Doris Burke is the first woman to work as a full-time NBA analyst on television. Burke, 52, has been with ESPN since 2001. According to Sports Illustrated, she was selected as the replacement for Doug Collins in 2017, and assigned a full season rotation of NBA commentating on both ESPN and ABC Sports. Her career prior to that consisted of color commentary and sideline reporting, the latter of which she still does during the NBA Conference Finals and the NBA Finals.
Burke will be the sideline reporter for the 2018 NBA Finals alongside commentators Mike Breen, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy, who once described Burke as “the LeBron James of sportscasting.” It will be their ninth championship series together, and Burke’s tenth overall.
Here’s what you need to know about Burke and her groundbreaking career:
1. She Set The Record For Assists On Her College Basketball Team
Burke, born Doris Sable, discovered her love for basketball in the second grade. “The love of the game is something I found [early on]”, Burke told NJ Advance Media, “I literally picked that ball up as a 7-year-old and I have not put it down to this day.” This passion allowed Burke to play competitively throughout high school and college.
She landed a spot on the Manasquan High School girls varsity team as a freshman, and eventually became the all-time leading scorer in the school’s history. “She was the kind of kid, if she saw the boys do something, she wanted to know how to do that,” said her high school coach Bill Rogers, “I don’t know how many girls — if at all — had a jump shot. The boys did. So Doris would watch the boys and she would come to me and say, ‘I want to learn a jump shot. How do I shoot a jump shot?’”
Burke’s jump shot led to scholarship offers from a number of eastern colleges, including UMass, Boston College, and Boston University, but she decided to attend Providence College in Rhode Island. “For me to even think about attending a college or university would have been a real financial hardship. It would not have happened,” she admitted, “That basketball scholarship changed my life.”
Burke’s success on the court continued at Providence, where she made the Big East Women’s Basketball Tournament twice in four years, and was a second-team All-Big East player. Hartford Courant reports that Burke was also the Providence’s Co-Female Athlete of the Year. By 1987, she was the school’s all-time career assist leader. Burke graduated from Providence College with a bachelor’s degree in health service administration and social work.
Burke worked under Providence’s head coach Bob Foley between 1987 and 1989, but left the coaching staff after she married Gregg Burke, who was an employee in the athletic department. They had two children, Sarah (born 1993) and Matthew (born 1995), during their marriage, which later ended in divorce.
According to GoRhody, Gregg Burke is currently the Deputy Director of Athletics and Head Golf Coach at the University of Rhode Island.
2. She Began Her Broadcasting Career On the Radio In 1990
Burke began her broadcasting career in 1990, as a means of staying close to the sport she loved. She was the regular announcer for the Providence women’s basketball games on the radio, but a random stroke of luck– a male announcer failed to show up for a televised Pittsburgh-Rhode Island game– forced her in front of the camera for the first time. Her ex-husband Gregg recounted the incident to the Hartford Courant:
We both shower, we bomb down there, 55 minutes before the game, she hasn’t prepared for either team. She visits the Pitt people for 10 minutes, the PC people for 10 minutes and they drag her out to do the opening. And she nailed it. She nailed the game. I’m not just saying that because I’m married to her, either.
I did it and it went very well”, Burke added, “Though I hadn’t prepared, I knew Providence, I knew Pittsburgh. I would’ve watched the game anyways.” Her career skyrocketed from there. In a span of eight years, Burke reported on Big East men’s games, announced New York Liberty games, and began her longstanding relationship with ESPN by covering women’s basketball and the NCAA Tournament. In 1999, the Atlantic 10, a collegiate conference, signed her as the primary analyst on its men’s basketball package.
“She was, flat out, the best analyst,” said Bob Steitz, Atlantic’s associate commissioner, “Initially there were some raised eyebrows. I don’t think a lot of coaches had seen or heard her work. I told them, ‘At the end of the year, let’s talk.’ And they had nothing but glowing things to say about Doris.”
In 2000, Burke made history as the first woman to be a commentator for a New York Knicks game on both radio and television. The following year, she signed her first official contract with ESPN. Brian Sherriffe, a coordinating producer for ESPN at the time, spoke to the Hartford Courant about why the network found her to be so appealing:
She immediately stood out, she was very consistent in her delivery. She could do a quick interview in tough situations. The closest she reminds me of is Bill Raftery. She does have that burst of energy that Raf has always brought to the table. Some would be accused of being over the top, but Doris savors the moment. You know when you’re at a big moment in the game with her.
Since 2003, Burke has been a member of ESPN’s top men’s basketball team, and has worked the sidelines for both ESPN and ABC Sports. She has also been a columnist for Basketball Times Magazine and Eastern Basketball Magazine since 2001, and a contributing writer for the Center for Sports Parenting.
