against Miami, I think, means a lot more to him winning this than anyone else,” said Davis, who dominated Game 1 with 34 points and backboard domination. “I think this championship is probably second behind Cleveland, being able to get this one for him.”

All considering, this one would trump Cleveland.

Pun fully intended.

The baseball diehards have their dream playoff-o-rama, with whatever happened in a shotgun, Covid-dinged regular season rendered meaningless beyond seedings. Being a lower seed hasn’t mattered yet to those cheatin’ Houston Asterisks, who didn’t have to steal signs to eliminate the Twins and give America a hating interest — especially in L.A., where the Dodgers won’t be waiting but Dodgers fans know the team bus route. “I know a lot of people are mad. I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here,’’ Carlos Correa said. “But what are they going to say now?’’ On the lovable side, admire the Marlins, who have the Cubs on choke alert again without benefit of Steve Bartman. And don’t we love lower scores — the balls have been dejuiced! — such as Trevor Bauer and Max Fried in a scoreless duel in what became a 13-inning, 1-0 Atlanta victory. The networks desperately need the Yankees, who are slugging again — past 1 a.m. this morning in Cleveland — to advance to a monster divisional series against the Rays. TV also needs the Dodgers, who have no reason not to finally win the World Series, though that was said much of the last decade. Like L.A. neighbor James, manager Dave Roberts thinks winning in 2020 would mean more because of the whirlwind circumstances.

“It’s kind of World Series-or-bust every year,” Roberts said. “This year, I think, certainly would be more special. We’ve all gone through a lot. The whole industry has.”

Imagine if the Rays win it all, giving Tampa Bay at least two champions in the Covid era — in a state, Florida, that doesn’t take the virus seriously.

“For the most part, it’s been a really cool experience,’’ said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who can state that as a champion when the experience sucked for also-rans who wasted weeks in Bubbles. In lieu of a traditional parade, players and coaches boarded trolleys for a ride to Amalie Arena, where a private team-only ceremony was held. If the NHL can be believed, more than 33,000 coronavirus tests in the two Canada igloos produced zero positive outcomes, furthering two 2020 sports truths: (1) The leagues with Bubbles avoided major Covid drama, and those with no Bubbles have been slammed; and (2) We all should move up north, where the virus has been controlled. Unlike the NBA, which is adamant about a 2020-21 season with fans in all 30 arenas, the NHL is exploring a season with four to six Bubbles in states that will allow spectators inside arenas. Could it by the embattled Gary Bettman will be remembered, along with the NBA’s Adam Silver, as the commissioners who figured it out when others flopped? A big difference: The NBA’s experiment has been fascinating; the NHL’s was boring.

Certainly, college football’s Power Five commissioners aren’t showering themselves in glory. They’re just grabbing whatever TV money falls their way, regardless of the rash of positive tests, as many top programs hide behind privacy laws that protect infected players. I applaud Missouri’s new coach, Eli Drinkwitz, for calling out the SEC and its lack of transparency about test results. “It’s kind of a free-for-all,’’ he said. I also applaud Notre Dame for trying to explain how 18 players tested positive last week, which led to 39 players being isolated or quarantined.

“Throughout our entire time together, we had not had one meal where we sat down together. Everything was grab and go,” coach Brian Kelly said. “We get into our game situation where we have pregame meal together, and that cost us. Big. We had somebody who was asymptomatic, and it spread like wildfire throughout our meeting area where we were eating and then it got guys in contact tracing.”

Why that wasn’t understood to begin with — do not eat team meals together — is beyond me. And when a player vomits on the sideline, don’t assume he’s dehydrated when, sure enough, he tested positive for the virus. “It becomes very tricky,’’ Kelly said. “Just being vigilant and understanding this thing can hide in so many different areas make it a tricky proposition, even if you’re doing all of the right things.”

Or, everyone could just go home and wait until next season. Oops, here come those Southern trolls again.

It brings to mind a comment by Our President during the Great American Cluster Dump. “By the way, I brought back Big Ten football,” he said. “It was me, and I’m very happy to do it, and the people of Ohio are very proud of me.’’ The people of Ohio might be proud of LeBron James. But Trump?

Proud probably is the wrong word.

BSM Writers

What Tom Brady Needs To Know Before His First Fox Broadcast

“Our panel includes a fellow player-turned-analyst, a legendary play-by-play man, and a broadcasting coach.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Tom Brady announced he is retiring from the NFL today. It happened literally a year to the day since the last time he retired.

