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‘Women don’t do this’: Meghan McPeak becomes one of the first to call NBA play-by-play

Meghan McPeak and Tony Massenburg on court ahead of the Wizards-Pistons preseason game on Wednesday night. (Monumental Sports Network)

DETROIT — Inside the media dining room, Meghan McPeak huddled with her broadcast crew ahead of the Washington Wizards-Detroit Pistons preseason game Wednesday night.

McPeak, a veteran to cold basketball arenas, wore a fleece jacket over a peach-colored dress and sipped hot mint tea while listening to her senior producer explain the open of the broadcast. What the industry calls “beauty shots,” video of Little Caesars Arena, would appear on the screen while McPeak did her voice-over in welcoming viewers of the game to Detroit.

She needed to hit this mark in about 10 to 15 seconds, the producer said. Then, the on-court camera light would turn on and the broadcast would switch from the beauties to a rare shot: a woman calling play-by-play for one of the four major professional sports.

“A little bit of nerves but that’s more the former player in me,” McPeak said. “It’s a game day. . . . I still get the tingling sensation as I would as a player, but also from the standpoint that women don’t do this.”

While the Wizards upended Detroit, 102-97, McPeak worked the game as the play-by-play announcer for the Monumental Sports Network. Though the local broadcast was seen only by those who had signed up for a membership for the Monumental Sports Network’s Web content and although it was just preseason, the significance of the moment was greater than the matchup.

Wizards offer preview of regular season in win at Detroit

McPeak, who recently turned 31 and spent the last three seasons calling games for the Raptors 905 in the G League, has joined a very short list of women to provide play-by-play for an NBA game. On Valentine’s Day 1988, Leandra Reilly broke through that broadcast ceiling as the first when she called play-by-play for a New Jersey Nets-Philadelphia 76ers game. It’s only a recent development that women have made strides in NBA broadcasting.

Doris Burke, who was honored with the Curt Gowdy Media Award at this year’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame ceremonies, became the first full-time female color analyst for national NBA games. In 2016, Stephanie Ready and Ann Meyers Drysdale made history when they provided analysis for a Charlotte Hornets broadcast. Also last season, Sarah Kustok (Brooklyn Nets) and Kara Lawson (Washington Wizards) were hired as game analysts for regional broadcast networks.

Still, women have not been seen in the play-by-play seat — a fact not lost on McPeak’s senior producer for Wednesday night.

“I’ve been in sports producing for seven or 7½ years, and she is my first female play-by-play,” Chelsea Pflugh said. “And I’m pumped.

“I think Doris Burke and the all-female games that are happening now are a great thing, and everybody gets so excited about them and they’re shocked,” Pflugh said, mentioning the Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer pairing for NFL games. “I get mad that they’re shocked because it shouldn’t be a surprise that women can do it.”

This upcoming G League season, McPeak and former NBA player Tony Massenburg will form the broadcast team for Capital City Go-Go games. McPeak, a Canadian citizen and former collegiate point guard who played in Toronto, described her new play-by-play job as running the floor and setting up her broadcast teammate.

“I’m out there just tossing up alleys for Tony to throw down,” McPeak said. “It makes my life easier to just be that point guard and run the ship for things to run smoothly.”

It was this command that caught the eye of the Monumental Sports Network executives while searching for a play-by-play announcer. Caitlin Mangum, the director of content and programming for Monumental Sports Network, fell for McPeak’s purposeful speech and insight of the game.

“She really grabbed me in those first five seconds of watching her reel,” Mangum said.

Zach Leonsis, the son of Monumental Sports and Entertainment founder Ted Leonsis and the network’s general manager, felt that, out of almost 40 announcers who applied for the position, McPeak stood out.

“Ultimately, Meghan was the best because she was the most dynamic and knowledgeable candidate,” Leonsis said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Wednesday night served the purpose of introducing McPeak and Massenburg to the local audience. The pair worked on their chemistry while sitting around a circular dining table for the 5 p.m. talent meeting. Massenburg, multitasking with a robust meal of prime rib, potatoes, pizza and smothered chicken fingers, rehearsed his opening thoughts.

Massenburg wanted to get into the evolution of the NBA center to set up a discussion about the Wizards' small-ball lineups. McPeak nodded along as her partner ticked off his talking points. Pflugh then wondered if they should mention new Pistons Coach Dwane Casey, who spent several years with the Toronto Raptors. Massenburg pointed across the table to his teammate.

“I think she’s got too much to offer not to,” Massenburg said of McPeak, and so a segment on Casey was added to the show.

Much of a broadcast is scripted — even a joke during one segment about sideline reporter Dan Nolan wearing a gaudy Capitals championship ring. McPeak also had to work in five or six promos about ticket sales, Go-Go games and VIP events and remember to do each one with enthusiasm. On top of that, she wanted to make sure she could ask for replays from the broadcast truck to set up questions for Massenburg.

She had to stay on point but still savor the joy this game brings her.

“It’s fun for me because it allows me to, in a way, to still play. But I’m playing the game in a different way now,” McPeak said. “I could be having the worst day leading up to it … but as soon as that cue happens and the light goes on and that 48-minute clock starts to tick, everything’s forgotten.”

The game started, and the first quarter blurred by. She knew the NBA game was faster than the G League, but the speed of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Blake Griffin was a jolt to watch from her courtside seat. McPeak was thankful for Scott Brooks’s first rotation, when he subbed in the bench guys. As the game settled in, so did she.

“I definitely noticed an increase in my energy from first quarter to second quarter,” McPeak said.

After the Wizards won, McPeak draped that fleece around her once again and walked the arena bowels to listen to Brooks’s postgame thoughts. She later met up with Casey, who beamed when he saw a familiar face. Casey asked what was she doing in Detroit, and after learning about McPeak becoming one of the first women to call an NBA game, he lit up again.

McPeak played off the attention and switched topics. But in a quiet moment, she reflected on her night in the courtside seat women don’t usually occupy.

“It was a lot of fun,” McPeak said. “I’m glad I had an opportunity to do it.”

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