“I’m always looking to grow in my role,” the host and reporter tells Boardroom. “If the opportunity presents itself, I want to be able to continue to elevate my career and credibility within the NBA.”
ESPN host and sideline reporter Cassidy Hubbarth counted her blessings during her five-day stint working at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, finally being able to stand side-by-side with players for interviews (while masked, per Nevada’s indoor mandate) for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“At Summer League, being vaccinated and masked up and seeing these guys walking in and around the arena,” she told Boardroom. “This is kind of a step towards normalcy.”
A year ago at this time, Hubbarth was at the NBA bubble in Orlando, speaking to players from a distance while separated from her husband and young daughter for multiple months. She spent most of last season on-site, reporting games for ESPN essentially on her own with a sparse camera crew and no play-by-play team traveling with her.
To further complicate the process, every arena had different health and safety protocols, disrupting her gameday routine. Zoom interviews meant less one-on-one access and fewer opportunities to build the relationships that are crucial to any reporter’s job.
And yet, the vibe was optimistic when the Vegas games tipped off.
“This is not a name drop,” Hubbarth said, totally about to name drop, “but I had a conversation with Adam Silver on the first day of Summer League, and he seemed almost giddy because he was so proud of just getting to this point. That’s how I feel in general; what the league accomplished this year overall was pretty incredible given the circumstances.”
Were there bumps in the road? Of course. But no organization in or around the league came through this unprecedented time in human history completely unscathed.
“This was a really difficult year for the players,” Hubbarth said. “And I’m getting a sense from guys here [that] everyone’s exhausted. So heading into training camp in like a month, it’s gonna be interesting to see how things go. We started seeing it catch up to guys at the end of the playoffs. I wonder how much of a hangover we’re going to see this year.”
At this point, we all know about the season-altering injuries that sidelined superstars like LeBron James, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Jamal Murray, and others for various stints throughout the 2020-21 season. Then, the end of the Finals led straight into the Tokyo Olympics.
In six short weeks, training camps open for the 2021-22 season — one that will bring more uncertainty with COVID variants once again driving up case counts across the country, further muddying how the league navigates the next few months.
However, back in Las Vegas, games were constantly taking place in two connected gyms over the course of the Summer League action. It was a fast-paced and frenetic environment for Hubbarth, who had never met most of the players she was set to interview in front of a national television audience.
“Summer League is a relaxed environment, and that’s also supposed to come through in the broadcast,” she said. “But you also want to inform the audience. Even though this is my fifth year, I’m finding it to be a challenge. It’s a lot of work to make sure I’m prepared. But I persevere.”
In just over two months, Hubbarth is ready to reprise her dual responsibilities on NBA sidelines for ESPN and as host of the network’s digital- and social-centric “Hoop Streams” pregame show. Getting reps as a host while also working out in the field and getting to know players, executives, coaches, and PR staffs as a reporter allows her to build relationships and gives her hands-on credibility that isn’t afforded to most studio-dwellers.
“I’m always looking to grow in my role,” she said. “If the opportunity presents itself, I just want to be able to continue to elevate my career and credibility within the NBA.”
And as Hubbarth continues to thrive in her dual role, she’s especially well-equipped to give NBA fans the pulse of what’s going on in a league where only one thing is for certain: Everything is subject to change.