HollywoodLife.com is highlighting the ladies of ESPN – Doris Burke, Rachel Nichols and Cassidy Hubbarth! These three sports-obsessed pioneers exclusively took us inside their world! Get to know the broadcasters, here!
Meet the big three! And, no, we’re not referring to Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook; or Miami’s former B3, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. We’re talking about Doris Burke, Rachel Nichols and Cassidy Hubbarth; the three star broadcasters who are taking the sports world by storm. They’re breaking down barriers, setting records and turning heads as the leading ladies of ESPN. They are the voices of sports for women and girls of all ages, as well as all of the men out there. And, they are the women who are on the sidelines, in-front of the camera, and jet-setting around the country to give YOU a front row seat at all of the action the NBA has to offer. And, we all know it’s been quite the offseason [if there even is one anymore], so it’s evident that Burke, Nichols and Hubbarth have been working hard.
Burke, who was just named the first-ever female to become a full time NBA game analyst, will now be responsible for one sport for the first time in 25 years. “I’m so excited,” she told HollywoodLife.com EXCLUSIVELY. “It’s going to be fun to really immerse myself in one sport and concentrate on one. I can’t wait!” Although Burke has covered numerous sports throughout the years, the NBA has a special place in her heart, especially since she played and coached women’s college basketball at Providence.
Despite her love for the game, she said her entry into the broadcasting industry was a “happy accident.” She further explained, “If you ever saw me as a college basketball player at Providence and how shy I was, and how public speaking terrified me, you’d find the notion that I do what I do for a living laughable.” So, you could have guessed that becoming one of the most decorated female sideline reporters was not planned. “I happened to be very fortunate with timing entering the field,” Burke said. “I fell into coaching in 1992 and they literally decided to put Providence college basketball onto radio. And, that was my start into the field. So, from 1992 forward through 2017, and I kid you not, incremental step by incremental step, breaks and timing, everything just fell into place.”
As Burke travels into this next chapter of her life — as ESPN’s first-ever, full time female NBA game analyst — there are a few things she tries to do every time she steps onto the floor. “First, I sort of lock in on the athletes and the coaches I happen to be covering particular night; respect the game, respect these professionals and try to get the fan as close to the seat I am lucky enough to be occupying. That’s my goal,” she explained. “Second: My employers have given me a job, so I try and do it to the best of my ability; it doesn’t matter what game, on what night, I’m just trying to do the best job with that particular game.”
Nichols is described by her colleagues as a leading lady at ESPN. She hosts The Jump — which airs on ESPN at 3 PM — and the network just expanded it to a year-round show; rightfully so. And, Nichols loves to host The Jump because of the wide variety of topics the show covers. “It’s such a great medium to talk about everything,” she said. “Sometimes it’s cool, goofy and silly, or if it’s important things that are crossing the NBA universe and the consciousness of the country, and we’ve certainly seen a bunch of social issues come up that have crossed through the NBA, we can talk about it on our show — there’s room for everything on The Jump. I love to be part of those conversations, and it’s been fun for me to sometimes be the directions of those conversations.”
Nichols went on to explain how the NBA has expanded into much more than the game of basketball. “It’s culturally relevant in all aspects; pop culture, world issues etc. — The NBA is a really culturally relevant thing,” she proclaimed. “The league has done a great job of letting players be themselves and be their own personalities, and allowing fans to join in on the action that other leagues are still limited with.”
Unlike Burke’s career path, which was epic in itself, Nichols took a different route. She was always on the fast track to becoming a broadcaster, having worked countless internships, while reading The Washington Post every day and studying other female journalists. “This is something I always wanted to do,” she said, adding, “I was really interested in sports from a young age and it seems to be the idea, where you do a job where you watch games for a living and got to write about them. I just couldn’t believe that was a job when I was a kid.”
