Progress and Preservation

The Independent: You still live in the RI area?
Doris Burke: I have a house in South Kingstown and I have an apartment here.
I: Do you see yourself staying?
DB: Oh, I’m staying. I was a Jersey kid through and through, and I never thought I’d call Rhode Island home. It is home.

I: How involved are you at Providence College now?
DB: As you could imagine, doing my job, which is about 100 games a year, and my two children, it hasn’t left me much time beyond those two things. I think the nature of being a working mom is you have two responsibilities: your job and your children.

I: Your job at ESPN, on-game color commentary, studio-analyst work, and occasional sideline reporting is endless. How often are you on the road?
DB: I don’t count how many days I’m on the road, because it would upset me. There is no working woman today who doesn’t feel that pull, that tug: “Am I doing the right thing?” But, you don’t know how many times I get the question: “What do you like better: the NBA, college, or women?” And I’m like: “They’re three entirely different sports.” I love each and every one of them exactly the same.

I: What are the differences between the men’s and women’s game right now?
DB: In the NBA, if a play is diagrammed for a guy, nine times out of ten, that guy is going to take the shot. Where women, they might think of other options. If they feel like there’s a better option, they’re likely to find that option. It is starting to change though. You have players like Lauren Jackson, Diana Taurasi, and Cappie Pondexter. Slowly but surely, women’s mindsets are changing, taking over a basketball game. If you’ve got scoring ability, is almost selfish not to take over if you can.

I: The playoffs this year (The Seattle Storm swept the Atlanta Dream to win the title) were wonderful.
DB: I think the league is in a good place from a competitive standpoint. There were nights when I was paid to watch it during its first year, as a NY Liberty Radio announcer, and it wasn’t good basketball. In the 14-year history of the league, that has changed. It has been an easy target for talk show hosts to take a shot at it: “it’s not good basketball.” People have stopped paying attention to it. Basketball fans need to take a look again.

I: If the WNBA had been around, would that have been something you would have pursued?
DB: Absolutely. In fact, I had an opportunity to play professionally, but in the final year of my senior season I blew my knee out.

I: Why does the WNBA need to stay relevant?
DB: I have a daughter who is a freshman at Catholic University in DC. She’s not a sports fan at all. But, to me, the WNBA is still important to my daughter because it represents opportunity for women. And I’m hopeful the league survives. There are days when I’m concerned about it. I think there are days when every player, coach, and G.M. is concerned about it, but I’m hopeful.

I: You got to meet President Obama at the White House this year, when he filled out a Women’s NCAA tournament bracket for ESPN. What was that like?
DB: I was channeling a little Phil Jackson [coach of the LA Lakers]. I was reading the other day that Phil’s stomach churns and feels nervous, but he doesn’t show it. Believe me, I was nervous as heck.

I: You seemed extremely comfortable and even joked when you met the President.
DB: Oh yes [laughs]. He says: “So you played at Providence, can you still play?” I said, “Mr. President, I tried to play six weeks after I delivered my second child. You know the expression ‘the mind believes, but the body won’t follow’” and everybody in the room laughs. But then, he asks me again: “Can you play?”, like he is challenging me! And I said: “Well Mr. President, I think I can handle your left hand.” And everybody starts nervous laughing.