Kate Scott has one of the hardest jobs in Philadelphia at the moment: replacing Marc Zumoff as the new voice of the 76ers.
On Wednesday, Scott, 38, will begin her tenure as the team’s play-by-play announcer on NBC Sports Philadelphia against the New Orleans Pelicans. In doing so, she’s making history by becoming the first full-time female broadcaster of a major sport in Philadelphia television history and just the second woman to handle play-by-play duties for an NBA team.
“I’m still struggling to wrap my head around the fact that people are now referring to me as the voice of the Philadelphia 76ers. I think it’s gonna take me awhile to feel like I have earned and deserve that title,” Scott said.
But Scott didn’t get the job because she’s a woman, and sources at NBC Sports Philadelphia said executives weren’t trying to make a statement by hiring her. She earned her stripes calling a variety of sports — from high school to college to the Olympics — and beat out a large group of broadcasters to land the highly coveted Sixers job.
Philadelphia can be a tough television market, and Scott has little connection to the region, beyond calling a handful of games for the Atlantic 10 conference. In fact, the first time her wife, Nicole, set foot in Philadelphia was a few weeks ago.
In a way, Scott is following the model of another Philadelphia broadcast personality born elsewhere. Beloved Phillies announcer Harry Kalas was from Chicago, and like Scott, began in the shadow of a local legend — in his case, Bill Campbell — before winning over fans.
“My only advice to Kate was to allow her love of the city, and of the team, to just grow organically,” Zumoff said. “And as that happens, I think the fans will learn to grow and love her in much the same way.”
An out-of-the-box choice
So how did a California native and UC Berkeley graduate without ties to Philadelphia and nearly no experience calling NBA games become the new voice of the Sixers?
Like everything else in her career, it was a combination of hard work, natural ability, and a bit of luck.
“I just thought, man, whoever tries to follow him is an idiot,” Scott recalled thinking in June, when Zumoff announced he was retiring after calling Sixers games for 27 years. “Then a couple of days later my agents call and said, ‘Hey, did you see that Marc Zumoff retired? We really think you should apply.’”
Scott was one of 80 sportscasters NBC Sports Philadelphia considered to replace Zumoff. That field was narrowed to 15 candidates, who then had to perform a screentest.
When it was Scott’s turn, Sixers color analyst Alaa Abdelnaby was sick and wasn’t able to test alongside her. But it ultimately didn’t matter — her audition was so strong executives at NBC Sports Philadelphia were sold on her passion and personality, and thought she’d be a fitting replacement.
“You could just tell from the audition tape,” Abdelnaby said. “That’s why she’s here — she was the best. She’s here because she earned it.”
Scott and Abdelnaby didn’t meet in person until a few weeks ago at Sixers practice, and their first game together was a dry run calling the team’s initial preseason game. But through two preseason broadcasts, the duo were already cracking jokes and seemed at ease. Scott is quick-witted and jovial, and opened her first game by joking that “Marc Zumoff looks different all the sudden.”
“The catchphrases that everybody’s itching for, those are just going to come naturally over time,” Scott said. “One of the hardest things to do is to just be yourself on the air, because there’s so much else going on during a game... and you need to give viewers a reason to listen and feel like they know you.”
A trailblazer in the sports media world
The number of firsts on Scott’s resume is extensive — first woman to call an NFL game on the radio and college football for the Pac-12 Networks, the play-by-play voice for the first all-female NHL broadcast, part of the first all-female crew to call an NBA game. She cohosted a morning sports talk radio show in San Francisco, an industry dominated by men, and called basketball games during the Tokyo Olympics for NBC and soccer games during the Copá America for Fox.
Scott still faced a slew of misogynistic vitriol after she landed the Sixers job, including from former Phillie Lenny Dykstra. Despite her talent and passion, Scott said she didn’t see play-by-play in her future when she graduated from college in 2005 — she thought sideline reporting and studio work would be her ceiling.
“I’ve been underestimated and questioned and challenged for the things I’ve wanted to do and loved since I was a little girl, just because I was a little girl, not a little boy,” Scott said. “I do this because I love it. Because I wanted to be a superstar athlete, and that didn’t work out, and then I realized I could potentially be the voice to the soundtrack of all of these incredible sporting events that I wanted to play in.”
Scott also said the adversity she’s overcome pales compared to the revolting stories from earlier female broadcasters, including veterans like Ann Meyers Drysdale, Doris Burke, and Beth Mowins.
“My career doesn’t exist without their pioneering, and having to deal with a lot of really awful s---, if I’m being honest… Because of them, I have not had to go through any of that,” Scott said. “Have I had doubters, and people who questioned my ability to do this? Of course. But nothing to their level.”
Scott sees herself as part of a second wave of female broadcasters, and feels a responsibility to honor those who came before her. That includes Zumoff, who she said offered her a vital piece of advice about succeeding in Philadelphia.
“Zoo really said you have to call it like you see it,” Scott said. “If you see something that doesn’t sit well with you, chances are it’s not going to sit well with the majority of Sixers fans, and and you need to say something about it... to be honest, it’s really refreshing because as a play-by-play voice of a team, that’s very rare.
“It’s one of the multitude of things that makes me feel I couldn’t be coming into a better situation,” Scott added. “I’m pinching myself that I’m the one here, taking over for Zoo.”