Nichols then broke down the adversity women in the industry, especially the sports industry, faced years ago. “Later on when I got to college and was looking for internships, I would look around the room at a bunch of guys and people would approach me and imply I didn’t belong because I was a woman,” she said. “But, as a woman, I was already so far down the path of already assuming it was going to be just fine and that this was what I was going to do, that it never really occurred to me that it was exclusive or exclusionary in any way. I think that helped me a lot and I’m very grateful.”
As for the post important thing when it comes to interviewing stars like LeBron James and John Wall? — “I think that listening is the most important thing,” Nichols said, explaining, “If you really listen to the answers people are giving you, you can come up with what the next best question is … You just have to be really prepared for the person you’re interviewing to take everything in an entirely different direction, because they’re the ones driving. You might be the one that comes in with the map, but you’re sitting there in passenger’s seat.”
Last, but certainly not least, we spoke with Cassidy Hubbarth, a sideline reporter for ESPN, who is an emerging star for the network. Adding to her already long list of accomplishments, Hubbarth has also launched the first all-women’s NBA podcast — which is part of ESPN’s “Hoop Collective” series. Her weekly podcast also welcomes Ramona Shelburne and Chiney Ogwumike. With that being said, we asked her to elaborate on her career journey thus far.
“It’s been a journey, but I also have a long way to go,” a humble Hubbarth admitted. “It does feel great to have the support of my colleagues; it makes me feel like I am on the right path. ESPN can be an intimidating place to work and for the early part of my career here I was just trying to figure out who to talk to, who to listen to and find my own voice. I’ve been on the NBA for 5 years now and it still feels like a dream. Since I made the transition to the sidelines, my comfort level is being tested a bit. I have spent the majority of my career in studio, so I still have a lot to learn about being in the field. Last year was my first full year on the sidelines and I was just trying to keep my head above water. This year, I already feel more comfortable and like I have some sort of road map. I am really excited about this season because of how much more I know and how much more I can learn.”
Similar to Nichols, Hubbarth knew she wanted to be in sports broadcasting since she was a little girl. “I first started imagining myself covering sports watching Pam Oliver on the NFL Pregame show on Fox in middle school,” she detailed. “Seeing her sit down with athletes and help tell their stories is the image that I always think about when someone asks when I knew when I wanted to be in this industry. Quite frankly, I don’t remember wanting to explore any other career. In high school, I joined the Radio/TV club and would call the boys basketball and soccer games. I then sought out all the opportunities to work in radio and TV in college and didn’t look back.”
Over the summer, NBA headlines generated more engagement than those of the start of the NFL season. Therefore we asked Hubbarth’s take on just why that may have happened, and why this is a great time to be an NBA fan. And, her response was nothing short of epic. “The haters that say there is no point watching the NBA regular season because we know it’s going to be the Cavs and Warriors in the finals clearly just don’t like the NBA,” she argued, before educating us all on why this is such an exciting time for the league.
“The storylines are constant and there are so many personalities that are entertaining on and off the court. Last season, we saw historic performances on the court because of the undeniable amount of athleticism across the league. Fans are getting to know these players on so many different levels, which makes the interest in the league that much deeper. There is no shortage of entertainment with this league on the court and on social media. In fact, maybe I am bias, but basketball Twitter is such an asset to the league and creates the same buzz that say fantasy football does for the NFL. However, the NBA is every night, where the NFL is just 3 nights.” And, that’s what we call a mic drop.
When we spoke with the three all-star broadcasters, we had to ask if there has been a favorite interview they’ve conducted with a particular NBA player.
Burke — “I would say there’s probably been many, and a couple of the highlights for me involved LeBron James. The first title he won in Miami was significant, obviously for the amount of emotion generated when he left Cleveland the way he did. So, to see somebody fail in their first attempt and climb that mountain again and to get to the place he so badly desired to get to; to have the chance to interview him in the immediate aftermath of that, that was very cool. Now, fast forward, I am watching one of the greatest players of his generation, and really of all time, and to have the chance to interview LeBron after he goes back to Cleveland has been extremely memorable.”
