Doris Burke informally carries the title of Ms. Basketball at ESPN because of her many NBA and college basketball assignments. Now, the well-respected sports broadcaster has landed another basketball gig and it might be her most high profile yet: She's joining NBA Countdown as a studio analyst.
SI.com has learned that Burke will appear on the ESPN NBA pregame show on Wednesdays during the regular season. That makes Burke the first woman to serve as a regularly-appearing analyst for a national NBA studio show. (Her ESPN colleague Hannah Storm hosted NBC's NBA pregame show from 1997-2002.)
Burke will make her NBA Countdown debut on Nov. 13. Her new assignment, which she said will likely total 11 Wednesdays, is timed with her signing a multiyear contract extension with ESPN.
"When I am a sideline reporter, I ask good questions," Burke said. "I hope that doesn't sound egotistical, but I think I can ask good questions to elicit good responses. That's something I'm interested in on this show, asking Magic [Johnson], Jalen [Rose] and Avery [Johnson] smart questions to facilitate good discussions. If I feel strongly about something, I think I can also act appropriately by responding to things they say or presenting a different opinion if I have one."
(Burke made these comments prior to Magic Johnson announcing on Thursday afternoon that he was leaving ESPN.)
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Burke said Mark Gross, a senior vice president and executive producer of production at ESPN, suggested the idea of working as studio analyst during a meeting at his office in Bristol, Conn., in August. When Burke is on NBA Countdown, she will navigate most of the ins and outs from commercial breaks. Gross described Burke's role as a hybrid between analyst and host.
"Mark referenced [ESPN's] Chris Fowler and Rece Davis," Burke said. "Those guys handle traffic, but they also have achieved a level of credibility in whatever sport they are covering, and have earned enough equity with fans and coaches to offer opinion on occasion. I wouldn't say I'm the most intrepid soul, but this will make me stretch a little bit. I've done the two jobs I do at ESPN for a long time and fairly consistently. I think this will be good for me."
Burke is expected to be part of a NBA Countdown panel that includes in some combination: Doug Collins (ESPN announced earlier this week that it had reached a multiyear agreement with former Sixers coach to serve as a stuido analyst), Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons. Former Nets coach Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo also remain NBA Countdown possibilities.
Burke, 48, has risen up the ESPN talent ranks since joining the company full time in the mid-1990s. (In 2002, Sports Illustrated suggested that ESPN use Burke as an analyst for its NBA coverage.) She will continue to serve as an NBA game and studio analyst and sideline reporter, as well as an NCAA men's and women's basketball analyst. Burke said she had no interest in giving up any of her other responsibilities and will approach her role on NBA Countdown on a one-year basis. She will continue to serve as a sideline reporter for ABC and ESPN during the NBA postseason.
With NBA Countdown filming in Los Angeles, Burke now has at least 11 dates where she will not have to square off with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who famously tortures NBA sideline reporters with his irascible manner during mandated interview sessions between quarters.
"I might be able to talk some smack about the Spurs because I will be in studio and not have to look him eye to eye," Burke said, laughing. "I will be nervous for Countdown because I have never done it before, but I know for a fact I will not be as nervous as when I am going to interview Popovich between quarters."