From NBA to TV: Inside the world of players-turned-broadcasters

From NBA to TV: Inside the world of players-turned-broadcasters

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From NBA to TV: Inside the world of players-turned-broadcasters

The average NBA career lasts four-to-six years, which means most players have their whole life ahead of them after retiring from the league. Many don’t know where to turn once their playing days are over because they spent the majority of their time focusing solely on basketball.

That’s why the National Basketball Players Association offers current and former NBA players career guidance and several courses that are designed to help players find a post-retirement career. One such course is called Sportscaster U and it’s held at Syracuse University every year. Sportscaster U is a broadcasting course that’s been offered to players since 2008. Players must pay $1,500 to reserve their spot, but they get their money back upon arrival (so it’s completely free).

The course crams a ton of lessons into several busy, long days. Players listen to guest speakers, take notes while watching broadcasts and get numerous opportunities to practice the craft. They simulate radio play-by-play and color commentary, calling the first quarter of a recent NBA Finals game. Then, they call an NBA Finals game on camera alongside a current broadcaster to get television experience. Players also do mock debates, player interviews and analysis segments on camera and in a studio.

Every player who attends Sportscaster U gets a demo reel that features their interviews, analysis and their mock radio and TV broadcasts, so they have something to show networks when applying for a job in the media space.

Sportscaster U has helped many former players land broadcasting jobs. Last year, NBPA Career Counselor Rich Rinaldi told Sports Business Daily that 81 percent of participants have “gotten jobs in broadcasting following the completion of their NBA careers.” Alumni of the program include Charles Barkley (Turner Sports), Shaquille O’Neal (Turner Sports), Caron Butler (ESPN), Ryan Hollins (ESPN), Richard Hamilton (NBA TV) and Brevin Knight (Fox Sports Southeast) among many others.

HoopsHype wanted a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to make the transition from NBA player to broadcaster, so we asked some friends to discuss their transition, the pros and cons of their second career and more. Here’s the panel of players-turned-broadcasters we interviewed.

  • Dominique Wilkins is a Hall of Famer who played 15 seasons in the NBA. In addition to serving as the Atlanta Hawks’ VP of Basketball, he has also worked for Fox Sports Southeast as a Hawks television analyst for the last decade.
  • Chauncey Billups played 17 seasons in the NBA prior to joining ESPN in 2014. He’s a studio analyst on NBA Countdown, he was part of ESPN’s 2018 NBA draft coverage, he has written for The Players’ Tribune and he appears on many ESPN shows.
  • Caron Butler played 14 seasons in the NBA prior to joining ESPN as a college basketball analyst. He has also co-hosted a radio show on Fox Sports Radio, contributed to ESPN’s NBA draft coverage, analyzed Lakers games for Spectrum SportsNet and written for The Players’ Tribune. (Butler is a Sportscaster U alumnus.)
  • Matt Bullard played 11 seasons in the NBA. While Bullard was still playing in the NBA, he spent his summers providing color commentary on the radio broadcasts of Houston Comets games. After he retired from the NBA, he became a color commentator for the Houston Rockets.
  • Ryan Hollins played 10 seasons in the NBA prior to joining ESPN as an analyst. He appears on many of ESPN’s TV shows (including SportsCenter and First Take) and radio shows (including Golic & Wingo and Jalen & Jacoby). He also guest-hosts various radio shows. (Hollins is a Sportscaster U alumnus.)

WHEN DID YOU START CONSIDERING A MEDIA CAREER?

Chauncey Billups: “During the final five years of my career, I was preparing myself for one of three things: A front-office role, a coaching job or a TV gig. Every summer, when the season was over, I was connecting with a bunch of people and doing all of these different things so that I would be ready for one of those paths. Once I retired, I realized that I didn’t want to do any coaching or front-office work yet because I wanted to spend more time with my family. I finally had more time available, so I could be around my two daughters who are in high school. Doing TV meant I could be home more and that was important to me. It’s worked out really well. Anyone who knows me and what I’m about knows that when I start something and put my mind to it, I’m all in with two feet and two hands. I’m glad it’s worked out.”

