Cassidy Hubbarth has always worn many hats at ESPN, currently serving as studio host for college football broadcasts on ABC, digital host of Hoop Streams on Twitter and the ESPN App, and sideline reporter for the NBA on ESPN, among others.
Splitting time between two very different sports with very different fanbases seems, on the surface, to be a strange mix, but for Hubbarth it’s the combination of the sport she’s loved since a kid and the one she learned to love chasing the professional dream.
After graduating from Northwestern her pursuit of a job in the broadcasting industry took her to SEC country with Fox Sports South, a trial by fire of sorts for someone that never identified as a college football fan prior. That immersion in the most college football crazed area of the country caused her to fall in love with the sport. As such, she’s done something with college football ever since 2007, even as her profile within the NBA world has grown.
Hubbarth calls college football her “first love” as a professional, but the NBA has always been her “heart and soul” as a sports fan.
Growing up in Evanston, just outside of Chicago, during the Michael Jordan era naturally drew Hubbarth into the NBA. It’s the sport she’s connected with since childhood, but until 2013 it was separate from her professional life. That’s when she was tabbed as host for NBA Tonight and NBA Coast to Coast by Bruce Bernstein at ESPN, which she looks back on as the defining moment of her career.
“His belief in me, in allowing me to host that show,” Hubbarth says, “I think really changed my career and allowed me to be my authentic self. For the longest time early on, I was just trying to fit in, like I said, have people trust me and so I wasn’t ever myself I don’t think, until I was trusted to host NBA Tonight. And because the NBA is my favorite sport, I just kind of was just allowed the opportunity to make it my own, and then in that process I think I found my voice, and found my comfort level on air.”
Hubbarth still has moments where she can’t quite believe what she does for a living, like in a Charlotte hotel lobby at All-Star when Bulls legend and current ESPN colleague Scottie Pippen stops her to chat.
“I saw Scottie in the lobby last night like after we saw the screening [of ‘The Last Dance’], and he goes, ‘Hey Cassidy,’ I go, ‘Cassidy who? Who you talking to? You ain’t talking to me. Which Cassidy are you talking to, Pippen?’,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t get starstruck but it’s still like with those guys like, I don’t get starstruck with any of the current players, but like those dudes, that’s my childhood.”
That authentic passion for the NBA is immediately apparent and a big part of what has led to her rapid rise on ESPN’s NBA coverage and endeared her to colleagues like Doris Burke.
“I think what becomes immediately apparent when you’re around Cassidy is the number one how much passion she has for the NBA,” Burke told Uproxx. “She is immersed in the league. You can tell she’s watching a number of games. She’s following all the storylines. That pops off the page to me, and it always has. […] Whether we’re riding to the arena or waiting for a shootaround to open up, she’s all in. She’s invested and she’s passionate. I’ve always believed you can’t fool the fans. If you’re not genuine and authentic, they’re going to know it. And I think with Cassidy, you know unequivocally she loves the NBA.”
Hubbarth has become a staple of NBA broadcasts, and that passion and connection with the NBA audience helps her stand out. She’s as active on NBA Twitter as anyone in the TV industry, and as she explains, that came about as a way to know what fans were buzzing about when she was hosting NBA Tonight and evolved into something much more.
“When I was hosting NBA Tonight it was kind of when NBA Twitter and NBA social was really starting to gain some traction with fans and I noticed that,” Hubbarth says. “That was one of the ways that I felt so comfortable and connected with the shows because on a nightly basis we’d be in the green room watching games and I would have my Twitter up and that’s how the producers and I would basically stack the show. It’s like what are the fans talking about?”
That fascination with NBA Twitter led to a deeper connection to the sport, and helped her understand where the league was headed.
“It’s a players league,” Hubbarth says, “we get to know these personalities a lot more. It’s an intimate relationship fans have because it’s about the players, it’s about their emotions, it’s about their drama, it’s about their petty. It’s about the celebration, and so that’s kind of what happens on a night to night basis on NBA Twitter when people are watching games is that it’s a community just talking about like what’s going on across the league with their, quote-unquote, ‘friends.’”
Hosting has always been where Hubbarth’s been most comfortable, given that’s where the vast majority of her experience has been over her career, but four years ago she added sideline reporting to her various list of duties, and has grown into that role as well, becoming one of ESPN’s top reporters on their NBA coverage.
Producer Tim Corrigan was the one that opened that door for Hubbarth, and threw her into a sink or swim moment with her first assignment on the road being a Spurs game on Christmas.
“For the longest time, I say I was a house cat,” Hubbarth explained. “I was a host. I never left the house. And I think it was four years ago I went out onto the field. The fact that [Tim Corrigan] trusted me, my first game was Christmas day in Houston against the Spurs. So my first in-game interview was Gregg Popovich, so like you know it was like I was thrown right into the fire. But the fact that he trusted me because of what he saw, the work I did, the passion I had for the NBA on NBA Tonight and NBA Coast to Coast, I appreciate that belief in me.”
