Interview With Stephanie Ready Of Turner Sports And NBA TV
The following is our recent interview with Stephanie Ready of Turner Sports and NBA TV, the ninth in Basketball Intelligence's series of conversations with the best NBA broadcasters.
RAY LeBOV: How did you get into sports?
STEPHANIE: It has always been a part of my life. For as long as I can remember, sports have always been around in some way.
When I was growing up, we lived in an apartment and we had a television in the living room. I vividly remember dreading Sundays because I knew that meant I could not watch anything on TV that I wanted to watch because there was going to be football on the entire day and it was not option in our house.
The rule was you either watch the game or you go outside and play or you go and read a book. But there was no negotiating of what was going to be on the television if there was a major sporting event on.
And not just football Sundays. For example, PGA golf, even before Tiger made it popular. Boxing on Friday or Saturday night or whatever was on. Basketball was our family's favorite sport because that was a sport we all played. That was the way I was raised.
I do not really remember when I started playing. It was just always there, but I do remember the first team I was on. I went to a small private elementary school and we did not have a school team. I had not been introduced to AAU basketball yet, and so we ended up having a kind of rec league team that one of the teachers at our school coached.
When I was in fifth grade was the first year I played and we were horrible. It was a totally different game than it is today and I hate to make myself sound like an old woman, but today you go to a public park and you are going to see just as many girls as you do boys playing.
When I was coming up, for a long time I would be the only girl at the playground who was playing basketball. The girls were not as advanced in their skill set as they are now at an early age and I remember being very frustrated with the games when they were over. I was not angry at anybody for what they did but mostly upset at myself.
If we lost, I took it very personally.
I remember coming home after a game and crying my eyes out in the backseat of the car because we lost again. I just could not handle it and my dad got so upset.
He said, "Listen, if you cannot take the heat, get out of the kitchen. You are not going to win every single game. It is not going to always go the way you want it to go. Yes, you play to win, obviously, we all play to win, you want to win. But really you are playing because you love the game."
It was a really early lesson that stuck with me my entire life even beyond basketball. You do things the right way all the time because you have a passion for them not because you are expecting anything to be reciprocated. And in that instance, as a fifth-grader, the reciprocation that I was hoping for was a win.
I went to National Cathedral School, which is a private girls school in DC. They were a powerhouse in lacrosse and tennis, the affluent sports that you play at the country club. Basketball was not what they were known for. In fact, before my graduating class, I think they had one girl go on to play college basketball. (A couple of years ahead of me, there were a couple of girls that did end up going on to play but I count them as part of my generation because we all played together.) My graduating senior class had three girls including me go on to play Division I basketball, which was unheard of coming out of National Cathedral School.
We ended up having an undefeated season until the championship game. We were ranked second by The Washington Post, which was a huge deal because it encompassed all the schools, public and private, in the DC, Maryland and Northern Virginia area.
We broke all sorts of records and, that last game, we literally lost at the buzzer. Their point guard made a Hail Mary from beyond half court. You can tell it still bothers me all these years later.
I remember it like it was a movie. It was like slow motion. I am watching the ball in the air and the buzzer sounds right before it drops through the net and you could have knocked me over with a feather. It was so disappointing that we did not go to school the next day. We all spent the night at one girl's house, and her mom called the school and listed six girls who would be missing school that day.
We were just devastated. And they totally understood. We had worked so hard. I do not think it would have been as devastating if we did not fully expect that we were going to win.
That was another life lesson that basketball taught me.
I went on to play in college even though I was not heavily recruited. I was the third-best player on that high school team, and I ended up walking on at Coppin State. They started recruiting me lightly, kind of medium level, and then they had fallen off because they ended up signing someone who played my position.
I ended up going to Coppin State because they offered me an academic scholarship. I felt obligated to alleviate some of the financial pressure on my parents because they had been paying for private school from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
I made the team and wound up starting the first game, my freshman year, which happened to be at George Washington University, which is huge because it was like a home game going back to DC. I had lots of friends and family there, and after the game my college coach pulled me aside in the lobby and offered me a full scholarship. You will never know the joy that I felt.
That game helped cement it for my coach because she realized that she was going to actually use me. That was very rewarding, and it is like so many little things that happen in life: At the time, you do not realize how significant they will be.
When I look back at how I got started with my career, it all goes back to Coppin State because Fang Mitchell, who was the head men's basketball coach during my time as a player, ended up becoming the athletic director as well. During my time as a student, I played basketball for four years and started all four.
I also ended up playing volleyball for two years because that team was woefully understaffed, and they needed help. I played volleyball in high school and it was fun for me. I also was a good student, making the Dean's List every semester. I participated in a lot of extracurricular activities. I was a freshman mentor. I was a peer counselor. I was vice president of the Psychology Club. I was vice president and founding member of Psi Chi, which was the National Honor Society for Psychology because we did not have one on campus. So I was doing lots of things and all of that helped formulate an image of me, a perception of the type of person that I was, which then turned around to get into coaching because Fang observed all of that as the athletic director.
RAY: It sounds like you were kind of a late developer into the level of player that you became after having been lightly recruited. What accounted for that? Was it the coaching at the college level or some other factor that turned you from an average player to a more prominent one?