The last retirement lasted just 40 days. Before the end of March of last year, Tom Brady had decided he was done pretending to be happy about embracing life off of the field and announced he was returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a third season.

I guess we cannot rule out that that will happen again. The difference this time around, at least for Tom Brady’s professional life, is that he has a plan for his future. Now that his playing days are over, it is time for him to start his ten-year deal with FOX to be the analyst in the network’s top NFL booth.

Audiences do not know what to expect. No one can deny that Brady brings star power. He is the GOAT after all, but we cannot say for sure if he will be any good.

The pressure is tremendous too. Not only is Tom Brady embarking on a new career, but football fans seem to have taken a liking to the guy he is about to unseat. Whether Greg Olsen gets kicked back down to the number two booth or he is forced to share the spotlight in a three-man booth, plenty of people will look at Brady as the reason we hear less from the guy regarded by many as the best analyst on TV right now.

Brady does not have much room for error here. Since that is the case, I thought I would get some perspectives from people that can help him out. I asked three people to give me their best advice for Tom Brady.

Our panel includes a fellow player-turned-analyst, a legendary play-by-play man, and a broadcasting coach.

THE PLAYER TURNED ANALYST: ANTHONY BECHT

In 2000, the New York Jets used the 27th pick of the NFL Draft to select Anthony Becht. He played for five different teams during his twelve NFL seasons.

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Courtesy USA Today

His broadcasting career began in 2013. Becht worked on ESPN for eight years as an analyst on the network’s college football games. He has since abandoned the booth to return to the sidelines. He will be the head coach of the St. Louis Battlehawks when the XFL starts its third first season this month.

I texted and asked him to look back on his broadcasting career. What does he wish he knew before he started? Here are the three pieces of advice that he had for Tom Brady.

1. Less is more. Folks want to watch the game and just know the “why”. Providing tangible information in a five or six second window is key.

2. Fans want to know about your personal experiences as a player – information and stories they can’t get or wouldn’t even know about because they never did it at the level we did. Share those when the time comes in a game.

3. Have a strong opinion about what you agree or disagree with, but be able to voice it without being demeaning towards players and coaches. It’s an art form and takes time to articulate that in a way that’s done right. I never bash any player or coach because a lot of work goes into be a professional athlete and coach. That needs to be respected but critiqued appropriately.

Anthony Becht via text message

THE PLAY-BY-PLAY LEGEND: TIM BRANDO

Tim Brando has worked with a lot of people. That happens when you have been calling football and basketball action on TV for as long as he has. When I called him on Wednesday to discuss what is ahead for Tom Brady, he drew on his experience with another Brady.

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Courtesy FOX Sports

Brando was working with Jole Klatt in his early days at FOX, but he and Klatt were not going to be an exclusive team. He remembers Brady Quinn coming in to their booth shortly after his NFL career had eneded. Quinn was about to make his debut for FOX. Before they were ready to turn him loose, the network wanted the former quarterback to get a feel for the pace and atmosphere of a broadcast booth.

I do think it’s important that you have a new talent understand what that workplace is like in the booth – the choreography that takes place, because there is choreography. If the ball is deflected, your spotter’s hands are coming together like a bad clap. If there’s a hit, who caused the hit? Who stripped it? So there’s a hand signal for stripping the ball and then recovering the ball with the arms closing together. So who got the recovery? Who caused the fumble? Those things are always helpful.

There are things that are going on frantically in the booth, but you as a broadcaster have to remain calm, understand it, and sound succinct and confident. That just takes time and it takes reps. 

That’s one of the great things I think that Greg (Olsen) probably had an advantage in, as do a lot of analysts that get better over time. They do games of lesser importance that maybe the whole world is not watching. 

Tim Brando via Telephone

Tom Brady won’t have the luxury of time or of reps under the radar. He may get to do a few practice games, but the first time he will be calling a game on live television, it will be one of the biggest of the week.

Brando says in that case, it is really important that Brady use his instincts to his advantage in the booth the way he did on the field.

I don’t know Tom well, but I know him well enough to know that he prides himself on preparation. I don’t doubt for one minute that he will be prepared. He’s obviously an incredible competitor. You know, this is a this is a business of competition too. 

If you’re a great player, just like a coach, you love the ecstasy of victory. You don’t want to admit it, but you love the agony of the defeat as well. That feeling of defeat is something we feed on to motivate you for your next performance. In television and sports television, you don’t get that in terms of winning and losing, but you do get it if you look at it as a great performance, 

I believe that all great broadcasters are performers at heart. It takes a certain level of of a theater. It’s live. It’s not scripted. 

