Wasting Away — NBA Sideline Reporters
The Charlotte Hornets are an anomaly in the NBA, and could even be considered a pioneer. Of the Association’s 30 teams the Hornets are the only club not to designate a courtside reporter. In the era following the flamboyant outfits and charismatic persona of the late Craig Sager, the Hornets have subtly moved away from the periodic post-quarter interviews in favor of higher quality broadcast talent, a move that should be followed by the rest of the league.
As a personal aside, I love many of the league’s sideline personalities. Kristen Ledlow (TNT), David Aldridge (TNT), Jared Greenberg (TNT), Sarah Kustok (Brooklyn Nets), Cassidy Hubbarth (ESPN), and Mike Trudell (Los Angeles Lakers) all come to mind among my personal favorites, whether for their sheer professionalism or insight into the game’s intricacies. That said, the near mandatory implementation of courtside reporters and mid-game interviews is a trite mainstay in the presentation of professional basketball.
A deal of my reverence for the Hornets broadcast decisions lie with the transition of commentator Stephanie Ready from the sidelines to the booth. A Coppin State graduate, Ready played Division I basketball and ranked among Coppin State’s all-time in points, assists, rebounds and steals. Her post-collegiate career included a stint as the assistant coach (and first female assistant) of the Greeneville Groove in the NBA D-League (2001–2003), before hopping into sideline reportership for the Charlotte Hornets. In 2015, after 11 seasons working the sidelines Ready was promoted to color analyst, making waves as the first female to earn such a position league-wide.
As much as her promotion was a valued step in the quest for heightened female involvement throughout the NBA, it was also indicative of a reorganization of talent to better serve the presentation of the game. Ready’s intimate knowledge of the game belongs on the main stage, informing fans of potentially missed details. During one Hornets broadcast (Jan 23. Vs. Washington), after Marvin Williams went back to the trainer’s office with a toe injury and was feared out for the game she adeptly noticed that unbuttoning his tear away warmups on the bench was a good sign he’d return. He did.
Her clairvoyance of the situation, while one isolated example, requires more than the 30 seconds of airplay garnered by a post-quarter interview. To that end the Hornets broadcast team deserves commendation as they set the tone for informed, critical commentary.
On a larger scale however, many reporters have extensive resumes that lead to higher quality information (Doris Burke, Kustok, Ledlow and Hubbarth all have history in playing/media while Aldridge and Greenberg have encompassing media backgrounds).
Counteracting the talent of reporters is the subpar quality of interview, at no real fault of the interviewer. Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook are the worst offenders, but even the most cordial of interviewees find themselves at the mercy of dumped water jugs and photobombs while entertaining another iteration of, “What was the key to success for tonight’s victory?”
Furthermore, the 24 hour news cycle makes the courtside interview obsolete. Players, and the folks that interview them, are extremely accessible and after the game countless media outlets will have synopses of player comments, ranging from the game-relevant to… Coachella.
Instead, the league and its affiliate clubs need to further tap into the potential of their sideline staffers, a process that is in the works but could use strengthening. Ledlow drops knowledge and exclusive interviews alongside Grant Hill on NBA TV’s Inside Stuff, just as Hubbarth holds down the desk for ESPN’s NBA Tonight. Even the Nets’ Sarah Kustok occasionally joins broadcasters Ian Eagle and Mike Fratello in the booth for a competitive trivia game or some good old-fashioned doodling. Adam Silver has the league set on international growth and seemingly, is making the right moves. Transitioning away from the age-old courtside interview could be another step in the right direction.