EDITOR’S NOTE: ESPN analyst Doris Burke, a former women’s college basketball player at Providence College, has been a notable face in the game for over three decades. The conclusion of the Women’s Final Four in Dallas last night marked Burke’s final women’s college basketball game for the network. She has been a part of the Women’s Final Four in various capacities over the years, working for Westwood One Radio (2001 and 2002), as an ESPN sideline reporter (2003-05) and her current role as a game analyst (2006-2017). While she will continue her work on ESPN’s NBA and men’s college basketball coverage, Burke wanted to thank those that have made the game so special to her.
After so many years there is such a familiar rhythm to the Women’s Final Four and the morning of the national championship game is always the same. Riding the momentum into this special weekend – months of planes, trains, automobiles, shoot arounds, games, film study, lack of sleep and exercise, too many meals on the road and a deep desire to spend consecutive nights in my own bed can make anyone cranky but it is really all worth it to get to this moment. Right away, “HoRowe” [Holly Rowe] and “5-0” [Rebecca Lobo] exchange knowing glances and hatch a plan. Holly’s intervention involves snacks, definitely chocolate, 9 a.m. be damned. With Rebecca, it might be a nudge, an eye roll or a sarcastic remark which snaps me back to our incredible good fortune.
We are sitting courtside in a relatively quiet gym as the first of two teams gets loose for what will be their final practice of the season. The air is thick with nerves and anticipation and we watch with eager eyes as the final parts of the gameplan come together. We share the last bit of banter with the players and coaches for whom we feel so much love and respect, and to whom we are so grateful that they have shared their stories and journeys. These final preparations always seem to move so quickly.
In the car ride back to the hotel, we discuss hair, makeup, outfits, jewelry and the wonders of Spanx. Usually, we save this kind of conversation for rides when our partner Dave O’Brien is with us. OB [Dave O’Brien] pretends to be exasperated by all of this, but secretly we know he loves it. And we know unequivocally he is not getting any of this with [Jay] Bilas or [Dick] Vitale. I adore Dave O’Brien – he has no idea how proud I am when he calls me partner. Chemistry between a play-by-play person and an analyst cannot be manufactured. It exists or it doesn’t and I’ll put ours up against any combination.
For the last several years, for many reasons, at this time of year, I am convinced I have worked the Women’s Final Four for the last time. It is my feelings for the people on the event and my love for the game that kept me coming back. But it is time.
There are so many moments that stand out:
• If you are ever on the concourse of the Xfinity Center in College Park, Md., listen to Mike Patrick’s call of the Kristi Toliver 3-pointer which sent the game to overtime and eventually led to a national title for Brenda Frese and the Maryland Terrapins. To this day, that call gives me goosebumps.
• The image of Sue Bird pregame, in the first Final Four post 9/11, captured through the camera lens of the great Tim Tew. Sue is courtside, one of many, holding the massive flag. Tim crawled underneath and captured Sue through the battered fabric. It was brilliant. I’ve often wondered what former long-time director Chip Dean was thinking when he cut that shot.
• It has been a privilege to watch the one-and-only Diana Taurasi, the greatest winner in women’s basketball history, Brittney Griner, Candace Parker, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart and so many others. How about little Itty Bitty, Morgan William, and the shot heard around the basketball community, upsetting mighty UConn and ending the 111-game win streak? Both remarkable in their own right. . .
• The coaches we have been lucky enough to cover are giants whose legacies transcend the game. Basketball and beyond misses Pat Summitt, so do I. Even as I watched Geno [Auriemma] author this incredible history at UConn, I still can’t fully wrap my mind around such extraordinary excellence.
Before I sign off, and though acknowledging I don’t have a vote, I feel compelled to make a nomination. For over two decades, Phil Dean produced the hell out of this event. He should go into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as a caretaker of the game. Holly and Rebecca, you are Hall of Fame teammates and great friends. My sincere thanks to all of the people who have worked long and hard on this event.
So many people doing their job, at a high level, amazes me – graphics, tape, audio, cameras, producer, director – everyone’s job so important to make our well-oiled machine tick game-after-game.
To Tina, Dave, John Mark, Leo, Rich, Schwabbie, Brenda, John, Freddie and so many others who have sustained their own level of excellence on this project, thank you for all of your hard work and commitment.
As I continue my own journey at ESPN – the rigors of travel and my commitment to be the best version of me on an ever-growing schedule of NBA and men’s college games – I am confident women’s basketball is in good hands, on-and-off the court. This special community is always going to be a part of everything I do, and I am forever grateful for all it has given me.
In the essay above, Burke references colleagues past and present including: ESPN Senior Vice President Tina Thornton, former coordinating producer Dave Miller, director Mike Schwab, analyst Brenda VanLengen, EVS operator John Mark Stewart, lead video operator Leo Boucher, ISO producer Rich Chmela, talent statistician John Maddrey and official statistician Freddie Kiger.