An Evening Shadowing Larry Burnett

By Aaron Fischman - @aaronhartf

It’s a pretty typical Tuesday night at the STAPLES Center. The Los Angeles Sparks are hosting the Phoenix Mercury, and Larry Burnett is sitting in his usual chair. He’s calling play-by-play. No surprise there. No one else has served in that role since the Sparks began their journey 16 seasons ago.

Supported by his small, but thorough staff, Burnett has three extra helpers this evening. They’re bright-eyed high school students, who are hoping to learn from one of the industry’s most experienced.

Isaiah, a sophomore from Corona High School, aspires to be a talk show host. Isaiah’s favorite part of the day was watching Burnett interview Nneka Ogwumike from backstage. “Seeing everything backstage was really awesome,” said Isaiah.

Isaiah’s Corona classmate, Rebecca, similarly enjoyed watching Burnett’s interviews even if her nerves surfaced early in the night. “The toughest part was meeting him, because we didn’t know what to expect,” said Rebecca. “I was nervous.”

Yorba Linda High School senior Taylor was also on hand. Taylor originally wanted to become a news anchor, before sports broadcasting piqued her interest. Now, Taylor has come to understand that the industry offers a wide range of prospects. “Maybe I’ll be political,” considers Taylor. “There’s just so many opportunities that I have in broadcasting.”

Despite Burnett's experience in the industry, he was able to relate well to his protégés for a night, understanding their feelings of getting into the business.

During the game, the three students wore headsets, so that they could hear every word of Burnett’s call. They took notes while listening, and it was not easy.

Isaiah’s biggest challenge was trying to juggle both assignments at the same time. “I was really trying to take some notes,” said Isaiah. “Then again, I thought to myself ‘this is probably going to be good (at developing my) multi-tasking.’”

For Taylor, concentration appeared to be paramount to Burnett’s ability to effectively broadcast the game. “Trying to focus on the game seems tough,” she noted. “Not letting the music or the cheering affect you and just trying to focus on the game, and say what you need to say.”

Burnett has been doing this for a long time. If he makes it look effortless, it’s because he’s done it over and over and over again. Even someone as experienced as Burnett diligently works at his craft.

“It looks easy when people do it correctly, but you don’t do it correctly if you’re not prepared,” said the veteran announcer. “As I told them, I put hours and hours and hours into preparing my charts and my information, working on the computer and putting it all together so that when I get to the game, the game is the easy part. The game is the gravy.”

Burnett found the students to be ambitious and genuinely interested in exploring the broadcasting world. Watching the students learn was exciting for Burnett, who admitted he wishes he’d been given similar opportunities at a young age.

When asked after the game, each of the three students fervently recommended this opportunity to others in their situation. “Having a mentor like him is great,” said Taylor. “Job-shadowing someone that has this much experience and is this successful and amazing at what he does, it’s good to learn from someone like that.”

“I recommend this to all my friends and people that are in my classes at school, because it was real,” said Rebecca. “Even if I don’t do something for broadcasting, this goes on my resume and they gave me so many tips on helping to put myself out there.”

Isaiah made the most simple, but possibly the most effective pitch: “I’m 15. I’m at Staples. I’m hanging out with Larry Burnett. I went backstage at a Sparks game, and I’m loving it. I recommend it to anybody. Any age.”

For Burnett, the mentoring opportunity served as a reminder of the complexities of everything that goes into getting a broadcast on the air.

“After you do this for a few years, you tend to take things for granted that happen every night.”

“Check out Isaiah's story, Rebecca's story and Taylor's story over at the Youth Sports Network.