STEPHANIE: I think it was because I was playing at a small college. The MEAC conference is not the same as the Big Ten or the ACC. I was a really hard worker and I was a student of the game. I was very disciplined and coachable.
Because I was never the best on my team, I had to be able to do a lot of different things. I had to be a utility player, serviceable in lots of ways so that I could make sure that I got time on the court. Because I was slightly above average in several of those categories, it got me minutes. I was dependable and reliable and a smart player. It was rare that I would make a mistake. I think that that carried a lot of weight.
In the MEAC, we would always play doubleheaders against conference teams. The women would play at five-thirty and the men would play at seven-thirty. If we had a road game, we would travel together. You got to be pretty close with the men's team and you got to know their coaching staff as well.
When I graduated, I went back home to live with my parents and did the typical thing of trying to find a job. I ended up working at a temporary service in the office to train the temps. It was not a career path move, but it was a job.
I got a phone call totally out of the blue from Fang Mitchell asking what I was doing, seemingly just small talk. But then he asked if I wanted to get into coaching. I said that I did not know. I was thinking that since he was the Athletic Director, he was gauging my interest in helping out on the women's team's staff.
About halfway through the conversation I realized he was talking about joining his staff.
So then I had to put the brakes on and say wait a minute... I said that I misunderstood this whole thing. Then he made it clear that he was offering me a position on his staff with the men's team.
That just totally blew my mind because that was not even on my radar. I was not even looking to get into coaching, much less on the men's side. So we had talks about what my duties would be and what that would look like, and I joined his staff and it was an amazing experience.
It just kept leading to the next thin. He believed in me because he saw how hard I worked as a student and that I was responsible, reliable and dependable. He felt like he could trust me to join his staff and that I would continue to show the same character traits.
It did not take me long to get promoted, and I started recruiting on the road full time. I was the only woman in NCAA men's basketball on the road recruiting. In fact, at that particular time, I was the only woman assistant coach in all of Division I men’s basketball. (Bernadette Mattox was prior to me. Rick Pitino hired her on the Kentucky staff, but she had already moved on and by this time and was coaching the women's team.)
That was an experience that I couldn't have scripted. I had no idea what was going to happen. There had been no precedent for it because even when Bernadette was on Rick's staff, she was not on the road recruiting full-time. We were creating this as we went along and there was a lot of attention brought to it, including some negativity from other coaches.
But that experience led to me getting a D-League coaching position. When the NBA was looking for coaches for the D-League, the basketball operations director at that time, Karl Hicks, had a relationship with Fang Mitchell from when he was a coach.
Fang had a reputation for being very abrasive. He does not sugarcoat anything, and people thought that if I could work under him then this must be legitimate and not a publicity stunt. They thought: “She is obviously a legitimate coach because she is working with Fang Mitchell.”
Because of Fang, they said, "Okay, well, let us take a look at this woman."
I was not looking to move on. They called totally out of the blue, and again I misconstrued the conversation. I thought they were calling because we had a senior at the time who was considered a pro prospect and he was going to some of the camps where they looked at you.
I thought they were calling asking for a video of him. But, no, they were calling about me, asking me to send my resume to the NBA office! It happened so quickly, just like that, and I tell people all the time that you always have to be prepared for what might come your way in life because you never know.
I had updated my resume just that week. So when they called and asked for my resume, they had it within minutes and the rest is history.
We won the championship that first year when I was with Coach Barnes. Then I went on to coach with the Mystics in the WNBA for one summer, and then from there, I went on to the television side so it has been a long and winding road for me.
RAY: How did you transition into broadcasting?
STEPHANIE I was in Greenville, South Carolina with the D-League for two seasons. The first year we won the championship and Coach Barnes left to go coach with the Harlem Globetrotters. He and I are still great friends and I have never forgiven him for that.
I still give him a hard time! I told him that we were going to repeat as champions until he abandoned me. That second year we did not do great and, after that, the team folded.
It was not the way it is now. We were kind of out there in the Southeast on an island by ourselves. When the team folded, it was too late in the summer to move on to another coaching position because of where things stood in the college cycle.
By then, all the positions were filled because summer is a huge recruiting period. You do not want to be trying to put your staff together while you are trying to recruit players. And it was too late for me to try and navigate going from the D-League to the NBA because they were finished with summer league and were moving on to starting camp soon.
I was kind of in limbo, not knowing what I was going to do.
So I started thinking about ways I could stay close to the game and television came up. Over the years, I had developed a couple of friendships on the media side, and they were transitioning themselves into TV or were already into TV. So they gave me a couple of names and numbers, people to contact and reach out to.
In the beginning, it was hard. I did not get a lot of opportunities because I did not have any experience. They want to look at your reel. Well, I didn't have a reel because I had never done it before.
I ended up volunteering at a local Fox affiliate in Greenville with their number two sports guy. Basically, it was free labor.
"Sure, I will help you carry your camera to the high school football game in the rain. Sure, I will help you with this."
I was doing that sort of thing because I had to get my foot in the door and get experience. I had thought that my dream job was going to be anchoring Sports Center, doing all types of sports every night. I found out that I didn't really have as much passion for high school football or ice hockey or rugby or any other sports beside basketball.
I am a sports fan, but I could not imagine that that would be my life every day. That made me refocus my efforts, and I started picking up little things. I did some women's basketball games on the radio for the local college team. I ended up doing some NBA TV work. This was back when they were still in Secaucus, New Jersey and they had one studio. They would send cameras out to a game to get footage for stories. I would do a couple of stand-ups for them.
RAY: How did that lead to the work that you did for the Bobcats?
STEPHANIE: When I was still coaching, the G-League had some games on ESPN, and we would talk to the television commentators before or after the game. One of them was Ed Tapscott who had a relationship with Fang Mitchell from his coaching days.
We became friends because our paths crossed while he was covering the league. He was always willing to have conversations with me and advise me. Then he became the team president of the Charlotte Bobcats.
By the time he got that position during the summer of 2004, leading up to the season, I had done some women's college basketball games for ESPN. So I was starting to cut my teeth on the TV side.
By that time, television was at the front of my brain and he asked me to send a tape and my resume to their broadcasting department. I got called in for an interview, and I actually got hired when I was still coaching the Mystics.
It was before the Olympic break, back when the WNBA would pause the season for the Olympics, and I told them that I was still coaching. The VP of broadcasting asked, "when is your season over?"
I told him about the Olympic break and then potentially the playoffs because we were good that year. He was like, "Okay, I will put it to you this way. You can finish the season out, but the next day you need to be in Charlotte."
So we went to the playoffs and got eliminated after the first round, which probably was a blessing for me because it got me to my next market in enough time to get adjusted.
I was a sideline reporter for the Bobcats during their expansion year and also started doing some hosting. They had a network called C-SET that Bob Johnson started. It did not do well, but I stayed on with the Hornets doing hosting, sideline reporting and as an analyst filling in from time to time on radio and TV.
There were even times where I was doing both jobs: I would be the radio analyst and the sideline reporter for TV in the same game.
That was fun, and I eventually ended up being promoted to full-time analyst and we had a three-person booth with Eric Collins and Dell Curry. We did that for two seasons, and then I got demoted back to sideline reporter/host even though Fox says it was not a demotion.
I still have a little sore spot about this. I loved being an analyst. That is actually why I got into television in the first place. I was using sideline reporting to get in as a way to eventually get to the chair because I am a coach. That is what I do. I loved it when I was an analyst.
RAY: What do you think motivated them to make that change since you were so successful at what you were doing? One thing I noticed at that time, which reminds me of what Jim Barnett also experienced when the network first tried to move him from TV to radio: The pushback from the fans who had such great respect and love for each of you was overwhelming. So many of them said, "Do not do this."
STEPHANIE: It was weird. I still cannot put my finger on it because I was very successful and I am not saying that to be arrogant.
RAY: I have watched League Pass from day one and you have always been among my favorite analysts.
STEPHANIE: Thank you so much for saying that.
It was a trying time for me professionally because I did not understand it. I loved doing it for those two years, and it felt good doing it. It was very well received, not just by the locals but by people with League Pass as well, which made me feel really good because that is why we do it.
We are trying to forge relationships with the viewers and to help educate them so that they understood the game better. So I do not know why FOX did it. They made a point to say it was not a demotion. They were very specific in telling me and anyone else that I did a really good job.
RAY: "She is so good that she is being demoted."
STEPHANIE: I do not get it.
RAY: It does not make any sense. Sometimes people have talked about the three-person booth maybe being crowded, but in this instance that was not the case. You got along really well and you had good chemistry and you complemented each other.
STEPHANIE: That is what I thought too. But it did end up getting me to the position I am in now. Because if I was happy, I would not have left.
RAY: Let's talk about the work you did for Charlotte. One of the things that impressed me was your level of preparation. As you probably know from reading some of the other interviews in this series preparation is a central concern of mine. Some analysts, particularly some on the national networks, are so unprepared.
They just say stuff off the top of their head that does not really have any significance or relevance. I want to ask them, "Did it ever occur to you to do some homework?" I am embarrassed for them.
On the other hand, not only are you thoughtful and have encyclopedic knowledge of the game, but you are always so well prepared.
STEPHANIE: Thank you for the compliment. That is something I do take very seriously. If you do not prepare, you are doing not just yourself, but the game, a disservice. It is disrespectful to the game of basketball to show up unprepared.
When I became a full-time analyst, my preparation changed slightly because we had a three-person booth and because I had forged a good friendship with Dell and Eric. I knew them well enough to know how they were preparing for the game.
So I would try to present information that they probably would not. Thus, it was not a traditional analyst prep.
Before then, I would always prepare by reading all the articles, of course. You always want to make sure you are up on who is available, if there are any injuries and what the status of those injuries are.
If it is a unique injury, then as an analyst and as a sideline reporter I want to understand the actual injury. If you can understand the injury and not just regurgitate the name, you can give a much more insightful report for that player's situation. It is explaining what type of injury it is, what is the likelihood that he will be out this amount of time based on previous players who have had similar injuries, what are the long-term effects of that injury. Also, how does recovery work with that injury? Because an ankle is different from a knee, which is different from an Achilles.
So I would spend a lot of time talking to the training and medical staff about those sorts of things.That is partly because of my personality: I enjoy details. I like to dig down into things. I feel like it makes you a better teacher because if you can understand it enough to explain it to someone else it is going to make your analysis that much better.
There are a few things I always do to prepare for a game. I read the latest about what the teams and players have been doing. I find out who is available. I look at what the trends have been, especially for the opponents. I want to look at the games they have just played and see if there are any trends or potential trends developing.That is where my coaching background helped me out a lot because I watched a lot of film of our opponents.
I wanted to see at least the two games they played right before they played the Hornets because, in an 82-game NBA schedule, there are a lot of ups and downs. Especially when you have younger players.
The last time we played this team may have been in November, and now it is March. So that rookie is probably not looking anything like he did back then. I need to look at his most recent body of work so that I can fully gauge his progress, and that is true for everyone on the team.
Who is trending up, who is trending down? Does somebody have a hot streak going from behind the arc right now? Is there a story that is happening in their personal life with some sort of correlation to how he is playing on the court?
I brought all of that into my preparation. I tweaked that a little once I got to know Eric and Dell a little better. Then I would dive more into the details of whatever the current events were.
For example, if there was a player from North Carolina who was coming to play the Hornets in Charlotte, I knew already that Eric was going to have that covered. He is going to know everything about the players at that level. He is from Charlotte and is going to know that he went to this high school and that he played AAU basketball with this particular team as well as who his teammates were.
So what can I add to that story? How can I further that story? I would find some sort of interesting detail.
RAY: You mentioned your role as a teacher to the viewer. How much of a challenge is it to present a happy medium because you have ultra-sophisticated viewers as well as casual fans who are watching?
STEPHANIE: That is a great question, and I will admit I struggled with that. In the beginning, before I got into the three-person booth full-time, but when I would just be filling in from time to time, I struggled with that because I did have so much institutional knowledge.
My husband was excellent in this department for me because he is what you would call a casual NBA fan. He is just a general sports fan. The only reason why he knows as much as he knows about the NBA now is because he is married to me.
He is the type of fan that I would envision myself talking to, and he is the one that brought that out in me. Perry would always say, "Babe, it is like you are speaking German or Japanese.”
He would just pick a random foreign language because that was his code for telling me that what I just said went right over his head. So he helped me figure out where that line is.
Sometimes you do have to say something in technical vernacular, and it is okay then to double back and explain it. In those cases, the people who do know what you are talking about do not feel like you are dumbing it down.
It is much like the educational system. My kids' teachers always say, "We strive to meet the children where they are and advance them.”
That’s because in one class of fourth-graders, everybody is not at the same level of reading. You have got to reach that kid where they are and continue to advance each one, and that is how I look at the viewers. I am trying to reach them where they are and help them further along their knowledge of basketball.
RAY: One of the other things about your work that has also impressed me is that it is always about the viewer, not about you, unlike with some broadcasters who feel like they are the show.
STEPHANIE: I know exactly what you are talking about. It is not a fun game to watch, and it is off-putting. For people who know the game, that is when you get the eye-rolling and the sighing.
And for the people who do not know the game, you are not helping them understand it any better. You have not taught them a single thing. So, why would they turn the game back on the next time you are involved? You are trying to win over people who are flipping channels and have an ancillary interest in this game.
Maybe the only reason they are watching right now is because someone in their household, or someone they know has an interest. Or there is a particular storyline that is happening that night that they heard about somewhere else and so they are tuning in for that. Your job is to have them come back the next time as well.
RAY: I am interested in ups and downs. The Hornets made the playoffs but they also won only seven games in a shortened season (as the Bobcats). How did you deal with those highs and lows? Did it affect the way you called games and the way you broadcasted?
STEPHANIE: Absolutely. When there is lackluster basketball being played, our job as television broadcasters is the same as if there is elite basketball being played.
You are trying to educate the fans; you are trying to have them want more; you are trying to forge some sort of rapport or relationship with them. You are trying to help the people at home watching get to know the players better. So all of those boxes still need to be checked whether it is the worst game of the year or the NBA Finals.
The difference is when the game is not very good, you have to find ways to do all of that outside of the actual game. That is when it gets tricky, and you do not want to be disrespectful because you do not want to come off as a homer who is just cheering for your team no matter how bad they look.
But at the same time you cannot kill these guys because not only have you developed a respectful relationship with them, but also their families are watching. That is one thing I always remind myself about. I have to broadcast this game as if their mother, their wife, their daughter is sitting right next to me. And if I am not going to say that sentence in that context, then I will not utter it on the air.
RAY: And sometimes severe criticism can be gratuitous in the sense that the players did not make the trades, draft choices or free agent signings that led to the team being terrible. And, of course, in most instances they are doing the best that they can.
STEPHANIE: Exactly. And it also is part of our job to illustrate the effort and the hard work. Even though the viewers did not see it, the players were in practice yesterday for three hours. You also tell a lot more stories about the process because the game is not beautiful.
RAY: How have your playing and coaching careers informed your broadcasting, especially how you analyze a game?
STEPHANIE: Both playing and coaching are great influences.
I was never a star, so I understood what it was like to be that utility player or to be that role player who had a very specific, narrow job that they better do or else they are not going to be considered successful. I have great empathy because not every player can be Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan.
