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Sorting The NCAA Tournament Broadcast Teams

“Instead of “ranking” them for a field of 10 so to speak, I’m going to categorize them in terms tournament fans will understand.”

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Ready or not, here we go. The field is set and the NCAA Tournament officially begins today. Obviously, this is not your normal “Big Dance”, the games are all being played in and around Indianapolis. There are strict COVID protocols and the biggest fear for some coaches is not their opponent, but the virus. 

As it’s called “The Road to the Final Four” will come our way on the same platforms we’ve finally gotten used to. Catch games on CBS and the Turner Networks, which include TBS, TNT and TruTV. 

Of course, then there are the broadcasters. In a change from previous tournaments, there will be a total of ten crews, rather than the normal eight. Only four of the crews will work past the first two rounds. I’ve decided to look into each of the broadcast teams. Instead of “ranking” them for a field of 10 so to speak, I’m going to categorize them in terms tournament fans will understand. There are some familiar faces and voices and some that are appearing in roles for the first time, including a groundbreaking debut. 

#1 Seeds 

These are the teams that will be moving on past the first round. Tried and true most have become very familiar to tournament watchers and are fan favorites. 

TEAM: Jim Nantz, play-by-play; Bill Raftery, Grant Hill analysts; Tracy Wolfson, sidelines. 

Nantz is the NCAA Tournament for many viewers. This is his 30th year as the lead announcer for the tournament. Nantz has been at the microphone for many of the tournament’s magic moments the past three decades. He is also the ultimate traffic cop, steering a broadcast back onto the road when conversations erupt between Hill and Raftery. This will be the sixth season of this trio working together alongside Wolfson. Raftery is always energetic. Sometimes that level rises to interesting heights. Personally, I love it when Raftery takes the broadcast to break, talking over a highlight package, using phrases and that high pitched “little kiss” voice. Classic. 

Jim Nantz, a class act and on-air minimalist, leads CBS into tonight's  telecast of the NCAA title game - Sports Broadcast Journal

Hill provides some soft-spoken credibility. There’s no way he can or should try to match Raftery’s level, so Hill is himself, in that kind of shy way he delivers his analysis. It works. Wolfson is locked in as a sideline reporter. She covers multiple sports and seems to get excellent information that is truly relevant to the game and broadcast. There’s a reason that this is the lead team, they work well together and it’s a smooth fun broadcast to watch. 

TEAM: Brian Anderson, play-by-play; Jim Jackson, analyst; Allie LaForce, sidelines.

Anderson is already quite the accomplished baseball announcer, serving as the TV voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 2007. It’s starting to feel like “if it’s a big game” Anderson is on the call. His profile has increased quite a bit with the Turner Networks, especially when it comes to the NBA. Anderson is a likeable, knowledgeable broadcaster that has wide appeal thanks to his style. He’ll work with Jackson during the tournament, someone who Anderson is very familiar with. They worked together for the first-time doing games for the Big Ten Network in 2009.  

There is definitely chemistry here. Jackson isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. At the same time, the man has a great sense of humor and it comes through during a telecast. Especially with someone he’s comfortable with sitting next to him. LaForce is climbing the charts at Turner. She was recently the sideline reporter for the NBA All-Star game and did the on-court interview with the MVP. LaForce is a pro. Her questions are right to the point, not filled with fluff like some others. This team is on the rise.

TEAM: Ian Eagle, play-by-play; Jim Spanarkel, analyst; Jamie Erdahl, sidelines.

Eagle has been a mainstay at CBS since joining the network in 1998. He’s been calling both the NCAA Tournament and NFL for the same amount of time. Eagle has been the network’s “B” game announcer for the NFL and seemingly if Nantz were to move on, he would be in line for the call up. Eagle has worked with a number of analysts in the NBA and CBS pairs him with one of them for the tournament, Spanarkel. Up until this year they were partners on the YES Network’s coverage of the Nets. Spanarkel played at Duke and was the 16th overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft by the 76’ers. Unlike a lot of analysts these days, Spanarkel has no catch phrases, doesn’t shout or try to make himself the star. He is known for just talking basketball and teaching fans about the game. I love the understated way he works with his play-by-play announcers to make the game the main focus.

