Last month, Beau Estes created a two-and-a-half minute masterpiece:
Watch that top 10 from an uneventful Wednesday, and tell me Estes isn’t the LeBron James of the voiceover. The rhyming is effortless — “A man who wears No. 10 attacking the rim and sending it in” bleeds into “Alec Burks goes berserk,” shortly followed by “Giannis getting obscene on two men in green.”
Estes references Game of Thrones, The Colbert Report and, most impressively, Arrested Development. He wants you to know that, yeah, he said it: The Grizzlies are on the run. And everyone loves this. “Announcer still the goat,” reads one reply on Twitter.
Estes is the voice behind these NBA.com videos, including game recaps, unique projects, and most importantly, the nightly Top 10 Plays. Estes’ first job, while still in college, was in November 1994 as a freelancer at Turner Sport. He has worked with the company in various roles ever since, and he has now become a minor celebrity among fans who appreciate a good basketball highlight.
I called Estes last week to talk about his job and plenty more. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and content.
You’re most known for your narration on the NBA top 10. What is an overview of your job, and how much of that is actually the top 10?
It’s a small part of my job, honestly. The main thing that I do is I call game highlights. That takes up the vast majority of my time on a nightly basis. I do that mostly for the NBA but also for NCAA.com and some of [Turner Sports’] other properties like PGA.com and stuff like that. The top 10 is a small but very enjoyable part of my evening.
Out of everything you do, is that the one you look forward to the most?
Yeah, I think that’s fair. Obviously, it’s one where we try to have as much fun as we can on it. We know that it gets a ton of views, as much as anything we do, so we try to have a good time with it. We try to put out a good product.
I think the way it goes, at the end of the night, it’s 1:30 in the morning when we do these things; we’ve called every game highlight. Everyone is all focused in on this top 10 and we put a lot of energy into it. I hope that comes across.
I certainly think it does. I’d love to know the process that goes into it. There are always jokes, and wordplay, and just you having fun with it. How do you balance getting all that in there?
The process, for me, speaking for myself, at the end of the night I send something out on Twitter, and I invite everyone to send me their plays for the top 10. I get pretty good feedback with that. Then we have a team of very good editors and producers, and each night, a specific person is assigned to the top 10. It is that person’s job to put the top 10 together and to make the best representation of the NBA that night. That’s that producer. But we have an entire team over at NBA TV that logs all the games and edits all the games.
So for each given night, say it’s a 10-game night, you could have 23, 25 people involved in the top 10. That’s how many people get in and do that.
And so at the start of the night, I send out an invitation for people to send me plays. I really don’t see the top 10 again until after I’m done with everything else. Occasionally, they’ll send me and we’ll discuss, ‘Hey Beau, do you want this play to be No. 1 or this play to be No. 2? This play to be No. 2 and this play to be No. 1?’ So I get involved in the rankings, but rarely.
And at the end of the night, I get a list. Here are your 10 plays and I spend maybe five minutes with it, figure out what I want to say, and I’m done less than five minutes later. It’s that quick since it’s the last thing we do, and we want to get it out to people so we can enjoy it.
How did you end up at Turner narrating NBA videos?
My first year at Turner was November of 1994. I was still in college. I worked on camera for other networks and always had my fingers in at Turner. When the NBA Digital Project came to Turner, I was a natural fit for that. I started doing the highlights overnight, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve been involved in this, jeez, I can’t even tell you how long. Eight, nine years. But I’ve been involved in covering the NBA in same shape or way in some form since 1994.
This isn’t a question I planned to ask, but what’s your take on how the NBA highlight has evolved. It’s amazing how 20 years ago, you could only maybe see two plays from your favorite team on SportsCenter if you miss the game, and now there are entire YouTube channels devoted to churning out highlights.
I think it’s bigger; I think it’s better for the fans, for sure. I think you can personally do what you want and I think it allows for us to have unique projects, like these top 10s. We do other projects beyond the top 10 as well.
To me, one of the best parts of this job is that I will get notes from a fan of basketball in Haiti. I’ll get fans from all over the world and connecting and seeing the impact the NBA has through this highlight operations. I never knew it would be this good. You’d hope, but you’d never even think about that.
But it’s thrilling for me, it really is. I can only say that the experience must be good for the fans or we wouldn’t be getting this response.
So you went viral on Reddit? What’s the whole story behind that?
The whole way I say “top 10” is not a conscious thing as it is now.
What happened was every few years, we get a new software program and we have to work it out. Ideally, I can talk for beyond [the duration] of the [top 10] highlights and they’ll just extend the video clip and make it fit naturally. That wasn’t happening. As soon as the video clip ended, my voice was cut off.
So during that period of time, it was 1:30 in the morning and no one is there, I have to — in my mind — get that “top 10” out of my system before the video clip ends.
So a few times, I started saying, “TPTEN” “TPTEN” like that, just trying to get it out, just so we can post and publish the video clip. And that’s where it all started. And then I started hearing editors laugh about the way I said it, and then I started hearing producers tell me people were commenting about how I said it. It became a thing.
The other side of it is sometimes you’ll hear me say, “NBA dot coooooooooom,” like that, (saying it) for a long period of time. That was me extending it, so we would get to the end of the video. That’s how it all started.
Now what happened on Reddit ... those people are hilarious. Whoever put that together is a genius. I don’t know how to describe how silly it sounds when it’s your voice that they do that to. The way they put that top 10 together over and over and over again. I just think all of that, those people are wonderful and I appreciate the way they engage with the sport and engage with what we do.
I’m going to close with this question, and regardless of your answer, I’m going to believe it’s true. In your day-to-day life, do you ever find yourself slipping into narration?
[Laughing] My family jokes with me about this. I coach my 8-year-old nephew, James’ basketball team, and sometimes when we’re in layup lines, I will do narration. And the kids know about my job. One of the coaches I coach with works in the NBA as well, so they know what I do. It’s a big joke with them. So yeah, a little bit.
I don’t fold my T-shirt and go, “T-SHIRT TIME,” or anything like that. But, you know, it is a part of my life, and it has been a part of my life that I really enjoy.
I heard you say, “T-SHIRT TIME,” so for the rest of my life I will believe that’s what you actually do.
[Laughing] I do it all the time. You can go ahead and say it.