Adam Amin had just arrived at dinner with the rest of the crew that would be broadcasting the American Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament in Fort Worth, Texas when he saw the news that would soon change the world as we know it. Rudy Gobert had tested positive for coronavirus, the fans attending the Jazz-Thunder game were sent home, and one of the busiest months on the sports calendar was about to be postponed or canceled all together.
Amin has been has busy as ever since the pandemic started. He left ESPN to take a job with FOX, landed the play-by-play gig with his hometown Chicago Bulls, called playoff baseball, NFL football, and NBA games in the bubble in VR. We sat down with the 33-year-old to talk about how the pandemic has changed his industry, what the future of broadcasting looks like, and the advice he’d give to young people aspiring to get into the business.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
SB Nation: What was it like to change jobs in the middle of the pandemic? How has that changed your day-to-day routine?
Adam Amin: It was very odd to transition jobs in the midst of a pandemic. I wasn’t really thinking about it in March. It’s March! You’ve got the NBA going on, I had done the Pac-12 women’s tournament a few days prior, I had done the Warriors game the night before in San Francisco, I was getting ready for the American Conference tournament, and I was going to call the NCAA women’s tournament. So at that time I’m not really thinking about what the transition from one job to another is going to be like. Then the pandemic hits, and we’re all just thrown off by trying to find new routines. A lot of people were struggling, trying to hold onto their jobs or find new ones. There was a lot going on in that 1-2 month span then all of the sudden it was like, “Oh hey your contract is up, we should start talking about this.”
So we ended up at FOX and with the Chicago Bulls gig, and to have to transition out of one job to another during a pandemic was very odd. It almost made it easier to role with the punches, and adjust to anything new we had to do once MLB season rolled around in late July. It didn’t feel like as big of a deal, because everyone was dealing with new circumstances, and mine was certainly a much better circumstance than other people were dealing with. I am very fortunate.
SBN: I remember watching you call a Cubs game this summer where you were working remote in Chicago and your color guy Eric Karros was working in Los Angeles.
AA: The whole crew was in LA, I was in Chicago at the Big Ten Network studios, the game was in Chicago at Wrigley. It was weird. That first baseball game was July 25, a Saturday, then I started doing NBA games for Yahoo! Sports for the seeding rounds in virtual reality with Richard Jefferson, I was doing that while he was in California and I was in Chicago working out of a different studio. We had a producer in Toronto and another producer in Florida. It was a crazy kind of circumstance. That month long stretch of doing a decent amount of baseball games and two weeks of NBA with no one in the room with you, that’s very odd.
SBN: What was that like, and what are the challenges of working remote?
AA: Trying to develop chemistry is the biggest challenge. With Eric, it was a little more difficult because we had never met. At least with Richard Jefferson, I knew him. We had done a number of games together, we’ve hung out, we’re buddies. These are people I hadn’t really met or gotten to know outside of what we’re doing over a headset.
Instead of looking at a field, I’m looking at monitors. Instead of looking at a human being next to me, I’m looking at a projection of them on a television screen. You make do with what you can. You figure out angles. You figure out where your eyes needs to go, and you need to learn that on the fly. You have to adjust. physically and mentally, you got to kind of figure things out, and turn that into muscle memory. You’re fighting something you’ve been doing for almost 15 years. Navigating that is a challenge, but it’s a challenge you need to navigate through.
SBN: How have the protocols around covering sports in a pandemic changed how you do your job? Has it made some things easier or is it mostly an added layer of difficulty?
AA: I miss not being able to walk in and introduce myself to a coach or to a player or to have a conversation with a person in front of you. It has been convenient to be able to do the Zoom calls, and still feel like you’re connecting with someone. I talked to Leonard Fournette recently and being able to talk about how I covered him in high school, talk about his kids, talk about LSU. That’s great. Obviously would I prefer to be in the same room, but at least there’s still some connectivity to feel like you’re speaking with another human being.
