They were in a cab on the way to a New York Yankees game in the waning years of former NBA player Drew Gooden’s career when Chris Miller, then the sideline reporter for the Washington Wizards, looked over at his friend and asked, “What’s next?”
“I put two and two together and thought, ‘If Chris thinks I can do it, maybe I can audition for something,’ ” Gooden said.
Six years after Gooden retired with Washington, the last of 10 NBA teams he played for, he and Miller reunited in the booth in October to call Wizards games for NBC Sports Washington along with Meghan McPeak, who serves as the on-court reporter.
The trio make a unique grouping in the NBA: They are the only all-Black local broadcast team across the league’s 30 franchises.
They aren’t the NBA’s first all-Black crew — that was Charlotte’s Eric Collins, Dell Curry and Stephanie Ready, according to Miller and the Wizards. But they are the only active all-Black crew, a rarity in an industry still overwhelmingly White and male, especially in the vaunted play-by-play role.
Viewers have been able to flip on NBA games for years and watch diverse broadcasts. The majority of the league’s sideline reporters are women; the majority of analysts are Black former players.
But in the play-by-play role, the quarterback position on a broadcast crew, progress has lagged far behind.
Miller joined Collins (Charlotte), Michael Grady (Minnesota) and Mark Jones and Kyle Draper (who split the role for Sacramento) as Black full-time play-by-play announcers. Lisa Byington became the first female full-time play-by-play announcer for a major men’s professional sports team when she was hired to call Milwaukee Bucks games at the start of last season — roughly a week before Kate Scott was hired to do the same for the Philadelphia 76ers. Adam Amin, the son of Pakistani immigrants, calls games for the Chicago Bulls.
In Washington, Miller is the first Black person to call play-by-play full time across the city’s major league hockey, men’s basketball and baseball teams. (NFL teams control who populates their TV booth only during preseason games.)
“Wow. Really?” Miller said, surprised when he learned the tidbit. “Then I take that mantle. That’s humbling.
“But I don’t think it’s like the end-all, be-all of what we do. I don’t ever think like, ‘Hey, I’m a Black play-by-play announcer in the NBA.’ I just don’t think about that. I think of, I’ve been in this industry for 26 years. I got my break, my dream job in Year 16 covering a team that I have put my heart and soul into.”
Miller, 48, was a drummer studying music at Indiana State when a friend who had heard him spout sports knowledge while the two played video games encouraged him to stop by a broadcast journalism class. Miller enjoyed it and forged a path into the industry as an intern at a TV station in Terre Haute, Ind., turning the dial on the teleprompter for $4.25 an hour while learning how to write, log highlights and edit and hearing how anchors delivered the news.
His first job out of college was at the CBS affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and his “big break,” Miller said, came when he was hired at the ABC affiliate in Cleveland covering the Cavaliers in 2001, which is also where he first met Gooden.
He moved to Washington in 2007 to work at NBC Sports Washington and became the Wizards’ sideline reporter a year later, a role he held until this summer.
Neither Miller, McPeak nor Gooden finds it groundbreaking that all three of them are Black broadcasters working together. But they do take their positions as proof that opportunities in the industry are opening up.
“We’re not the first [all-Black crew], we’re just the next,” Miller said. “Which means, hopefully, more of us will follow.”
Miller knows what it’s like to wait his turn.
The North Carolina native was a finalist to replace beloved Wizards announcer Steve Buckhantz in 2019 when the job went to former Fox Sports broadcaster Justin Kutcher. When Miller heard he finally got the job this offseason, he wept. He says now that serving an extra two years on the sideline made it that much sweeter when he landed his dream job.
Gaining that perspective took time.
“I thought I had put enough work out there to let people know I could do it [in 2019]. But I don’t think people were ready yet,” Miller said. “And I’m okay with that now. I wasn’t then, I was upset, because I put a lot of sweat equity into my job. … But I just don’t think the powers that be were ready for it. I think they’re ready now. I look at Kate Scott, I look at Lisa Byington. I’m not going to say it was a race thing; I’m just going to say I don’t think they were ready for me to do that job because I had never done it before.
“My argument to that is, well, who would you find that knows this team better than me? That’s how I felt. But I do feel like we’re in a better place now. We’ve got two women in the NBA calling games.”
Gooden, 41, predicts the play-by-play role will continue to diversify as the industry transitions.
“Once you get behind that mic, those jobs are solidified in stone for 20, 30, 40 years, some of these jobs. So when do you actually get a shot? No matter who you are,” Gooden said. “Now you’re starting to see guys retire, and other people are starting to get a chance. So I don’t think [White male play-by-play announcers] are going to be the norm going forward. I think it’s going to be the best man for the job, it’s going to be current, it’s going to be based on what people want to hear. And it’s going to be innovative.”
Miller learned how to run point on a broadcast by observing Buckhantz for more than a decade.
He saw the veteran hand-write his opening to the telecast every game (Miller prefers to write his on his iPhone), watched how Buckhantz assembled his notes on players and studied his delivery, just as Miller did during his intern days in Indiana.
In turn, Miller is the one now doling out advice to McPeak, who took over sideline duties with a wealth of TV experience. The Canadian became one of the first women to call play-by-play in 2018 when she called a preseason Wizards game on the team-owned Monumental Sports Network.
The trio are working to solidify their chemistry just over a month into the season while operating under a singular edict: inform and entertain. For McPeak, that means asking herself after every game if she had fun.
“It’s basketball. We are not trying to do rocket science or brain surgery; we want viewers to have fun,” she said. “That’s my No. 1 goal every game — did I have fun? Chris and Drew, they make it easy to do that while I’m doing my due diligence in telling the stories of these players.”
Miller and Gooden are leaning on their many years of friendship to make the broadcast harmonious.
Gooden said that between working with his old friend and Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Wizards, taking full ownership of NBC Sports Washington in September, he has never felt more at home behind the mic in four years of broadcasting. “Signed a 10-day contract, I’ve been here 10 years,” Gooden joked.
Miller, meanwhile, beams when asked how he’s settling into the new gig — and takes care to remind Gooden where their journey to sharing a broadcast booth began.
“Calling games for the Washington Wizards is a dream job for me, for as long as I’ve been here, for as many things as I’ve seen. This is the place where I wanted to call NBA games,” Miller said. “And tell Drew he owes me 4 percent of everything he makes from now on. Finder’s fee.”