The Best Analysts In Sports Were Also Great Athletes

Athletes | 6/1/21

It takes a lot of practice to become one of the best sports analysts in the industry. Luckily, some of the best analysts were also amazing athletes, so they’re not afraid of a little prep work. From Doris Burke’s stellar work with ABC and ESPN calling NBA games to Troy Aikman earning top team honors in Fox’s NFL booth, these are the best analysts who started as athletes! Which one is your favorite?

Chris Collinsworth Went From Playing In Super Bowls To Calling Them

chris collinsworthyoung and old
Focus on Sport/Getty Images and Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images and Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Chris Collinsworth has been calling NFL games on NBC for so long now that it’s easy to forget he played wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals. He made three Pro Bowls as a player, and appeared in Super Bowl XVI Super Bowl XXIII, both against the San Francisco 49ers.

Collinsworth called it a career after the 1988 season, and in 1990 he began working broadcasts for NBC. When the network lost rights to the NFL, he worked for Fox, even covering his first Super Bowl. By 2006, he was back with his original broadcasting family and has stayed there ever since.

Doris Burke Left Providence College As The School’s All-Time Assists Leader

doris burke smiling
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Before becoming a staple on ABC and ESPN, Doris Burke played basketball at Providence College. When she left the school, she was the all-time assists leader. As an analyst, she’s found even more success.

Her intimate knowledge of basketball made Burke an ideal sideline reporter when she began working games for ABC. In 2017, Burke became the first female at the national level to be assigned a full regular season role calling games as an analyst.

Kirk Herbstreit Was A College Football Star

krik herbstreit young and old
Chris Covatta /Allsport and Steve Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images
Chris Covatta /Allsport and Steve Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Kirk Herbstreit never played a down in the NFL, but he was a highly regarded quarterback at Ohio State from 1989 – 1993. He had to wait until his senior year to become the starter, and he was sensational, ending the season by winning team MVP honors.

Three years after his college career was over, Herbstreit accepted a job with ESPN and eventually took a seat behind the desk as the lead analyst on College GameDay. He has also provided fill-in coverage on broadcasts of Monday Night Football when needed.

Charles Barkley Was A 11-Time All-Star

charles barkley player and analyst
MIKE FIALA/AFP via Getty Images Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images for The Match
MIKE FIALA/AFP via Getty Images Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images for The Match

Charles Barkley might never get the respect he deserves as a player because he never won an NBA championship. When he retired in 2000, he left a legacy that included one MVP and 11 all-star elections.

As an analyst for TNT, Barkley has let his personality shine. His squabbles with Shaq during halftime have become legendary. It’s safe to assume some people tune in to the NBA on TNT just for the halftime entertainment.

Alexi Lalas Played For The USMNT For Eight Years

alexi lalas young and old
GERARD BURKHART/AFP via Getty Images and Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
GERARD BURKHART/AFP via Getty Images and Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Alexi Lalas made a name for himself in the world of soccer playing for the United States Men’s National Team from 1991 until 1998. He also finished his professional career in Major League Soccer, helping to grow interest in the American professional league.

As an analyst with both ESPN and Fox, Lalas continues his work as a brand ambassador for American soccer. Part of his appeal in the booth is that he is never afraid to criticize his co-hosts if he doesn’t agree with them.

Jessica Mendoza Proved She Could Play With The Boys

jessica mendoza athlete
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images and Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images and Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images

A standout softball star at Stanford, Jessica Mendoza was chosen for Team USA at the 2004 Olympics. Thanks to her powerful batting, the US women took home gold. Four years later, Mendoza helped lead the team to another medal – this time silver.

Mendoza joined the ESPN family in 2014, appearing on the Monday editions of Baseball Tonight. Two years later, the network added her as a regular in the Sunday Night Baseball booth with Aaron Boone and Dan Shulman.

Tony Romo Is Avoiding Big Mistakes In The Booth

ton romo booth and on the field
Scott Halleran/Getty Images and Matthew Eisman/Getty Images
Scott Halleran/Getty Images and Matthew Eisman/Getty Images

Tony Romo put up incredible numbers as the starting QB for the Dallas Cowboys for nearly a decade. Unfortunately, all his greatness was overlooked because of the mistakes he tended to make during the biggest moments.

Now calling games for CBS, Romo isn’t known for making mistakes. He’s known for his intuition, knowing exactly what a team is going to do before a play is run. Early in his first year, he even was given the nickname “Romo-stradamus.”

Bill Walton Played Through Injuries – A Lot Of Them

bill walton young and old
Focus on Sport/Getty Images and Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images and Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

A two-time NBA Champion and Naismith Hall of Fame inductee, Bill Walton played through a lot of injuries. Looking back on his career, he once said, “I loved basketball. And I was going to go until I couldn’t go anymore. I had no desire to ever stop playing. I’ve never met anybody who stopped playing voluntarily. I ground my body up.”

Calling games for ESPN has been just as rewarding for Walton and much less physically taxing.

Troy Aikman Went From Winning Super Bowls To Competing For Emmys

troy aikman young and old
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images and Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images and Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Sitting in the booth as a part of Fox’s top NFL broadcast team, Troy Aikman has found a nice post-playing career. He has been nominated for four Emmys for his work with Joe Buck, although he is yet to take a trophy home.