Caron Butler: “Whenever you wait until you have the term ‘former’ or ‘ex’ in front of your name, it’s so much tougher to get into a space. It’s tougher for doors to open. I was proactive and took advantage of programs. The NBPA offered a ton of programs and I did Sportscaster U at Syracuse University two years in a row. Then, I went to the NBPA Top 100 Camp and did the color commentary on the sideline, learning how to analyze a game and trim my thoughts on the fly so that I could be in this space eventually. I’m really passionate about it. It’s something I was always passionate about and, once I started doing it, I fell in love with it. It’s great to tell your peers’ stories and it’s also a great platform that can be used to educate.”

Dominique Wilkins: “I never thought about becoming a broadcaster back when I played. Even after I retired, I was prepared to go into the front office and just work in management – and that’s what I did. The television opportunity didn’t come until later when Fox started wanting me to do some in-studio analysis and asked me if I’d be interested. I’ve always been good with people; I’m a people person. Well, I looked at television and thought, ‘This is just like having a conversation with my friends. You’re just doing it in front of a camera.’ So I started off in the studio and slowly worked my way up to traveling with the team and commentating and becoming a play-by-play analyst. That came later, though. I started in the studio and I was there for about four or five years.”

Matt Bullard: “I started realizing that my NBA career was coming to an end, but I was having so much fun. I really didn’t want that fun to stop, so I thought, ‘How can I keep this going?’ I actually did the Houston Comets’ radio broadcasts during the summertime when they were winning WNBA championships [from 1997 through 2000]. I did four years of Comets games on the radio while I was still playing in the NBA, so I was able to get experience on the broadcasting side to kind of help my transition. I was one of the first NBA players to use the WNBA as a sort of training ground for media. I actually had to sign a form saying that the Rockets weren’t circumventing the salary cap by paying me $1,500 per summer to do Comets games on the radio. I was the first player to have to sign that paper. Now, I’ve had some players come to me and say they’ve also had to sign that same form that makes sure teams aren’t circumventing the salary cap. It’s pretty commonplace now, with the NBA using the WNBA [and G-League] as a training ground for a lot of stuff.”

Ryan Hollins: “I went to the Sportscaster U program through the NBPA thinking, ‘Let me just try this out and see what it’s like.’ I ended up being really good at it and I really enjoyed it. From there, I really saw it as a challenge. This is something that I wanted to do and I wanted to be great at it. From that point on, I was pretty much all-in on this. I’m loving this. This is my passion. It’s really cool to look around the studio and see where I’m at in life. I’m putting in the work, so hopefully I can end up with a bigger career here than anything I ever had when I was playing basketball.”

Dominique Wilkins: “I love this because it keeps me close to the game; that’s the reason I still do this. I still love this game and I still want to be involved in the game. I love being able to express how I feel about basketball and have an audience [for those thoughts] since I’m on television. It’s been great, man. All I’m doing is talking about the same stuff that I’m talking about every day with my friends, so it’s fun.”

Chauncey Billups: “As you go throughout your NBA career, you’re on TV quite a bit, so I wasn’t very nervous going into [my first broadcast]. But I quickly realized that it’s very different [from being on TV as a player]. It was a new thing. I’d say it was a little nerve-racking early on. I wanted to do a really good job and make sure it went well, so I over-prepared. I go back and watch it from time to time just to see my growth and my development. When I watch that first time, I think, ‘Man, I’ve grown quite a bit!’ I’m much more patient up there and I’m much more confident up there now. Now, I know what it takes. The main thing I’ve learned is that you must do the research and study your material.”

Dominique Wilkins: “If I sat here and told you that I wasn’t nervous when I first started broadcasting, I wouldn’t be telling you the truth (laughs). I think everyone would be a little bit nervous in that situation. But I think being nervous helps prepare you. I think the first four or five games that you do, you’re very nervous. But you get comfortable after a while and you start to relax. At that point, I realized, ‘Oh, I just need to talk about what I know.’ If you do that and you’re fair, objective and honest, you’ll be fine.”

Caron Butler: “Sportscaster U really prepared me because I knew what to expect in this job. A lot of guys just think, ‘Well shit, I played in the NBA for X amount of years, so I know exactly what to do. I mean, it’s just talking basketball.’ And for the most part it is, but there’s a method to the madness. You need to be able to tell the who, what, where, when and why. And you have to be able to provide perspective to really informed listeners, and you have to do it in a neutral, educational, concise way because sometimes you only have a very short amount of time.”

Ryan Hollins: “Man, I’m incredibly thankful to the NBPA. I promise you, I had no idea what I wanted to do after basketball until I did the Sportscaster U program. I’d say, ‘I don’t know, maybe I’ll get into coaching?’ I’d bring up this or that, but I wouldn’t even think of broadcasting. That wasn’t something I even considered at all. But attending that course just brought out something in me and made me realize that not only could I do this, but that I’ve always had this talent. It’s funny; now that I’m doing this, my close friends say that I was born for this. They’re like, ‘This is the Ryan we know!’ They watch and see me getting someone really fired up and they laugh because that used to be them [when we debated about something]. I’ve been talking crazy and been really energetic for a very long time (laughs). I’m glad I was able to take a skill I always had and make something out of it. That’s really cool.”

Matt Bullard: “My ‘broadcasting camp’ came during the Dream Job show on ESPN. I got broadcasting training and experience from the people at ESPN around the start of my career. We were doing the weekly show, so they were just trying to teach us as quickly as they could on the fly. It was fun. The things you learn in broadcasting school are very important. You need to learn and develop those performance skills. As former players, we spent our whole lives practicing athletics. But because it’s a performance, something like theater or debate [team] prepare you more for broadcasting.”

How Are PLAYING AND Broadcasting Similar?

Caron Butler: “There are so many similarities. You want to be versatile in both. You need to have camaraderie with all the folks around you, because you’re nothing in this business without information. You need to be able to connect with so many different folks, but you also need to be respected. Just like when you’re a player, you want people to respect you for your craft and what you bring to the table.”

Matt Bullard: “I agree that there are similarities. I’m actually sitting at dinner right now with our TV crew and we’re having a production meeting for tomorrow’s broadcast, so this is kind of like our shootaround. We’re going over what we’re going to talk about, what graphics we’re going to need, what breaks we’ll have, and this, that and the other. This is like our shootaround. But instead of practicing my basketball skills, I’m practicing my broadcast skills and we’re walking through the broadcast [instead of walking through the game plan]. When you’re playing basketball, you’re reacting to what’s happening around you. That’s the same thing I’m doing on the broadcast – reacting to what’s going on. It’s two and a half hours of live TV with no script and you’re just reacting to what you see. It’s sort of an adrenaline rush. It’s not the same [adrenaline rush you’d get from] playing, but it’s still a kind of performance. It scratches that itch for me as a former player and it gives me something that’s really fun to do.”

Dominique Wilkins: “I think being in the media is a lot like playing. You have to prepare yourself and educate yourself [for each game]. Every year, you’re always learning something new and trying to improve. Also, you’re getting coaching. They’ll say, ‘You have to be yourself,’ or. ‘Talk more about why something happened,’ or, ‘Explain the reasoning behind what just happened.’ There are a lot of little things you have to learn [just like when you’re playing and trying to get better each season].”

Chauncey Billups: “I was always a guy who watched a lot of film and studied everything. I would study individual players as well as teams to figure out their tendencies and concepts. That knowledge really helped when I transitioned to broadcasting because I could break down players and teams very easily and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. I was also familiar with a lot of different coaches and their tendencies and philosophies. That really helped my transition. And I still watch a ton of film now, so that’s a big similarity.”

Ryan Hollins: “The competitiveness is the biggest similarity to me. When I go on TV, I’m competing. I’m the All-Star in this ring. I’m not complacent or just happy to be here; I want to be great at this. This is my opportunity. Put me against someone and I’m competing with them. This is verbal warfare. That’s my mentality. I want to be great at this. I want to put on a great show and I want to entertain people. I’m not doing this just for fun. I’m not just chilling. I have to feed my kids. I have to eat. Y’all may be set from your NBA money. But as for me? No. I need to be really, really good at this. I do the work. I know that the All-Stars have the name recognition and all that stuff. Me? I need to be great at what I do to keep my job. I don’t go out there acting like a dude who played 10 years in the NBA. I work like I’m the intern. I’ve approached this job like I need to learn every aspect of this business and I need to be great in order to stick to around.”

