As Sage Steele sat on the ESPN set, ready to cover Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the sound was deafening.
The mania. The mayhem. The magic. It was all around her.
Yet for some reason, with only three minutes to go until Steele went live on international television, her mind turned to something other than basketball.
It flashed back three decades to a 12-year-old girl — a painfully shy 12-year-old girl — sitting at the dinner table, telling her family that someday she would be on ESPN.
“I just took a deep breath and said, ‘Smell the roses. Appreciate where you are,’ ” Steele recalls thinking before tipoff. “Why me? Why did it work for me? It could have a been a million other women and men.”
Why Steele? It’s an answer that’s easy to come by. Spend even a few minutes with the fast-talking, funny, humble ESPN anchor and her spirit is infectious.
While she was back in Indianapolis last week — to be the keynote speaker at Forest Manor Multi-Service Center’s Champions Awards Luncheon — The Star caught up with the Indiana University graduate turned sports broadcasting superstar.
Steele was raw, honest and, at times, completely off the cuff. She also was completely unpretentious.
As the host of NBA Countdown on ESPN Fridays and Sundays — and with 142,000 followers on Twitter — Steele has the limelight directly on her. But she says she has purposely chosen to not change who she is or forget where she came from.
“That’s how I was raised,” said Steele, a 42-year-old mother of three with husband Jonathan Bailey. “And if I did change and if my head did get big, I would have the longest line of people waiting to kick my ass.”
Growing up an Army brat
Childhood for Steele meant moving from city to city, state to state, country to country, wherever her father was stationed in the U.S. Army.
“By the time I was 11, I had lived in three other countries. My field trips would be the Acropolis in Greece, going to Paris with my Girl Scout troop.”
She had friends who were Belgian, French, Norwegian and Turkish.
“We were so worldly, but with that, we were sheltered. The military is so accepting racially and culturally. It didn’t matter that my mom was white and my dad was black. It was an easy, wonderful life.”
Achieving the dream
When 12-year-old Steele announced her ESPN dreams at the dinner table, it was a shock. Steele was so shy that her parents had actually consulted with doctors to make sure there wasn’t something wrong with their daughter. Steele wasn’t particularly athletic. She ran track in junior high and high school and she competed in equestrian. But she loved sports and she knew sports.
“It’s ironic how it all turned out. I can’t believe that little old me, who was too shy growing up, somehow I overcame it. Yes, by my own strength and hard work. But I’ve had a ton of people caring for me. I’m overwhelmed sometimes.”
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Peter King: ‘Tom Brady Needs To Study Cris Collinsworth’
“He’ll know that to be good, he has to get out of his comfort zone of all niceties and tell it like it is.”
Peter King dedicated a not-insignificant portion of his “Football Morning in America” column this week to advice for Tom Brady. FOX announced last week that the Buccaneers’ quarterback will become the network’s lead NFL analyst upon his retirement.
Brady’s decision and his reported salary have been the source of much speculation and prediction amongst his soon-to-be colleagues.
King is optimistic that Tom Brady will be entertaining and informative when he makes his FOX debut. He did offer the GOAT a little bit of advice about what he should be doing in the months leading up to calling it quits on his playing days and starting his new career.
“I think what I’d do if I were Brady is study Cris Collinsworth—and honest to goodness, I don’t say that because I work for NBC,” he wrote. “I say it because Collinsworth knows how to talk X’s-and-O’s conversationally, he’s an easy listen, and he can criticize when the time comes.”
Interestingly, last week, Collinsworth says he hears from most former players that are getting ready to make the jump to broadcasting. He was surprised he never heard from Tom Brady before FOX announced their deal.
King had two other suggestions. The first was that Brady watch multiple games from start to finish so that he can hear what the give-and-take between a broadcaster and analyst sounds like. The other is that he has to commit to being interesting and not censoring himself. King has faith that Brady will be able to do that.
“He’ll know that to be good, he has to get out of his comfort zone of all niceties and tell it like it is. On that LeBron James show last year, Brady said, ‘Ninety percent of what I say is not what I’m thinking. There’s a part of me that doesn’t like conflict, so in the end I always just try to play it super-flat.’ That has to end once he’s on TV if he wants to be any good.”
Nick Wright Critical Of ABC Crew As Giannis Antetokounmpo Struggles In Game 7
“He reminded his followers on Twitter that the two-time MVP has put together some amazing performances in this series.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo started hot in Game 7 on Sunday. By the time the game ended though, the Boston Celtics were on their way to Miami for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals and the defending champions were headed back to Milwaukee.
The Celtics’ defense gave the Milwaukee Bucks fits in the second half. The ABC broadcast put a special spotlight on Antetokounmpo, who got multiple drives to the basket that he could not finish.
“The best has got to show up when the best is needed, and Giannis has been disappointing,” said Mark Jackson over a package of highlights of Giannis missing shots. “As great of a player as he is, given credit to the Celtics’ defense, but he has struggled offensively time and time again.”
Nick Wright of FS1 noticed and he didn’t appreciate it. He reminded his followers on Twitter that the two-time MVP has put together some amazing performances in this series.
Mike Been, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy were not particularly hard on Giannis. The trio made the typical comments we hear when things aren’t going a great player’s way.
Wright did not harp on the issue beyond the single tweet. The outcome was not in doubt as the clock winded down. He gave credit to the Celtics rather than tweet about the Bucks or Giannis.
Stephanie McMahon: WWE Is A Better Advertising Investment Than Sports
“We can script the buzzer-beater moments, we can script the Hail Marys.”
Everyone knows that professional wrestling is scripted. The storylines, the outcomes of matches, all of it is predetermined. But in the eyes of WWE, that’s what makes their product so different, and better than traditional sports.
WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon told Deadline that when it comes to pitching advertisers, sports entertainment allows room for a range of different approaches to make something work.
“We can script the buzzer-beater moments, we can script the Hail Marys,” she said. “We have a leg up on sports. … You may object to what we do, but you’re never going to be bored.”
McMahon added that WWE has a much easier process in dealing with sponsors. Everything is handled in-house.
“We own all of the IP,” she said. “When brands deal with us, they just deal with us. We create something together.”
WWE is coming off a positive Q1 earnings report, which had the company up 27% in total revenue. Its two weekly primetime shows, Monday Night RAW and Friday Night SmackDown, continue to do well in ratings, and all special and pay-per-view events, in addition to its streaming platform WWE Network, are all housed on Peacock.