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For Sarah Kustok, being first is the normal thing

Mikhail Prokhorov and Sarah Kustok YES Network

When YES announced in September that Sarah Kustok would be paired with Ian Eagle and become the first full-time woman color analyst for an NBA team, it was a big deal ... except among Nets fans. They saw it as a more a natural move for the 36-year-old than a historical moment. They knew how good she is.

Kustok is the subject of a lengthy feature on Bleacher Report, introducing her to a wider audience. The headline of the profile is “Lets Normalize This,” and for Nets fans, watching and listening to Kustok is indeed normal and natural. In the five years she had been a sideline report and occasional analyst, she had proven both her basketball knowledge and broadcast skills. Everyone knew and liked her.

As Weitzman writes, there is a humility to Kustok that appeals to people...

Ask Kustok about the NBA, and she'll enthusiastically cite reams of advanced stats or delve into the ways different teams defense the pick-and-roll. Ask Kustok about her career, and she'll happily reminisce how she went from chauffeuring Brent Musburger around Chicago to calling NBA games. Ask Kustok how it feels to be the first woman named a solo full-time color analyst for an NBA team—which is a way of saying she's helping shatter one of society's glass ceilings—and she'll explain how she's sort of torn because she wants to be a role model for young girls but be treated just like any other announcer.

Of course, she’s not just any other announcer and not just because she’s a woman. Kustok played the game, at a high level, coached it too, at DePaul University, covered baseball in Chicago before arriving in Brooklyn with the Nets in 2012. She can easily transition from describing a play to analyzing it in a larger context, then engage in light banter with Ian Eagle and Michael Grady who replaced her as sideline reporter. All of that is what makes the YES Network team the unchallenged best in the business.

Weitzman writes about how it all began, in Chicago where she followed her brother, Zak, around as he, a natural athlete as well, moved from court to field to diamond, tagging along in sneakers and a cap, one of the guys. It’s in that milieu where she became something more than an athlete, a competitor.

Do not challenge her lightly. Nets fans remember the televised battle between her and Stefan “Hot Take” Bondy. It wasn’t quite Billy Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs ... but the result was the same.

That competition is fired by hard work. She knows her stuff, knows her audience, combines skills seamlessly. It’s a woman’s voice in many ways and that’s good. But in the end, so what? It’s a professional voice.

"I also love the idea, you know, that young girls and young boys can see that a woman can do this, but that's also a major responsibility and I better make sure I'm good," she told Weitzman, adding later: "I'd love to get to a point where these questions aren't asked or relevant."

Personally, notes Weitzman, Kustok is about personal relationships, what he calls her “what about you” personality. She doesn’t want to talk so much about what she’s done since you last talked but “what about you?” as well. And as anyone who knows anything about broadcasting knows, the announcer or anchor’s personality comes through the screen.

Weitzman writes as well as her off-camera life, her tragedies and the help she provides to others quietly. Only when asked, she describes how she was part of bone marrow donation program, and how just before Christmas in 2015, she sat in a hospital, a needle sticking out of her neck. It turned out her marrow was a match for a little boy who needed a transfusion.

That’s who she is as much as that on-camera basketball wiz. And Nets fans are happy to have her.