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Why Is Drew Brees’ Apology Acceptable….And Grant Napear’s Not?

“There is no place in sports for social insensitivity but that rule should apply across the board in this business — and it woefully does not.”

Jay Mariotti

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It needn’t be argued that Drew Brees was racially insensitive, because he agrees. Beside a photo of two interlocked hands, black and white, he used Instagram to apologize for his pro-military, anti-Kaepernick stance about kneeling protests. Hours after reiterating he’ll “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America,’’ a contrite Brees acknowledged that he “completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country. They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy.’’

He never will live it down in some quarters of America, where he’ll be branded as a racist for life. Yet that life will continue nonetheless. He’ll try to win a Super Bowl, at 41, with the New Orleans Saints. He’ll shuffle into a lucrative broadcasting gig at NBC, where he’ll be groomed for “Sunday Night Football,’’ the highest-rated regular program in American television. He’ll be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And his obituary will call him one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. That’s how the career-recovery game works for most people in sports — apologize, take your lumps, carry on, keep earning your living.

But that’s now it works for Grant Napear, who was forced out this week as play-by-play voice of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and a daily talk-show host in that very small city. Napear, too, has been branded a racist for life after regrettable social-media comments, though it’s possible he’s merely an out-of-touch dope who didn’t know better. Is he perhaps just clueless about the world in 2020? Is he a 60-year-old male who, pathetically, didn’t realize that those six words he typed on Twitter — “ALL LIVES MATTER … EVERY SINGLE ONE!’’ — are tantamount in the Black Lives Matter movement to one final two-handed press on George Floyd’s neck?

And when you compare his comments to Brees’ comments, aren’t they comparable in their ignorance? So how does one man proceed to the next day while the other becomes one of 40 million unemployed Americans? How can Brees’ boss, Saints coach Sean Payton, say he’s “proud’’ of his handling of the situation? Why have the NFL and Saints ownership not publicly condemned the comments? Where is NBC, his future employer?

All as Napear fades away, canceled by his bosses.

Russell Westbrook on Thunder TV announcer Brian Davis: 'What he ...

Yes, he failed the woke portion of the culture exam. Yes, Napear’s lapse warranted a sizable suspension from the Kings, one of 30 franchises in the most woke league on the planet. But his punishment, unlike Brees’, was of the scorched-earth variety — he was summarily forced out of two jobs, his media career likely finished after three-plus decades in the market. It reminded me of what happened to my one-time talk radio partner, Brian Davis, who, as veteran play-by-play voice of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was so overtaken by Russell Westbrook’s performance one night in 2018 that he exclaimed, “Westbrook is out of his cotton-picking mind!’’ Shortly thereafter, the Thunder didn’t renew Davis’ contract. He shouldn’t have said it, just as Napear shouldn’t have tweeted it. Realize these are human beings who make mistakes, just as Brees is a human being who makes mistakes, just as numerous other athletes who’ve published racial slurs on social media have made mistakes.

But they also are allowed to apologize and carry on, such as rookie NFL quarterback Jake Fromm, who said in a 2019 text conversation, “Just make (guns) very expensive so only elite white people can get them haha.’’ Which means the Buffalo Bills have two racially insensitive quarterbacks on their roster: Fromm and starter Josh Allen, who apologized on 2018 draft night after referring to “N——-‘’ in several tweets in his younger days. Said the Bills in a statement about Fromm: “He asked for an opportunity to address and apologize to his teammates and coaches today in a team meeting, which he did. We will continue to work with Jake on the responsibilities of being a Buffalo Bill on and off the field.”

I could go on … and on … and on. Point being: If broadcasters are being held to considerably higher standards than athletes, I’m left to ask if hiring robots, programmed by coded instructions, is the next move by an industry that cowardly chooses to ruin longtime professionals instead of using their insensitive moments to teach protocol in the 21st century.

To be clear, there is no place in sports for social insensitivity. But that rule should apply across the board in this business — and it woefully does not, with too many cases of convenient, selective punishment (and non-punishment) mocking any fairness doctrine. For instance, how many times have media people — hundreds, I’m sure — been subjected to slurs from people they cover? And how many times have those slurs been ignored, or laughed off, by the sort of franchise owners and broadcast executives who seize the chance to dump Napear?

Every media person worth his or her oats has a story. I certainly have mine. I was called a “(bleeping) fag’’ by a baseball manager, Ozzie Guillen, who enjoyed firing foul-mouthed slurs at people on a frequent basis. He was rankled, as I wrote in this space recently, because I’d criticized him for rebuking a young Chicago White Sox pitcher who didn’t hit an opposing batter with a pitch as Guillen had ordered. Because I was covering the NBA Finals and U.S. Open golfing major, he decided I was a “(bleeping) fag’’ because I wasn’t in town to report to the clubhouse and take his abuse, whatever madness that might have entailed. The story raged — Tucker Carlson, Bill O’Reilly, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines’’ — and some wondered nationally if Guillen would be fired.

White Sox Legend Ozzie Guillen Puts Pristine Chicago Pad Up for ...

