I’m always interested to find out how big names in the sports media business simply come across as people. Are they full of themselves? Can you feel their ego starting to infiltrate your soul? Are they genuine? Michael Jordan’s former agent, David Falk, recently said that what the public really has difficulty understanding is when a superstar puts on his uniform, he’s working. It’s the same concept for media members. Hearing an animated clip from a sports radio or TV show doesn’t mean those people operate the same way in everyday life.
I enjoyed chatting with Jason La Canfora for a number of reasons. Despite being a heavy hitter who covers the most popular league in America, I didn’t catch one iota of ego from the CBS Sports NFL Insider. He has also remains calm while being less than two months into a brand new sports radio show on 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore during a global pandemic. Being quarantined without face-to-face interaction — especially on a new show — will test the patience of anybody.
La Canfora keeps pushing forward as he always does. It’s interesting to learn how an extensive writing background helps La Canfora’s approach to his Inside Access radio show with Ken Weinman. Not one to shy away from opinions, the upcoming NFL draft is a topic we discuss as well. Future endeavors are unknown for La Canfora at this point, but one opportunity could include some sophisticated neckwear down the road. (I vote yes.) Enjoy!
Brian Noe: What’s your biggest challenge launching a new show in this current environment?
Jason La Canfora: I don’t even know where to start. It’s been tricky. It certainly has been a challenge. It’s been a blessing in a lot of ways to be able to try to give people some outlet for entertainment or escapism, the theater of the absurd a little bit. Also to continue to do smart sports talk and to try to stay on top of the pandemic as it affects the sports world; to try to educate our listeners as well. But this is our sixth week so literally it’s been one thing after the next. By the end of our first week there were going to be no college conference tournaments. Then we found out we wouldn’t be able to do any remote shows. Then also that second week, I think was our last week in studio so it was learning this new equipment while we’re just starting to build chemistry.
I’ve known Ken for a while and Ken’s an absolute pro. He makes my life a lot easier on a lot of levels, but there’s no substitute for being there and having eye contact and being able to play off each other.
We had an incredibly talented producer, Alex Woodward, who was if anything underpaid. After the fourth week he was let go as part of the sweeping changes at Entercom and the restructuring that took place there. As much as the station didn’t want to lose him it was out of their hands.
Tim Barbalace has to produce two shows basically now. He’s been with Vinny Cerrato and Bob Haynie for a while. Now he’s also running the board and helping us. I don’t think there’s much that could have prepared us for it. [Laughs] That’s to say nothing about obviously the business climate and the situation that advertisers and potential sponsors are in with the economy being where it is and with people not able to go to bars and restaurants and all of that stuff.
I kind of wanted to do this all my life and we get the chance. It’s certainly been a little more tricky than we would’ve imagined. It’s not ideal, but I’m not complaining. There are people who’ve got it way worse than us. There’s a lot going on in the world right now and a little sports talk show doesn’t mean a thing. But it has been from a business side, from a content side, from the advertising side and just from sort of the mental health side of what we’re all experiencing on a day-to-day basis and how our emotions fluctuate, it has certainly been unique.
BN: I don’t know exactly how to phrase this perfectly, but in what ways does not having live games help a new show, and in what ways does it hurt a new show in terms of you playing off of your partner?
JL: Thankfully Ken and I have been hoping that this would have happened for years. He and I would be texting each other through games even though we didn’t have a show together. We’d be texting each other during Oriole games. The minor leagues are really where it’s at here because the Orioles are in a deep rebuild. I’d go to a ton of games with my kids. Ken probably went to five or six minor league games with me last year, maybe a few more.
Thankfully we had some of that already built up. Otherwise it really would’ve been much more difficult. But we kind of knew each other’s thoughts on certain things and we already had a bit of chemistry. We knew how we could bust each other’s chops. I think that gave us certainly a leg up. Even so, I’m not going to lie, when we got kicked out of the studio I was not happy. I understood why; it was a corporate decision. I get all of that but it was like, man, it just feels like every time we’re starting to build something it goes away. Not through anything we were doing but just through circumstances. Losing Alex was a huge blow.
