Dime Q&A: Tina Cervasio Talks Knicks, Steve Nash & The Day Amar’e Came To NYC

Although the team she normally covers, the New York Knicks, took an early exit in the playoffs, Tina Cervasio remains engaged in following all things basketball. A sports junkie growing up in New Jersey, Cervasio came from a family who passionately followed and played the sport, and she parlayed that interest into a career as one of the New York area’s most diverse sportscasters today. In addition to her sideline reporting and feature work for the Knicks on MSG Network, Tina covers the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer and works morning and weekends for FOX TV. She also fills her days mentoring young people and assisting in charity work, as well as keeping up to date with what’s going on in the NBA and college hoops, especially at her alma mater the University of Maryland.

Dime caught up with Tina to get more background on her work and interests.

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Dime: Have you always been an NBA fan, and if so what drew you to enjoying the game?
Tina Cervasio: As a young girl I used to go to a lot of high school basketball games with my father to see my mom’s cousins coach. I learned more about the NBA game when I was 11/12 and my friend’s father had season tickets to the Nets. I remember being drawn to the athleticism, the ball handling, twisting and vertical in their jumps. I became a full-time NBA fan in college in the ’90’s, of, guess who? The Knicks. I was taking summer classes in ’94 and a bunch of New York fans would gather every night to watch the Eastern Conference Finals and the Finals. It was sick…until it ended. I obviously loved Patrick (Ewing). John Starks and his feisty, gritty, diving after balls and getting into guy’s faces-spirit of the team play, was why I sat down every night in front of the TV to watch later into the ’90’s.

Dime: You are a Maryland grad. Any big memories from Gary Williams’ reign as the Terps’ head coach?
TC: YES, I was at Maryland during the brief, but exciting Joe Smith years. With Smith, the Terps not only made the Tournament, but made it to the Sweet 16. Gary was a God around campus. He was lifting the Terrapins out of the doldrums of sanctions and the dark memory of Len Bias‘ death. The entire campus was buzzing about basketball the week leading up to the Sweet 16. Everyone was wearing t-shirts, talking about the Terps. It was really the turning point for the program, because for the next decade Maryland became a fixture in the national rankings, and of course won the Championship in 2002.

Dime: What is the biggest challenge you have in reporting on the NBA and working the Knicks broadcasts?
TC: Getting all of my reports on the air during a game. There are games where I come in with 10-12 reports, story ideas or quotes from players. And sometimes I’m lucky to get two in. But that’s the gripe of every sideline reporter. You do so much behind the scenes that goes unnoticed during a broadcast. However, there are games where my producer sets me free! One example was versus the Hornets in New Orleans. The Knicks had an ample lead, so that gave us some leeway. MSG had a special guest, sports action artist, painting Amar’e during the game, then the Hornets arena staff brought me Louisiana Style Food and I brought it to Clyde and Mike Crispino. I interviewed Amar’e three times during that game and got a few good Chris Paul basketball reports in. It was a blast.

Dime: As a broadcaster, what advice do you give other young women looking to get involved in the business?
TC: Have a thick skin going in, because at times it won’t be all sunny and shiny. You will hear “NO” many times, but it doesn’t mean you have to take no for an answer. Find someone to say yes to you. If you’re persistent, willing to learn, make changes, become a better reporter, broadcaster, storyteller, you will find someone to hire you in some capacity. Expect sacrifices, such as very low pay in the beginning, working weekend, nights and holidays. But stick with it, if this is what you want to do. I still work weekends and holidays and LOVE IT!

Dime: What has been the most interesting event since you have started working Knicks games?
TC: It’s a toss up between when Amar’e announced he was coming to the Knicks and Carmelo‘s first game. We all knew Amar’e was scheduled for his big Knicks meeting on Monday, July 5th, 2010. By late morning we were getting word, he not only made his decision, he was going to announce it, at the Garden. I still remember when he bounced out of the limo on 7th Avenue in front of Madison Square Garden, with his picture lighting up the Marquee. As he walked by my camera crew, he looked and flashed that smile. We were all giddy fans at that moment. It was pretty funny. Joe Johnson already announced he was re-signing with the Hawks, and the whole Lebron-a-thon was dragging on, but Amar’e was about to become the first BIG free agent to take the Knicks’ MAX offer. When he appeared from inside the MSG Presentation Center where he had a closed door meeting with Donnie Walsh and Coach D’Antoni, he stepped in front of a wall that was plastered with “STAT City”, and then he puts a Knicks hat on. Amar’e knew me pretty well as the Knicks TV reporter, from my interviews with him with the Suns. He looked at me, so I jumped and I asked, “Amar’e, what do you have to say about your meetings today and that KNICKS hat you’re wearing?” He answered, “The Knicks are Back.” BAM … and you know what? Without that decision, that statement, we might not even be talking about Carmelo.
So, we all know how electric and emotional Carmelo’s first game was at the Garden. The chants were engrossing. And seeing Carmelo so emotional after the game was a really nice surprise – to see that side of him. So while Amar’e’s announcement wasn’t a game I covered, it was indeed, quite a historical EVENT.

