Last week, ESPN announced longtime reporter/analyst/host Doris Burke would serve as a regular game analyst for a slate of NBA games this upcoming season. On Thursday, Burke appeared on the SI Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch to discuss that and more.
Burke’s thoughts on the notoriously curt Spurs coach were particularly thorough. While many fans find entertainment in Popovich’s evasive answers to mid-quarter questions from sideline reporters, Burke is not amused. Here’s the strongest portion of a thoughtful conversation on how the coach deals with media, particularly during these in-game interviews.
“I adore Pop, but do I agree with how he handles those interviews? No,” Burke said. “I just don’t agree with it. And Pop used to say to us, he’d say, ‘I’m sorry, but I get in, and I’m just locked in. I want to get to my job.’ But if it’s been an NBA coach or an NBA player, he is different. And I don’t pretend to know as much basketball as Gregg Popovich. You know, that old expression about he’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know. Of course. But I don’t think it’s asking too much for a league that has experienced great success, in part because of television coverage, who has seen its salaries grow to astronomical rates, I don’t think it’s a lot to stand in, whether you think the questions are inane, frustrating, aggravating — I think my questions are pretty solid, hopefully that doesn’t sound arrogant, but I think they’re pretty solid — I don’t think it’s too much to stand in and deliver.”
The idea that Popovich treats former NBA players and coaches differently from reporters without background in pro basketball is interesting. Across sports, players and coaches act differently around those they perceive as being part of their club, which can make life more difficult for reporters who didn’t play and especially for women, who almost necessarily can’t belong to that fraternity.
Despite her criticism of Popovich’s attitude toward interviews, Burke noted how much she likes him as a person and shared a cute anecdote to prove it. The story takes place in the minutes after Popovich’s Spurs lost Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals to the Heat.
“So they’re walking out of American Airlines Arena in Miami, and I am walking to try to find my crew. And I walk directly into the path of Gregg Popovich. So imagine how Gregg Popovich felt at that moment, Richard. They lose Game 6, they lose Game 7, and now here comes Gregg Popovich, and he’s got his suit draped over his shoulder. And I take a step back, because I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I feel so bad.’ And he instead stops, grabs my shoulder, turns me toward him and says ‘Now Doris, what will you do now that the season’s over?’ And I said, ‘Well, one thing of interest to you, Pop, is I’m going to go to Napa soon. I tape a video game out there, and while I’m out there I’m going to go to wine country.’ And he said, ‘Before you go, you need to contact my secretary, and I’m going to give you exactly where you should go and when.’ And do you know that within one week of that heartbreak that he had just suffered, one, he took the time to just say, ‘How you doing? What’s up now for you?’ And I got an incredibly long email saying, ‘Go to this restaurant, go to this winery, think about this, it’s a great picnic spot over here.’ So that’s the kind of man he is. Just extraordinary respect.”
It’s nice to hear that Gregg Popovich is a nice, considerate person, even to reporters. It’s certainly fair for Burke to wish he’d act that way on camera as well.