I think some players that get in the booth that are looking to have that same, you know, euphoria that they have after playing and winning a game. Some of them get that and understand that in broadcasting and get out of that the same thing and others don’t.

Tim Brando via Telephone

THE BROADCASTING COACH: GUS RAMSEY

Plenty of broadcasters turn to Gus Ramsey for critiques and advice. The Program Director for the Dan Patrick School of Sportscasting at Full Sail University is also a broadcasting coach working with clients at all levels of the business. They trust his opinion because of his professional experience.

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Courtesy Full Sail University

In a prior life, Ramsey was the producer of SportsCenter on ESPN. He has worked with a number of incredibly talented people and been tasked with taking newbies to new heights, so I asked him what he would be thinking if it were his job to get Tom Brady ready for his first FOX broadcast.

Sometimes great athletes forget that most humans don’t know what the athletes know. Things that are basic or simple or even mundane to the athlete are incredible pieces of wisdom or insight to the average fan.

When I was at ESPN we had Tony Gwynn in for an episode of Baseball Tonight. In our show meeting, Tony was explaining why a hitter was slumping because we was cupping his wrist. He went on explaining it for 30 seconds or so. The room was in total silence, eating up every word. The greatest hitter of our generation was doing a deep-dive on hitting. It was amazing.

Tony suddenly got a little self-conscious, stopped explaining and apologized for “going on too long” and we were all like “No!! Keep going!” Tony thought is was boring. It was just the opposite.

Athletes can think things they’ve learned and repeated their whole lives are common knowledge so sometimes they don’t share that info because they think “everyone knows this.”

I want to walk away from a broadcast feeling like I learned something. Sometimes the ex-athlete doesn’t realize how much educating they can do in a broadcast.

The other thing I always encourage former athletes or coaches to do is to take the viewer where they’ve never been; on the field, in the locker room, in a contract negotiation, etc. If you can get that viewer to fully appreciate the feelings and emotions of what goes on in those places, you enhance the experience for us.

Terrell Davis was an analyst on NFL Network for a bit after his career. He once described Champ Bailey running back an interception 100 yards by saying as Bailey got to the 50 yard line “right here it feels like someone put sandbags on your ankles.” I’ve never run 100 yards in a football uniform in Denver’s altitude, but Terrell’s line helped me better understand what it feels like.

Gus ramsey via text message

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BSM Writers

Mark Packer Loves Reading Your Memories & Tributes to Billy Packer

“I’ve heard from all kinds of coaches. I’ve been blown away. It’s just another reminder of the impact Billy had on so many different people, not just the world of sports.”

Tyler McComas

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It still stands today as one of the most iconic moments in the storied history of Arizona basketball. Three simple words said it all as the Wildcats celebrated an overtime win over Duke to win the 1997 national championship. “Simon says championship.” Those were the words of legendary broadcaster Billy Packer as Miles Simon fell to the floor with the ball in his hands. It’s one of many lines his son, Mark Packer, has been reminded of recently.

It was the perfect three words after the country just watched Simon carry Arizona to college basketball glory. Packer captured the moment perfectly, just like he did during every Final Four for 34 years.

Packer passed away last Thursday at the age of 82 but his legacy and impact in sports broadcasting will never perish. He was heard during every NCAA Tournament from 1975 to 2008 and was on the call for some of college basketball’s most iconic moments, including Michael Jordan’s shot to win the 1982 National Championship, Bird vs Magic in 1979, and even Kansas completing an improbable comeback to win the 2008 championship in his last broadcast. And the best part of it all was that Packer did it his own way, with his own unique style.

“It has really been remarkable,” said Mark Packer. “When Billy passed Thursday night we put it out on Twitter and it took off but I didn’t really know what to expect on Friday and Saturday as far as reaction. But the tributes have been fantastic and our family has loved it.

“I have heard from just about everybody and their brother. Folks I never thought I’d hear from, I’ve heard from them, such as commissioners, whether it be the NBA, whether it be other Power 5 leagues, I’ve heard from all kinds of coaches. I’ve been blown away. It’s just another reminder of the impact Billy had on so many different people, not just the world of sports. To me, that’s been comforting to all of us. It just reinforced all the stuff we knew he was about and brings back special memories.”

Packer’s style of broadcasting has been well-documented over the years. He was honest about what he saw and always spoke his mind. Granted, that didn’t always sit well with college basketball fans, but Packer wasn’t concerned about that. He was honest because he cared. 

