Warriors reporter Kerith Burke turns bumpy road into impressive first season
So you think being the sideline television reporter for the NBA champs is all glamor all the time? Then you haven’t seen the dank little “hidey hole” in which MAXX Client Kerith Burke hangs out during Warriors games at Oracle Arena.
When she’s not delivering on-air reports or interviewing players, Burke, who is in her rookie season with NBC Sports Bay Area, spends plenty of time hunkered down just beyond the baseline and below the stands. Envision the cupboard Harry Potter occupied under the stairs in the Dursleys’ home and you get the general idea: It’s a dark and cramped space where she can only see the game on a 14-inch monitor perched on a fold-out table. Occasionally, peanut shells rain down from above and she has been known to rescue cell phones that fans have fumbled.
The worst part? The temperature.
“It’s really cold back here,” Burke says, settling into her seat next to audio assistant Jason Knapp just before Wednesday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. “I always get goosebumps. Sometimes I wonder if the camera will pick them up in HD. I think I’m safe, though.”
But a few goosebumps and peanut shells aren’t about to get Burke down. This, after all, is a woman who not long ago was bagging groceries just to pay the rent. Now she owns one of the most coveted jobs in sports broadcasting — assigned to a star-studded, world-renowned team that has captured two NBA titles in three years.
“I feel honored to be doing what I’m doing because there’s a very big spotlight on this job,” she says. “But I know what it took to get me here, and I’m appreciative of the path I took.”
So far, Burke, who replaced fan favorite Rosalyn “Ros” Gold-Onwude, has been getting positive reviews from not only Dub Nation, but the people she covers and works with.
“We love Kerith,” says Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “She’s as smart as a whip. She understands the game. She understands her position and is really good at it. I’m impressed, especially given that it’s year one and I think she’s killing it.”
Burke’s play-by-play partners apparently are just as impressed. Bob Fitzgerald raves about her work ethic (“She’s really diligent and on top of everything she needs to be to cover this team”), and Jim Barnett talks of her on-air composure (“It’s easy to see that the camera really likes her.”).
All the positive reinforcement is welcome, especially considering the bumpy road Burke took to get here. This May, as the Warriors were storming their way through the postseason, Burke reluctantly took at job at a Whole Foods Market because, as she admits, “I needed to pay my bills.”
A few months earlier, Burke had ended her longtime stint as a sports anchor and reporter at SportsNet New York (SNY) and moved to the Bay Area to be closer to her boyfriend. It was the first time in her life, she says, “that I put my personal life over my career.”
With her stout resume, Burke, who had covered the U.S. women’s basketball team during the 2016 Olympics for NBC, believed it wouldn’t be difficult to find another job in sports journalism. But she found herself scrambling for freelance gigs, including some work with the Pac-12 Network. As her savings dwindled, she tried to hide the struggle from her friends.
“I don’t really think that it’s special that I took a job at Whole Foods,” Burke says. “Millions of Americans are doing what they need to do to pay the bills. But it was a good moment to reflect and remind myself that there’s nothing beneath me.
“It was also a reminder that loading watermelons into double bags is not what I prefer to do. So it sort of galvanized me again to keep trying in sports.”
By the end of summer, her big break arrived when Gold-Onwude accepted a position with Turner Sports to cover the NBA full time. In early October, NBC Sports Bay Area awarded its open position to Burke, who immediately expressed hope that viewers wouldn’t label her as the “new Ros.”
“She was beloved here and she earned it,” Burke says of her predecessor. “I have an appreciation for what she did. Her style was really all about letting people in. I knew I was stepping into some big shoes. But I can’t be Ros. I can only be me and I hope viewers are discovering my style.”
Her style apparently includes a dogged commitment to the job. On Wednesday, Burke maintained what is a typical home-game schedule, leaving her apartment in San Francisco at 9:45 a.m. to make the Warriors shoot-around. There, she interviewed Kerr and a few players before co-hosting “Warriors With You,” a Facebook Live show geared toward fan interaction, with Monte Poole.
Then it was back across the bridge to grab lunch, change clothes and do her hair and makeup for that night’s telecast. By 3:30 p.m., she was at Oracle Arena to meet with production staff, shoot segments for the pre-game show and attend Kerr’s pre-game press conference.
After the game and all the sideline and press-conference duties that entails, she was back on the road shortly after 11 p.m. and headed home.
“It’s a long day, but it’s a great day,” Burke says. “I knew what I was getting into and I don’t know if I could have done this as a younger person.”
Kerr, who has experienced his share of TV work, says it’s a tougher job than some might think, and Burke has a good handle on it.
“She knows her place and I mean that in a good way,” he says. “As a sideline reporter, you have to understand that there are times that you have to back off and give the team some space. And there are other times you get in there and get some good info. I think she really understands that give-and-take. And I think it’s remarkable that she has found her niche so early in her first year.”
MEET KERITH BURKE
— What’s in a name: Her distinctive first name comes from a character in “The Source,” a 1965 novel by James A. Michener. “My mom loves to read,” Burke says, “and she wanted something that sounds Irish. I’ve never met another Kerith, but I know they’re out there.”
— No relation: Some basketball fans have assumed that Kerith is the daughter of Doris Burke, the veteran ABC and ESPN basketball analyst. Nope, but the younger Burke is a big fan.
— Go, Cougars: Burke and Warriors guard Klay Thompson share the same alma mater. They both attended Washington State University.
— Winning ways: The Warriors aren’t the first championship team Burke has been around. With SNY, she covered perennial women’s college basketball powerhouse UCONN for several seasons.