In Game 2 of the 2018 Finals, Stephen Curry captured the attention of the sports world with a record shooting performance to lead Golden State to a 2-0 advantage in the series. As the final buzzer sounded and confetti rained down from the rafters of Oracle Arena, he made his way back onto the court for a postgame interview with another game-changer currently blazing a trail through the NBA.
Doris Burke is currently working her 10th NBA Finals, serving as the sideline reporter for ESPN on ABC. The walk to meet Curry on the court was a short one; the journey to that place and time was anything but.
The youngest of eight children in an Irish Catholic family, Burke found her calling at the ripe age of 7 when her family moved from New York to the Jersey shore. Their new residence was adjacent to a park, and as fate would have it, the previous owner had left a basketball in the yard.
"I picked that basketball up and I haven't put it down since," said Burke prior to Curry's Game 2 explosion. "It's been the great love of my life."
A point guard and four-year starter on the Manasquan High School women's basketball team, Burke stood out in between the lines long before she did outside of them. She grew up idolizing collegiate players like University of Kentucky's Kyle Macy and Notre Dame's Kelly Tripucka, but admits she was never the kind of shooter they were. When it came to the pros, she idolized Mo Cheeks, the consummate point guard on the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers Championship team.
"Everyone wanted to be Doctor J," she recalled. "I thought, there's no way I could be Doctor J, but Mo, I had a little bit better shot at that."
From 1981 to 1983, Burke led Manasquan to a cumulative 71-10 record. After averaging 19.8 points per game her senior year, she graduated as the school's all-time leading scorer before heading to Providence College on a scholarship, where her playing career would continue to flourish.
While playing for the Friars, Burke was named to the second-team All-Big East team once and twice made the All-Tournament team of the Big East Women's Basketball Tournament. Her senior year, she led the conference in assists and was named the college's Co-Female Athlete of the Year. After graduating as Providence's all-time leader in assists in 1987, she remained with the women's basketball program, serving as an assistant on the coaching staff for the next two seasons.
But following that second season, Burke made a transition that would eventually alter the course of sports broadcasting history. She moved from the sidelines to the booth, and soon began her broadcasting career as a radio analyst for her alma mater. The first year Burke stepped away from coaching coincided with the first year women's basketball games were broadcast on the radio. "I am the beneficiary of exceptional timing," she quipped.
Not too long after, she got her next big break. On a Saturday afternoon in the early 90's, a male announcer failed to show up for the Big East Game of the Week between Providence and Pittsburgh due to a miscommunication. In desperation, the administration reached out to Burke, who had never served as an analyst for a men's game before. And the rest, as they say, is history.
"I knew both teams," said Burke. "With zero preparation and 45 minutes notice, I pulled that game off and the next thing you knew, I started to get a bit of men's work. Honestly, it's been 25 to 28 years of just slow, methodical, taking step-by step progress. I've been very lucky."
Fast forward to today, where the effects of Burke's ability to capitalize on that opportunity are ongoing.
In addition to becoming the first woman ever to announce a Big East men's basketball game on TV, she was also the first woman to do a New York Knicks game on either TV or radio. She has served as the primary radio and TV voice of the New York Liberty, hosted shows like NBA Countdown, and been featured in every edition of the NBA 2K videogame series since 2010.
And, in 2017, she became the first woman to be a full-time NBA analyst on national television.
While she's obviously been tremendously successful throughout her career, Burke admits that broadcasting didn't always come naturally to her.
"My career is a very happy accident," said Burke. "I never studied communications. I was shy, as a college student even, except between the lines of the basketball floor – then I felt pretty good. But the idea that I'm a broadcaster is sort of mindboggling to most of my close friends."
While participating in a Q&A session with a group of Warriors employees a day prior to Game 2, Burke admitted she still has a fear of public speaking. "It scares the bejesus out of me," she confessed.
That fear, though, clearly hasn't held her back. She stands today as a pioneer in her field, a trailblazer and role model for women everywhere hoping to follow in her footsteps. She knows, though, that just as she has blazed a trail for others, so too was her trail blazed by those that came before her.
She credits the likes of journalist Jackie MacMullan and sportscasters Suzyn Waldman and Gayle Gardner for helping to break the glass ceiling for women working in sports journalism. "They paved the way," said Burke. "My job and my life have been a lot easier because of them."
She also knows that there are others ready to carry the torch and further elevate the place of women in sports, some of which have already done so. In speaking of women such as Washington Wizards analyst Kara Lawson, Charlotte Hornets analyst Stephanie Ready and TNT's Ros Gold-Onwude, Burke marvels at their abilities.
"I love that they are passionate and knowledgeable," she said. "They are going to blow past where we are now and go on to unbelievable places."
When asked for advice from those hoping to follow in her path, Burke tends to focus on preparation and professionalism: "Ultimately we all only have our reputation, and it is nothing more than a series of small decisions you make every single day."
The countless small decisions Burke has made over the thousands of days since first stepping behind the mic all those years ago have led her back to the NBA Finals for this, the 10th time. And in this particular instance, where the same two teams are facing each other for the fourth consecutive season for the first time in league history, it's only fitting television viewers will be treated to the sideline reporting of such an historic figure.
Her groundbreaking career has cemented her place in NBA and sports broadcasting history, both literally and figuratively. This past February, Burke was named a recipient of the 2018 Curt Gowdy Media Award by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, a prestigious award presented annually to members of the electronic and print media whose longtime efforts have made a significant contribution to the game of basketball. She will be recognized during the Hall of Fame ceremonies in September alongside her idol Cheeks, who is serendipitously being inducted this same year.
And while Burke's recognition is most certainly well deserved, it's not an indication she will be hanging up her microphone anytime soon. The morning following her sideline conversation with Curry, Burke signed a multi-year extension with ESPN that will ensure she'll be providing the same inspired NBA analysis for years to come.
"I've loved basketball my entire life and to be able to cover this sport is a privilege that I don't take for granted," said Burke in announcing her extension. "My love for the game, and for my colleagues, both in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes, make this job such a rewarding experience every day."
For the viewers on the other side of the broadcast, the rewarding experience is and will continue to be a mutual one.