Doris Burke sits in broadcast row with longtime play-by-play announcer Mike Breen at Madison Square Garden, where she called the New York Liberty games during the 1997 WNBA inaugural season in New York City on Wednesday night. NBA coach Doc Rivers. She will be on call as one of ESPN/ABC’s two lead analysts for NBA coverage of the Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks season opener.
In what she describes as an unexpected career in sports broadcasting, another move is a major one.
How did Burke land on ESPN/ABC’s top broadcast team, which this year includes the NBA Finals, seven ABC Saturday night games and the league’s regular season tournament? Well, it’s been four decades since she was a star point guard at Providence College (she was Doris Sablay back then). But in the recent past, when ESPN management told Jeff Van Gundy at the end of June that he would be released despite time on his contract, the decision came as a shock to Burke, the rest of the NBA and the sports broadcast. the world.
“The news started to spread that he was going to be laid off, and everyone at ESPN was like, ‘Where am I under contract?’ He thinks,” Birk said in a recent interview. I think all of us at ESPN, including myself, are reading the news like everyone else. Are you shocked? I mean, when you look at what Mark (Jackson), Jeff and (Brian) have done, it’s a body of work that’s really unmatched. I don’t think there has been a long-running NBA Finals broadcast team, and there may never be one in American professional sports. That doesn’t happen by accident. Those people are special in what they do. You feel for everyone because we are all human. Whether you’re in front of the camera or behind the scenes like Mark and Jeff, they’re the people we know from our time at ESPN. It’s a very difficult thing. “
In a 2019 interview with The Athletic, Burke said she wanted to call the NBA Finals because of her relationship with Van Gundy and Jackson. Although she did not get a job as a senior analyst, she made it clear that she was satisfied with her career.
I want you to think about this: If I had spent the rest of my career at ESPN as an NBA analyst, ranked third behind Hubie Brown, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy, how lucky would I have been in my career? Burke said at the time. We’re talking about the top three that can make it. Mark, Jeff and Mike have covered the NBA Finals for over a decade with commentary on the best of the best. Hubie Brown is a living legend. All those people have been nothing but kind and supportive to me. I will not explore. If those guys decide to go back to coaching or do something else, ESPN will say, ‘Okay, who do we have in our rotation?’ He says.
Burke’s agent, Matt Kramer of CAA, called his client immediately after the Van Gundy news broke to let him know she was serious about the job. (Jackson parted ways with ESPN a month after Van Gundy.)
“I saw some things on Twitter and other places that said Doc (Rivers) was involved like (Richard Jefferson) and JJ (Reddick) and of course any of those guys could have been emotional doing the job,” Burke said. “They all bring different characteristics and styles to what they do.”
What followed was Burke chatting with Dave Roberts, ESPN’s head of event and studio production and recently elevated to lead basketball at ESPN. Roberts, according to multiple broadcast sources, has been instrumental in pushing for women and people of color to have top-on-air roles at the company. Burke said she believed Roberts was out to hit her, and this was particularly interesting to her because she had little contact with Roberts outside of passing conversations at NBA events. She had her first extended conversation with Roberts.
“I remember him saying the last line, ‘We believe you’ve got this,'” Burke said. “That was a satisfying thing to hear. I started this job in the year In 1990, in an obviously very small way – after I retired from coaching Providence College women’s basketball on the radio. This is the happy accident of my job. I’m passionate about the game of basketball, obviously, but my goal in graduating college was never to become an announcer. This was almost a ridiculous idea.
Burke will be the first to volunteer how much influence Van Gundy has had on her rise in ESPN broadcasting. When the ABC postseason sideline reporting job opened up in 2008 after Michelle Tafoya chose to leave her NBA career to spend more time with her family, Van Gundy was the first person to call Burke. He asked her if she wanted the role. She tells him that she is but wants to continue her work as a color analyst elsewhere.
“Whatever happened behind the scenes, I knew within days of Jeff making the call — not that he had all the authority, but that he called someone to stand up for me,” Burke said, “and I heard back from an ex shortly after.” An ESPN executive named Jed Drake asked me if I would be interested in the job and I said I would. Doug Collins The same thing happened in 2017 when he left to return to the Chicago Bulls. It was probably 10pm, an odd hour when Jeff called me. Are you interested in this position? ‘Of course I will,’ I said. And he said, ‘Well, then you have to phone and tell somebody.’ “Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “I tell you, call me,” he says.
“I will never forget his support for me in this matter. I know for sure I’ve pushed it with some people who probably have some things to say about being an analyst in the NBA. I always owe you.”