“He wanted the game of college basketball to be the best it possibly could be,” said Mark.  “When he saw things he did not like, the one thing he always did was speak his mind. He ruffled feathers and he didn’t care. His intent was to make the game the No. 1 priority. You realize now he didn’t have it out for your team, he was just speaking his mind.”

That style meant fans would often yell at games, ‘You hate Duke! You hate North Carolina!’ Packer’s honesty was often taken by fans as he hated their favorite team. He used to laugh at that, just as Mark does know when he thinks about those moments. That’s because Mark can remember feeling the same way as other fanbases as a kid growing up rooting for NC State. 

“When he was calling an NC State game I thought he was always out to get my team,” laughed Mark. “He’d be doing a game in Raleigh — we grew up in Winston-Salem — and the next morning after the game I would be eating breakfast before school and I would say ‘Man, Billy, you really got on so-and-so last night, what’s your problem with NC State?’

“He used to just laugh, because I thought he had an agenda against my team. Of course the funny thing is, we’d go on trips with him to other games and you’d hear fans say, ‘Billy Packer hates my team!’ It almost became a laughing joke, even amongst the family members, that Billy Packer was out to ruin your team’s day when he does a ballgame.”

Mark has always referred to his dad the same his television partners did. That goes for his two other siblings, as well. “Dad” was rarely, if ever, said in the Packer household. Instead, the legendary broadcaster was called by his first name.

“The fact they called him Billy on television, we never called him dad,” said Mark. “We just called him Billy.”

As you can imagine, ‘Billy’ had a lot of stories. That’s normally the case when you’re around the game’s greatest players and broadcast the legendary games we still talk about today. Packer was always quick to share those stories with his family, which made for an entertaining childhood.

Out of the hundreds of messages Mark has received since his dad’s passing, he says he hasn’t heard any stories he’s never heard before. But that doesn’t mean people haven’t been telling him stories about his father.

“We’ve heard them all, quite frankly,” laughed Mark. “Maybe the thing that was so funny about it was that it reinforced some that we thought were total BS when we heard them the first time.”

Packer will always be synonymous with college basketball and the NCAA Tournament. He was the voice of the sport during its golden era and helped bring the magic to TV sets across the world. If Mark had to guess what his dad is most proud of regarding his broadcasting career, he says it would be just that. 

“From a broadcasting standpoint, probably the Final Fours,” said Mark. “When you, I think the number was 34 I heard, and he did so many of them, for us, we kind of took it for granted. It was just something he did. It was March and Billy is about to go do March Madness. It was just fabric for not only him personally, but also the family. He just loved the sport and wanted it to be good.”

Mark has carved out an incredible broadcasting career of his own. He’s hosted both radio and TV shows with outlets such as the ACC Network, WFNZ in Charlotte, and ESPNU. Having a front row seat to one of the most iconic careers in broadcasting, undoubtedly helped shape his career. Mark is very forthcoming as to what lesson he took from his dad the most. 

“Oh, that’s easy,” Mark said. “That’s prep. He always studied. He was always coming up with notes and angles and facts. I have always done that with the radio and TV shows, that you constantly prep, you constantly read and make notes. You may not use but 10 percent of whatever you’ve been studying, but somewhere down the road you’ll use it again.

“When we were cleaning out his closet I ran into an entire box of old notes that he had from games from yesteryear. I kept every one of them and I can’t wait to look at them and relive those games and see his prep work and point of detail for all those games.”

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of an Analyst: Doris Burke

“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.”

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Basketball and Doris Burke have been synonymous for many years. At the age of 7, she started to play the game that would eventually get her to the top of her profession. Along the way she’s recorded many firsts for women in this field which I’ll detail later. Burke has also become an inspiration to other women already in broadcasting and those thinking about a career in media. Pretty impressive. 

Burke was raised in Manasquan, New Jersey. She was the youngest of eight children, and started playing basketball in the second grade. She starred at Providence, where she was the team’s point guard all four of her years there and made an impact immediately. 

During her freshman year, Doris Burke led the Big East in assists. She was a second-team All-Big East player once and twice made the all-tourney team of the Big East Women’s basketball tournament. Burke held seven records upon graduation, including finishing her career as the school and conference’s all-time assists leader, a record that has since been broken. She served as an assistant coach for her alma mater for two years from 1988-90.

From there it was time to embark on a Hall of Fame career.

ROAD TO ESPN/ABC

Burke began her broadcasting career in 1990 as an analyst for women’s games for Providence on radio. That same year, she began working in the same role on Big East Women’s games on television, and in 1996 she began working Big East men’s games. 