The third member of the team, Erdahl is the versatile sideline reporter. She’s so prepared for games that even a curveball thrown at her during an SEC Football game couldn’t trip her up. Erdahl had to cover for a couple of minutes while the booth’s audio was inoperable. Covering a football game from that angle is tough, it’s tougher to call play-by-play from for sure. 

Jamie Erdahl is a reporter for CBS Sports | Jamie erdahl, Cheer skirts,  Muscle women

TEAM: Kevin Harlan, play-by-play; Dan Bonner, analyst; Dana Jacobson, sidelines.

There’s really nothing Harlan can’t call. His unbridled enthusiasm, his humor and passion for play-by-play always come through. Harlan is just a likeable guy behind the mic, he’ll crack a joke here and there, but never at the expense of the action. He always seems to be having a great time bringing you the game. He is accurate and descriptive with that authoritative voice. That combination makes Harlan an easy listen. Harlan will be paired with Bonner, the former Virginia player, who will be working his 35th NCAA Tournament. Bonner has worked with Harlan and Gus Johnson the most in his tournament career, meaning two high energy, live for the moment and make it count guys. Bonner rises to the occasion every time. He’s had some famous calls along the way and doesn’t ever seem intimidated by the guys that are working along side him. Bonner matches the passion with his play-by-play guy and you can tell how much he enjoys the tournament and the game of basketball. The guys at the table will be joined by Jacobson on the sidelines. She’s a familiar face on the broadcasts and one that never shies away from asking a tough question, to anyone. Jacobson is a pro, always composed even when a coach may shoot a glare at her for asking something he didn’t want to answer. She spent about a decade at ESPN before she joined CBS, so she is certainly seasoned. 

Conference Tournament Champions 

These crews gained the “automatic” bid to the tournament. Some of the old guard is represented as is some of the “newer” talent that’s on the cusp of breaking through to a top seed in the tournament.

TEAM: Andrew Catalon, play-by-play; Steve Lappas, analyst; AJ Ross, sidelines. 

Catalon has been around CBS for just over a decade, popping up on NFL coverage, Golf and of course the NCAA Tournament. Catalon has become a fixture during the tournament calling games with Lappas. He has a very excitable delivery; the engine always seems revved and ready to go. It’s an intense style, but it doesn’t go over the top and matches the intensity of a lot of the college basketball games he’s calling.

The former Villanova coach Lappas is a great compliment to Catalon. Lappas is always high energy, bringing that “coach” perspective to the broadcast. If you watch coaches on the sideline you’ll know that perspective as “always into the game”. That’s Lappas and what makes him a good partner for Catalon. This team is becoming more popular with the fans as the tournaments go on. They’ll be joined on the sideline by Ross. She is a relative newcomer having joined CBS and CBS Sports Network in 2018. Ross has risen quickly, working the sidelines for NFL and NCAA Football/Basketball for the network. She has a confidence about her, along with a smooth delivery a great combination to have. Ross looks very comfortable on camera and seems like a perfect person to join this broadcast team. 

TEAM: Spero Dedes, play-by-play; Brendan Haywood, analyst; Lauren Shehadi, sidelines.

Dedes has had a ton of success at a relatively young age. He’s already been the radio voice of the Lakers and the New York Knicks. Dedes joined CBS in time for the 2010 NCAA Tournament and has been on the call ever since. Dedes also handles NFL games for the network. His voice is unique, but still cuts through and resonates with the viewer. It’s more of a relaxed style than some of the others mentioned in this column, but that is not a bad thing. You want a variety of voices when viewing a long tournament like this. Dedes is knowledgeable and works well with whomever he’s paired with.

Speaking of which, it’s Haywood that will be working alongside. Haywood, the 7-footer, is full of personality. What you see is what you get from him as a broadcaster as well. He has great information, mixed with some sarcasm and laughter. Haywood brings it home like a fan. The third member of this team is Shehadi. The veteran of MLB Network was scheduled to make her first appearance on an NCAA Tournament broadcast last year, but of course it was cancelled. Shehadi has energy and a personality to go along with it. She’s covered the dugouts during the baseball playoffs, so this should be old hat for her. Shehadi is always smiling, seems like she really enjoys what she’s doing. 

Brendan Haywood on UNC's Coaching, NCAA Chances

TEAM: Brad Nessler, play-by-play; Steve Lavin, analyst; Evan Washburn, sidelines. 

