Becoming a role model for all: Q&A with Milwaukee Bucks' Lisa Byington – Milwaukee Business Journal – Milwaukee Business Journal

Lisa Byington, who has served as the play-by-play announcer for the 2021 Olympic Games, 2019 Women’s World Cup, Big Ten Network college football games and NCAA men’s basketball tournament, most recently became the play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Bucks.
She replaces Jim Paschke, who retired at the end of the 2020-2021 season after a 35-year career with the Bucks.
Not only is Byington the first female play-by-play announcer for the team, but the first in all major men’s professional sports. She spoke with the Milwaukee Business Journal about her journey to Milwaukee and what it means to be a role model in the sports broadcasting industry.
How did your background, personally and professionally, lead you to this position with the Milwaukee Bucks?
“I always say that I grew up with parents who told me that anything was possible. When I was in elementary school, I was the only girl playing soccer with the boys at recess, and I thought that was totally normal. They just told me if you want to do something, go do it. There was never ‘this is for girls or this is for boys.’ You don’t really realize some of the lessons that your parents plant in you or the thoughts that your parents plant in you early that really make a difference as you get older, so I grew up thinking that. I grew up thinking I could be whatever wanted to be and just work hard and go about it in the right way, and good things and those opportunities would open up to you.
“I think I always say you have to do the grunt job to get the glory job. I think that’s part of my story. One of my first jobs in TV was in the second smallest market in the country in Alpena, Michigan. …I got to do a little bit of everything. Literally, I was picking up the camera and shooting my own high school football highlights and running to three, four high school football games on a Friday night, zipping back to my television station, editing those highlights, writing the highlights, running into the bathroom, changing into on-air clothes and doing hair and makeup and then being the anchor that night. Then my second job was in Lansing, Michigan, also for a local TV station. Those two jobs sort of planted that foundation and that groundwork of what TV is about, and it gave me the opportunity to do a little bit of everything.”
What do you think makes your voice unique in the world of play-by-play announcing?
“I think especially in the sport of basketball, I have a voice of a former player and a former point guard. I played point guard in college. I went to Northwestern University. I played two sports. I was recruited to play basketball, so I played four years of basketball there, and then I walked on and played two years of soccer, so there was a little bit of crossover there where I was doing two. I think I can tackle it that way. I certainly have played at the college level. I have never played professionally, but I played at one of the highest levels. I think I can, in some ways as an announcer, sort of relate to the players or relate to the coaches in a different way than maybe some other announcers cannot.
“Being a former point guard, I always kind of joke that I like to hand out assists. I like to look for assists, so I try to be a good team player. I can’t wait to work with Marques Johnson and Steve Novak and Zora Stephenson and our production crew and look at how I can uplift them and make them look better and that’s just my role.
“I have a reporter’s heart as well. I love trying to find stories or different angles that maybe Bucks fans haven’t heard about yet of some of the players, and I like to connect those stories from the players to the fanbase in that way. My play-by-play will also be a little bit of storytelling as well. What I’m going to do is I’m going to sit at practices, and I’m going to be at training camp, and I’m going to make the connections and build relationships with the coaching staff and the players because that’s all I know. You grind it out. You work hard. You put in the time that’s not always on game day. That’s where I think you get your best stories. That’s where you develop relationships. That is where I’m going to invest some of my time.”
What attracted you to the Milwaukee Bucks organization?
“What doesn’t attract you to the Bucks? Regardless of if they won the championship, it’s really hard to find someone who says the Bucks aren’t a great organization quite honestly. I’ve been in and around the NBA, the WNBA. I’ve heard it time and time again. I’m a Midwest person. I grew up in the state of Michigan. I went to school at Northwestern. I’ve actually been to Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin several times in doing a lot of different job opportunities and that sort of thing. I’ve been to Fiserv Forum, and literally my jaw dropped that first year and the first time I walked into the facility. It’s top-notch. It’s amazing.
“I just think top to bottom this whole hiring process and my interaction with everyone with the Bucks has been phenomenal. You just look at someone like Giannis (Antetokounmpo), for example, who’s a superstar, who is a face of the team and one of the faces of the NBA and he’s so relatable. …When you’re a superstar or your star is like that as a human being, it just has a wonderful trickle-down effect.”
What does it mean to be the first woman to become a play-by-play announcer in U.S. professional men’s sports?
“Every day I think about it. I tell people this has been my story. We need firsts to have seconds to have thirds to have fourths to have fifths. To lose the headlines is the way I like to look at it. I appreciate being a role model, but when I’m a role model, I hope I’m a role model to both little girls and little boys because that’s how we start normalizing this kind of situation. That’s how we start normalizing marginalized voices, and unfortunately female voices in men’s sports are very marginalized when you talk about these different roles in terms of being play-by-play or even an analyst in the NBA.
“In order for that to sound normal, both boys, girls, men, women, everyone has to be on board. I hope I’m a role model for everyone, and it’s not just pigeonholed to women and little girls watching the NBA. I always say too that once we get to the point where we’re not trying to figure out that female voice and who that female announcer is, that a female doing a men’s game is background noise, then we’ve arrived.
“I’m so grateful for the Milwaukee Bucks for taking the lead on that. Isn’t it fitting that everybody is chasing them on the court as the defending world champions, and now people will chase them in this decision as well as they’ve opened up the doors to something that’s never happened before?”
Is there anything else you wish to share about your new role with the Milwaukee Bucks?
“I just want to say that I’m going to have some conversations with Jim Paschke. He’s been so great. I just want to give a nod to him. He’s been so important to the Milwaukee Bucks and the city and the state, and I recognize that and just the time, the passion that he’s put in I think should be acknowledged. I’m a different person. I’m a different personality. I’m a different voice, and I have to be me, but I also just want to extend my congratulations to someone like him who has held down that chair for 35 years and did a marvelous job.”
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