LOS ANGELES — The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame unveiled on Saturday its finalists for the 2018 Hall of Fame class, with first-time nominees Ray Allen, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash leading the group.
But one person headed for the September ceremony in Springfield, Mass., stands out: Doris Burke, the recipient of the Hall’s Curt Gowdy award for electronic media. It’s a well-deserved honor for a trailblazer and role model who this season became the first woman to hold the job of full-time NBA color analyst.
To hear Burke tell it, though, that she wound up in the job at all is a happy accident.
“I fell into this. I thought I would be a high school teacher and coach,” Burke said shortly after the announcement Saturday morning, in between fighting back tears and thanking a stream of well-wishers. “I started my career as an assistant basketball coach and wanted to have children and be a stay-at-home mom. I thought, Division I coaching and being a mom is sort of mutually exclusive, so I happened into the business.”
Starting her career as a radio analyst for Providence College, her alma mater where she still holds the school record in career assists, she moved on to breaking down New York Liberty WNBA games. She has served as a game analyst for ESPN and ABC since 1991, eventually becoming a household name for basketball fans across the country for her work on ESPN’s NBA broadcasts.
Working as both the network’s lead sideline reporter and an astute analyst, she earned widespread acclaim for her knowledge and dedication to the job. Somehow, though, Burke is still scared by public speaking.
“It’s almost comical when I think about where my career started, and where it’s now ended up,” Burke said. “To be honest with you, when I was a kid, and even through college, public speaking terrified me. It still terrifies me.
“When I am on the air, I never think of it as, ‘Oh, millions of people could actually be watching this basketball game.’ Because if I ever thought of it in that context, I would freak out. When I public speak, for two or three days before I’ll get nervous. And my kids will say, “You speak in front of millions of people!’ And I say, ‘I don’t conceptualize it like that.’ ”
Her jitters aren’t apparent in her work, which has paved the way for other women to land color commentating roles in recent seasons, such as Stephanie Ready with the Charlotte Hornets, Sarah Kustok with the Brooklyn Nets and Kara Lawson with the Washington Wizards.
“It’s funny,” Burke said. “When I left coaching, to this day, the thing I missed most is I really had the opportunity to affect lives. Over the years, I’ve always said to my kids I miss that. And my daughter and son will both say to me that, ‘You are probably having more of an effect than you think.’
“So when young women come up to me and say, we love what you are doing and we’re so appreciative, that means a great deal to me.”
As for this year’s class of nominees, Allen, Kidd and Nash are all but certain to get the 18 of 24 votes needed from the Hall of Fame’s honors committee to ensure enshrinement. Two contemporaries of that trio, Grant Hill and Chris Webber, are also up for induction, along with former Philadelphia 76ers great Maurice Cheeks. Rounding out the group is legendary Maryland coach Lefty Driesell, two-time champion coach of the Houston Rockets Rudy Tomjanovich, women’s basketball players Katie Smith and Tina Thompson, referee Hugh Evans, University of Baylor women’s Coach Kim Mulkey and the Wayland Baptist University women’s team, which won 131 consecutive games from 1954-58.
That team’s coach, Harley Redin, and Jim Host, a sports marketing pioneer, were both recipients the Hall’s John Bunn lifetime achievement award, while photographer Andy Bernstein was named the Curt Gowdy award winner for print media.