Kiel: The totality of your job is not based in the studio though, right? I remember chatting with you at a game in San Antonio recently…
Cottrell: So a part of my senior researching duties is field producing. When you saw me in San Antonio a few weeks ago, I was field producing Jared Greenburg’s 10 Before Tip show, and I helped facilitate his walk-off interview with the winner from either team. Being a researcher, I can still formulate my job into supporting him. I can help him tell the story perfectly because of these tools and databases that I have access to. So if Steph Curry is going off in a game, we don’t need to ask anyone when’s the last time something happened; as a field producer, I can just look it up. For studio shows – I travel for NBA All-Star, the Finals, Draft Day, Summer League – it can be a little more difficult because I don’t have the same resources, like eight TV screens in front of me at one time. Or I maybe don’t have the best wifi. So with studio shows on the road, a lot of times I have to do my research in the hotel room before I get to the arena so I’m not relying on their technology as much. Going into the Finals, I had 5-6 sheets full of information on these two teams, especially being the first matchup ever that has taken place three years in a row. I keep my notes like a library. I have notes from every year that I’ve worked at NBA TV. Every year.
Kiel: There has been an evident focus on providing unique stats to the masses through social media lately. Why do you think networks have been so focused on these numbers?
Cottrell: Well, I think social media actually drives TV at this point because it’s an ongoing conversation. So if you’re on social media and not watching the game but everybody is reacting or a certain coach or player is trending, it’s going to force you to cut the game on. So they want people like us to further the conversation with a wealth of information.
Kiel: How did you develop your keen sense of understanding the game and researching the “right” things?
Cottrell: When I first started with Ahmad Rashad doing post-game interviews, he would expect me to write the questions that he would ask the players. So let’s say the game ends and three minutes after the commercial break, we’re going to get Dwyane Wade; Ahmad would be like, ‘You have 60 seconds to get me three questions for Wade.’ At first, I would struggle with those because I might’ve broken some cardinal rules; you know, the questions like, ‘Tell me about…’ Ahmad actually pushed me to think about the story of the game further. He helped me as a researcher because I began to look at the game faster. If someone did something in the second quarter, I was already thinking about post game. He just helped me to look at the game like a person who played it or coached it and my questions that I had to write out for him got better.
Kiel: How do you separate being a true fan of the game and getting to work with legends on a daily basis from being laser focused on providing the content for your on-air talents and getting caught up in record-breaking games?
Cottrell: When I first got on a job, I was really a huge fan of working with legends in the studio and watching all of the games at once, so it was harder for me to understand that, when the game ends, it’s required of me to provide 8-10 different stats to put this game into perspective. Now that I’ve gotten accustomed to it; I’ve learned how to balance it. For example, for Devin Booker’s 70-point game, I was still watching the game as a fan, but every time something happened, I was updating the notes. So at first, it was like a 50-point game, and then it turned into a 60-point game; Then, it was like, ‘Wait a minute, he’s really inching towards a 70-point game.’ When he was inching towards 70, I had all my stats ready for anyone that had scored 65 or more. When he actually hit 70, I just took everyone off the list that had 69 or less. So the work was already done – I’ve learned how to not wait for things to happen; instead, I anticipate them.
Kiel: What is the best and most stressful parts of your role?
Cottrell: The most stressful part of my job is probably making sure I’ve covered every angle of the story. I hate waking up the next morning, looking on Twitter and seeing a stat that I didn’t even think about or turning on a TV show and seeing an angle of a feat that I never even thought about. It’s stressful because I want to make sure no stone goes unturned. NBA TV is for the hardcore basketball fans, so I want to make sure we’re giving our fans as much information as possible to go win that next bar argument or that locker room debate that they’re going to have. The best part of my job is probably just working with all of the legends that I get to see on a daily basis. So getting a lot of backstories and gaps bridged between when I was growing up and now and just making me a more knowledgable person of the game of basketball has been awesome. Whether I’m working with a GM, a former player or a legendary coach, it’s great to get different perspectives because it helps me do my job better.