Chauncey Billups: “I try to take bits and pieces from other broadcasters who inspire me [and emulate them], just like I did during my NBA career. One example of a guy I’ve learned a lot from is Hubie Brown. I think you can learn so much from him. Even if you don’t know anything about basketball, you can watch a game that Hubie is doing and you’ll come away with knowledge of the game. He does such a good job of explaining everything. I really like Mark Jackson, I think he does a great job. Greg Anthony is another guy I look to and really enjoy watching. Anthony “Booger” McFarland is a former NFL player who now does commentary during games and he’s someone who I really enjoy listening to and watching; he does an awesome job. There are so many guys I look to and study from afar.”

Ryan Hollins: “I think it’s similar because you need to get reps to improve. Also, just like when I was a player, I always look to better people and study what they’re doing. I’d try to recognize, ‘What makes you good? Oh, this is what makes you so good. I need to learn that.’ If I can learn what works so well for someone who’s really successful and also learn what doesn’t work, I’ll be in a good position. I would try to do something similar to what they’re doing, but put my own spin on it. Nobody is going to tell you exactly what you need to do or say when you get on TV. They’re just going to pass it to you and if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. They’ll replace you. When I was playing, I didn’t study some random role player and base my career off of their game. If you really want to be great, you’re looking at Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and those guys. You want to figure out what they do that allowed them to become great. That’s something I did when I was playing and [I still do it now]. I look at the great broadcasters and learn from them.”

WHAT ARE THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECTS OF THE JOB?

Dominique Wilkins: “I think the most difficult thing was just being able to express and articulate exactly what I was seeing. Usually, when I’m talking about basketball, I’m with friends. I had to adjust to being on camera and trying to appeal to an audience, and that was hard. You have to make sure you’re explaining things the right way. I also had to make sure that I didn’t give up too much [since I also work in the Hawks’ front office]. Those were just some of the difficult things. I just had to adjust to being comfortable while on television.”

Chauncey Billups: “There’s a lot more research that you have to do if you want to be good at this. I didn’t realize just how much research I’d be doing to prepare. But this is live TV, so you have to be really thorough and know what you’re talking about at all times. You don’t get any do-overs.”

Ryan Hollins: “I’ve noticed a lot of players make the same mistake in broadcasting. They think they can just show up and people will be excited to see them, because everywhere they go all throughout their life, that’s what happens. Well, that may get you in the door, but you need to put in the work and prove yourself to be great. After basketball, this is your new arena. You need to show up and put the work in.”

Matt Bullard: “Early on, it was very hard. I would get very nervous before every broadcast. I remember when I started doing Rockets games on TV, I would be on camera and I was so nervous. The nerves I experienced as a rookie broadcaster made me feel like I was a rookie player again. If you’re a player or a coach or a broadcaster in the NBA, you must have basic knowledge of NBA basketball. But a player’s skill set is very different from a broadcaster’s skill set. It took a lot of practice for me to get good at broadcasting and develop those skills, like saying exactly what I wanted to say while being as concise as possible and doing well on camera. It takes a lot of practice to get the point where you sound and look the way you want. Being a former player gave me the basic knowledge of the NBA, but broadcasting skills are totally different and it wasn’t an easy adjustment. I don’t think many players realize [how different and difficult that transition can be].”

Caron Butler: “You have to be able to explain the game of basketball in a way everyone can understand. When I’m breaking something down, I try to make it relatable for kids and for folks from all different walks of life. It’s just like if you’re doing a seminar. You want to reach everybody and have each person thinking, ‘Oh ok, that made a lot of sense.’ That’s what I try to do. You want everyone to understand the information that you want to get across.”

Chauncey Billups: “Back when I was playing and I was the one giving interviews, I’d always give long answers because I wanted to spell out exactly what I was saying. Now, I can’t give long answers. I need to get in and out of there quick when I’m providing analysis so the next man can get in there and do his thing. That was an adjustment for me because I was used to talking for a long time. It’s honestly something I’m still trying to get better at now.”

