SACRAMENTO — When Kara Marie Lawson was selected fifth overall by the Detroit Shock in the 2003 WNBA Draft, and then immediately traded to the Sacramento Monarchs, little did she know that a variety of off-court opportunities awaited her in California.
Straight from the herald women’s basketball program at the University of Tennessee, the chance to play basketball professionally was just one of the possibilities. She graduated from UT with a degree in Finance. But a career as a lawyer or judge after playing the sport was in the cards, too.
But two years after Lawson helped the Monarchs win a WNBA title, she became a groundbreaker by being the first woman to work as a nationwide broadcast analyst for an NBA game on Jan. 12, 2007.
Lawson — then 26 and still playing for the Monarchs — provided commentary for the New Orleans Hornets-Washington Wizards game.
Now 12 years later, she is in her second season as the full-time lead color analyst for the Wizards. She earned the position as one of the first females to provide color commentary on the national level right after replacing Phil Chenier, who previously held the position for Washington.
Before the Sacramento Kings played the Wizards recently at Golden 1 Center, Lawson proudly credited the city of Sacramento and the Kings organization for her humble start 15 years ago.
“My rise in this industry can be directly traced back to my time in Sacramento because I got so many reps at a young age,” Lawson said. “I had an opportunity to cover one of the best teams you can cover in (Chris) Webber, Vlade (Divac), (Michael) Bibby, Bobby Jackson, and Peja (Stojakovic). So many great players. I learned so much about basketball. Everything can be traced back to my time here.”
To allow a woman to give her opinions about a professional basketball game on the air in the NBA was not fashionable at all, let alone thought of 20 years ago. Lawson told The OBSERVER that “Sacramento did it when it wasn’t cool to do. Sacramento did it when no one else was doing it.”
Lawson, a native of Washington, D.C., acquired her break when she became a member of House Party Live, HPL, for the Sacramento Kings during her off-season from the Monarchs. It was immediately known that the youngster could break down a basketball game not only from the perspective of a player but a promising, future coach too.
Lawson liked her position so much that she would seek tips from other local reporters from Sacramento who admired her work and passion. She would also share that she would tape basketball games to get an understanding of the language and lingo induced in sports journalism.
In the interim, she worked some women’s college basketball games in the studio, as a sideline reporter, and play-by-play calls for ESPN. She called games for men’s college basketball, the NBA, and the WNBA early in her professional career as well.
Lawson pointed out that it was former Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof, Maloof Sports and Entertainment’s Vice President of Marketing and Brand Development Danette Leighton, Kings current color analyst Jerry Reynolds and Adrienne Maloof who were all instrumental in elevating her to the Kings’ broadcasting chair.
“Not only that, the city embraced me in doing it,” Lawson said. “There wasn’t a backlash or people getting frustrated because a woman was doing it. They knew me as a player here and they respected my opinion whether they agreed or not.”
Gary “G-Man” Gerould, the longtime radio sportscaster for the Kings rarely gets to listen to Lawson on the air these days, he said. A legend in the sports broadcasting arena himself, Gerould is well aware of Lawson’s talents.
“I’ve always enjoyed her, selfishly, from her time here in Sacramento with the Monarchs,” Gerould said. “You want to see her have success. To get a platform where she was working at ESPN and now working her second year in Washington, obviously, she’s doing things right.”
For someone who has been broadcasting games and motorsports for decades, Gerould has been well aware that women have been waiting their turn to move up the ranks in the industry. He’s pleased with the
progress and diversity within the last few years. Gerould said the women sports broadcasters of today “bring great knowledge to the game.”
“They have been knocking at the door for a long, long time,” Gerould said of women getting promoted as color analysts and play-by-play announcers. “It’s great to see now that those opportunities are beginning to materialize. It seems to be virtually in every facet, in terms of the broadcast business, seeing women taking administrative roles and on-air-talent roles. It used to be, ‘Let’s take her pretty face and put her on the sidelines.’ But now it becomes a whole lot more than that.”
Lawson agrees that women having a place in is becoming “little bit more acceptable.” But she says it still up to the “executives” to expand the roles. She pointed out that Doris Burke, a color analyst
and an NBA play-by-play announcer, “Calls some TV and radio games and that’s it,” she said.
“Right now, there are two women calling local television NBA games, myself and Sarah Comstock in Brooklyn,” Lawson said. “Why can’t there be more? Hopefully, we can continue to show not just the fans, the players, the coaches, but the people making the decisions. The people that have the power to hire these people in these positions. Those are the people you want to impact and hopefully change their views on what women can do in this space.”
By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer