It’s not an exaggeration to call Doris Burke a basketball icon. She’s been honored with the Curt Gowdy Media Award by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; she’s a groundbreaking NBA analyst; and her likeness has appeared in both NBA 2K and on the front of a sweatshirt worn by the most popular rapper in the world. We all know her, we all love her.
However, when speaking with Doris (identifiable with just her first name, another sign of her iconic status), it’s surprising how unsentimental she is about her many accomplishments. Point out her influence as a pioneer for gender equality in the NBA, and she’ll tell you, “I feel like I get credit I don’t deserve in terms of advancing the cause for women because of what I’ve done professionally.” She claims that “the sound of my own voice makes me a little crazy” and that she doesn’t “keep many mementos from my career.” And when pressed about her early aspirations, she says without a trace of false modesty, “All the way through college, the idea that I could become a broadcaster [was] laughable to me.”
That’s the Doris we love: Calling it as she sees it.
At this point, Burke is best-known for her work with the NBA, but she was an accomplished player and broadcaster for the women’s game before that (she was inducted into the Providence College Hall of fame in 1999 and the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006). When asked about the current state of the women’s game, Doris is characteristically thoughtful:
“I think you are thankful for the progress we have made in women’s sports. You see the WNBA, its ratings continue to grow each and every year. Compared to the NBA, it’s still really in its formative stages if you look at the long view of history. So, [I’m] thrilled for the progress of where women are in terms of collegiate and professional sports. But obviously understanding, there’s still such a significant way to go. Sports, obviously, [are] a microcosm of society, and just like there are cultural shifts that need to continue to happen, the same thing could be said for women involved in sport.”
Despite her talent as a broadcaster, Doris says that it wasn’t something she aspired to, largely due to a common anxiety.
“Speaking in a classroom—all the way from elementary school, to high school, to college—would provoke abject terror for me,” she says. “And my children will tell you, I still don’t like public speaking, if you can believe that. It makes me uncomfortable to be in front of a live audience where there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people. I can do it, but I’m never comfortable.”
Doris says that growing up, her favorite broadcaster was former Marquette coach and college basketball analyst Al McGuire.
“Al had all of these famous sayings and there was a flair and a drama to what he did,” she says. “He could describe the game of basketball, but he did it in his own unique way. He was a gigantic personality.”
Although she may be demure about her own legacy as a trailblazer—“I am appreciative of that sentiment, but it’s nothing I set out to do”—Doris also recognizes that, at a certain point, one’s influence is beyond their control.
“If in fact I have made the path easier for the women who’ve come behind me, that makes me incredibly happy,” she says with typical modesty. “In fact, there would be nothing I would have achieved that’s more important than that.”
But like those who chase their muse and inadvertently change the world, all that Doris has accomplished flows out of her enthusiasm for the game itself.
“I started as a broadcaster because I love the game of basketball and that remains the reason I’m in it.”
It doesn’t take an analyst to see that.