ESPN’s “NBA Countdown” kicks off this season on Friday with a change of pace — two women serving as hosts, where last season there were none.
Sage Steele will host the show Fridays and Sundays, with Doris Burke running the panel on Wednesdays. Last season, “Countdown” did not rely on a host at all; the analysts simply shared the pontification duties. But with Magic Johnson leaving the show, a seat was opened and the format changed.
Steele and Burke will play metaphorical point guard this year, managing the topics — and the personalities around them.
Steele, who worked the NBA Finals the past two years announced at the dinner table when she was eight-years-old that she wanted to host SportsCenter. Check.
“I wanted to do sidelines originally, but then I got married and had kids,” Steele told TheWrap. “I realized I didn’t want that lifestyle where you’re constantly, constantly on the go. It just so happens that it tends to be viewed as more prominent.”
In the sports arena, a female host or analyst is still a bit of a rarity for popular male sports. Sideline reporting is a female-dominated profession, though some still view it as the job directly under the glass ceiling.
Steele’s contract was recently extended for multiple years, ESPN said Oct. 22. Two days later, Burke signed a similar extension.
“What I hope is young female journalists aspire to more than the sideline,” Burke told TheWrap. “The sideline role can elevate a telecast and ESPN utilizes that position as well as anyone. But there is more out there!”
Neither Steele nor Burke are sweating the gender politics. As for the minority aspect, the African-American Steele says that after 18 years, she doesn’t even look at that side of it.
Burke agreed: “For both of us, it is an opportunity to work with gentlemen we respect, and who we believe have plenty of insight and perspective on the league.”
Steele will open the “NBA Countdown” season Friday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. ET. Burke makes her “NBA Countdown” debut on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 7:30 p.m. ET.