Kate Scott: The Voice of the Sixers

Kate Scott

Basketball Jones, I’ve got a Basketball Jones! Well, I don’t, but this week’s Portrait, Kate Scott certainly does. Scott is currently the play-by-play announcer for the Philadelphia 76ers. She is the first full-time female broadcaster in the city of Philadelphia, and one of the first women to be the primary play-by-play caller for an NBA team. Scott also calls select college football and PAC-12 basketball games on the radio and covered the Golden State Warriors until she came here in September 2021. Scott has a long career as a sports journalist and a television reporter covering teams including the San Jose Earthquakes. In August 2016, Scott became the first woman to call an NFL game on the radio, she also covered two pre-season games for the San Francisco 49ers. In March of 2020, she was part of the first-ever all-women broadcast crew for a National Hockey League game on NBCSN. Now she brings her talent, humor and mellifluous voice to our area. 

We have you here in Philly now, but I understand that you’re a California girl. 

Yes, I was born in Fresno and raised in nearby Clovis. 

Tell me about the Scott household.

The Scott home was a great place to grow up with Mom, Dad, and an older sister who couldn’t have cared less about sports, but from a very young age I was locked in. I don’t know why; both of my parents were just casual sports fans, my dad watched Giants and 49ers games or he’d have college basketball on, but wasn’t a die hard sports fan by any sense. I, on the other hand, was into all of it. ESPN was in its early days, so they didn’t have the rights to much, but I’d watch anything they showed, Aussie rules football, America’s Cup sailing, professional bowling, you name it. I’d watch any and every sport. I wanted to learn the rule; I wanted to understand how it was played, to figure out who was good and why they were good. When Sports Center became a thing and they started airing quick half hour highlight shows, boom, boom, boom, first the NBA highlights, then baseball highlights, then hockey, I’d watch them multiple times, every day. I learned as much as I could about every sport, I just loved it. I also played multiple sports, basketball, soccer, tennis, track and field, softball, roller hockey, you name it, I was playing it. I couldn’t be outside enough. I was always upset when the streetlights came on at night because it meant I had to go inside. So I was a sports nut from a very young age. 

That’s where we diverge, I can watch almost any sport, but I never played. I even had a note to get me out of gym class. 

What? That was my favorite period of the day! I’d get to throw on my gym shorts and shirt and play for an hour. 

Well, that answers the question I was going to ask, were you an athletic kid? 

Yes, I played 4 varsity sports in high school and travel soccer, that was my most serious sport. I was planning to go to college on a soccer scholarship and then I tore my meniscus my junior year which is when a lot of recruiting takes place. It was the first time I’d been able to pause in my 16 years on earth, it was always, go, go, go, what’s the next season? What’s the next sport? What’s the next lesson I have to take? While I was recovering from my knee injury, I realized that soccer, which I’d loved all of my life, had become a job and it wasn’t as fun as it had been before. It had become all about scholarships, and the teamwork and friendships and all the things I loved had all turned into business relationships and I thought, “I don’t know that I want to deal with this in college.” So that cleared space in my schedule to start writing for the high school newspaper my senior year, “The Cougar’s Growl,” and I fell in love with reporting on sports. We were really good, we won lots of awards in California and that was my first foray into sports journalism and I loved it. So I realized, maybe I won’t be playing sports in college, but I can study journalism instead. 

Where and what did you study?

I went to UC Berkeley and my major was in communications. When I was in school in the early 2000’s, everything was all about studying PR and marketing. I wanted hands-on experience, because that’s how I learn best, so I started interning summers at the little local ABC affiliate in Fresno/Clovis, and when I went back to school I interned at the San Francisco ABC affiliate. I started writing for a Cal sports magazine; I wrote for the Nike website; I started working on a little sports highlights show. I just threw myself into things. 

Though not everything, I understand that you were hesitant to take your first job calling high school football games until a friend told you that none of the guys applying had experience. There’s a statistic that men will apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. What did that teach you? 

