Comment on this story
They were in a cab on the strategy to a Yankees game within the waning years of former NBA player Drew Gooden’s profession when Chris Miller, then the sideline reporter for the Washington Wizards, looked over at his friend and asked, “What’s next?”
Gooden hemmed and hawed and said he didn’t quite know, until Miller suggested he try sportscasting. Gooden was articulate and a locker-room favorite amongst reporters in search of a quote; he had been told before that he had the makings of an analyst.
“I put two and two together and thought, ‘If Chris thinks I can do it, perhaps I can audition for something,’” Gooden said.
Six years after Gooden retired a Wizard, the last of 10 NBA teams he played for, he and Miller reunited within the booth in October to call Wizards games for NBC Sports Washington together with Meghan McPeak, who serves because the on-court reporter.
The trio makes a singular grouping within the NBA: they’re the one all-Black local broadcast team across the league’s 30 franchises.
They aren’t the NBA’s first all-Black crew — that was Charlotte’s Eric Collins, Dell Curry and Stephanie Ready, in response to Miller and the Wizards. But they’re the one lively all-Black crew, a rarity in an industry still overwhelmingly White and male, especially within the vaunted play-by-play role.
Viewers have been capable of flip on NBA games for years and watch diverse broadcasters. The vast majority of the league’s sideline reporters are women; nearly all of analysts are Black former players.
But within the play-by-play role, the quarterback position on a broadcast crew, progress has lagged far behind.
Miller joined Collins (Charlotte), Michael Grady (Minnesota), Mark Jones and Kyle Draper, who split the role for Sacramento, as Black full-time play-by-play announcers. Lisa Byington made history as the primary female full-time play-by-play announcer for a serious men’s skilled sports team when she was hired to call Milwaukee Bucks games at the beginning of last season — roughly per week before Kate Scott was hired to do the identical for the Philadelphia 76ers. Adam Amin, the son of Pakistani immigrants, calls games for the Chicago Bulls.
In Washington, Miller is the primary Black person to call play-by-play full-time across town’s major league hockey, men’s basketball and baseball teams. (NFL teams control who populates their TV booth only during preseason games).
“Wow. Really?” Miller said, surprised when he learned the tidbit. “Then I take that mantle. That’s humbling.”
“But I don’t think it’s just like the end-all, be-all of what we do. I don’t ever think like, hey, I’m a Black play-by-play announcer within the NBA, I just don’t take into consideration that. I believe of, I’ve been on this industry for 26 years. I got my break, my dream job in 12 months 16 covering a team that I even have put my heart and soul into.”
Miller, 48, was a drummer studying music at Indiana State when a friend who had heard him spout sports knowledge while the 2 played video games encouraged him to stop by a broadcast journalism class. Miller caught the bug and forged a path into the industry as an intern at a TV station in Terre Haute, Ind., turning the dial on the teleprompter for $4.25 an hour while learning the best way to write, log highlights, edit and listen to how anchors delivered the news.
His first job out of faculty was on the CBS affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and his “big break,” Miller said, got here when he was hired on the ABC affiliate in Cleveland covering the Cavaliers in 2001, which can be where he first met Gooden.
He moved to Washington in 2007 to work at NBC Sports Washington and have become the Wizards’ sideline reporter a 12 months later, a task he held until this summer.
Neither Miller, McPeak nor Gooden find it particularly groundbreaking that every one three of them are Black broadcasters working together. But they do take their positions as proof that opportunities within the industry are opening up.
“We’re not the primary [all-Black crew], we’re just the following,” Miller said. “Which implies, hopefully, more of us will follow.”
Miller knows what it’s to attend his turn.
The North Carolina native was a finalist to interchange beloved Wizards announcer Steve Buckhantz in 2019 when the job went to former Fox Sports broadcaster Justin Kutcher. When Miller heard he finally got the job this offseason, he wept. He says now that serving an additional two years on the sideline made it that much sweeter when he landed his dream job.
Gaining that perspective took time.
“I believed I had put enough work on the market to let people know I could do it [in 2019]. But I don’t think people were ready yet,” Miller said. “And I’m okay with that now. I wasn’t then, I used to be upset, because I put plenty of sweat equity into my job. … But I just don’t think the powers that be were ready for it. I believe they’re ready now. I take a look at Kate Scott, I take a look at Lisa Byington. I’m not going to say it was a race thing, I’m just going to say I don’t think they were ready for me to try this job because I had never done it before.
“My argument to that’s, well who would you discover that knows this team higher than me? That’s how I felt. But I do feel like we’re in a greater place now. We’ve got two women within the NBA calling games.”
Gooden, 41, predicts the play-by-play role will proceed to diversify because the industry transitions.
“When you get behind that mic, those jobs are solidified in stone for 20, 30, 40 years, a few of these jobs. So when do you truly get a shot? Regardless of who you’re,” Gooden said. “Now you’re beginning to see guys retire, and other individuals are beginning to get a likelihood. So I don’t think [White male play-by-play announcers] are going to be the norm going forward. I believe it’s going to be the very best man for the job, it’s going to be current, it’s going to be based on what people need to hear. And it’s going to be progressive.”
Miller learned the best way to run point on a broadcast by observing Buckhantz for greater than a decade.
He saw the veteran hand-write his opening to the telecast every game (Miller prefers to write down his on his iPhone), watched how Buckhantz assembled his notes on players and studied his delivery, just as Miller did during his intern days in Indiana.
In turn, Miller is the one now doling out advice to McPeak, who took over sideline duties with a wealth of TV experience to tug from. The Canadian became certainly one of the primary women to call play-by-play in 2018 when she called a preseason Wizards game on the team-owned Monumental Sports Network.
The brand new trio is working to solidify their chemistry just over a month into the season while operating under a singular edict: inform and entertain. For McPeak, which means asking herself after every game if she had a good time.
“It’s basketball. We are usually not attempting to do rocket science or brain surgery, we would like viewers to have a good time,” she said. “That’s my No. 1 goal every game — did I even have fun? Chris and Drew, they make it easy to try this while I’m doing my due diligence in telling the stories of those players.”
Miller and Gooden are leaning on their a few years of friendship to make the published harmonious.
Gooden said that between working together with his old friend and Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Wizards, taking full ownership of NBC Sports Washington in September, he’s never felt more at home behind the mic in 4 years of broadcasting. “Signed a 10-day contract, I’ve been here 10 years,” Gooden joked.
Miller, meantime, beams when asked how he’s settling into the brand new gig — and takes care to remind Gooden where their journey to sharing a broadcast booth began.
“Calling games for the Washington Wizards is a dream job for me, for so long as I’ve been here, for as many things as I’ve seen. That is the place where I desired to call NBA games,” Miller said. “And tell Drew he owes me 4 percent of every little thing he makes any further. Finders fee.”