Not only was Guillen not fired, the slur was pooh-poohed by White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, a supposed champion of diversity. There was a slap on the wrist by baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Reinsdorf’s buddy, which gave Guillen the rope to eventually babble his way out of a job in Chicago and psycho-talk his way out of his next position in Miami, where, as manager of the Marlins, in the heart of Little Havana, he said, “I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that (expletive) is still here.’’ Guillen apologized and blamed drinking splurges that had been part of his life for “25, 28 years’’ — “I go to the hotel bar, get drunk, sleep. I don’t do anything else,’’ he said — yet the Marlins only suspended him for five games despite outrage in South Florida.

And today? Guillen is gainfully employed as a baseball analyst at NBC Sports Chicago, partially owned by Reinsdorf.

If you’re going to fire Napear and run him off the face of the sporting earth, then you have to fire Guillen and run him off the face of the sporting earth. Or don’t fire anyone. That especially goes for the Kings, who have their own ethical issues. Their owner, Vivek Ranadive, had the audacity to charge the state of California — where I am a taxpayer — a monthly fee of $500,000 to utilize their former arena as a field hospital for coronavirus patients. Public backlash forced Ranadive to end the landlord-sharking after two months, but he was allowed to keep the $1 million accrued. So explain how a greedy owner suddenly becomes a hero for canning Napear? It’s better to screw taxpayers out of $1 million? Again, if you’re going to jettison Napear, you have to at least investigate Ranadive on some level. And shouldn’t the NBA also be asking the Los Angeles Lakers, valued at almost $4 billion, why they applied for and received $4.6 million in federal loan aid intended for small businesses, which owner Jeanie Buss might never have returned if the Lakers weren’t caught red-handed?

Oh, that’s not how it works in sports.

Furthermore, Napear didn’t even initiate the social-media thread that led to his ouster. NBA player DeMarcus Cousins, a man with his own legal problems and personal flaws, started the dialogue by tweeting out of the blue, “@GrantNapearshow what’s your take on BLM?’’ Cousins was among many African-American players wary of Napear’s social tones when they played for the Kings, but Napear’s response to the tweet seemed more unenlightened than intentionally hurtful. “Hey!!! How are you? Thought you forgot me,’’ began Napear, actually writing back publicly instead of inviting a private chat via direct messaging. “Haven’t heard from you in years. ALL LIVES MATTER…EVERY SINGLE ONE!!!’’

The floodgates were open. Napear had revealed himself as a racist, or so said the social-media cops, and his critics refused to hear otherwise. Chris Webber, who works for TNT as an analyst after a successful playing career in Sacramento, weighed in: “Demarcus we know and have known who Grant is. The team knows as well. I’ve told them many times. They’ve seen it. They know who he is.’’ Webber followed with two clown emojis.

Wrote Cousins: “Lol as expected.’’

Wrote Matt Barnes: “Would expect nothing less from a closet racists.’’

Kings TV play-by-play announcer Grant Napear resigns after 'all ...

Napear tried to apologize, but he only exacerbated the problem: “If it came across as dumb I apologize. That was not my intent. That’s how I was raised. It has been ingrained in me since I can remember. I’ve been doing more listening than talking the past few days. I believe the past few days will change this country for the better!’’

By now, nothing could help him. Wrote Andre Miller: “All lives matter is the go-to response from racist individuals when they’re asked about #BLM. How could you be so tone-deaf to not know that? Even if it wasn’t your intent to be racist, it was an incredibly dumb thing to say.’’

Tone deaf? Yes. Incredibly dumb? Yes. Suspension-worthy? Yes.

But we’re really going to ruin the man’s career? Napear should have stopped there. Instead, he continued to make matters worse: “100% … trust me I have more black friends than white. I grieve with them that before I leave this earth we can finally walk hand in hand.’’

Again, cringeworthy. But any different than Drew Brees?

After he had time to think, Napear found clarity, telling the Sacramento Bee, “I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea when I said `All Lives Matter’ that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across.” That’s a plausible explanation.

Later, Napear came on stronger to the New York Post: “It makes me feel sick to my stomach because it is absolutely the opposite of who I am. I am 60 years old. I will let the track record of my life and what I’ve done for my community and what I’ve done. … People who know me, of all races, I’ll let them tell the story.

Sacramento Kings' Announcer Resigns After “All Lives Matter” Comment

“I have not once in my 32 years in doing the Sacramento Kings had any individual from either the radio station or the Kings mention anything in any way, shape or form about me and my relations with minorities, with any other group of people. That is an absolute disgrace that that would ever be said. That is an absolute disgrace.”

But hey, let’s fire him anyway. Even though Napear’s former employer, NBC Sports California, carries the same three initials as Brees’ future employer: NBC. It’s worth noting that a major name in sports media, talk host Chris Russo, came out in full defense of Napear, whom he has known since they were kids in suburban New York City.

“I have known Grant personally for 54 years. To say that Grant Napear is a racist is absurd,’’ Russo said. “In my knowledge of him … Grant Napear, trust me when I say this — this is me — is anything but a racist.”

Know what’s interesting here? Russo once said he couldn’t find a black host “worthy of doing a national talk show’’ on his Mad Dog Radio channel. Asked by a caller in 2014 about the racial imbalance, Russo said, “”What would you like us to do? There are not a million candidates. Would you like us to put on a black host for the sake of putting a person … an African-American so we can say we have a black host on? Or do you want to see if we can find a black host who is worthy of doing a national talk show?”

This was, in its way, a Grant Napear moment.

Except Sirius XM did not reprimand Russo, making him the Drew Brees of sports talk radio.

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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