I feel like it’s just forced us to hit the ground running, to be really creative. We communicate quite a bit already. Now with Tim, there isn’t quite as much contact with him as we had with Alex because he’s got two shows to produce. We don’t want to throw too much at him, but Ken and I are talking all the time about “Do you think this works?” “What if we try this tomorrow?” “What if we get this guest?” It’s just things like that.
BN: Were you an avid sports radio listener before you had a show?
JL: Yeah, absolutely. First of all just from being in the national media for so long, I feel like I’ve done many shows in the past if you just put together all my phoners. [Laughs] I was already doing hundreds of hours of radio a year anyway and had co-hosted some national and some local stuff on a fill-in basis. It’s something that I was always interested in, something that I always wanted to do more with.
I love the medium. I love how creative you can be. I love how it can be like TV where you’re doing things rapid fire and it’s do less with more, but you can also branch out and end up doing two or three segments in a row on something that wasn’t on the rundown just because you have the time and there’s the trust there between you and your partner and you just feel like it’s good radio. I just think it’s a great medium especially in a time like this.
Everything I’m reading is that listenership is actually up. I don’t know how you monetize it in something like this, but even without people going to work they’re still flipping on podcasts and terrestrial radio, or taking it in off the Radio.com app. It’s such a direct medium.
I like being part of a team. As a beat writer you’re always a lone wolf to a certain extent. It’s three of us in this together every day and I like the camaraderie aspect of it. I really like everything about it.
BN: As someone who’s been interviewed so many times does that give you ideas of what to ask now, or is it more what to avoid when you’ve been asked stupid questions over the years?
JL: Interviewing is such a big part of reporting — knowing how to set someone up and how to go here to eventually go there, how to stagger things, how to defuse certain situations, or create a welcoming vibe. All of that stuff. I’m definitely stealing from people sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously. But yeah, you have a feel for what you think worked and what you think didn’t work.
BN: What do you think is the trick to getting something really good out of an interview?
JL: One thing that I learned a long time ago was interview somebody when they want to be interviewed. I think part of it is in how it’s presented and why you are talking to them. A lot of times it’s knowing something about a subject that maybe isn’t what they’re known for. Doing a little research and finding out that they have a particular shared interest with you. Something that’s not the typical question they’ll be asked and you say, yeah I’m going to talk to you about some of the stuff that everybody talks to you about, but I really also would like to get a couple minutes with you about X, Y, or Z.
BN: What’s the most useful part of your writing background that you apply to sports radio?
JL: I think it applies in a lot of ways. Certainly interviewing people and knowing how to ask questions. Knowing how to get out of your own way at times. Having been around a locker room environment for so long, I have a pretty good feel with athletes in particular; sort of some do’s and don’ts and a lay of the land. You just have a nose for information.
I feel like a lot of the skill sets do dovetail. You’re always looking for stories and what are people interested in or what’s an interesting way to tell a story that I haven’t seen done a million times before. You’re reading a lot. I think there’s no substitute for that. I’ve been reading and consuming sports media all the time as someone who is involved in it. I think it’s also knowing good reporters. Knowing who to talk to. Something breaks, there’s a pretty good chance that I know somebody covering that story or know somebody who could tell me somebody covering that story who’s really good, or who I’ve worked with before. I have a natural list of contacts or resources that I can go to for different things.
Then also in this case, it has nothing to do with reporting, but I’ve lived here virtually my entire life. Except for when I was in Syracuse and in Detroit, one for school and one for a job, I’ve been here. I’ve lived 46 years pretty much all Baltimore sports. I worked locally at The Baltimore Sun. That’s where I was first interning so I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve covered a lot of things. I know a lot of people.
It’s Smalltimore. People call it that for a reason. Everybody knows everybody. When they say what school did you go to they mean high school not college. I think that helps versus being in a parochial market like this and coming from the outside. I think it’s just a lot tougher to have a feel for what people are interested in, to have a feel for the way the city ticks and who the movers and shakers are.
BN: When you go back to the beginning what did you always want to do in the sports media business and how did you initially break in?
