CLEVELAND, Ohio — There’s a new face alongside Fred McLeod and Austin Carr on Cavaliers broadcasts on Fox Sports Ohio this season.
Her name is Angel Gray. Last week, the 30-year-old native of Stone Mountain, Georgia made her debut, interviewing Cavaliers players and coaches, providing analysis and reporting on huddles from her courtside perch.
Gray comes to Cleveland after serving as the play-by-play announcer for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks on Spectrum SportsNets LA and, before that, sideline reporter on Atlanta Dream (WNBA) games on Fox Sports Southeast. She’s been a commentator on ESPN broadcasts of women’s college basketball games as well and also played four years of college basketball at Florida State University.
We talked to Gray recently about her new job and new city.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: One week and three games under your belt. How’s it feel?
A: It’s exhausting! When we got to Minneapolis [last week] after coming in from Toronto, I just fell straight across the bed with my shoes, sweatsuit and makeup on. When I woke up, I thought about how exhausting the season is. These guys put everything on the line for 82 games. For me, it’s been a learning curve, but I’ve had some of the best people helping me.
Q: You’ve worked WNBA games as a play-by-play announcer and a sideline reporter. How’s the transition to the NBA gone so far?
A: It’s gone better than I expected. I know sports. I love basketball. It’s a passion. It’s something that’s given me so much. I don’t call it work. Everybody’s been accommodating and understanding. The franchise and organization feel like family. It’s been really fun to grow so far in the week with them.
Q: What’s like working with Fred McLeod and Austin Carr?
A: They’re like the uncles you’ve never met, but you always knew about. Sharp minds and comedians. We have such a chill, but very professional group, it’s been a lot of fun. They’re obviously legends. I’m actually honored and humbled that I get the opportunity to work with them.
Q: Your predecessor, Allie Clifton, was popular with viewers here. Have you had a chance to meet or talk to her?
A: Not yet, but I respect her highly. I know she did a great job. Big shoes to fill, but I up for the challenge. I think at some point we’ll be able to touch base because she’s now in L.A. working with the network that I worked for. I’m a huge fan of her’s and I wish her all the best of luck out there.
Q: The job of sideline reporter can be a thankless job in sports broadcasting. What are some of the most important qualities of a good sideline reporter?
A: Understanding what you’re talking about and being a great storyteller. I understand the game, so knowing how to simplify the game and break it down. Writers can write something and the audience can see it the newspaper. My job for Fox Sports Ohio is to tell the story they don’t know and connect the fans with the team.
Q: You played four years of college basketball. How has that helped you in your job?
A: Because I was guard, all of my coaches told me you really have to study the game to know the game. So, I watched film with my coaches, studying what pass is better, what are my teammates doing, how is the defense playing, what reads are you making. Those different things have allowed me to break down the game as an analyst and even doing play-by-play. My eyes are always ready to see how things are developing. I’ve been a student of the game so long. It’s very important for me to have that [background as an athlete].
Q: It’s tough for sideline reporters to interview a head coach — like Gregg Popovich, for example — who doesn’t want to be interviewed or players who don’t feel like talking after a loss. How do you handle situations like that?
A: It comes down to relationships and preparation. So, if he’s going to give you a short answer, make it so he can’t say yes or no. With coaches like a Pop, if you’re highlighting the things they’re doing well, very few coaches wouldn’t want to expound on that. You build trust by getting them to understand you know the game as well.
Q: Women have made great strides in sports broadcasting, whether it’s Doris Burke doing play-by-play on NBA games on ESPN, or Jessica Mendoza serving as an analyst on “Sunday Night Baseball.” What do you think of the opportunities women are starting to get in male-dominated profession and what still needs to happen?
A: We have taken some great strides. Obviously, there’s a lot of room to go. With those individuals you mentioned, I look up to them highly. I was in a story for The Ringer about women in play-by-play, especially women of color and what that means as far as representation. When little girls can look at a screen and say, well, I see her and I can do that. I now know I can do something because I watched Holly Rowe [of ESPN] do it. She’s a mentor for me. Being able to talk to Doris Burke, that’s very important to me. These women are laying the foundation and are so professional and experts at what they do, that helps the next generation. I don’t take my position lightly because I know it’s setting up the next person.
Q: First impressions of Cleveland? Did you know about the area before getting the job?
A: No. The two times I came here for the interview it was raining. So, I was like, I need to figure this place out. But whenever I got a ride in an Uber or Lyft, I would ask the drivers how they feel about the team. Everybody was so passionate and engaged. These fans, this community, they really buy into the Cleveland way. I thought it was amazing how die-hard they are for their teams. They really want to see them win. Just walking the streets, I’m really starting to enjoy being here and I’ve only been here for 2 1/2 days! I learn something new about this city every time I just open my eyes and see what’s around me. Everybody has been so welcoming.
Q: Any places you’re looking forward to checking out in Cleveland?
A: I’m actually still open for suggestions. If anyone has one, please tweet me @Angel_Gray1. I’m a foodie. I like to try different restaurants. I just tried this soul food place, but don’t remember the name. I went to Restore [Cold Pressed] and their avocado toast is amazing. Everybody’s telling me about the Broadway shows and orchestra here. I’m looking forward to immersing myself into the culture here. I was at Severence Hall the other night and saw Little Italy. People tell me to go to Crocker Park.
Q: The Cavs are off to a slow start and have been written off by a lot of people. Is there is a reason to be optimistic in this post-LeBron era?
A: Everything takes time. When you lose the greatest player in the world, it takes time. This team is in a better place than when he left the first time. It comes down to the youth and the veterans– everybody collectively coming together and realizing how to play with one another. It’s a different style. Rome wasn’t built in a day or a week. But with the leadership that we have on this team and the support from the front office, I don’t think there’s anything to get too down about. People should really be optimistic about the team. The pieces are there.
Q: What’s it like being around the team and getting to know them? Anything you’ve learned about a particular player that you didn’t know before or expect?
A: It was cool to have our Wine and Gold United annual meeting [with season ticket holders Monday night]. You really saw the guys open up on a different level. George Hill has his own ranch in Austin. It was cool to learn Collin Sexton’s story, coming from Georgia and really working for his family. Jordan Clarkson’s artistic side. He left Cleveland after last season with no tattoos, now he’s back with full arms and neck. There’s so much more to these guys than just putting the ball in a hoop. George Hill graduated from IUPUI [over the summer] and said last night “I’m not the person you can tell to ‘shut up and dribble’ now.” These guys are intelligent. They love what they do. They’re invested in the city. It’s fun to get to know them on a different level.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I love traveling. I did a trip to Dubai with the girls this summer. I usually go to South Africa each year for a mission trip. I love interior design, so I shop at places like World Market. I’m always talking to my family or best friend about sports. One of my passions is wine. I’m always looking for a good wine place and, at some point, I want to bottle my own wine.
Q: What is your dream job?
A: This was on my vision board as a dream job. I used to think when something is on a vision board, it takes 5 or 6 years to accomplish. For me to have this opportunity now, I’m so grateful. I’m excited because it’s going to challenge me to grow. Anytime I can talk about a sport that’s given me so much, I’m humbled by it. Being around the best players iin the world and being able to build relationship with them and be connected with different cities, that’s a dream job. Waking up every morning, I don’t feel like I’m working. It’s like, OK, what adventure awaits me today? I almost get choked up about how excited I am about each day.