Matt Bullard: “It takes a lot of practice to figure out what’s connecting with the fans. One thing I do is watch a lot of hockey games. I’m just a casual NHL fan, so I pay attention to the hockey broadcasters and what they’re telling me as a casual hockey fan. That kind of helps me adjust my basketball broadcasts so I can reach casual fans and diehard fans. With that being said, I work for the Rockets and they’re on the cutting edge of analytics. Because of that, I’ve been trying to educate and inform the audience about what’s happening on the cutting edge of basketball and share the numbers that support it all. It’s kind of a tight rope that’s tricky to walk. But, nowadays, a lot of fans are watching the game while they’re on their phone and on social media, so they easily look something up. That helps because if I do happen to say something that goes over somebody’s head, they can easily Google it and then follow along.”

Dominique Wilkins: “You have to make it very simple for the audience. You have to relay things in terms that everyone will understand, [even casual fans]. You definitely have to keep it simple, so the audience isn’t confused about what you’re trying to get across while you’re on air. But you also have to dumb things down because you don’t want to be too long-winded. Not only do want to make sure everyone understands, you need to condense things down too.”

Ryan Hollins: “Initially, it was really hard to just be me and let my personality show. It wasn’t until I did a radio show with Ron Artest that I was finally able to be myself. We did this radio show together and he was acting nuts! Not in a bad way, he was just being Ron. He wasn’t holding back at all, he was calling guys out, he was talking crazy! I was like, ‘Yo, this is nuts!’ Then, because he was so loosened up, I started loosening up too. It really helped me. I told him that is what loosened me all the way up and he had no idea. After that show, I could be me. I finally felt comfortable on television and I could say the things that I wanted to say. Then, I just had to figure out to mix my personality with my content. It was almost like going back to school. I had to perfect how to write out my information and content, and then mix my personality into it. I also had to learn how to drive home a point. But Ron helped me so much. I’ve been so fortunate to have great mentors and people who pushed me to be better. Guys like Marcellus Wiley and Max Kellerman would beat me up on the air. They’d go at me a lot. I used to want to fight those dudes after the show! I’m not even kidding. I’d think, ‘This little dude is talking nuts to me!’ The first time someone calls you a ‘bozo’ on TV and starts saying wild stuff, you’re heated! But then you find out that it’s just good radio, it’s just good TV, and there’s no hard feelings. Those guys taught me a lot and I’m grateful.”

Dominique Wilkins: “I think the hardest TV job was doing the play-by-play because you have to fill in the what, when and why every single time something happens on the floor, so you really have to [focus] and keep your energy level up. When you’re doing play-by-play, you always have to be ready to comment on the action – otherwise it’ll just be silence. The studio job was easy to me. To me, that wasn’t hard work at all (laughs).”

Matt Bullard: “I’ve found that doing WNBA games or college games are much harder than doing NBA games because I don’t have that basic knowledge [of the league]. I have to go and find out who each of the players are and do a lot more homework. By comparison, broadcasting a game for the Rockets is easy!”

Ryan Hollins: “For me, another really hard part was learning the business. Nobody really tells you how to do this. As much as everyone explains what to do once you’re in the business, nobody really tells you how to [get your first broadcasting job]. If you aren’t a big-time player, if you aren’t a huge name, you need to find something else to hang your hat on. Then, I had to learn the difference between good media and bad media. That’s something I had to go in and figure out on my own.”

IS IT DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO CRITICIZE FELLOW PLAYERS?

Caron Butler: “I try not to belittle guys. I try to stay away from comparisons, especially comparing today’s players to myself or other former players. I just try to say what I’m seeing based on all of the research I’ve done. If they do the same research, they’ll see the same stuff as me. The best thing is just to be honest. It’s not offensive if you’re honest. It’s such a different type of world with social media and cyber-bullying and all these things, so you just want to be completely honest with guys about their craft and what you’re seeing. I want to be a teacher, not a bully, in that situation. You need to come across as an educator and give your expertise when you’re in this space. That’s a difficult thing because so many of these guys are former teammates or people that I respect, and you don’t want it come across wrong. But when you’re coming from a genuine place, it’s never perceived like that. I’ve talked about a lot of guys in the studio or on the radio. I’m not picking on anyone, I’m just stating the obvious. When I see guys, they usually say, ‘Damn, man. That really helped me! I respect your opinion.’ That was the toughest bridge as a player in this space, but you have to be able to do that. I try to see it as coaching through the broadcast rather than criticizing.”

