One of the things that makes the NBA so special is the wide-range of personalities that exist in the league. From the early days of the NBA to now, there are certain players, coaches and media members that we just can’t tell the league’s story without. One of those names that you can’t tell the story of the NBA without is Doris Burke, who has been calling games for ESPN since 2003. If you’re an NBA fan, there’s a good chance you know a lot about Doris Burke, but outside of being a Hall Of Fame announcer, how much do you really know about her? Without further ado, let’s get to know more about ESPN’s Doris Burke.
Young Doris Burke and introduction to basketball
Burke (formerly Sable), the youngest of eight children, was born on Long Island, but raised on the Jersey Shore in Manasquan, New Jersey. When Burke’s family moved to their new home, the first thing Doris saw when she walked inside was a basketball that the previous family had left behind. Across the street from Burke’s house was a basketball court where she spend hours as a kid. In an interview with NJ.com, Burke said “I literally picked that ball up as a 7-year-old and I have not put it down to this day.”
She attended Manasquan High School where she was a star athlete. As a freshman she started on the women’s basketball team and eventually became the school’s all-time leading scorer. Burke led her Manasquan teams to an 81-10 record from 1981-1983.
When asked about being a basketball player from New Jersey, Burke said “A lot of tough players come out of Jersey, tough-minded kids. That’s what I was.”
The first time her ex-husband saw her play he said ‘That’s the dirtiest player I’ve ever seen in my life. She was scratching and clawing and diving.”
After an impressive career at Mansaquan High School, Burke went on to play for Providence college, where she was awarded a full scholarship. When asked about how important receiving a scholarship was, Burke said “For me to even think about attending a college or university would have been a real financial hardship. It would not have happened, that basketball scholarship changed my life.”
Doris Burke’s college days at Providence
Burke was a leader the moment she arrived on Providence’s campus. She was named to the Big East’s All-Rookie Team as a freshman and only continued to get better. Burke led Providence in assists in three of her four seasons and was named First Team All-Big East twice. She earned First Team All-American honors in 1987.
When Burke graduated she was Providence’s all-time assists leader and tenth all-time leading scorer. In 1999 she was inducted into the Providence Athletics Hall Of Fame. At her induction ceremony Providence’s athletic director commented on Burke saying “The honor is well deserved, and is a tribute to her exceptional character, drive and passion for athletics, not just during her time here at Providence College, but as she has progressed through her professional career.”
Burke finished her Friars career averaging 12.1 ppg and 5.3 apg.
After her playing days were finished, Burke joined the Providence Women’s basketball team’s coaching staff. She helped coach for two years before marrying and starting a family with now ex-husband, Greg Burke.
Burke gets her start in broadcasting
Although Burke retired from coaching, she still wanted to work in basketball to some capacity. She began calling Providence women’s basketball games on the radio. Although not many people were listening to her broadcasts, Burke loved announcing games. She knew her new job was a good fit saying “My strength is that I know the game so well. Whatever shortcomings I had because of lack of experience, I could always overcome those because the bottom line was, I knew the game.”
After a few years of calling women’s games, Burke got her big break. One night an announcer for a Rhode Island vs. Pitt men’s game couldn’t make it so Burke filled in for him and the rest was history. She began calling Big East and Atlantic 10 basketball games for NESN, slowly climbing up the ladder.
In 1997 the WNBA started and Burke began calling games for the New York Liberty on MSG. A few years later she became the first woman to call a New York Knicks game.
Her start at ESPN
Although she worked with ESPN in some capacity since 1991, Burke came on full-time in 2003 working with Dick Vitale on ESPN’s top college basketball announcing team. She slowly started climbing up the ladder, serving as a sideline reporter for NBA games. Burke called games for ESPN every so often, but it wasn’t until 2017 that she became a full-time NBA analyst for the network. In 2020, Burke became the first woman to ever call an NBA Finals game.
When she received the job, Burke said “I cried. You pour your heart and soul into something, and you’ve taken steps and you get somewhere, I don’t know that I consciously allowed myself to dream that, but it happened.”
— Maria Taylor (@MariaTaylor) June 11, 2019
Burke’s work with ESPN has been noticed by the best in the business. Jeff Van Gundy, who works closely with Burke, referred to her as the “LeBron James of sportscasters.” For her work as an analyst and sideline reporter, Burke was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018
Doris Burke and Drake
In 2016, Burke made headlines for a moment she shared with rapper Drake. During a Raptors game, Burke turned around, only to see Drake making a heart sign with his hands. Burke was pretty confused saying, “I just could not believe this happened. Drake turned around—my seat at game six was right behind him—makes a heart shape [with his hands] and points at me. I’m looking around behind me to see who’s there, turn back to him and then he points and he does it again. I texted my daughter and said, ‘You need to know Drake just did this to me.”
While that moment was probably strange enough, Drake doubled down by wearing a “woman crush everyday” shirt with Burke’s face on it.
DRAKE NIGHT DRAKE SHIRT pic.twitter.com/3k2ZUWwY62
— Holly MacKenzie (@stackmack) November 17, 2016
Personal life and family
Doris has two children, Matt and Sarah Burke, with her ex-husband, Greg Burke. The two met while both working for the Providence College athletic department in the 80s.
Burke says the toughest part of her job is the amount of time she has to spend away from her kids. In an interview with the Hartford Courant, she said “I remember being in a parking lot, I think it was in New Mexico, I was to be at a shoot-around at 9 a.m. their time,” Doris said. “And I got off the phone with Sarah and Matthew and I sat in that parking lot and cried for a little bit. Because I had been away so much. It got to the point where I was calculating how much time I had been away from the kids. It was very difficult for me. Gregg was not working. But I’m their mom. Moms are moms. I wasn’t there.”
Once Burke was hired by ESPN she was able to enjoy the best of both worlds. Her travel schedule became less intense and she was able to spend more time with her family.
Burke has paved the way for women in the sports broadcasting world but admits that there’s still plenty of work to be done. She says “we still have a long way to go. Because the reality is that I’m 52 years old. And how many 55 to 60-year-old women do you see in sports broadcasting? How many? I see a lot of 60-year-old men broadcasting. The physical appearance and natural aging of all the men doing this job don’t matter.”
Although Burke has accomplished just about everything a sportscaster can in their career, we don’t see her retiring anytime soon. Expect to see and hear Doris Burke calling NBA games for many years to come.