Hubbarth survived her trial by fire at the hands of Pop and has leaned on the experience of two of her colleagues that are the best to ever do it in Rachel Nichols and Doris Burke. Burke, in particular, has been Hubbarth’s guiding force of sorts for sideline duty because Hubbarth is often on sidelines for Burke’s games as a color commentator.
“I mean I have been so fortunate, that my transition to the sidelines has lined up with her transition to full time analyst,” Hubbarth said. “So I’ve become like her sideline reporter. So I get to take notes from and bounce ideas off of the greatest of all time at sidelines and also get to talk ball with her all the time.”
One of the biggest lessons Hubbarth’s had to learn, like any other sideline reporter starting, is how to do the “dance” of working sidelines. As a studio or digital host, Hubbarth can be in control of the flow and content of the show, directing traffic and pushing a conversation one way or the other. On sidelines, the opposite is the case, as you find yourself at the mercy of what’s happening in the game, the conversation being had by the play-by-play and analyst, and, even when presented an opportunity, often have to limit a contribution to 20 to 30 seconds at a time.
Sideline reporters have to be prepared with anecdotes, information, and stories on a variety of players in the game, because there’s no guarantee on any given night one player or another will be pertinent to the in-game action or conversation.
As Burke notes, learning to impact a broadcast with those constraints can be difficult as a young sideline reporter, and accepting the fact that sometimes you simply won’t feel like you contributed much at all is part of learning the role. Like a role player in basketball, sometimes it’s just about finding ways to make an impact in the flow of the game and the spots you know you can, like the interviews, and accept not every night you’ll be able to get the best things you have prepared into the broadcast.
“The nature of sideline reporting is you prepare as hard as the play-by-play and the analyst who are there, but the opportunity to effect the broadcast is far less frequent,” Burke says. “You have all this information, but your ability to get that information in is contingent on so many things. The players you might be particularly interested in furthering their story that night, they may not have a great night. So you may not have an opportunity because they’re not part of the conversation.”
“There are so many variables that go into your ability to effect the broadcast,” she says. “And you have to be on so many nights patient and know the opportunities will be there during the interviews — after the first and third quarters, postgame, at ESPN you’re always going to have a SportsCenter or Countdown hit. So it’s a very challenging job in that you’re trying to impact a broadcast in about 20 seconds during live action. That’s not always the easiest thing to pull off.”
Hubbarth has learned that over her four years in the job and how to embrace getting stories ready to go even when they can’t make it into a broadcast. When we speak at All-Star in Charlotte she cites a recent Wizards game ahead of the trade deadline where the plan was originally to open the broadcast discussing John Wall’s injury and the trade deadline, but a sudden time crunch at the top of the broadcast forced an audible.
“In the beginning they did this whole crossover event they did an interview with Middleton and Brogdon, and they thought they were gonna be able to do John Wall off the top, but it just didn’t work out because the in-arena activities went a little fast,” Hubbarth said. “So the tip off happened a little earlier, so it’s like little things like that you just got to adjust on the fly. But I appreciate just gathering those stories anyways because then I can help build on it later.”
Hubbarth has grown into her sideline role to become one of ESPN’s top reporters on NBA broadcasts, steadily becoming one of ESPN’s most versatile talents.
Bouncing between her many roles is something Hubbarth embraces because it keeps the job fresh and allows her to do different things throughout the year. As the studio update host for college football on ABC, she appreciates the massive audience it provides and that she gets to call highlights, which she misses doing now that she’s moved out of her studio roles in the NBA. On Hoop Streams she gets the chance to be more opinionated and let that passion for the NBA shine through with live pregame shows from courtside at games around the league.
Along with balancing three very different roles at ESPN, Hubbarth finds herself as a new mother and navigating the challenges and joys of that, having given birth to her daughter late last year. During her pregnancy, Hubbarth found the community of women that had helped her navigate her professional career were also there to lean on for help in her personal life, like Ramona Shelburne, Nichols, Jen Lada, and Burke.
At the time she learned she was pregnant, Hubbarth was doing a podcast with Chiney Ogwumike and Shelburne, who happened to be just ahead of Hubbarth in her pregnancy, and found someone that could offer her firsthand experience with the various stages of a pregnancy.
“The person who was the biggest help to me throughout my pregnancy was Ramona Shelburne,” Hubbarth said. “She was 10 weeks ahead of me. So she just had her baby boy, Danny. And so she was like my guardian angel is what I called her. Because pregnancy in itself, everyone talks about like okay parenthood. Pregnancy is a whole ‘nother, I mean I’m talking to a guy, like I could tell you that it sucks but you don’t understand how much it sucks. I don’t understand people who like pregnancy and then add being on the road and like dealing with all that whatever with pregnancy. It was just having her to call, even as a crystal ball into my future with pregnancy. […] She just was someone who was a sounding board we could just kind of like blabber to each other about all of the annoyances and joys and exciting things happening with starting our family.”
