Kate Scott cannot wait to “tackle-hug” Lisa Byington on Tuesday.
The release of joy and pride will arrive after diligent preparation, because the work is always the priority. They will be at the Wells Fargo Center to provide the television soundtrack for the massive regular-season game between the 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, teams with identical 46-28 records as a tightly packed Eastern Conference playoff race hits the stretch run.
But Scott and Byington, who call games for the Sixers and Bucks, respectively, will also acknowledge the magnitude of their roles. They have already made history as the first two women to be the full-time television play-by-play broadcasters for major men’s professional sports teams. They will hit another benchmark together on Tuesday, when anybody watching the game on the teams’ local stations or on NBA League Pass will hear a woman calling the action. The night will also serve as a culmination, of sorts, for the two women who have been pillars of support for each other while navigating their own individual yet parallel journeys.
“We would have been able to traverse this season by ourselves, no doubt, because of everything we have conquered already,” Scott said. “All of those things prepared us for these jobs. But it has been one of those blessings that you don’t realize you need at the time. And then once you get into it, [you realize] it has been amazing to have her.”
Added Byington: “There’s only one person on this Earth who understands everything I’m going through, and that’s Kate Scott.”
Byington’s and Scott’s historic hirings were announced within days of each other last fall. When Byington’s came first, Scott playfully said, “Screw you, Lisa! Screw you, Milwaukee!” When Scott’s news landed shortly after, Byington let out a relieved, “Oh, thank you, because now I have a friend.”
They had gotten to know each other through text and social media in recent years, while simultaneously accomplishing a slew of broadcasting firsts. Scott is the first woman to do football play-by-play for the Pac-12 Networks, while Byington was the first woman to hold that job for the Big Ten Network. Byington was part of the first all-female broadcast crew to call an MLS game, while Scott did the play-by-play for the first all-female NHL broadcast team. Last March, Scott became the first woman to call a Golden State Warriors game on the radio, while Byington was the first woman to do television play-by-play for the men’s NCAA Tournament, including Abilene Christian’s first-round upset of Texas.
Scott and Byington met for the first time while calling the Tokyo Olympics last summer, and they felt an immediate sense of trust. Since then, they have regularly checked in with each other throughout the rigors of an 82-game NBA schedule.
They have shared text messages of praise and encouragement about calls they enjoyed. They had lunch together when the Bucks hit Philly in the middle of an early-season road trip; that game was nationally televised, which kept them from working alongside each other.
The comfort that another person was going through a similar experience has helped them “keep the blinders on,” Byington said, as two passionate fan bases got used to a new person — and a new sound — replacing two broadcasting legends in the Sixers’ Marc Zumoff and the Bucks’ Jim Paschke.
“It was really hard the first number of months,” Scott said. “I was calling football [in addition to the Sixers]. I was on the other side of the country without my family, living in an Airbnb. And even though I’m extremely self-confident, the noise gets really loud sometimes, and you do start to question yourself.
“I don’t know if [Byington] just knew, but she’d creep into the DMs or send me a little text message like, ‘Hey, buddy. That sounded awesome. I loved how you approached that call.’ Those few words went a very long way.”
After floating between sports and events — Scott finished her prior commitment to a national college football radio slate early in the Sixers’ season, and Byington weaved in calling the NCAA Tournament again earlier this month — broadcasting (nearly) every game for one team is a different challenge.
Scott acknowledged she needed to adjust to the speed and physicality of the NBA, meaning she has been “truly calling things I’ve never had to call before … on the air, while everyone else is listening.” Byington likes to approach every game, and every play, with a “sense of wonder,” especially because the defending-champion Bucks are anchored by electric two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
“It may sound weird to be curious as a play-by-play, but I’m learning to do that,” Byington said. “[You] literally ask yourself, ‘What’s going to happen on this play? I can’t wait to see.’ And if you have that attitude every single play, every single start of a play is something exciting.”
That approach has contributed to some of Byington’s and Scott’s favorite calls this season. When Antetokounmpo hit a three-pointer as part of a triple-double on New Year’s Day, Byington proclaimed, “This is his game! This is his year!” When Sixers MVP contender Joel Embiid posterized Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star Jarrett Allen in February, Scott unleashed a ferocious, “Clear some space on the wall, kids!” And when Tyrese Maxey ran the length of the court for a layup that capped an improbable overtime victory over the Memphis Grizzlies when Embiid did not play and Ja Morant was brilliant, Scott gleefully hollered, “The Sixers are gonna win this game!”
“I just let go and I was just Kate,” she said. " … I got a number of texts and messages from guys who do this saying, ‘That was awesome. That was the first time we’ve really heard you just let go. Do more of that.’”
Some of Scott’s favorite fan messages have come recently as a version of, “I hated you at first … but I’ve really come around to you and I’m really enjoying your style now.” She and Byington are proud to be new-age industry pioneers who are opening minds and helping shatter the stereotype that women broadcasters only fit as sideline reporters or studio hosts. They know they are helping set a new standard of what play-by-play can sound like moving forward, and that their presence can inspire women and other marginalized people from all walks of life who have not always seen themselves reflected in front-facing, high-profile roles.
The next step, Byington said, is to squash the impulse for outsiders to peg women in the industry against each other, or to always use the “female” criteria when discussing accomplishments. Scott and Byington counter that by actively supporting other women pursuing similar paths. Eventually, Byington’s dream is that “a female voice on a men’s game becomes background noise.”
Yet they recognize the significance of Tuesday’s benchmark that took nearly all season to clear. After the tackle-hug and just before they go on the air, Scott expects she will look Byington in the eye and say, “I’m so [expletive] proud of you.”
“There have been overwhelmingly hard moments for both of us in different ways in our careers,” Scott said. “We just put our head down and get back to work. But I have learned it’s important to say, ‘Look at this. Look at us. Look at this incredible game we’re calling tonight in this awesome arena in this city with so much sports history. We’ve got a couple of the best players who may ever play this sport, and a couple of the best teams in the league this year. … How lucky are we?!’
“But we’re here for a reason. We’ve worked our [butts] off to get here. So I’m really looking forward to knocking her over, and then hopefully having the Sixers kick the crap out of the Bucks.”