Nichols — “I’ve done so many, but I think the ones that are great are the ones where you get to catch someone in a point of change. I’ve gotten to do a ton of interviews with LeBron over the years, but the best ones have been the ones where he’s made a big change in his life, and he’s made a bunch of them, right? When you catch him in one of those moments, that’s really cool. I did an interview with Richard Sherman, kind of right when he started gaining national popularity and realized how much weight his voice carried, not just on football but on social issues. You just get these little moments with people. Michael Jordan, when he first bought into the Charlotte Hornets, and went from being a player or a front office executive, to being a full time owner, and the difference that makes and the power you have. Even as the greatest player in the world, versus being an owner of a team and how that change felt for him in that moment. He had some surprising things to say.”
Hubbarth — “My favorite moment SO FAR was when I interviewed Russell Westbrook last season after he tied Oscar Robertson for most triple doubles in a season. Russell can be guarded in interviews, but it was really awesome to see just how proud he was of himself in that moment. Plus his teammates joined in on the celebration during the interview, the crowd was chanting MVP and he was engaged in a way I had never experienced before, so it was pretty cool being a part of that moment. It was definitely an experience where it truly hit me that I was living my dream.”
Anyone who is a morsel of an NBA fan, knows that this offseason [if there even is one anymore] was one of the most eventful and headline driven summers the league has seen in a long time. With shocking twists and turns, 7 All-Stars changed teams. Kyrie Irving requested a trade and ended up a Celtic, and in return, Isaiah Thomas headed to Cleveland; Paul George and Carmelo Anthony went to OKC; and the trades went on. So, who better to chat with about the epic offseason than Burke, Nichols and Hubbarth, who all weighed in on the trades. We spoke to each broadcaster separately, but as you will see, all three agreed that the NBA is a 365-day a year sport. [This interview was conducted before Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury.]
Burke — “The NBA has become a 365 day a year sport and I thought that was most evident in the summer, July. It was a noticeable difference to me how many of the sports headlines were being generated by the NBA. You had 7 All-Stars change teams, was it because of big names? I’m not sure. But, during my travels through the offseason, the interest this offseason was at a different level that it’s been in the past. I dispute the notion that the storyline is restricted to, ‘Can anyone beat the Warriors?’ There are so many intriguing storylines. For instance, one of the themes for me this year is closing the gaps. And, I believe in my heart that Boston, because of the acquisition of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, they’ve closed the gap to a certain extent on the Cavaliers. So, I think the race in the east can be as compelling for a number of reasons. Number 1: What is the chemistry of the Cavaliers? They’re coming off three straight finals, but they’ve changed their starting lineup. They will look different to start basketball games. I think Washington is going to have an outstanding year, and I can’t wait to see what they look before it’s all said and done. And, then on the West, you have Houston and Oklahoma City who’ve made real attempts to close the gap on the Golden State Warriors.”
Nichols — “There doesn’t even seem to be an offseason anymore, I’ve never seen anything like it. I feel like I say that over and over. It keeps topping itself. I don’t know what’s going to happen, which is the fun part, but I think that so many teams basically said, ‘You know what the media and fans might say it’s Golden State’s from now on, but we don’t feel that way.’ I think that’s so much fun.”
Hubbarth — “The NBA is a 365 day sport now. Not only did we have one of the craziest offseasons in recent memory, but we also had the highest rated summer league ever. I knew that teams were threatened by the Warriors dominance, but I didn’t think we would see this much movement so fast in response to what they’ve built. I think it’s great for the league to keep pushing its limits to try to keep up. The storylines PRESEASON could entertain for the WHOLE season and we have just started playing the actual games. Just the first week alone we are being captivated by stories that weren’t being focused on preseason such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Suns drama. Then of course, we’re seeing the storylines such as the Cavs lineup changes and Lonzo Ball’s pressure playing out as expected.”
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