For Shelburne, it was the opportunity to help Cassidy as Rachel Nichols, Hillary Guy, and Jenny Dial-Creech, who had her son four months before Shelburne, did for her throughout her pregnancy.
“There’s this real community of moms that was one of the best things that I discovered as I was going through this, you know, a lot of people have been through this,” Shelburne said. “Most women in our industry, we don’t want to complain about it, we don’t want to make it seem like we’re asking for a special favor, we don’t wanna you know, special treatment. But if there’s anyone who understands, it’s another professional working mom, you know? I remember how key that was for me to have with Rachel and Hillary and Jenny. Literally when you can’t talk to anyone, I was just like, ‘Ok, Cassidy is a really good friend of mine. I’m gonna be there for her,’ and I told her that. I was like, ‘I’m gonna be there for you, I’m gonna check on you, I want you to tell me everything that’s going on, I want you to talk.”
“You get to the place where you end up talking about stuff that’s like, just a little TMI for anybody else, right? But you know, just kinda like here’s what’s going on, here’s how we handle it,” Shelburne adds. “Here’s how we tell our bosses, here’s how we talk to people about this. It’s like, listen you’re not alone out there. We all go through this kind of stuff together. I know it sounds at first kinda quaint, but it takes a village, it really does. Especially when we have the kinda job like what we have. You’re scared and you’re wondering what does this mean for your career and what does this mean for your life? And just it’s so comforting to know when you have people there with you who can help you through it and go through it with you, and like, have been there and have felt all the stuff you’re feeling.”
Where Shelburne was a “guardian angel,” Burke helped keep Hubbarth connected to the job that’s been so intertwined with her identity while she was away. Hubbarth worked only one game prior to giving birth this season due to her inability to travel, and with so much concern about her personal life, began feeling disconnected to the game and job she loved so much. Burke was there to offer personal advice when asked, but as much as anything she made sure to talk hoops with Hubbarth to make sure she felt like she was still a part of the team.
“I kind of felt like out of touch and I didn’t know anything but worrying about myself,” Hubbarth said of the beginning of this season. “I didn’t know what it was going to be like being a mother. So I’m worried, like, ‘Oh my god. I’m out of the loop.’ You know, I’m not doing any games, and the season’s started, and so I felt like I was disconnected and my insecurities started creeping in, but Doris made it a point to make sure that, “Hey we miss you. You’re loved.” And would just talk to me about story lines, like we would do if I were traveling with her just so I can keep up. Because you get caught up in what is happening with you personally on a day to day basis with this pregnancy and then you kind of get out of your routine of staying in touch with the league.”
Burke knew it was important to give her that outlet to talk about the game she loved, while also making sure Cassidy knew she wasn’t alone in the feelings she would have, not just through pregnancy but in being a young mother.
“I don’t know if her generation is different than mine, but one thing I always battled as I was continuing to work and my children were progressing through their lives, I never lost the feeling of guilt,” Burke said. “I don’t know if it’s different than a woman that works in a more traditional environment where it’s 9 to 5, but for me it wasn’t that. There were nights I could be away for back-to-back nights and then be home and immersed in their lives for a couple of days. So I told her, you’re going to feel a whole range of emotions and feelings and you just have to be honest with yourself, your husband and love the hell out of your kids, which is all you can do.”
Hubbarth, now a decade into her tenure at ESPN, is fully ingrained in that community and has climbed the ladder to be one of their most prominent voices. She’s hesitant to point at anything being her “dream job,” noting that as she goes along she finds herself loving the many roles and opportunities she has now and wants to build on those, starting with her first chance at being on the road for the Western Conference Finals and NBA Finals for Hoops Streams broadcasts from 8:00-8:30 p.m. ET prior to each game.
“I’m super excited that I’ll finally be at the Finals and Conference Finals, these will be my first Conference Finals and Finals that I’ve actually gone to ’cause I’m always back in studio,” Hubbarth said. “So the fact that I get to do those for Hoop Streams, that is I keep saying dream, but it’s my reality, and this is my dream. So that’s gonna be great this year. Like, doing the draft lottery is a huge deal for me. I’ve done that the last three years. So that’s a dream role and I want to continue that. Summer League has turned into a dream role for me, because everyone’s loose and having a great time. So being able to have that interaction with players and building those relationships, that’s a dream in itself. You know so it’s just kind of growing with the NBA and college football, that’s kind of my dream role.”
Hubbarth’s willingness to try new things and take on whatever opportunities are presented to her is how she made the journey from Northwestern to New York. Add in her ever-growing comfort in those various roles and a willingness to let her passion and excitement for the job shine through, and it’s made her one of ESPN’s rising stars. She’s quick to heap praise on those around her, but her colleagues are equally quick to note how impressive a talent she is and how much they enjoy working with her.
As much as anyone, Hubbarth understands the sports media industry is always changing and evolving, which is why she can’t pinpoint exactly what she’ll be doing next. Whatever it is, in her career or in life, she’ll lean on her many experiences and the community of women around her to bring her passion, insight, and unique perspective as she always has.