When it comes to women in sports, no one is more omnipresent during basketball season than ESPN’s Doris Burke. You can find her on the sidelines calling the the games, interviewing your favorite players or chopping it up in the NBA on ESPN studio with Jalen Rose, Chauncey Billups, or former coach Doug Collins. She’s also not above lending her talents to cover college hoops when the NCAA basketball season is in full swing.
Long story short, she’s a jane of all trades and a master of them all. The former Providence Friars point guard can shut you down with her basketball analysis or cross you over with her sick handles.
And while her star power has certainly soared since she started covering the NBA Finals seven seasons ago, a bit of mystery about her backstory remains for some fans.
Recently, Burke dropped dimes with New York Magazine’s @Rembert about breaking into TV, sexism in sports, comparisons to Hillary Clinton, rapper Drake crushing on her, and of course the league’s most contested debate, LeBron vs. Steph.
Here are 10 things I learned from the interview that you should know too.
1. Choosing between family and career, Burke prioritized becoming a wife. She shared,
I am an accidental television person. I was an assistant basketball coach for two years at Providence and loved every second of it, but wanted to be married and have children and did not think that I could be a coach at the Division 1 level and be a mom…The year I left, they put Providence College women’s basketball on the radio and said, “Hey, you played here and you coached here, why don’t you try it?” And that’s how I got started.
2. Being labeled as a trailblazer in sports makes Burke “super comfortable,” and credits New York Yankees reporter Suzyn Waldman, and women before her, with that honor instead.
I don’t like that word. I wasn’t the first woman to try to make it in the world of sport, right? There were so many that came before me.
3. She admits to Gregg Popovich bringing her to the brink of tears, and speaks on Pop’s double standard towards women reporters.
I was literally on the verge of tears. And my take on that Popovich situation has changed. We all used to give him a pass because he would say to us privately, “Well, I just can’t help myself. I’m in the game, and this is my job.” But I don’t give him a pass anymore. It now frustrates me to the point where I want to say, “I’m not giving you a pass because I’ve seen you when Jeff Van Gundy walks over there, and the interaction is totally different.”
4. It wasn’t until Burke shed the Hillary Clinton-esque pantsuits and softened her overall look did she receive higher-level assignments.
I remember sitting at the University of North Carolina in a press room with my producer, who happened to be a black man, and I am bemoaning my fate, saying, “I should be an analyst on higher-level games, and I don’t know why I’m not.” And he said to me, “Do you want a real answer, or do you want a bullshit answer?” I said, “I want a real answer.” Your Hillary analogy is making me laugh — because I would only wear suits, and, generally speaking, pantsuits, because the man next to me was in suits and I wanted to project an aura of “I know what I’m talking about.” And my hair was in a ponytail, and it was pulled back tight. He said, “Let your hair down. Soften your look. I know it goes against every fiber in your being to be evaluated for anything other than what you are saying as an analyst. But this is a visual medium.” And whether it was a coincidence or not, once I had done that, the level of games I was being assigned changed.
5. Dick Vitale influenced Burke to showcase her playful side, a la showing off her ball handling skills, while working.
Dick Vitale always used to say to me, “Remember, this is an entertainment medium.” People are not tuning in to a game to know how smart you are about basketball; they wanna enjoy it. And it took Dick years of saying that for me to settle in and say, “It’s also okay for me to have a little fun on the air.”
6. Drake is a member of the Doris Burke fan club. Speaking about him attending the Toronto Raptors-Cleveland Cavaliers’ series, she said this about the Views rapper.
I just could not believe this happened. Drake turned around — my seat at game six was right behind him — makes a heart shape [with his hands], and points at me. I’m looking around behind me to see who’s there, turn back to him, and then he points and he does it again.
7. Media mogul Oprah and Ina Garten of the cook show Barefoot Contessa are on her bucket list of non-athletes to interview.
Someone like Oprah. I also am a huge fan of the Barefoot Contessa because I love to cook, and my daughter and I — my daughter is not a sports fan at all — we connected through cooking shows. The Barefoot Contessa was our favorite. And her whiskey-sour recipe is off the chain.
8. Burke thinks today’s generation of NBA fans take LeBron James’s greatness for granted and wants to shake the ish out of them to make them recognize who James is.
Steph to me was the MVP. No discussion about it. But if you were to ask me who I think the best player in the league is, I would tell you that player is LeBron. I would also tell you that we take LeBron’s greatness for granted. I’m watching this dude do what he does and I can’t believe people are taking him for granted! Frankly, I just wanna shake people and go, “Do you recognize we have a once-in-a-generation player?”
9. But she’s “equally uncomfortable” with the “shade” directed at Stephen Curry.
I am equally uncomfortable with the — to use new terminology — shade that seems to be being directed at Steph. I’m sitting there watching those guys play a game that we’ve not seen before in the league. He has literally redefined what is a quality shot.
10. Diana Taurasi of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury is Burke’s all-time favorite player.
I have too many people on that list, but Diana Taurasi, she is amongst my all-time greatest. You know what I admired about Diana? NBA coaches who came to the WNBA, they would get so frustrated because they would diagram a play for a woman, and she’d end up passing it. In the NBA, you’d never have to tell a player, “That’s your shot” — he knows! But Diana, she was as good a passer as I’ve seen, but she didn’t mind being a bitch.
And now you know.
For the full interview, click here.