As part of her calling card for a sports broadcasting career, Marion Jones had her representatives send network executives tapes of some of her most white-hot press conferences, including one particularly tense evening in Sydney in September 2000 when she faced the world media following revelations that C.J. Hunter, her husband at the time, had tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone. "Having seen the grace under pressure that she conducted herself with during the Sydney Olympics," says Terry Ewert, executive producer of CBS Sports, "and knowing her pedigree as a basketball player [ Jones was a freshman point guard on North Carolina's 1994 NCAA championship team], she had all the components for us to use her."
Jones made her CBS debut last Saturday as the analyst on the network's telecast of the Connecticut-Tennessee women's game (page 82). It was her second high-profile broadcasting gig: Last July she received generally favorable reviews after working as an NBC sideline reporter at a WNBA game. "One thing we look for when evaluating new on-air talent is marked improvement within that show," says David Neal, head of production for NBC's pro basketball and Olympic coverage. "As that game went on, Marion got better and more comfortable."
That was also true last Saturday. Jones was clearly nervous early on: Her voice trembled, and she occasionally resorted to clich�d analysis. ("It doesn't get any better than that," she declared after a flashy assist by Huskies guard Sue Bird.) Late in the first half she began to sound more at ease, meshing nicely with play-by-play man Tim Brando and showing insight. Jones presciently advised Lady Vols point guard Kara Lawson to get center Michelle Snow involved in the game; less than 20 seconds later Lawson fed Snow under the basket for an easy layup. "She's still a little rough around the edges," Ewert says, "but that goes away with experience."
In the second half of her two-event deal with CBS, Jones will be an analyst at the NCAA outdoor track championships in May. Given her star power, the networks will pursue Jones with gusto when she retires from track and field, which won't be before the 2004 Olympics. "I don't know where she'll land," says Ewert, "but we hope she at least has a good experience with CBS."
"It's absolutely within the realm of realistic expectations to think that she could be on-air for us at the Beijing Games in 2008," says Neal. "If we are one of many suitors trying to have her work for us, I'm comfortable with that."