Dime: Can you tell us a few of the great stories you have witnessed or the great personalities around the NBA that hoops fans might not be aware of?
TC: Steve Nash is essentially a local around here in the Summer. Just another New Yorker, chilling out downtown, playing in soccer leagues. There was a great story about Steve in the Wall Street Journal recently about him just being “another dude.” And what I’ve witnessed for three straight summers is his “Showdown in Chinatown” soccer game fundraiser for his foundation. He brings huge NBA names and world class soccer or futbol players from around the world out to NYC in the summer to play in this game on a grass slab downtown. It’s a scene out of Europe or South America with passionate soccer fans climbing the fences and trees to watch a soccer game – Jason Kidd, Baron Davis, Leandro Barbosa, Grant Hill, Tony Parker, Chris Bosh, Brandon Jennings, the list goes on for the NBA guys – then there’s the international sensations from soccer: Thierry Henry, Claudio Reyna, Adrian Mutu, Ivan Cordoba, Javier Zanetti, Ryan Babel, and his brother Martin Nash.

Dime: You get to work with some of the biggest names in broadcasting. Are there things you learn from people like Mike Breen or Clyde Frazier?
TC: I learn everyday from Mike and Clyde. Mike has always told me when I do a report, focus on one point, the most important point of the story, because the fans will remember what you reported, instead of going through a list of things and trying to cram it in 15 seconds. Clyde has taught me so much about the game, especially defense. Sometimes I sit next to him on the plane and I ask him questions about the game we just saw, and how to look for things when I’m watching. He explained to me things about help defense and how the ball finds the weakest link on the opponent’s team.

Dime: You have covered sports on every level. Do you have a favorite memory or game from high school, college or the NBA?
TC: It all started when I went to see the Rose Bowl in 1986. I was 11 years old and that was it. I wanted to work in sports after that day. Iowa beat UCLA. We went simply because my dad was a huge college football fan and he wanted the family to experience the granddaddy of them all! The fans, the game, the players, the cheerleaders, the bands, the pageantry – it was an atmosphere I wanted to be in, everyday.

Dime: You are a big proponent of education as well. Are there specific things you try and do or groups you work with to engage female fans?
TC: I’ve started a speaking series that targets women who want to be savvy when they talk sports. It’s called “Tina’s Tips, a gal’s guide to …” and then I fill in the topic: the NBA Playoffs, the Knicks, football, soccer, the Red Bulls. It’s part class, part networking, very social. The draw is my special guests. Ronny Turiaf and Roger Mason Jr. came out to an event this past season, answered questions from the crowd and took pictures. Some of the women are still talking about it. The events are held at restaurants or bars in New York and we always have a signature drink. I think one was a “Basket-tini” and it was orange with blueberries.

Dime: Tell us about your charity work, and what it has been like working with ACS and the coaches in Coaches vs. Cancer lately?
TC: The Garden of Dreams Foundation, Madison Square Garden’s non-profit charity that makes “dreams come true for kids facing obstacles” is very rewarding. Just this week I was the emcee of the wrap part for MSG Networks’ involvement in the foundation called “MSG Classroom”. It’s an eight week course designed to teach high school students about career opportunities available within the television industry. Throughout the course, students attain skills necessary to create their very own sports and entertainment program. During one Knicks game, the students shadow each of us on the Knicks crew. So I had a little shadow for a game. At the conclusion of the program, students present their original piece to MSG executives and employees during this special wrap party. It’s so rewarding to see MY SHADOW host the show and do so well. In addition, I have recently started working with American Cancer Society (ACS) and the “Coaches vs. Cancer” division. My husband is currently battling colon cancer and we want to get the word out to those UNDER 50 years old, that if you are sensing even the slightest sympton, even if you are 26 years old, get a colonosopy. By raising awarness of Coaches vs. Cancer and helping them raise funds (my husband, Kevin McKearney and I participated in their “Trading Day at NASDAQ” on May 12th), we can get the word out. I have a voice in the New York sports community so why not use it? Especially because the demographic we are targeting is my husband’s demographic, males 25-45.

Who’s your favorite NBA sideline reporter?

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