At 'Broadcaster U.’, NBA players have a different offseason training routine

The 2019 Broadcaster U. class from left to right, Isiah Thomas, Jameer Nelson, <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5681/" data-ylk="slk:Georges Niang">Georges Niang</a>, Justin Anderson, <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4471/" data-ylk="slk:DJ Augustin">DJ Augustin</a> and <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4922/" data-ylk="slk:Jon Leuer">Jon Leuer</a>. (Photo courtesy Hana Asano)
The 2019 Broadcaster U. class from left to right, Isiah Thomas, Jameer Nelson, Georges Niang, Justin Anderson, DJ Augustin and Jon Leuer. (Photo courtesy Hana Asano)

As the final two teams finish the NBA season, it’s not uncommon for the rest of the league to watch and react from their respective seats on the couch. But one group is viewing the Toronto Raptors-Golden State Warriors series from a different point of view.

Five current and one former NBA player were training at “Broadcaster U.,” a career development program administered by the National Basketball Players Association for players that are interested in sports broadcasting. This year’s cast — which included Isaiah Thomas, Jameer Nelson, Justin Anderson, Georges Niang, D.J. Augustin, and Jon Leuer — learned the requirements of being on the other side of an interview inside a newsroom-esque studio.

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“This program is amazing” Augustin said, “just to give you a chance to get practice on what really goes on and kind of understand what all goes into it. I have a different respect for [broadcasters] after going into the program.”

Players practiced commentating and analyzing through rewatching the first two games of the Finals and previewing Game 3. The point of the program is to provide a sample of every part of the production and learn what best suits their interests.

Augustin hopes broadcasting will keep him close to the game without the day-to-day grind of coaching or playing. While he’s open to debating or working in studio, he wants to be an analyst. That way he remains in the arena and feeling the in-game atmosphere.

At “Broadcaster U.,” Augustin practiced his skills on Game 2, when the Raptors deployed a trap on Stephen Curry late in the game. Augustin noted on his broadcast that the Warriors could exploit the Raptors’ defensive strategy through facilitating to Draymond Green in the middle of the floor.

“Since that game I think the Raptors stopped trapping Steph as much because of those reasons,” Augustin noted on Tuesday after Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

The program was created in 2008 and has instructed more than 65 current and former players. After a year off in 2018, the program shifted from Syracuse University to the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California. Over the years, the program has developed prominent analysts such as TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal and Brooklyn Nets analyst Richard Jefferson, who’s also worked for Fox Sports and ESPN.

The players practice many of the skills often taught in a journalism school such as USC’s, focusing on the inflection of their voice, where to look while on camera and how to succinctly express their opinions. This year’s teaching staff included USC professors Stacy Scholder and Lisa Pecot-Hebert, among others. It also included members of industry like FS1’s Rob Parker, who the players simulated debates with.

“They threw us on camera right away and let’s just say we were all very nervous,” Anderson said via email. “We had a good time laughing at ourselves as we worked through the mistakes."

The NBPA brought back the program in the new location as part of the request from players to be in a bigger market. While in Los Angeles, the players toured ESPN, and practiced in-studio interviews with USC men’s basketball head coach Andy Enfield, as well as former NBA player and “Broadcaster U.” alum, Casey Jacobson.

The program is part of the larger push from the NBPA to help players transition out of their on-court careers. That wasn’t the case when former NBA player Jeff Lamp retired from basketball in 1993.

“[My transition] wasn't particularly easy and we didn't have a program in place like this,” Lamp said. “So, I think it's invaluable for our players.”

Lamp bounced around the entertainment industry and tried coaching before eventually working for the NBPA, where he’s been for the last 19 years. The goal of the NBPA career development is to help athletes find a new passion, said director Deborah Murman. She hopes the conversation starts while players are active in the league, like five of the six participants in this year’s “Broadcaster U.,” so when their playing days are over, the transition is smoother.

“Broadcaster U.” is one of several programs run by the NBPA. The association seeks out player insight for its programs through surveys and other opportunities included a career summit focusing on technology, real estate and entrepreneurship as well as an entertainment program.

insight for its programs through surveys and other opportunities included a career summit focusing on technology, real estate and entrepreneurship as well as an entertainment program.

“We talk a lot about creating the life you want to live,” Murman said, “because as they leave basketball, it's the first time for many of our players that they're able to structure their own lives and control their own time.”

The goal is for players to leave “Broadcaster U.” with a full understanding of the industry. There are benefits, like staying involved in the game, but also downsides such as the possibility of potential travel. For most of the players, that’s not an immediate concern. They have more years left to play.

But planning ahead never hurts and in this case, it comes with benefits, including their first highlight tape of a new career.

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