But just because they are not starting or averaging 20 and 10 does not mean that they are not talented athletes.
My coaching experience is where I got my most profound insight as an analyst because, when you are coaching, part of the preparation for the game is looking at specific match-ups. You are looking at trends, and you are looking at not just how you match up with this team height- and weight-wise, but also, for example, knowing that when your team has the advantage at shooting guard, the plays that you think you are going to run that night are going to be geared towards that advantage.
And the same thing goes with substitutions. When you have an advantage at a position and the other team makes a substitution, now you are thinking, "How can I gain that advantage back? Where can I have the advantage on the court on my end?”
That helped me so much as an analyst because I could project and predict things that were going to happen based on all the film that I have watched and what I would do if I were coaching.
RAY: Some of the previous interviewees in this series have said that they use that type of insight to talk to the director or the producer before the game to say that it is likely that a particular thing is going to develop so that they can be ready for a particular angle or shot.
STEPHANIE: Absolutely, yes. The TalkBack button is your best friend when you are in the analyst chair because you can talk directly to the truck without them hearing you over the air. And, absolutely I would tell them things like that.
If I could see that a sub was coming in or going out I would say, "Hey, we are probably going to sub in so-and-so" so that way the director could get a shot of the bench and that person coming in and be ready for the story.
Before the game, I would give the producer and director a list of ISOs that I wanted to watch during the game. Going back to the first season the Bobcats existed, they drafted Emeka Okafor after Dwight Howard was drafted first. There was a season-long battle for rookie of the year honors.
Before the games where they faced off I would say, "Hey, we need to watch Emeka and Dwight particularly when Dwight's on the left block" to cite a specific instance. I alerted our video guys to know what to look for so that they could clip off three to five of those possessions and put them together. Then they would tell me "hey, Stephanie, we got your Iso package ready, whenever you are ready."
RAY: That degree of cooperation and preparation really enhances the viewers' experience.
STEPHANIE: I am glad you said degree of cooperation because not everyone has that and it takes mutual respect for that to happen.
RAY: Can you pick an All-Star team of Bobcats/Hornets players and then also an all-opponent team? Maybe we will create a virtual game between them.
STEPHANIE: Just for the time that I was working, not previous?
RAY: Yes, just like Bob Rathbun didn't get to choose Pettit or Dominique for his all-Hawks team.
STEPHANIE: I'll start with Emeka Okafor who was the first pick ever for the franchise. He also ended up being Rookie of the Year. Kemba Walker is the most decorated Hornet ever in terms of All-Star games and all-NBA recognition.
During the time that I was there, Gerald Wallace was the only other person to make an All-Star game for the Hornets so he would have to be on that list and he was one of my favorites too.
RAY: He was one that got away from the Kings here in Sacramento.
STEPHANIE: Yes. He was something. He had an engine that did not quit.
STEPHANIE: Yes. Have you heard that story about the "no diving" sign? As you mentioned, they called him "Crash" because he was constantly diving for all the loose balls. Well, he had concussions because of all of his... I do not want to say “recklessness", because he was doing it with purpose.
His teammates were concerned that he was going to seriously injure himself, and so he came into the locker room one time before practice and somebody had taken a "no diving" sign from a pool and put it in his locker. It was great.
So Gerald Wallace is definitely on my list and so is Stephen Jackson. He was also one of my all-time favorites. He did not make an All-Star game and he did not help us win championships, but he brought a lot of swagger to that locker room that they did not have before.
I've got to go with “Big Al” Jefferson. He did not make an All-Star team, but he did make an All-NBA team, which is even higher rarefied air
RAY: Who are they going to be playing against on your all-opponent team.?
STEPHANIE: I am not doing this by position, but the first one is Kobe Bryant.
Kobe had some doozies against the Bobcats and the Hornets. And I am going to preface this list by reminding everybody that Michael Jordan is ownership. So that provides a lot of motivation when players see Michael Jordan sitting courtside. They want to impress him.
Carmelo Anthony, who is a Jordan athlete. I think he circled those games every year on his calendar. He always had a terrific game. LeBron James is another one, who I think during the time I was there never lost to them.
I will go with Dwight Howard from those early battles between him and Emeka. I do not know that they took it personally. I would imagine they did because they were constantly being compared, and then when Emeka won rookie of the year, I think that must have put a huge chip on Dwight's shoulder because he came roaring out the next year.
RAY: Their backgrounds were so different with Dwight coming directly out of high school and Emeka having a college career.
STEPHANIE: Right, exactly. Dwight gave us the business quite often. And then Dirk Nowitzki, with that ridiculous one-legged fadeaway nobody could stop.
RAY: Do you have any favorite memories from those years?
STEPHANIE: I was there the day that Kemba Walker became the franchise's all-time leading scorer. He passed Dell Curry for No. 1, and Dell was in the booth that day. So that was amazing, and he got emotional after the game, which made everybody get emotional after the game.
If we are going to go with tears being shed, I would have to go with my last game broadcast with the Hornets when I had announced that I was leaving. They were gracious enough to allow me to say an official goodbye on the air, and I cried.
It was so brutal, but when you work with people for so long, you really develop a good relationship. It was just sad for me to leave them, and what was so memorable about that was that I cried on the air throughout the game. What the players and the Hornets did was mind-blowing.