That statistic is a million percent true, and I think it applies to women in almost every industry. Though thankfully, I think it’s changing with the younger generation; they’re just diving into things, which is great. I still battle with the need to be overqualified for a position, because I’m a woman, because I’m different. So yeah, that guy was my first TV mentor. He got a job producing high school football games and was looking for a play by play announcer. He knew that I knew sports and he offered me the job. I said, “Paul, you’re fricking crazy, I’ve never called a sport in my life” and he goes, “Yeah Kate, neither have any of the dudes I’m asking but they all said yes, so would you say yes, because I know you’re going to be good at it.” He believed in me before I did, and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Same thing happened a few years later with the 49ers when they offered to have me call a few preseason games with NBC. Same thing again when I was asked to be part of the all women’s broadcast team to cover an NHL game. That was the game changer for me, because it’s one of the most difficult sports to call. It’s so fast, it’s like calling football on skates, you’re up high looking down and they all have helmets on so you have to know everybody’s name and number by heart because there’s not time to look down at your board. It was the opportunity of a lifetime thanks to NBC who believed I could do it even when I wasn’t so sure. Now, after conquering that, I believe that I can do anything I’m asked to do.

Brava!

[Laughing] It only took 38 years, Suzi! But here I am. 

Paving the way, as not just a woman in the field but as an out LGBT person, when did you first start realizing that you weren’t crushing on the boys the way some of your friends were?

It was a slow realization for me, because I grew up in an area of California where being gay wasn’t accepted, it wasn’t okay. I remember dating all of these wonderful guys in high school, they checked all the boxes, good looking, nice, funny, tall, sweet, athletes, musicians, all great guys. They were perfect, but yet not perfect for me, and I couldn’t understand why. Then I went away to college and in my junior year I kissed a woman for the first time. It was fireworks and lightning and thunder and all the things my female friends in high school gushed about after their first kiss with a boy, and I realized, “Ohhhh, I get it now,” and then proceeded to have my first panic attack! Because, as I said, where I was from it was not okay to be gay, something was wrong with you. So I struggled a lot in the beginning. 

Was it a conservative community, or religious?

Both; a small town with not much diversity but lots of mega churches. I was Jewish as well, [laughing] I still am but it was hard being any kind of other there. Fortunately I was raised in a very open minded household, but I think Berkeley had been calling my name from a young age, I just didn’t know it. And it was hard to break free from that small town mentality, I grew up with people saying things like, ‘Oh you’re such a fag’ or ‘that’s so gay’ and I said them too, it was part of the vernacular. But I’ll never forget my first week of school. I was out with a bunch of freshman trying to figure out the world, and as we were walking down Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley, someone said something and I responded, “Oh my gosh, that’s so gay!” and it felt like the entire street stopped and everyone from street vendors to residents to my fellow students, all turned in slow motion to stare at me like, “What did you just say?” I never said it again, and two years later I came out. 

So changing gears, what is a “Mic Man”?

[Laughing] Oh wow, well, they used to be called Yell Leaders, before we got microphones. Basically it’s the person who leads the cheers. We had the regular cheerleaders in the little skirts with their pom poms, and then there was a guy with a mic leading the cheers. I’d done it in high school but when I got to Cal, they said that no woman had ever been a mic man. They made me try out and I got the job. So it was me in a football jersey and all the cheerleaders! 

I love your career! What were some of the sports highlights for you, both personally and professionally?

When I was about 13, my travel soccer team won a state championship, but I think the most meaningful was with my tennis team senior year. We won the championship with a very rag tag team, we should have won it the junior year but didn’t. I was the number one player and senior year, I told the team, we are winning it this year. We were the underdogs against a team that had much more talent than us, but it was a case of grit and chemistry. We all loved the heck out of each other and rose to play as a team and win the championship against the odds. Professionally, calling sports at the Olympics was a dream come true. Since I couldn’t play in them, broadcasting them was amazing. Also, I got to be on the mic for Tara VanDerveer’s 1000th career win, she was one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time. The Stanford team was one I always looked up to and had hoped to play for, so getting to cover them and get to know Tara and the players was special. She’s always been focused on opening doors for other women in coaching and that’s what I hope to do. I want to help as many women of all backgrounds get into sports broadcasting. I want to open as many doors as possible for everyone who wants to participate. 

Barbara Gittings once was asked why she put herself out there as the face and voice of the community and she said, “Because I can.” Your philosophy sounds familiar. 