Nessler is the ultimate pro when it comes to play-by-play. Not flashy, not over the top, just solid. Whether he’s doing CBS’ coverage of the SEC in football or here on a big stage with the NCAA Tournament. Smooth and always under control is Nessler. You always know you’re getting a good broadcast when he is on the call. Lavin has plenty of experience as an analyst, with time at ESPN, Fox, The Pac-12 Network and during the tournament for CBS. Lavin always seems prepared and has a good way of conveying complicated things in an easy-to-understand manner. He dips into his coaching experience to make points that he either had success with as a coach or failed at. He’s a plus on a telecast.

Washburn completes this broadcast. The rising sideline star at CBS has worked with the number one football broadcast on NFL Sundays. He also got a chance to work the Super Bowl. Washburn is a former Lacrosse player at Delaware and he really understands the athlete and his/her mindset. The information he gives out is well prepared and interesting. You can tell he does his homework. 

Primed for the upset 

You know what they say when you fill out a bracket. There are certain 12’s that deserve a better seed and play like it. Especially in those 12/5 matchups where in this list, there are three locks to move on in the tourney and get by a #5.

TEAM: Carter Blackburn, play-by-play; Debbie Antonelli, analyst.

Blackburn got his first taste of the NCAA Tournament in 2008, calling action in the West Region at the age of 31. He’s gotten a lot of work through the CBS Sports Network as well. He provides a little youthful exuberance on the mic. Blackburn has some catchy calls, but without getting too far into the weeds where he loses some in the audience. Definitely a guy the network thinks highly of and could be rising as these tournaments roll on.

Antonelli teams up with Blackburn again this season. The two have done some solid work together. Antonelli is well seasoned, having been with CBS Sports Network since its inception in 2003. In 2017 she was named a game analyst for the Men’s NCAA Tournament, making her the first female analyst to call men’s tournament games in 21 years. Antonelli has a ton of experience in the game, she’s worked as a TV analyst for the ACC, Big 12 and SEC. She also was a three-year starter for NC State’s basketball team.  

TEAM: Lisa Byington, play-by-play; Steve Smith, analyst.

Byington is making history. She becomes the first woman to call a men’s NCAA Tournament. Forget about all of that for a moment and understand just how talented Byington is. She has worked for the Big Ten Network, Fox Sports, FS1, Pac-12 Network, ESPN and the SEC Network. Experience for sure. She also filled in last season on Chicago Bulls broadcasts on NBC Sports Chicago. Byington also handles play-by-play for the Chicago Sky of the WNBA. She’s already broken barriers by becoming the first woman to call a football game on BTN. She has the credentials, the talent and she deserves this shot and I have every reason to believe she’ll be great. Not just this year, but for many more years to come. Byington will be working with a familiar face. She and Smith have known each other since she was a reporter in Lansing, Michigan. Byington also was part of the broadcast team, as the sideline reporter, when Smith was the analyst for Dedes from 2017-2019. 

TEAM: Tom McCarthy, play-by-play; Avery Johnson, analyst.

McCarthy is one of the new voices this season on the NCAA Tournament broadcasts, but he’s no newcomer. McCarthy’s resume is impressive on both radio and television. He’s broadcast Mets baseball and now Phillies baseball on television. McCarthy is part of the CBS Network rotation for NFL games, handling those since 2014. He also works for Westwood One Sports providing radio coverage of national NFL games. McCarthy is a talented broadcaster, there’s no phony flash or crazy over the top calls. He is solid, as solid as they come. It’s great to see that he’s getting this chance to show what he can do for a couple of big games in this year’s tournament. Johnson is also a newcomer to the scene as far as the tournament goes. He gets a bit of a head start, doing yesterday’s First Four games with the Nessler/Lavin/Washburn team. Johnson has previous television experience, working as an analyst on ESPN’s coverage of the NBA from 2008-10 and again from 2013-15. He’s coached two NBA teams, the Mavericks and Nets and most recently was the coach at Alabama. I’m interested to see how these two will work together. Johnson is full of personality and also provides great information. 

Breaking: Avery Johnson agreed to $5.5 million buyout with Alabama

This will certainly be a unique tournament. One like we’ve never seen before. All the games are being played in one geographical location and with safety protocols in place, the job of the announce team gets ultimately more difficult. I have no doubt that these fine pros will make it sound like they always do. Best of voice to you all and I can’t wait for the ball to be tipped.

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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