Ryan Hollins: “I had to get out of ‘player mode.’ That’s what I call it. Player mode is when you’re saying, ‘Both teams played hard.’ In player mode, I say, ‘Everyone was good.’ There’s not a single strong statement and you aren’t being critical at all (laughs). When you’re a player, you’re literally taught not to give that bulletin-board statement that may motivate the other team. You don’t want to say anything controversial. That was a hard thing for me, getting out of that mode. We’re trained to talk that way and you do it for years, so it’s hard to snap out of that.”

Chauncey Billups: “One of the toughest things is that when you first leave the game, you’re so close to a lot of guys and have these personal relationships with many guys around the league, and then you’re in a position sometimes where you have to be a little critical of them on air. I was a player and I’ll always be a player. My rule of thumb is that, for the most part, I’m always going to give the player the benefit of the doubt. But there are times where a guy will make the same bone-headed mistake several times and you have to be honest, and sometimes that honesty is a little critical. I’ve never had any push-back from any players because everyone knows that I was that same guy in the locker room anyway. I would hold them accountable anyway and [say these things to their face]. They know that’s just how I am. Most players who leave the game and get on TV are scared to tell the truth because they don’t want to get any push-back from players.”

Matt Bullard: “Yeah, that’s tough. And it goes even deeper than that. When I’m doing the Rockets’ broadcast, I’m calling the game for the Rockets and I have direction from the team about how they want the broadcast to work. If I was working for ESPN, I’d be doing a completely different broadcast; I’d be calling the game down the middle for fans who are watching both teams. It gets pretty complicated. If the Rockets are playing the Spurs, I’m doing the Rockets’ broadcast and Sean Elliot is doing the Spurs’ broadcast and TNT is doing a broadcast down the middle. As you get more broadcasting experience, you get to know what your bosses want you to do. You may want to go out there and just blast a bunch of people, but that’s not at all what your bosses were looking for.”

Caron Butler: “Sometimes, players appreciate constructive criticism. When I was playing, I used to always love watching the Turner guys because it always seemed like Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley had no filter and I’d hear things about my game that I needed to hear. They’ll tell you the kind of things that even your inner circle probably won’t tell you because everyone in your inner circle tells you that you’re the greatest and tell you how much they love you. You need folks with a basketball mind who can be honest in order to become the best version of yourself. Hearing the truth is only going to help you going forward.”

Ryan Hollins: “It’s incredibly hard. For me, I pride myself on giving the player’s perspective when we’re discussing a story. But I am going to tell the truth and honestly critique guys. Here’s a recent example: I made a very true statement about Ben Simmons, saying that he’s not going to succeed in the playoffs until he develops a jump shot. He’s nice during the regular season, but that’s not going to work in the postseason. The clip went absolutely viral and everyone took it like I was dogging Ben Simmons. Nobody paid attention to the part where I said he’s the NBA’s next big star or where I said that he’s going to be an All-Star for years to come. Nobody paid attention to those positive parts; they only focused on [the negativity]. Well, I saw Ben Simmons at the NBA Awards and it was very awkward. But those are the statements I’m going to stick behind. If someone has a problem with it, they have a problem with it. It is a tough thing because you’re inevitably going to run into these guys. But like I said, I’m quick to share the player’s side or tell a story from my career so people get the player’s perspective when we’re discussing a topic. It’s not like I’m always negative.”

Dominique Wilkins: “The job is not to hurt anyone’s feelings, the job is to commentate on the game and to say what you’re seeing. You have to be fair and you have to be objective, because fans are not stupid. You have to make sure that you’re very objective. There are a lot of fans out there who are very educated on this game, so you have to make sure you come across the right way. I need to be very educated too. Now, the game is played very differently from when I was playing. If you’re an analyst, you have to recognize that a lot of things have changed and you have to adapt. You need to be willing to learn new things and try to understand how these guys play today. Every era changes and you need to be able to change with it.”