Doris Burke has been working for ESPN covering basketball in different roles since 1991. It has also allowed her to do other things along the way that were unchartered for women in the business. In 2000, Burke became the first woman to be a commentator for a New York Knicks game on radio and on television; she is also the first woman to be a commentator for a Big East men’s game, and the first woman to be the primary commentator on a men’s college basketball conference package.  In 2017, Burke became a regular NBA game analyst for ESPN, becoming the first woman at the national level to be assigned a full regular-season role. 

If that wasn’t enough, from 2009 to 2019 she served as the sideline reporter for the NBA Finals on ABC. I mentioned it was a Hall of Fame career and it was officially deemed as such in 2018. Burke was selected to enter the Basketball Hall of Fame as the Curt Gowdy Media Award winner.

AS AN ANALYST

“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.” Relying on her past experiences in the game as a player and coach, the information she brings her audience is relatable. Some analysts struggle to bring home a point in a way that a casual fan will understand. Burke has no trouble with this. Her ability to spell it out, concisely and conversationally sets her apart from most analysts, male or female. 

Burke attacks her job, knowing that some will question her authority when it comes to commentary on the NBA. She doesn’t mind steering into the skid.

“I am mindful of the fact that I have not played or coached in the NBA,” Burke said to Sportscasting.com last year. “It doesn’t mean that I can’t do a very competent job. I think I try to do that every single night, and I’m never afraid to ask questions.” 

It’s all about the information to Burke, and has nothing to do with the fact she’s a woman covering the NBA.

“If you enhance a viewer’s experience, it doesn’t matter what your gender is,” she said. “As long as you are competent and put in the work … you’re going to be accepted.”

Doris Burke learned the ropes so to speak from several women that came before her. In an NBA.com piece from January of last year, she outlined how much she enjoyed watching former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Gayle Gardner. Early on in her career at ESPN, Burke got to work with Robin Roberts on WNBA and women’s college basketball broadcasts along with Ann Meyers Drysdale and Nancy Lieberman. Roberts was Burke’s inspiration as she started her career path. She admired the professionalism that each displayed. 

“Working alongside Robin Roberts … the one thing I would tell you is the most powerful means to change or impact somebody is by your actions,” Burke said. “She was the epitome of professionalism and competency and garnered the respect of the people around her because of the work habits she had. Watching Robin early on let me know that the basis for everything is the work you put into something.”

While Roberts may have been influential to Burke, Burke has been a beacon for other woman that are getting opportunities in broadcasting.  When asked about their role model, YES Network analyst Sarah Kustok, 76ers play-by-play broadcaster Kate Scott and former WNBA player and current Miami Heat studio analyst Ruth Riley Hunter all mentioned Burke by name.

“Burke is the best example for anyone — male or female,” Hunter told NBA.com. “I love the way she describes the game. She adds so much to every broadcast, and when I was playing in the WNBA I was always really inspired by her work.”

Burke is popular amongst her colleagues at ESPN/ABC, thanks to a tireless work ethic an ability to adapt to whichever sport she may be calling that day. Count Jeff Van Gundy among her biggest fans.

“She’s the best, most-versatile analyst and commentator at ESPN,” Van Gundy said of Doris Burke in 2017 via Deadspin. “She does it all—great interviewer, commentator, studio analyst—everything. And she is an expert at it all—women’s and men’s college basketball, the NBA and the WNBA. She’s the LeBron James of sportscasters. There’s no better broadcaster out there right now.”

Burke is equally a big fan of Van Gundy and the top broadcast crew for ESPN/ABC’s NBA coverage. That includes Mike Breen and Mark Jackson as well. 

“We are talking about three of the best to ever do it. Mark, Jeff and Mike have held down the NBA Finals for over a decade with commentary that is the best of the best. Hubie Brown is a living legend. All of those men have been nothing but gracious and supportive of me,” Burke told the Athletic. 

Doris Burke is considered one of the best NBA analysts around.  Her bosses at ESPN made sure to re-sign her to a multi-year deal and promised she will be involved in “high profile” NBA games in both the regular season and playoffs. Burke will also call finals games on ESPN Radio and appear on the NBA Sunday Showcase program on ABC.

Good for her and good for fans of the NBA on ESPN/ABC.

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2010, she was featured as the new sideline reporter for 2K Sports ‘NBA 2K11’ video game. She has appeared in every version since, including the latest ‘NBA 2K23’.   

As a senior at Providence in 1987 she was the school’s Co-Female Athlete of the Year.  

Her basketball idols growing up were Kyle Macy, Kelly Tripucka and Tom Heinsohn.  

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