Before the game, my producer came in my ear and said, "Stephanie, I need you to get to the locker room. I need you to get there now".
I said, "What is happening?" I was thinking a player got hurt or there was some breaking news and I just went to the locker room.
The two captains at that time, Marvin Williams and Kemba Walker, came out with a gift for me.This was before the game.I was blown away.
RAY: And then you were expected to be able to call the game.
STEPHANIE: Right. It was just so touching and it meant so much to me because it showed that they valued what I brought to people through the years. That was a very memorable day, that whole experience, that whole night.
RAY: What stands out to you in the time that you have been doing NBA games in terms of trends or changes in the game?
STEPHANIE: The obvious thing is the three-point shot. I think that we do not acknowledge enough how that has changed the game in the paint now. You do not have as many back-to-the-basket players, but when you get one, even though people are saying that they are dinosaurs and the game has left them behind, you can see that they can still dominate a game.
We do not even know how to guard that anymore.
Also, point guard play has changed a lot. It has always been a league that has been led by point guards because they have the ball in their hands, calling the plays. They are an extension of the coach.
But now what you are finding is that the point guard can do all of those things and can also take over a game scoring-wise. Players like Steph Curry come to mind. Someone like Damian Lillard who can shoot it from anywhere on the floor. Now that opens up everything because you cannot leave him, and he is not selfish.
Even though he knows he can score almost any time he wants to, he understands how the game is played, so he uses it as a weapon instead of a crutch.
RAY: In the past, when certain aspects of the game got to be predominant, we saw rule changes such as the elimination of hand-checking. Do you foresee that it will remain cyclical in the sense that if something becomes far too prevalent or predominant we might see a rule change to restore some balance or do you think the trend would continue?
STEPHANIE: That is an interesting question because I think the reason why it has evolved this way is because of the rule changes. We took a lot of the physicality away from the defender.
RAY: And then there was the five-second rule to eliminate Mark Jackson/Charles Barkley-type dribbling for what seemed like forever while backing down.
STEPHANIE: Those rule changes have contributed to getting us to where we are now. The game has evolved this way, and I think this is the way that fans like it. They like the high-octane offense. They like to see a lot of points being scored. They like to see the depth of the three-point shot and how it stretches the defense. But I do think it will be cyclical like you said. I think eventually we will evolve back to understanding how important it is to have a dominant low-post player because we will be stretched out so far that you are not really going to have a choice but to dump it inside.
RAY: Do you think that will happen organically or as a result of changing the rules a bit due to a perception that things have gone too far in a particular direction?
STEPHANIE: I think it is going to happen organically because like every other, this is a copycat industry. When one team wins a championship or finds sustained success with a particular recipe, it will happen on its own like what happened with the Warriors. Everyone thought there is no way this can work with these little guards. They are running around launching these long balls. There is no chance this is going to work. Next thing you know, they are talking dynasty and the entire league is doing that.
RAY: Let's go back to your career. You spoke about how things ended with the Hornets. What facilitated the move to NBA TV?
STEPHANIE: Over the years, I freelanced during my time in Charlotte. I did women's college games for ESPN and sideline reporting for the playoffs for TNT. They ended up starting something new over at Turner Sports where they were doing a virtual reality broadcast.
At first, they just did seven games and asked me if I would be interested in being the analyst with Spero Dedes hosting and doing play by play. He was so good, and we were a really good team but I was still working with the Hornets at that time.
When it came time to redo my deal, FoxSports made a point to tell me that I would not be permitted to miss any games and, despite lots of conversations and attempts to negotiate, they would not budge. I did not think that it was fair.
I know the world is not fair. I have two kids. I am trying to teach them that early. But I felt like I had done this for so long with them that, by saying I could not miss not even one single game, it put me in a position where now I was limiting myself in terms of expanding my reach, broadening my repertoire. I thought that that was not the right thing to do.
I didn't even know if Turner was going to offer me any games. This was in the off-season. I asked that if I happen to get a phone call, am I permitted to accept and the answer was flat-out, no.
I was not happy but I signed the deal because there was no deal on the table with Turner. Then Turner came calling in late November or early December. The season had already started. I had done some games already and they wanted me to come on and do the rest of their virtual reality games. They wanted me to be the lead broadcaster, the play-by-play host, and not the analyst.
Rip Hamilton was going to be the analyst and so, after considering all of the options, I decided that that was what was best for me and the growth of my career. I did not have a guarantee from Turner that I was going to be hired beyond that. It was a gamble and Perry was not thrilled with my decision.
But I told him, "You know what babe, I have been doing this a long time now and our family has made sacrifices over the years so that I can do this. I feel like this is the next step, and if I do not take it, we will all regret it. And if I do take it, I feel confident enough in myself and my abilities that they will see my worth and offer me more things."
So I gambled on myself. I took a chance and thankfully it panned out because I left the Hornets in December. I joined Turner and started doing the virtual reality games then they launched a new online show with Yahoo collaborating with them and the NBA to create The Bounce.