Somehow, we don’t think that bothers him. Aikman was the starting quarterback during the ’90s era Cowboys and won three Super Bowls. In 2006, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Mary Carillo’s Tennis Career Was Short-Lived

mary carillo at the US open in 2003
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

From 1977 until 1980, Mary Carillo played on the women’s professional tennis circuit. Her first year on tour, she won the French Open mixed doubles title with John McEnroe. As a solo player, she reached a peak ranking of 33. In 1980, knee injuries forced her to retire.

The same year injuries forced her off the court, Carillo started her second career in broadcasting. Since then, she has bounced around from network to network but has always seemed to find steady work.

Jalen Rose Played For Over A Decade

jalen rose young and old
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images and Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images and Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Jalen Rose was never the most decorated athlete during his NBA career, but he was always a steady presence on the court. He spent 14 years in the league, bouncing around from team to team but always finding playing time.

Rose first dipped his toes into broadcasting in 2006, working as a sideline reporter for TNT. The next year, he transitioned to ESPN as an analyst on Sportscenter. Since then he has added more shows and live in-game analysis to his busy schedule.

Tara Lipinski Is Gold In The Booth

tara lipinski walks down the runway
John Shearer/WireImage
John Shearer/WireImage

Ice skating careers don’t tend to last very long, so after Tara Lipinski won four Olympic Gold Medals, she retired at 30-years-old. She spent the next few years traveling before realizing she needed to find a way to get back out onto the ice.

Missing the “high” of skating, Lipinksi offered to call events for the Ice Network in 2011. She now works for NBC and calls events with Johnny Weir.

Don Meredith Was The First Cowboy Star Turned Analyst

don meredith
Focus on Sport/Getty Images and Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images and Focus on Sport/Getty Images

One thing seems certain at this point – Dallas Cowboys QBs tend to get into broadcasting after retiring. Don Meredith played in Dallas from 1960 until 1968, was a three-time Pro Bowlers, and eventual Ring of Honor inductee.

In the ’70s, Meredith signed up with ABC to enter the booth on Monday Night Football. His style of commentating was more light-hearted than his counterparts, making him stand out in the crowd.

Kenny Smith Won Back-To-Back NBA Championships With The Houston Rockets

kenny smith nba
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images and Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for American Express
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images and Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for American Express

Kenny Smith feels like such a natural in the booth calling NBA games, it’s okay if you forgot he had a 10-year career in the NBA. Smith played his best seasons in Houston, where he helped the team with back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995.

Smith was hired by Turner Sports in 1998, where he has called both NBA and college basketball games. He is also a regular on Inside the NBA on TNT.

John Smoltz Was A Part Of The Braves’ Historic Run

john smotlz young
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images and Daniel Shirey/Getty Images
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images and Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves set a record in the ’90s and early aughts for most consecutive years winning the NL East. John Smoltz was a huge part of that success, winning one Cy Young Award, transitioning the bullpen, and then setting the record for saves in a season.

Smoltz made his national broadcasting debut with MLB Network and began calling playoff games on TBS. In 2014, he was hired by Fox Sports, where he calls games with Joe Buck, among others.

Chris Evert Won 18 Grand Slam Titles

chris evert tennis old and young
Slim Aarons/Getty Images and Karwai Tang/WireImage
Slim Aarons/Getty Images and Karwai Tang/WireImage

Chris Evert had a long and storied professional tennis career. She won 157 singles championships, 32 doubles titles, and 18 Grand Slam titles. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1995.

Before joining ESPN in 2011, Evert contributed to Tennis magazine and opened her own tennis academy with her brother. In the booth, she has been praised for her conversational style of commentary, helping make the game interesting to new viewers and long-time viewers.

Alex Rodriguez Might Be A Better Analyst Than Player

alex rodriguez old and young
Focus on Sport/Getty Images and Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images and Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

During his MLB career, Alex Rodriguez signed two separate contracts worth more than $200 million each. It’s safe to say he was a pretty darned good MLB player. Surprisingly, he might be a better analyst.

Since joining ESPN in 2018, Rodriguez has owned up to the mistakes of his past and allowed himself, along with his fans, to move forward with the future. He has also dipped his toes into other ventures, including possibly buying a team of his own.

Chris Webber Was A Five-Time All-Star

chris webber young and old
Focus on Sport/Getty Images and Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images and Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Chris Webber began his NBA career in 1993 with the Golden State Warriors. After one season, he was traded to the Washington Bullets (now Wizards). In 2008, he returned to the Warriors for his final season, leaving the game as a five-time all-star.

As an analyst for TNT, Webber has proven to be a super-sub, filling in for regulars like Shaq or Charles Barkley when they need time off. He’s also a full-time panelist on Players Only.

Jay Bilas Was A Player And Coach Before Joining ESPN

jay bilas announcing
Porter Binks/Getty Images
Porter Binks/Getty Images

Jay Bilas was a four-year starter at Duke University, playing under legendary NCAA basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. He then played in the NBA for four years before joining coach K at Duke as an assistant coach.

In 1995, Bilas was hired by ESPN to be a studio analyst and color commentator. He has now held the position for over 20 years and is one of the few personalities ESPN has allowed to be a face of the network.

Terry Bradshaw Went 4-0 In Super Bowls

terry bradshaw side by side
George Gojkovich/Getty Images and Michael Reaves/Getty Images
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Known today for his goofy personality on Fox, Terry Bradshaw is first and foremost a Hall of Fame quarterback who spent his career under center with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bradshaw led the Steelers to four Super Bowls, winning them all.

As soon as his NFL career ended in 1984, Bradshaw moved into broadcasting, starting with CBS. In 1994, he joined the Fox team. He has won three Sports Emmy Awards for his career.