In two extensive interviews published this week, with Steve Serby of the Post and Evan Drellich of The Athletic, Sarah Kustok spoke about the Nets, her craft, Ian Eagle and Ryan Ruocco, her flirtation with the Clippers and of course the Nets big summer.
But the YES analyst, the first female NBA analyst on any local TV network. spoke as well about how she has a new responsibility — not just being a role model but also an encouraging and educating presence for girls —and boys. Gender shouldn’t limit you if you want a career in broadcasting or basketball (or in her case both). It’s about skill and hard work.
In talking with Dreilich, Kustok spoke in basic terms...
“I want young girls to grow up thinking that they can do anything. I want young girls and boys of this generation to grow up not looking at, “Oh, she’s a female in an analyst role and this and that.” I like that there’s progress in that area.
“However, on the same token, I feel strongly that in roles or positions or anything that we do, that the best should be put in a job. And sometimes I don’t like to highlight the fact that I’m a female or a woman in this role. I just want to show up and do my job. And I want people to either like me or not like me, respect me, or whatever it is. The opinion they have on the job that I do to be separate of my gender. So that’s why in many cases, I wish that this was — and it’s getting there — less of a novelty and less of something you don’t see as often.”
Does she accept the role model responsibilities of her rise, engaging on an individual basis with young women and girls, not just being a presence on TV? Kustok says of course.
“Very much so. It was even different situations, even before taking this role. Now it’s continued.
“That’s the most special part about it. I’ll still go and work at basketball camps and help out with different teams. I’ll still go and do a lot of stuff with young girls when they are in junior high or high school, some of them even younger, thinking about what they want to do in the future. And I love the fact that they’re like that: ‘That’s so cool. I love the game. I want to do what you’re doing.’
She also thinks that her role has given girls and young women broader vistas.
“It makes a difference — and we see this in so many different facets, whether it’s professionally or personally — when someone sees someone that looks like them, or that they can relate with. I’m a girl and a girl doing this, and even though it’s the NBA and females don’t play, they think that’s something that’s possible. That to me is the most special part of this job.”
Kustok also gave credit to the women pioneers of basketball broadcasting who gave her the same inspiration she is now passing on.
“Because I know those before me, Doris Burke, Ann Meyers, they were so good, and that’s what’s afforded me this opportunity. I’m forever grateful to them, and that’s why I also hope to also be good enough that those behind me get afforded those same opportunities.”
In her interview with Serby, Kustok took a wider and deeper view of where she fits.
“I like to think that I’m measured in how I speak about it because I am so grateful for the opportunity. I’m grateful for the fact that females are getting more opportunities in different roles than maybe they did before, so for that, I’m happy. I hope the next generation of young girls and boys looks at someone in a color analyst role and doesn’t even think about their gender.”
And she gives credit to her bosses who she says put gender aside in their decision-making.
“For me, personally, I don’t like talking about myself and I don’t like thinking about it in that manner. I believe that my bosses felt that I was the person they wanted in that role and would be capable of doing that job in the best way regardless of me being a female. And that’s important to me. And it’s important to me that being put in that role that eventually, I’m not looked at as being a female analyst.
“However I think there’s a responsibility to be good enough, to be competent enough.”
She realizes as well that the job she does will be judged when other bosses, most likely male, take a look at candidates for similar jobs. Same is true, she notes, for the eight female assistant coaches now in the league.
“I only hope that those behind me are afforded the same opportunities because of the job that I do. The making history I don’t like to talk about, but I do like the fact that there are high school girls or junior high girls or when I go into camps in the summer, they want to do this job, or they want to do a different job, or they look at [Celtics assistant coach] Kara Lawson or [Wizards assistant coach] Kristi Toliver or [Spurs assistant coach] Becky Hammon — they don’t even think twice about an opportunity to do things because they see people that look like them or that are like them who are females. And so that is why it’s special to me, for the next generation, for those who want to be doing this job.”
Kustok also believes there will be a female NBA head coach — and soon.
“Without a doubt. The more things become normalized, it’s a process. And there’s a long way to go. However, I absolutely feel like it will happen, and I don’t know the timeline of it.
“So many of these players are coaches and we know the NBA is a very progressive league. They care about your basketball acumen. They care about: Can you help me as a player? They care about what it is that you bring to the table. Their only concern is: Can this person help us, help our team, help me become a better player? And I believe that’s there, so I think it’s just a matter of time.”
And what about her, Serby asks, What about Coach Kustok? She has experience on the college and AAU levels as well as a masters degree in Corporate & Multicultural Communication. And she’s watched a lot of tape.
“That’s a great question. I was an assistant at DePaul [women’s team]. In many ways it does, because I feel like a large portion of what I do in this role and for my prep is you’re watching film, you’re breaking things down, you’re looking at things in a certain way.
“I coached an AAU team when I was in Chicago. There’s an aspect of coaching and helping people that I love. But currently, the role I’m in and doing what I’m doing is such a great challenge for me. I love what I’m doing. But you always kind of keep options open for all things.”
Kustok is currently the highest profile woman associated with the Nets ... although on at least one bio, Clara Wu Tsai lists herself as “co-owner” of the Nets along with husband Joe.
And when a woman coach or executive joins the Nets front office, she’ll have someone to thank in the broadcast booth for leading the way.