Ryan Hollins: “Every player-turned-broadcaster will have to deal with this at some point. If I ever offend somebody, I’ll just have a conversation with them. I have no problem doing that and hashing it out with a guy. Look, I’ve been in that position. I’ve been heated at broadcasters. For example, when Chris Webber was starting out [as a broadcaster], he dogged me. I understand it now from both sides, but I was upset at the time. I guess he wasn’t very comfortable when he was starting out. Now, I know how that is. When you’re starting out and you have something on your mind, you go with it and harp on it. When you’re on TV and you’re trying to do a good job, you aren’t thinking about who’s listening and all that stuff. It’s never anything personal. You just have to be cognizant of what you’re saying because people do hear it, and you could be affecting somebody’s money. And that’s the one rule that I have: I’m never going to mess with another man’s money. There are statements that you can make that will hurt a guy who’s in a free-agency year, that will hurt a guy’s value. Even if it’s something true, I’m not going to make that statement. As a former player, you know what that’s like. I’ll never make those statements, and I have a problem with any other player who will do that. That’s really not cool.”

HOW HAVE FANS RESPONDED TO YOUR CAREER CHANGE?

Chauncey Billups: “Oh man, I get stopped all the time because people recognize me from television. It’s really weird, man! The first time that happened was probably right around my second year doing TV. I was in an airport and there were a couple people that day who recognized me from my TV career and not my basketball career, which is usually the case. That was funny. Now, it happens quite often.”

Caron Butler: “If you look at the national exposure and the games [I broadcast], I’m probably on television now more than some of the biggest superstars in the game. I’m doing like 60-to-70 national TV hits a year and I’m radio all the time too, so fans are hearing me and seeing me, and they get a chance to connect with you. They’ll stop you to say, ‘I’m always thinking the same thing as you! That’s why I want your perspective on this…’ and they’ll start asking you questions and start having barber-shop talk when you run into them. It’s really amazing to see the way fans acknowledge and respect your expertise. It’s so great to have that following and I’m so grateful because without the fans, we’d be nothing. You need to have viewers. You need to have listeners. To have their support and to be respected in this space is paramount.”

Dominique Wilkins: “Oh, there are definitely kids that just recognize me [from my television work]. There are a lot of young guys who have never seen me play! Unless they’ve looked me up on YouTube, most young kids haven’t seen me play.”

Matt Bullard: “Around Houston, I’m actually more well-known as a broadcaster now than I ever was as a player. When I’m out in Houston, I get a lot of fan interaction and I love it and encourage it. I really enjoy talking to the fans and hearing what they have to say. It’s great when someone says, ‘Hey, I really enjoyed you on the show last night.’ Because when you’re doing a broadcast, you’re just talking into a camera and you have no audience feedback at all. If I try to tell a joke, I have no idea if it landed. But if I’m out and run into some fans, they may say, ‘Oh, I loved that joke last night! That was really funny!’ You get a delayed reaction from fans. But it’s fun to hear what they think. This is my 25th year playing or broadcasting in the NBA, and 22 of them have been with the Rockets. I have a real nice connection with these fans, and they’re a big reason why it’s so fun to broadcast these games.”

Ryan Hollins: “I get stopped more for my TV work and that’s one of the biggest compliments that I can get. I’ve always been known as a player, so to establish myself as a television personality and become known for something outside of basketball is incredible. It’s the best compliment I can get [when I’m stopped]. For me, it shows me that I’m more than just an athlete. I actually have a brand and have different aspects of myself that have value. It’s definitely crazy. After First Take, I’d have people coming up to me wanting to argue or debate me. I’ll tell them, ‘Ah, man, thank you so much for watching!’ But sometimes they keep wanting to debate and yell stuff at you and I have to be like, ‘I don’t want to debate you right now!’ (laughs).”

Caron Butler: “I think it’s amazing because for years, the fans always assumed how we felt because we played a certain way and they fell in love with the passion and drive that we possessed out on the court. But now, they get to hear our thought process and what we actually think and what we believe should happen in key moments. It’s great for fans to see that and it is refreshing to be viewed in a different light. It’s nice when you’re respected by fans in a whole different way in your second career.”

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