Over 15 years in broadcasting, Michael Grady has covered nearly all the ground there is from radio to television, behind the scenes and in front of the camera. But this past summer, the YES Network’s Brooklyn Nets sideline reporter still had another one of those first-time moments that brought him back to what led him towards the business in the first place.
One of his favorite watches growing up was NBA Inside Stuff, where Ahmad Rashad took the show beyond the basketball court to connect with the personalities behind the talent. That was the focus behind the Nets’ Summer in the City series of videos, which brought Grady to Chinatown with young Brooklyn center Jarrett Allen.
The pair toured the neighborhood, visited some blacktop basketball courts, poked around shops and sat down for a meal.
“This is literally what I would watch on the floor in my living room at home as a kid watching Ahmad Rashad, this type of stuff,” said Grady. “Joking, laughing, bringing personality out, buying chopsticks at a local spot. And so I thought that was really, really cool. That, to me, is just the best part, because these guys are really good guys. They eat, sleep, breathe basketball, but they have different interests, other things that they care about, and getting to connect with the human side of these guys and bringing that out, because I think about little Michael Grady somewhere who’s watching Spencer Dinwiddie and makes a connection with him on his love of Marvel, or Jarrett Allen and his love of video games. Or whatever it might be. Might be fashion, might be something else. So that’s the coolest part for me is making that connection with these players and being that liaison between them and the fan base.”
The other big influence for Grady was Bob Costas, the versatile long-time host and play-by-play man who brought and effortless, smooth quality to his broadcasts. It’s that influence you can see when Grady is delivering reports throughout the season on Nets broadcasts with the pregame show, halftime coaches interviews, and postgame interviews on-court and from the locker room.
“His whole way is cool,” said Nets play-by-play man Ian Eagle. “How he carries himself, that’s natural to him. He’s inquisitive and definitely interested in what people have to say. That to me is the sign of a good reporter because those are the attributes you need, and I think the audience can see through it if you’re not. The fact that he’s had different experiences in talk radio, local TV, now play-by-play just makes him even more prepared for the job that he’s doing. This varied background has led him to this position.”
Grady got his start as a radio producer at home in Indianapolis, but once he got behind the microphone and in front of the camera, things moved quickly. Some voiceover work for a show he was executive producing for ESPN Radio led to a call from the Indiana Pacers and an opportunity to be their in-arena public address announcer, a role he held for seven seasons beginning in 2010.
A year later, he moved from the board to the microphone, hosting the Grady and Big Joe Show with former Indianapolis Colt Joe Staysniak. In 2013, a long playoff run by the Pacers opened the door to television. He started out doing postgame reports from the arena for the local ABC affiliate. Indiana went to the conference finals, and soon after Grady had another piece in his portfolio as the channel’s sports anchor.
It led to some busy days; radio hosting in the morning, prepping the evening sports report at the station’s offices then delivering it from the arena, PA duties with the Pacers, then back to the station’s studios for the nightly news.
“My thing first off was to say yes to everything,” said Grady. “Especially when I was trying to get my foot in the door. The challenging part of that is learning when to say no. I definitely — just to show what I could do to try to make a name for myself — at the radio station if they wanted me to wash windows or they wanted me to do the overnight shift, whatever, I was happiest when I was broadcasting. When I was in college, first day of school, they went around, ‘what does everybody want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to be a broadcast professional.’ When I had a foot in the door, I just wanted to do everything.”
All the work — and the skill with which he did it — led to being honored as the 2016 Indiana Sportscaster of the Year. As he began to think about what was next, his agent sent him a list of some opportunities worth looking into. Buried a little bit was a note about YES looking for a Nets sideline reporter. He liked the idea of New York City, but also being able to travel and see the country with the team.
“It was like a footnote at the bottom,” said Grady. “The more I thought about it, the more it resonated. To me, that footnote became the thing really fast. I followed up with him on that. I had done several different interviews, but the one with YES was the one where I felt the most comfortable. And it was a team that was coming off a 20-win season, but I always felt like the team was cool. I felt like the team was cool and it wouldn’t take long for something to pop. You’d get a player to go there and then it just pops. I just felt like it was a golden opportunity and I couldn’t pass it up.”
The sideline job in Brooklyn opened up before the 2017-18 season with YES moving Sarah Kustok into the lead analyst’s role after five seasons as the sideline reporter. After a broad, national search in which the YES team reviewed more than 100 reels, Grady got the call that the job was his. A week later, he was settling into a new apartment right next to Barclays Center just days before he made his on-air debut during the Nets’ first preseason game.
“You think about someone’s whole life changing,” said Eagle. “All he knew was Indianapolis. He gets thrown into this new team, new city, new crew. I think it takes a unique personality to handle that and not allow anyone to see you sweat. If he was nervous, if he was overwhelmed, I never saw any sign of it.”
“New Yorkers are like, ‘oh, you’re a New Yorker now. Get in line.’ There’s no adjustment period,” said Grady. “You’ve just gotta be in it. There’s no transit for beginners or anything like that. You’re just in it. Figure it out.”
With YES, he’s fit right in with a tight-knit group that has been together for a while. Eagle has been calling Nets games since 1994. Ryan Ruocco has been with the network since 2007. Producer Frank DiGraci has been doing Nets games for two decades. And Kustok had Grady’s sideline role for five seasons before moving into the analyst’s role.
“He totally has shown me up! I mean goodness gracious. I look back and I’m like, thank God I don’t have to do that job anymore because Grady is so excellent at it,” said Kustok. “For as much as I would always be there for him and vice versa for all of us any time we have questions for things or have to figure out logistics of stuff, he came in as such a total pro that there wasn’t anything he needed from me.
“Michael Grady is as polished, sincere, authentic as they come. He is so immensely well-prepared, so there’s such a great understanding of the game that he already innately has, from loving the game, being a fan since he was a kid and he has been the most tremendous fit with our broadcast team.”
Even after coming to Brooklyn, Grady kept his radio show back in Indianapolis going for more than a year. And now that he’s here he’s back to branching out. This past Sunday, he moved into the studio for a game to host the pregame and postgame shows. He’s picked up sideline gigs for NFL games. And after doing some play-by-play for the New York Liberty last season, he’s expecting to do more of the same this year.
“When I came to New York I was thinking, oh it’s New York, the hustle and bustle. People are edgier, going to be rude, I’m going to face much stronger personalities,” said Grady. “I still want to do this regardless. I want to go as far as I can go. Indianapolis was great, but I knew that I wanted to push it and go as far as I can go, and that means I may be dealing with some harsher personalities. I could not have been more wrong. I don’t care how corny it sounds to say, ‘oh it’s a family.’ Everybody says this. It literally is. I genuinely love all the people, from our guys in the truck, and Frank running the show. And then Ian Eagle is the best. Sarah Kustok is the best. RJ (Richard Jefferson) is, you know, hilarious. I’m not gonna say he’s the best. But he’s hilarious. (Ryan) Ruocco is amazing. And we all click. And so that’s something I felt when I took the job and what they were telling me the environment and the energy was like, and then experiencing it, I couldn’t be more thankful than to work with this group of people.”