On-air chemistry is almost always away from the cameras, whether it’s over dinner or just hanging out. Burke and Rivers have known each other for decades. Rivers said this week that Breen is one of his best friends. Burke and Breen are also very close. Especially for Rivers (who last served as a full-time broadcaster during the 2003-04 season and called the 2004 playoffs for ABC), it will be a matter of figuring out the rhythm of the broadcast. Burke’s test works in two-person booths in three-person booths that have had reps for years.
Doc, Doris and Mike.
What a team 🤩🤩🤩 pic.twitter.com/7MWHRMLtu1
— NBA by ESPN (@ESPNNBA) October 14, 2023
“You have to let the spread breathe,” Burke said. “The first thing I said to Mike Breen when we went into the first break last week was, ‘Are we letting this breathe enough?’ “No,” he said.
“Here’s what I know. I’m going to sit down with Mike Breen, an absolute master of the art of play-by-play. He knows how to get answers from different analysts. We all bring different sensibilities, styles, philosophies, etc.… Doc Rivers is one of the most personable and fun people I’ve ever had the opportunity to sit with in coaching meetings. Nothing Doc Rivers hasn’t seen in his 13 years as a player or more than two decades as a coach. I was incredibly lucky to sit with those two guys, and I’m so grateful for that.
Burke said she’s not interested in spending time on how long this trio of distributions will last, but one reason is that Rivers will be an obvious candidate for NBA coaching jobs if he wants to. Rivers said on an ESPN conference call this week that it’s too early to tell if he’s still without a coach.
“I think let the season continue, and I’ll get to that, but this is my journey right now,” Rivers said. During his tenure as a broadcaster, ESPN made no promises.
“You know how I do my job? Tell me what my next play is and how (I can) better prepare for that,” Burke said. “Listen, Doc Rivers is a Hall of Fame coach, and at the end of the season, if there’s a job opening, that’s one of the first calls people make. It’s up to Doc Rivers. Then Doc has to make a decision on this. I’ve got my hands full preparing for this.
“I’m excited to see Doris come out here,” said her friend and ESPN colleague Holly Rowe. She deserves it. I thought for a long time that she was our best analyst. Her ability to deliver concise analysis with wit, humor and flair is unmatched. I always say to new commentators, ‘Listen to Doris.’ As a female partner in the business, it’s a relief to see her getting what she deserves, regardless of gender. Only excellence is recognized. How wonderful.
The NBA has moved up the 2024 NBA Finals by 1 day – June 6. Even after all her television appearances, Burke knew nerves would be running high that night.
“I’m going to be shocked as hell,” she said. “I’m generally nervous before the game, but I have no doubt that it will definitely increase. One of the things that (ESPN vice president of product Tim Corrigan) told me that I think will help is being an NBA Finals sideline reporter and a radio commentator for the NBA Finals. But the event is huge. When you walk into the building, you have a heightened sense of the amount of production cars, the amount of media surrounding it, how big an event the NBA Finals are. So I fully expect to be nervous for the 1st game.
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On his return to broadcasting, Rivers said: “It’s actually my third time. When I retired (from gaming, in 1996), I worked at TNT for three years. I worked with Vern Lundquist and Kevin Harlan. If you remember young Kevin Harlan, he was a rookie back then. He was young. He used to scream earlier (laughs). That’s what I remember. Then I coached the (Orlando) Magic, then I went to ABC and had the opportunity to work with Al Michaels. If you can work with Vern Lundquist and Al Michaels and Kevin Harlan as a broadcaster, you’ve done a lot of good work. It makes you look so much better.
“Mike Breen has been one of my friends for almost 20 years. We go on vacation together every summer. I have known him for a long time. We went to Ireland this summer. Doris has always been my favorite, favorite person to listen to from afar. I love how serious she is about basketball. he loves It’s her passion. I’m just looking forward to getting back in, but it’s been a long break, I’ll say that.”
Burke, on the NBA’s preseason: “Is it going to happen right away? No, tradition takes time. These people are competitive. Enrollment spots in those 30 teams are expensive and competitive, and you won’t get there unless you’re ready to tear someone’s heart out. So when this thing gets a foothold, the sense of competition, the payoff, all these things become an issue for these people. It has the effect of making one Friday night in November a little more important to the NBA than the rest of this competition. It’s a good thing for us as a broadcast network, but also for the NBA as a business.
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(Photo of Doc Rivers, Doris Burke and Mike Breen: Adam Pantozzi / NBAE via Getty Images)