3. She Believes There’s Still A Glass Ceiling For Women In Sports
While Burke signed a multiyear contract extension with ESPN in 2013, ensuring that she’ll be a commentator through the 2018 season, she has raised concerns regarding her age and whether the network will allow her to stay on as she gets older. In a 2017 interview with Sports Illustrated, Burke said that she would like to retire by the age of 60 to spend time with her grandchildren, but worries that women who chose to continue past that age will be allowed to.
“We still have a long way to go,” Burke said, “Because the reality is that I’m 52 years old. And how many 55 to 60-year-old women do you see in sports broadcasting? How many? I see a lot of 60-year-old men broadcasting. The physical appearance and natural aging of all the men doing this job don’t matter.” Burke went on to call the glass ceiling that women are forced to deal with as a result is “bulls**t.”
She feels that women’s appearances are still being stressed as too important in the broadcasting industry, and that while she wants to be considered attractive, she will not take extreme measures to alter her natural looks:
I want to be considered attractive, [but] am I going to undergo surgery to make myself look younger? No. So the wrinkles you see on my face and the signs of age that I have, they’re going to be there, period, and it’s up to the networks to decide [if it’s acceptable].
“The older I’ve gotten,” she told The New York Post in April, “The more I have paid attention to disparities, or what I consider to be different treatment.” Burke also referenced the situation involving Sports Fox Network and sideline reporter Stephanie Ready. In 2015 Ready was promoted to full-time analyst, but after two years, she was sent back to the sidelines. “That was a difficult situation to watch from afar”, Burke told the Post, “I know all about that.”
4. She Has A Playful Relationship With Drake
The relationship between Burke and Drake dates back to 2016, when the rapper pointed at her and made a heart sign at a Toronto Raptors game. “I just could not believe this happened”, Burke told The Cut, “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.”
The rapper continued to show his love for Burke when he showed up at the press conference for Toronto’s “Drake Night” wearing a shirt with Burke’s face on the front and the words “Woman Crush Everyday.” ESPN interviewed Drake and asked him about the shirt during the game, and he said that he was simply a big fan of Burke’s and that he wanted to invite her to dinner at his house “as long as she came alone.”
Burke playfully responded on Twitter, saying “dinner is on” with a heart emoji. When asked whether the dinner date ever happened, Burke told Complex magazine that it did not. She did, however, thank Drake for adding a little extra “fun” to her life: “I have to say, I have not yet had an opportunity to tell him this, but he did make my life a heck of a lot more fun there for a few weeks. So I would send a shoutout to him for that reason alone. He’s usually out of town when I come in [to Toronto].”
Burke and Drake officially met each other at a Raptors game this past April. The rapper stopped by Burke’s booth to give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Drake is not the only celebrity who has spoken highly of Burke. Milwaukee Bucks phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo is a huge admirer of Burke, according to The New York Times, as is Warriors superstar Kevin Durant. While appearing on the Bill Simmons Podcast in March, Durant interrupted a question from Simmons to proclaim that “Doris is the greatest.”
Burke also won a legion of supporters after she presented the NBA trophy to the Golden State Warriors and conducted post-game interviews in 2017. Many took to Twitter to praise Burke’s skillful handling of the ceremony despite the hectic environment, with one user calling her “the Meryl Streep of sports broadcasting.”
5. She Was Inducted Into the Basketball Hall of Fame In 2018
Burke is one of only a handful of women to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. She was also the recipient of the 2018 Curt Gowdy Media Award, which is named after the legendary sports broadcaster. The hallowed award is presented annually to members of the electronic and print media whose work has made a significant contribution to the game of basketball.
Discussing the honor with The Washington Post, Burke said that her induction is “almost comical” when she thinks about where her career started. “To be honest with you”, she said, “When I was a kid, and even through college, public speaking terrified me. It still terrifies me.”
Some of the other awards that Burke has won throughout her career include an honorary doctorate from Providence College in 2005 and the 2017 WISE Women of the Year award, which recognizes women who have made a significant impact on the business of sports as decided by Women in Sports and Events.
When asked about the mark she wants to leave on the broadcasting industry, Burke told NJ Advance Media she wants to be a role model for young girls. “[Men] don’t even blink that I am in that chair. It’s normal,” she said, “I am a normal part of their existence. Hopefully, young girls view it the same way. ‘Oh, that’s normal. She is in that spot.’ That hasn’t always been the case. That is a world away from when I started in this business. I want girls to dream big and to think that there is nothing that is impossible.”