I feel exactly the same way, there’s no simpler or better way to put it. I have a wonderfully supportive family, I have an amazing spouse, I’m financially stable, I have housing, I have food, I have water… Why wouldn’t I be out when I have so much privilege? So much support and safety? I have to because I can. 

When did you come out to the folks?

On my 21st birthday, my mom started crying and I thought, “Shit, I figured she already knew and was going to be supportive!” I asked her and she said that yes, she did have an inkling and would always love me and support me, she was just worried for me. She said, “You’re already a woman in the man’s world of sports and now you want to be an out gay woman? Who out there can you look to as an openly gay person in sports broadcasting?” I paused and I couldn’t think of one, man or woman. That was in 2003, and I decided in that moment that if I ever got to a point like the one I’m at now, then I was going to be that person so that the next time a child had a similar interaction, maybe the parent wouldn’t have to cry, maybe the kid wouldn’t have to pause, maybe they could both say, “Yeah, Kate Scott’s doing it, I can too” or “Honey, thank you for coming out, I’m so excited for your future because I know dreams are possible.” That’s why it’s so important to me to be out. Like Harvey Milk said, you’ve got to give kids hope. 

Agreed! And I always talk about the ripples we create when we’re open. You never know how far they’ll travel and who they might touch.

So many ripples, I still get notes from people who listened to me on the radio back in San Francisco telling me things like, “I wasn’t ready to come out but I listened to you every day and I thank you for normalizing it for me and showing me that it could be okay.” Everyone of them matters. 

How did you meet your wife Nicole? And is she a sports person?

At a bar in San Francisco! And yes, she likes sports a lot, she played lacrosse in college. 

How are you both taking to Philadelphia?

Loving it! The food is great, the people are great, I love how much green space there is, you have parks everywhere. I’ve been told that Philadelphia is the most underrated city in the country and I agree. I can’t wait to explore more but it’s hard to find the time. I haven’t even been to the gayborhood yet. 

What? 

I know! I’ve had to call so many damn games Suzi! [Laughing] Too many damn games! 

Your season is crazy. 

And until last weekend, I was calling college football so I was flying out every weekend to Alabama or wherever to call games too. Hopefully, I’ll have a little more time now to explore. 

Well, I’m happy to be tour guide for you and Nicole. 

I would love that! 

Okay, random questions, favorite tennis player?

Serena Williams was always a favorite. I wore her red sneakers in high school from back when she was sponsored by Puma. I thought they were so cool. Everyone hated the way I would run them all over the court, but I never understood why you would just hit the ball back and forth diagonally when you could make your opponent run up to the net and then lob the next ball over her head until she was so exhausted she didn’t want to play anymore. I would yell on the court and kick ass that way just like Serena did. And I know that she was also looked at as an outsider so in a strange way I related to her. 

[Laughing] You’re so warm and pleasant to talk with, I’m finding a whole new side to you! 

Ha! Until I would step in a court, then I’d go after it! 

Favorite toy as a kid?

G.I. Joes. 

Ever been lost?

Often. I’ve already been lost in Philly. I walked in the complete wrong direction and found Fitler Square and it was great. Getting lost is a part of life and a great way to discover new things.

Favorite holiday tradition? And do you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas or both?

Both. I’m one of those people who does everything. I just got a little light up menorah, and I’m going to get a tiny tree for my table today. For traditions, we had some fun family football games on Thanksgiving. We’d all go to grandma’s house and play on a little patch of grass that I think was actually a drainage area but it worked for us. My cousins and I would get out there and my dad would draw up plays on his hand. 

If you were a pro on “Dancing with the Stars” what celeb would you want to dance with?

I’m gonna go with my crush, Rachel McAdams, I just think she’s the cutest thing. I’d embarrass myself terribly if I ever met her, so that’s who I’ll go with. [Laughing] As my wife rolls her eyes in the background.

What sporting event do you wish you could have witnessed?

I’d have to say, it would have been nice to be here when the 76ers won the NBA title in 1983. Being able to soak up the sights and smells and sounds and energy of everything, especially here in Philly where there’s such passion for sports. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to witness the next NBA championship here in Philly.

To learn more about Kate Scott, follow her on Twitter.