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Sunday, July 14, 2024

From Social Media to the Sidelines, Cassidy Hubbarth Epitomizes the NBA

Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images

Photo credit: Allen Kee/ESPN Images

From the “Madden Bowl” on ESPN3, to the late-night “NBA Tonight” program, to the sidelines of the NBA playoffs, Cassidy Hubbarth has done it all during her nine-year tenure at ESPN. And although her roles have changed over time, one thing hasn’t — her fierce devotion to her work.

“’NBA Tonight’ came on at all hours of the night, and her passion for this sport and to be a part of this sport was evident then, too,” said Tim Corrigan, senior coordinating producer at ESPN. “She absolutely caught my eye then, and I was so impressed.”

In the past few years, Hubbarth has become one of the network’s lead NBA reporters and also covers college football and the WNBA, while occasionally hosting shows like “Get Up!,” “SportsCenter,” “First Take,” “The Jump” and “NBA Countdown.”

Earlier this month, the 34-year-old from Evanston, Ill., signed an extension with ESPN, a deal that allows her to host “Hoop Streams,” a new pregame show on Twitter before Saturday “NBA on ABC” matchups.

“I always get asked, ‘What’s your dream job?’ and I honestly, legitimately would not want to do anything other than what I’m doing right now, being at these games, forming relationships with the players,” Hubbarth said. “From covering the league as a reporter and having roles like the All-Star Celebrity Game, and the draft lottery and Summer League in Vegas, which I love, I honestly can handpick the roles that I want to be working on.”

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With all her roles as an NBA reporter, Hubbarth has found it crucial to be active on social media, especially with the rise of NBA Twitter. In fact, she has embraced technology throughout her entire career, even before social media became a staple of journalists’ arsenals. From her earliest jobs — creating original content for Sprint, covering SEC football as a social reporter at Fox Sports South, and working as a digital host for ESPN3 — she has evolved alongside social media over the years.

“Because a lot of my first jobs were in digital media, it’s something I devoted and invested my time in, and understanding and learning how its grown,” she said. “With the NBA, and covering the sport and how much NBA Twitter impacts the game, and how fans interact with the game, it was a natural fit to build my connection with social media. I’m so thankful for social media because it’s been something I can explore and carve out a niche for myself. It’s really been something that helped me build an identity and connection to sports media in the way I am today.”

A graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Hubbarth has made it a point to stay true to her journalistic roots, even with the changing digital landscape.

“My interaction on social media isn’t just about tweeting content — it’s about how I consume it and apply it to my job and to my reporting,” she said. “My job is to be a reporter, not to be a personality on Twitter.”

“Anyone on social knows of that anxiety, like, ‘Do I press send?’ and then sometimes it’s too late, you’ve missed the window,” she added. “It’s gotten harder to keep up, especially since I’m still a journalist and a reporter. What I tweet and post matters because I need to take my responsibilities as a reporter seriously. I can’t be throwing out opinions left and right without making sure they’re accurate and have legitimacy to them.”

Despite the concerns, Hubbarth explained that social media can and should be used as a resource by reporters, particularly with the NBA where athletes are just as active online as the fans.

“Players offer their own commentary and tidbits about themselves that could lead to stories on social — it’s such a tool,” she said. “Granted, it can be the best place in world or the worst place in world, but it is a tool for you to use, and if you use it well, it has endless possibilities.”

With the NBA’s increasing connection to social media and other cultural forces, Hubbarth’s appreciation for the league has only deepened.

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“The NBA has developed into a personality, player-driven league, which has opened up outlets for sneaker culture, fashion culture, and endless memes and GIFs, which I find to be entertaining,” she said. “All these tentacles to the league that I have genuine interest in — it also has helped me in how I cover the sport and has expanded the way we cover it. It’s more than just my in-game coaches interviews, and I have the ability to play around with so many different types of content.”

That genuine interest is the trait that Hubbarth credits her success to, and it’s the trait that Corrigan believes lends itself to consistent, relatable coverage.

“You can tell when somebody is enjoying what they’re doing by their performance and how they do it,” Corrigan said. “Whether she’s doing a postgame interview with LeBron James after he makes the game-winning shot, or hosting ‘NBA Tonight’ at two in the morning, you’re not going to notice the difference. She realizes, each night, the opportunity and that somebody is always watching, and someone always cares, and they may be watching for the first time.”

“I do feel like the NBA really fits my personality, and the reason why is because I’m passionate about it,” Hubbarth added. “I’m a fan, and I’ve been a fan my whole life. My fandom of the NBA is a big part of my personal identity, just as much as professional identity.”

Hubbarth never tries to hide her love for the game or her craft either — in fact, she hopes her viewers take notice of it.

“I feel like what I can bring to the sport is my unwavering passion for it, and that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but hopefully there are some viewers who feel the same way about it,” she said. “I know I need to work hard, and there are so many people who work hard and know the game, but what may separate me is my presentation and my love for the game, and I hope that shines through.”

Even though she leans on her joy for the game, Hubbarth admits that she still feels pressure to deliver, especially during the emotional, dramatic moments.

“I’m obviously not playing in the game, but I do have a responsibility to the game broadcast to deliver something, like the reaction right after a game-winner or big win,” she said. “People want to hear from that star player about that significant moment, so I do have that responsibility to make sure I’m capturing that moment as best as possible for the viewers and for the player. It’s my responsibility to ask questions so they can sum up for the NBA what just happened to them. It gives a little bit more perspective to who they are as a player, so I do feel pressure in that moment but also a lot of privilege to be a part of significant moments.”

And although she’s showed promise from the earliest days of her career, Corrigan explained that Hubbarth’s years of experience have helped her improve her natural on-air presence in those big moments.

“I’ve known Cassidy for probably five years now, and I think she had a vision for herself and what she wanted to be,” he said. “To me, reps means confidence, and confidence means more comfortable. She’s really coming around now, and none of us are the final product, but all the reps and composure and confidence and poise she’s developed through different roles has rounded her out to become what she is.”

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If the past few years represented Hubbarth’s exponential career growth as she burst onto the scene as a household sports name, this year may require some shifting of priorities, as she recently gave birth to a daughter. Now, she is embracing new challenges and learning to balance motherhood and her career, with the help of other women in the industry like Doris Burke, Ramona Shelburne and Rachel Nichols.

“Like any working mom, it’s just day-by-day and figuring it all out,” Hubbarth said. “I’m so fortunate that I can potentially quote-unquote ‘have it all’ and have a family and a career. But having it all is a day-to-day thing, as far as making sure I’m managing it.”

“Rachel Nichols gave me some advice because all I knew before my daughter arrived was being an NBA reporter and being who I was on my own, only worried about myself,” she added. “I missed the first few months of the season while pregnant, but she just said, ‘No one’s going to realize you’re gone, and you’re going to pick right back up and just also be a mom.’ It helped me focus on the incredible time I was going through, and I was fortunate to go through my pregnancy and feel like I was able to live in moment during that.”

Now, Hubbarth is back to work. She is as active on the sidelines as ever, and between her family and her dream job, she is enjoying the moment and living with passion, just like she always has.

“I feel so fortunate and happy, and hopefully that shines through in my coverage.”

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