They asked me in the rotation of hosts for the show. After that, they offered me another deal this past season when they launched a new show called the Warm-Up, and so I am one of the two people who host the Warm-Up and I continued with The Bounce. I also fill in and do Game Time from time to time, and I did the playoffs for TNT last year as a sideline reporter. Now I am in the bubble doing sideline for TNT in the restart.
RAY: How does that mix of things that you have been doing since you left the Hornets appeal to you?
STEPHANIE: I love it so much. Basketball has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember and this position that I am in now where I am hosting these NBA shows allows me the opportunity to talk about the thing that I love.
It is funny because when I got my first contract with Charlotte and I told my parents, my dad said, "Oh, thank the Lord. You are finally going to get paid for running that mouth of yours" and he did not say it so politely.
RAY: There was an adjective that you have left out?
STEPHANIE: Yes, and we laughed about it because it is true. For my entire life, I have been a talker and I have been passionate about basketball, and so this is my two worlds colliding in the most perfect way.
RAY: And now you are getting paid to do both.
STEPHANIE: That was unbelievable. That is why, no matter how tired I get from road trips, for how many hours I stayed up late watching film and feel like I am not rested for the game, when I start complaining to Perry, he reminds me: "Babe, this is what you have always wanted."
I am living my dream.
RAY: It does not get any better than this.
STEPHANIE: That is exactly right. If I had been able as a child to script an adult life, this would be it. It cannot get better.
RAY: During the course of our conversation, you have spoken about being a pioneer at various levels in the things that you have done. You were the first woman to several different important things. What has that been like for you? Are there any particular lessons or aspects that you want to share?
STEPHANIE: It has been very interesting. In those moments, it is hard to fully comprehend the significance of it. Of course, you know when you are the first because everyone is saying it. But it is hard to fully understand what that means until later when you look back on it.
When I acknowledged it to myself is when I saw others who followed. When I see women now doing what I did before, I think that is pretty cool because no one is saying to them you are the first. I am not trying to claim the trophy, I am just saying that I appreciate how we have progressed.
RAY: That your experience made a difference, not just something that got noted at the time. It has actually mattered.
STEPHANIE: Correct. I made sacrifices that people do not acknowledge or talk about. That is often the case when people are the first at doing things.
Those things were not easy to do. You do not just wake up one morning and say, "Hey, I am a city girl, but I am going to move to Greenville, South Carolina for two years where I'll be alone."
RAY: You also spoke earlier about the coaching fraternity and how they were not universally accepting of that happening. Do you feel that the change in that aspect of things has been what you would have liked or expected it to be or do you feel frustrated by it?
STEPHANIE: I think it has come a long way in the last couple of years, and I will credit the NBA fully for that. David Stern started that whole journey because he is the one that hired me in the first place. But Adam Silver has moved the needle drastically, and I think that the NBA is leading because college basketball is disgraceful when you look at the numbers.
I think there is only one woman, Edniesha Curry, coaching in Division One men's basketball. I would not be so alarmed if you did not look at the women's Division I side and see how many men who are coaching over there. That is what is disgraceful to me.
RAY: That is disgraceful, and it is not the only thing that is disgraceful about college athletics. They are so retrograde in so many different ways.
STEPHANIE: Look at what is happening now with COVID and how they are handling that. They are not doing things the right way.
RAY: What happened to player safety being paramount?
STEPHANIE: What happened to the players being student-athletes?
The campuses are going to be closed but you still want these kids to come in and risk their lives so you can retrieve your money. It is terrible.
RAY: Let's talk about the bubble. It is all untested and unprecedented. The league produced a 113 page document to deal with it. We have seen some strange violations of the code that pertains to how everyone is required to deal with it.What are your early impressions?
STEPHANIE: It has been impressive. As you mentioned, it is unprecedented. This is history in the making.
It has been so thorough. I am a planner. Looking ahead is what I do. I do that for my family, I do that when I am working. That is just my thing, and I have been so impressed with what they thought of when they considered this bubble.
The fact that I was in quarantine in my room for six days, and all of the things that I had to do to stay compliant was unbelievable. I thought for sure that I would be taking mid-day naps, falling asleep watching TV.
Instead, I was busy quarantining, uploading apps on my phone, registering on the websites, monitoring my temperature and oxygen level daily and so much more. They are really on top of it, and I feel very confident that this is going to go well. If it is possible, the NBA will do it.
We are getting tested every day. Every day I have to go on my phone to an app and answer some health questions. I take my temperature, and the thermometer goes right into the app via bluetooth as well as the same with the pulse oximeter. If one thing is off, you are not permitted to leave your room
RAY: So, they did everything that they could think of in order to try to maximize the likelihood of it working. If it turns out not to work, there probably was not anything else that they could have done because certain things you just cannot control. So what are the logistics for doing the games as a broadcaster?
STEPHANIE: That is a great question. It is fluid right now because, in the bubble, everything is different.
For example, if you were covering an NBA game in the past and you wanted to come to practice, you would have been in touch with whoever the local PR person is because you were going to need a credential to get to the game. Once you had the credential, you pretty much could come and go as you please. If you wanted to go to shootaround that morning, help yourself. If you wanted to come early for the media availability before the game, help yourself.
