Former Duke Blue Devils point guard Jay Williams dished out a ton of assists to his teammates in the early aughts, powering them to an NCAA championship in 2001. Lauren Rosen, 26, is one of those lucky few who can claim an assist from Williams without ever having stepped onto the court.
The Houston native didn’t grow up a basketball fan — her sporting life was mostly confined to gymnastics at her local JCC — but when she arrived at Duke University with dreams of a future in sports broadcasting, the game called out to her. She started to work as a production runner for Duke games televised on ESPN, a frequent occurrence. Toting coffees and clipboards around campus for on-air talent like Williams, the former Duke great, Rosen began to see what a future in basketball broadcasting could look like. As she continued to work with the crew, Rosen said, Williams was one of her biggest supporters, pushing her to do the best she could.
Since then, Rosen has earned a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University and spent time as a public relations assistant for the Chicago Bulls. Now, the 26-year-old is an in-house digital media reporter for the Philadelphia 76ers, getting up close and personal with players and crowds as COVID restrictions are lifted and the playoffs heat up.
Rosen spoke about Philadelphians, the Brooklyn Nets and reporting on basketball when there wasn’t any basketball being played.
How did basketball become the energizing thing for you? It seems like there’s a lot of directions you could have gone with what you’d learned how to do.
Some of it is coincidence, because I didn’t go to Duke because of Duke basketball. But it became a huge part of my life once I got there. And then working with ESPN on their basketball programming again, it was sort of that Duke was point A, ESPN was point B, and I was just closest to basketball during that formative time. And luckily, I really fell in love with the sport and the culture. And it’s cheesy, but I’ve started watching the game as poetry. It’s a really beautiful game, there’s so much skill involved.
It’s not a game that I ever played, and for that reason, I have a level of respect for it, because I can never truly understand what these athletes are able to do. So I would say coincidence, but luckily, I fell in love with it after enough coincidences lined up with each other. And now I’ve been around long enough that I do feel comfortable picking the game apart and forming my own opinions.
I imagine you really have to love the game to be able to cover it from afar, like you’ve had to do during the pandemic. How did your job change during the pandemic?
I do love the game. But I love the players more. I really like helping people learn about their favorite players off the court. This specific Sixers team has been such a pleasure to work with and to present to the public because they’re great players, and they’ve had so much success. But their stories, at least to me, are even more interesting. People really forget that these are human beings, and they have good days and bad days and up times and down times like you and I do, and helping paint that more holistic picture is what I love doing.
And so that didn’t stop when the pandemic started. That’s maybe the one thing that didn’t stop, was being able to help them tell their stories. For a while there, we were talking about, ‘OK, what are the players doing during shutdown?,’ because they’re these larger-than-life characters, but they also had to be in quarantine and spend a lot of time alone and cope with that, the way that everybody did.
So the biggest change, of course, was no longer covering basketball. I mean, we were covering a game against the Pistons, the game went well, and then all of a sudden the season stops. So that transition was jarring. We really quickly pivoted to sort of trying to give Sixers fans a view into the players lives, bring a little bit of levity into a hard time, which is what sports are supposed to do, but couldn’t do during that those first few months.
What was your “Welcome to Philadelphia” moment?
It sounds a little corny, but my “Welcome to Philadelphia” moment was my first playoff game with the Sixers. I’ve been privileged to watch a lot of high-level basketball in the last 10 years. And I’ve never felt energy like I felt in my first playoff game with the Sixers. So that would have been in 2019 against the Brooklyn Nets. The building gets so loud, and I’m so looking forward to getting back to that full capacity.
What is it about Philadelphia that you found unique among all those different stops?
I appreciate the city for the history, for the architecture, but it’s mostly the people for me. People in Philly are so proud to be here. People from Philly are proud to be from here. And I feel like I’m slowly becoming a part of this little family that I really enjoy, really love.
What’s next for you?
I’ve arrived where I’m at a lot quicker than I thought I would. So to borrow a Marc Zumoff term, I am in no particular hurry to be done with what I’m doing right now. I love it. And I’m looking forward to getting to do it outside of the pandemic restrictions that we’ve been living under.
So, what’s next is continue doing what I’m doing and try to do it a whole lot better, more dynamically. And then I hope to stay in broadcast. I hope to stay with basketball. So wherever that takes me, I’ll be thrilled to continue. Right now I’m really happy with what I’m doing. And it feels good to say that.
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