Hornets.com 1-on-1: TV sideline reporter Jennifer Hale
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
The hectic itinerary of the past few days has become fairly typical for New Orleans Hornets sideline reporter Jennifer Hale, who also does sideline work on NFL games for Fox. For example, on Friday, Hale was in New Orleans for an NBA game between the Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves, joining Joel Meyers and David Wesley for their call on Fox Sports New Orleans. By Sunday afternoon, Hale was patrolling the sidelines in Toronto, Canada, during a Fox NFL broadcast of a Week 15 contest between the Buffalo Bills and the Seattle Seahawks. After calling that game along with broadcast-crew partners Dick Stockton and John Lynch, Hale boarded a plan and headed to California, where she’s joining the Hornets on their week-long road trip. The Hornets play at Golden State, the Clippers and San Antonio over the next several days.
In between all of those games and flights, Hale still carved out time in her schedule to discuss her role as one of the new members of the club’s local television broadcasts with Hornets.com:
Hornets.com: You seem to be living out the dream of many sports fans by being on the sidelines for both NFL and NBA games, sometimes in the span of a couple days. What has that experience been like this year?
Hale: It’s amazing – a dream come true! I still pinch myself some days and think “Am I really doing this?” It’s so ironic how this dream came back around for me. After graduate school, I wanted to either do this or be a political reporter. No doors really ever opened for me in the sports world, but they did in news. I spent years as a news reporter and an anchor before I started covering the NFL last year and then added the NBA this year. It’s been an amazing transition and opportunity. It’s challenging in November and December when the seasons overlap though. There are days I wake up and have to remember what city I’m in, or nights where I never go to sleep because I get off the Hornets charter plane coming home from a game and head straight to the airport terminal to catch the 6 a.m. flight to my football game. I’m always studying for the next game. I left two days ago to cover one of the NFL’s international games in Toronto, Seahawks vs. Bills, and am now on a plane to San Francisco to catch up with the Hornets all week for a West Coast road trip. When the team heads home Friday night after playing the Spurs, I'll head to Phoenix to meet my NFL on Fox crew to cover the Cardinals vs. Bears Sunday. My two suitcases are bursting at the seams.
Hornets.com: What are some of the biggest differences and/or similarities between doing sideline reporting during an NBA game compared to an NFL game?
Hale: Great question. I get asked that often. Reporters get so much more access in the NBA than the NFL. I can listen in to the team huddle on the bench during a timeout or even the officials’ conversation. The understanding is of course I would never reveal Monty’s exact play or strategy, but I can report the tone of the huddle, whatever words of inspiration Monty shares. That will never happen in the NFL. I would probably be fired if I tried to poke my head into a team huddle or an officials’ meeting. The NBA is also different in that the same broadcasting crew stays with the same basketball team all season, as opposed to the NFL where my broadcast crew of Dick Stockton and John Lynch gets different teams every week. Although we study hard all week to learn those two football teams, you still don't know them as well as a basketball team that you’re with all season. At the end of the day though my job is the same in the NFL or NBA: tell the stories that affect the players, coaches and the game; help bring the fans into the how and why of the game; share anecdotes that help the viewers know these teams or this team better.
Hornets.com: It might be a bit early to ask, but how about a Super Bowl prediction? Who are we going to see play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Feb. 3?
Hale: Tough one! After covering the Seahawks and Redskins this year, I’m so impressed not just with the talent, but also the poise and maturity of rookie quarterbacks RG III and Russell Wilson. When I’ve interviewed them in production meetings and live on the field after the game, I feel as though I'm talking to a Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, given the depth of their answers and commitment to their teammates. Those young men are wonderful for the game of football, and it would be fun to see one of them take a shot at the ultimate prize in their first year as a pro. But if I had to choose two teams now, I'd go with the 49ers and the Patriots.
Hornets.com: For whatever reason, the Hornets have been in the middle of a road trip during most recent Super Bowls, but they fortuitously return this year from Minneapolis on the night before Super Bowl XLVII. Are any of the broadcasters or players planning/hoping to attend the Super Bowl?
Hale: I'm so excited about that! Absolutely. I'm sure as soon as the plane lands, several of us will be headed out to soak up some of the Super Bowl experience. It's wonderful exposure for New Orleans to serve as the host city, and I know that entire week will be a huge success. I live in the (French) Quarter, and everyone has been preparing for this game for months. I'll be covering the game for Fox 8, so my guess is it will be another night of little sleep!
Hornets.com: Through the first quarter or so of the season, which Hornets player has surprised you most with his play?
Hale: Greivis Vasquez. He’s working so hard to step up and fulfill those starting point guard duties, and I think his development as a player and on-the-court leader has grown tremendously. When you look at his numbers, he's notched double-digit assists in seven games already this season compared to just six games all of last season. He's tied for fifth in assists across the NBA, averaging 8.7, plus he can score. Along with LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, Greivis has recorded multiple games this season with at least 20 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds. Perhaps he can be this season's Most Improved Player in the NBA, as Ryan Anderson was last year! You can always count on him and Jason Smith to be the ones who never stop encouraging and pushing their teammates, regardless of the score. That's invaluable to such a young team especially. Some of the most successful coaches have told me repeatedly that locker room leadership is critical to where a team can or can’t go. The coaches can’t always be the only one delivering the message. A team must have players who are leaders to step up and re-enforce ideas or set the tone in the heat of battle. Players sometimes tune out a coach, like a student does a teacher, but when one of your peers calls you out, it can be very effective, shall we say. Vasquez and Smith are those leaders for this team, and I think we'll see that leadership grow over the course of the season.
Hornets.com: What are your impressions of Monty Williams after working with him for the first 20-plus games?
Hale: I really got to know Coach last year when he and his wife Ingrid allowed me to shadow them to do a story on their daily lives for Fox 8. He's most impressive, not just as a coach but as a husband, father and man. He's extremely disciplined, both as a coach and dad, but also very loving. He takes his girls to school every day, face-times with them on the road. I've seen him give signs of encouragement at practice to a player that's having a bad day: a pat on the back, a shoulder rub. He's strict because he cares. Monty is also very genuine: he practices what he preaches, so to speak. I love how he openly talks about his Christian faith. We need more positive male role models like that. He lives his faith out loud. He and Ingrid have five kids. It would be easy and understandable for them to disappear in the offseason, but instead they're rebuilding schools, churches, playgrounds, being an active part of rebuilding a better New Orleans. I really admire that.
Hornets.com: As someone who reports on the team on an every-game basis, how would you describe the team’s chemistry and how well players appear to get along with each other off the court?
Hale: They’re a tight-knit group. Lots of nights playing video games when there isn't a basketball game at hand! It's a young group: several of them aren't 21 yet, so they really stick together. It's a humble, friendly group, and I think Monty is the perfect coach to make sure they stay that way... that bad habits or big heads don't develop. Anthony Davis arrives at charity events like the Thanksgiving turkey giveaway at Rouses 15 minutes early because he wants to be sure he's not late. I've watched Austin Rivers get off the bus on multiple road trips and stop to sign autographs or take pictures with fans who have been camped out at the hotel waiting for the team to arrive. It's 1 am, the team is coming off a loss, and it’s been a long plane ride. All any of us want to do is get some sleep. But Austin appreciates the support. It's so refreshing. It's not like that with every pro team, I assure you.