In the bubble, it has not been that easy, even though we are credentialed. You have to submit your request to attend practice 48 hours in advance and it has to be approved. If you do not get approved confirmation, you do not come to the venue because they have very strict attendance requirements.
There is a maximum number of people that can be permitted in every single room. There is a maximum number of people that are allowed in that venue during that time and that is counting players, coaches, table staff.
RAY: What about working the actual game itself?
STEPHANIE: I will have an assigned seat, which is pretty normal when you go to NBA games. When you work a nationally televised game, you typically have an in-person meeting with the broadcast team and both Head Coaches before the game begins.
Here on campus, those meetings are held either virtually or over the phone. There is a lot less direct access to the players and coaches before and during the game here. Before the hiatus, you could observe the bench closely; Now there is no access to the team benches during the game.
The coach’s interview between quarters is conducted with the appropriate distancing. Post-game player walk offs are also conducted at a distance. I have to keep my mask on the entire time I am on campus unless eating. That presents a challenge when the interview subject is six feet away and not wearing an earpiece. On or off camera reports are given while wearing a mask, which explains the reports that sometimes sound muffled or under water.
The lack of crowd noise is a benefit for communicating in the arena, however. I can hear my producer a lot better at the end of a close game. It's different, but it works. We still get to present the game to the audience at home. Live sports is back!
RAY: It struck me how the team that you are on has a very different style than yours. Kevin Harlan's style is kind of over-the-top while yours is more analytical and calm.
STEPHANIE: I often wonder how they figure out these combinations as well, but I will say that Turner Sports historically has done an amazing job when they partner people up. They have got some knack of knowing who fits well with whom.
For example, when I was doing the virtual reality broadcast, they partnered me with Rip Hamilton. I knew Rip from his playing days when I was covering the league. We knew each other but he had not done a ton of basketball games and I had not done a ton in that chair. I was always the analyst.
With this pairing, I was the lead, the host, the play-by-play. And it was amazing. That is why they win all the Emmys. They know what they are doing. So I always trust what they suggest.
RAY Do you think that in any way impacts how you do your job: Whether you are with somebody who really amps up nearly every play of the game versus somebody who is a little bit more measured?
STEPHANIE: I am the same no matter what, but it may affect how many times I get in the game.
When you are a sideline reporter, you are at the mercy of a lot of variables. It is a very fast-paced game. So there has to be a stoppage of play or a slow down, whether it is a free throw or coming out of a timeout.
In this day and age of a lot of sponsorships, those windows are not bountiful because the broadcasters always have something that they are talking about that is a sponsored element coming out of a timeout or a free-throw. So the sideline hits have been reduced.
If you are working with someone who likes to tell a lot of stories, it may impact how frequently you get to tell your story. Of course, the producer has a lot to say about that as well. You have to try to build up enough rapport with the producer and the play-by-play announcer and the analyst so that they trust you to tell your stories.
RAY: I asked Jim Barnett the same question, and he looked back at when the Dubs were not very good… He said that while there are obviously tremendous advantages to calling a game when the team is great, one of the advantages when the franchise was not good was that they did not have many sponsors and so he got to talk almost whenever he wanted to.
STEPHANIE: That is so true. But what I started doing--and this goes back to the relationship you have with your producer--we started creating moments for me that tied into those sponsored elements. We could kill two birds with one stone.
Something that may traditionally have been for the analyst, I could take that as the sideline reporter because I had been an analyst for so long. If you build up the trust and you put enough equity in, then your producer will help you get some of that out.
RAY: Is there anything you would like to add that we did not cover?
STEPHANIE: You were very thorough. I will say that I think it is so important in this business that we help each other.
It is so competitive and so cutthroat that I think people lose sight of the fact that they got to the position they are in because someone else helped them. Some do not want to reach out and help anyone else. That is a mistake.
I think back to how many people helped me when I was getting started, whether it was just a phone call offering me advice or connecting me with someone else who could help me. Giving me someone's contact information so I could submit a reel directly to the right person upon someone's recommendation puts you a little further ahead in the pile.
There was a reporter who worked for the Atlanta Hawks, Sandy Williams. She has since married, so now she is Sandy Sharp. My first year with the Bobcats, I had no idea what I was doing even though I had been a coach.
I was like a deer in the headlights, and there was not a lot of help. That was not a wonderful experience for me, and I really began to doubt whether I could do this. My confidence was suffering. And if you are not confident, you are not going to do a good job.
She offered for me to come visit her in Atlanta.
She did not really know me very well at all. We saw each other maybe four times that year, talked on the phone a couple times. But she told me to bring all my stuff: tapes, resume, everything.
She literally workshopped me in her living room. We sat on the floor and watched my tapes. She talked about all the things that I was doing right and the things that I could improve upon. I cannot tell you how valuable that session was, and we are still great friends. I still talk to her about this all the time.
She doesn't like to take credit for it, but I tell her and anyone else who will listen that she saved my career because if she did not take the time out of her schedule to do that for me that day, who knows what would have happened the following season. I do not know if I would have been confident enough to do it for another year.
I started getting my freelance work after that. She was amazing, and I tell that story because I want people to know that nobody in any industry, but in particular television broadcasting, gets to where they are trying to go by themselves. It is impossible.
RAY: I think of a phrase and a word: "pay it forward" and "karma."