JL: It’s something I always was interested in. I love to write. When I was a kid I’d walk down to the corner store to buy a Washington Post and a Washington Times. We subscribed to The Morning Sun and my aunt would subscribe to The Evening Sun. Sometimes I’d walk a couple blocks down to her house and see what was in that paper as well. I just was always a sports junkie.
I knew that I was going to do something in the sports realm. I thought about broadcasting and originally went to Syracuse as a broadcast journalism major and switched over to newspaper journalism. I pretty much knew I was going to switch majors by the end of my freshman year. Then like everybody else tried to get internships, tried to get my foot in the door.
I was really lucky and blessed to have great mentors at The Baltimore Sun. It was such a great sports department — Buster Olney and Ken Rosenthal — sitting in the press box with those guys every night. You couldn’t go to school and replicate that in any classroom or textbook environment. There’s no substitute for that. I did some internships in college and ended up getting a job at the Detroit Free Press covering hockey there probably way before I ever should have. I thankfully knew some people, John Lowe the longtime baseball writer at the Free Press, I had sort of befriended and he helped me get in front of their sports editor Gene Myers. That ended up being huge.
It was just really right place, right time. A lot of good luck, over-blessed with tremendous mentors. I just really couldn’t imagine even as a pretty young child doing something that wasn’t involved in sports whether it was broadcasting, working for a team, being in PR, or ideally being a writer.
BN: Are you on board with the NFL draft beginning on the 23rd?
JL: I’ve gone back and forth about this. I get it. I understand it. We had Troy Vincent from the NFL head of football operations on the show and he was really convincing. We went pretty long with him and by the end of that I was like “look, I understand why they’re doing this.” I applaud the telethon component of this. They’re going to use it in large part as a fundraiser for first responders for research to develop some sort of vaccine or some way to better detect this or to eventually be able to curtail it. That’s a huge part of it, which is awesome.
From a football standpoint I understand the general managers and a lot of people have concerns. There’s a lot going on in their lives and they feel like there’s no reason it couldn’t be moved back. I get that and I also understand the morality issue of “hey, there’s other stuff going on in the world right now. Maybe we don’t need to be picking football players for three days.” But at some point we all hope and pray and think that we’re going to be on the other side of this. I do think for a lot of people it’ll be a little bit of escapism. At least that weekend will feel a little different than some other weekends.
BN: What’s your strongest opinion about the draft heading into it?
JL: I just feel that all of a sudden now I’m supposed to believe Tua is like the third or fourth best quarterback in this draft. That just doesn’t pass the smell test for me. The body of work is what it is. I understand he was injured but the doctors aren’t lying to NFL teams about the condition he’s in. It’s just not how it works. That’s crazy talk.
Would you like to get your hands on him and everything else? Yeah, but there’s nothing Justin Herbert has done that’s increased his stock. It’s not like he’s meeting with owners and blowing them away and they’re coming away changing their draft boards. Nobody has any contact with anybody. Everybody’s going back to the film. If you look at the film there’s not a comparison between these two. I just think some people are protesting a little too much about this precipitous fall that I’m supposed to believe that Tua’s in store for.
BN: When you look toward the future is there anything that you haven’t been able to do yet that you’d like to at some point in your career?
JL: I’m always open the new opportunities. I got a lot on my plate right now between CBS and Entercom. [Laughs] I would be lying if I said I’m actively looking for more gigs.
I think I would like to teach at some point. That’s something I’d like to do. I don’t know about now. It would be impossible now, but down the road if maybe I’m not doing quite as much as I am right now in the media realm and once at least a couple of my kids are in college. I wouldn’t mind being a professor teaching some communications classes. That would be pretty cool.
BN: Would it specifically be communications because of the background you have?
JL: I guess. It could be, I don’t know if it would be broadcasting, I don’t even know. What I love to do more than anything else still is write. If I could go teach a sports writing class somewhere at some point, I think that would be pretty cool.
BN: Do you think you would wear an ascot if you ever teach a class?
JL: No. Not unless it was part of the contract and they paid me handsomely to do so. Not of my own volition, but if there’s a sponsorship involved, I’ll listen. I’ve learned that much in my six weeks of radio.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
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.”
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.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Anatomy of an Analyst: Doris Burke
“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.”
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.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.