The tough thing about television is it’s such a relationships business. Having an understanding of a coach, player, or team through personal relationships is important. I’ve always prided myself on that. I hope we can get to a point eventually where we’re doing things the way we used to do them. The timing of things, the relationships you build, the connectivity of things, to feel like you’re fully immersed in the preparation and connection with people, that’s something we miss right now.
SBN: The idea of using virtual reality in sports is interesting. What was that like, and do you think that could be a viable way for sports fans to consume broadcasts in the future?
AA: Richard Jefferson and I were just calling games from this app called Oculus Venues and it allows fans to basically go to live events from their living room.
I feel like it’s something especially for the NBA that is really solid as a viewing option. The athleticism of the guys, the big time dunks, blocks, when you feel like you’re sitting on the baseline, that’s awesome to be able to see that and feel like you’re there. And you can interact with other people who are in this app with you. The fans seemed like they really enjoyed interacting with Richard Jefferson and I. That made it really fun, and made it seem like it could be a viable option as an alternative for how you want to view these games in the future. I’m not sure about the viability of other demographics, but I thought it was cool.
SBN: One thing that has always stuck out about your broadcasting style is your ability to combine enthusiasm and also professionalism. How do you strike that balance?
AA: It’s a genuine enjoyment of the job. I think you have to enjoy the job of covering sports. I enjoy this very specific structure that we operate in. I really enjoy introducing a team, introducing some storylines, kind of writing the book for that night as you go through the game. You don’t know who the hero is going to be, you don’t know who will struggle. You don’t know who has a fascinating story that no one knows. The result of high level athletic competition is enjoyable for me to watch. For most people, it is. These are athletes who can do things that most of us can’t and that’s enjoy for us to see what other people are physically capable of. That’s the most detailed core answer I can give you.
The emotional aspect of wiring the story that night is appealing. That doesn’t feel like a job. It’s work that doesn’t feel like work. So that combined with really impressive athletes doing cool things in real time, and get to be the first one to document that in real time as a play-by-play announcer, that’s enjoyable to me, and that’s something I feel every time i do the job. That matters to me.
SBN: Where do you think the industry is headed five or 10 years from now?
AA: There’s part of me that hopes — and this is biased and wishful in some ways — that broadcasting is on a similar path that it is now. Not in the pandemic era, but the time before the pandemic. I hope we still have the opportunities to be at games, have access to the players and coaches as we’ve had, and it will be a combination of in person and video, all that stuff. Technology is going to continue to be used for the convenience of athletes and coaches. And obviously that can be for the inconvenience or to the chagrin of people in television, but it is what it is. It’s the cost of doing business. I hope that it stays in a space where announcers are still going to get access, feel involved and immersed, and continued to be the conduit to people at home or in bars, or however they’re consuming the game, on an iPhone, on TV, whatever.
SBN: What advice do you have for people who aspire to get into the broadcasting industry?
AA: I think you need to be a student of a lot of things. You have to be a student of the craft you’re doing. If you’re a journalist, you need to be a student of the craft of writing. If you’re a broadcaster, you have to be a student of the craft of broadcasting, whether that’s elements of language, television, radio, play-by-play, whatever it is. You have to keep learning. Be as all encompassing as possible in terms of your knowledge base. Now more than ever, I think you have to be adaptable and flexible.
You need to know a lot of things so you can be flexible and versatile, and feel like you can contribute in any capacity on short notice. Those are the biggest things in the last six months especially.
Remember that everyone is trying their hardest, and give yourself a break. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes, don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s hard because sometimes you don’t know what the small stuff is when you’re coming up, finding your footing, every event that happens feels like the biggest thing that’s ever happened. But understanding that you don’t have to beat yourself up over mistakes is big. Like I was obsessed with, well if i’m not doing this job by age 27 like Joe Buck or Ian Eagle or Mike Tirico, I’m not going to have a long career or good career or lucrative career. And that’s just not true.
Set goals set lofty goals, chase lofty goals.