Milwaukee Magazine talked to Zora Stephenson, the new sideline reporter for the Milwaukee Bucks.
As the Milwaukee Bucks prepare to settle unfinished business from last season and make another run for the NBA championship, the team will welcome back some familiar and newcomers into the fold to help them in their mission. That includes the addition of Zora Stephenson, who will take over as the team’s new sideline reporter for Bucks games on FOX Sports Wisconsin as well as the digital reporter for Bucks.com.
Stephenson is committed to getting at the heart of a story, as evidenced by her time in Denver where she was an Emmy Award-winning news reporter and anchor at FOX31 and Colorado’s Own Channel 2. She was also reporter of the year at WNCT in Greenville, North Carolina. Her new job will allow her to utilize her experience playing basketball, including playing four years at Elon University in North Carolina.
Milwaukee Magazine caught up with Stephenson as she gets ready for her first season with the Bucks to find out about what led her to the team and how she prepares for interviews.
In recent interviews, you’ve mentioned how much of a dream job this is, joining the Bucks. Can you talk about the chain of events that led you to the NBA and the Bucks, and why coming here was on the top of your wishlist?
For me, having the opportunity to tell good stories is at the top of my wishlist. And I value that, and I appreciate that. I’ve been working in local news for some years, and had the opportunity to tell amazing stories. When the opportunity presented itself to tell stories centered around basketball at the highest level, that’s really where I was able to combine my love of the game with my passion for telling really good and impactful stories.
I imagine it’s exciting trying something different from what you have been doing.
Yeah, it’s completely different, to a certain degree. But I tell everybody that the skills are the same. I mean, I’ve been reporting for years, and I’m still reporting now. It’s the exact same skills, just on a different stage, and with a different objective.
What have you enjoyed most about the city of Milwaukee since you’ve been here?
Everybody in the city has been amazing, welcoming, and kind. It’s funny, because since I got here, it seems like every other day, I’m either on a plane or on a bus somewhere else, so I honestly haven’t spent a ton of time just in Milwaukee, and when I’m here, I’m busy with the team. But what I have explored, and what I have been able to see has been amazing. I’ve got a long list of places and restaurants that I need to try, so if anybody has any recommendations, let me know.
What are some of your favorite interactions with members of the Bucks and its fan base so far?
With this job, I actually get to travel with the team, so I’ve only been here, at this point, three to four weeks, but I’ve spent most of my days with the team. So, it’s been great to just be around the entire organization. Everybody is first-class. They say that this organization is first-class, but I can now attest to that and say everybody involved is amazing and kind, and coming from the right place. In terms of the fans, like I said, they’ve been really welcoming. Had some great conversations. The fans here are extremely passionate, which I appreciate. I love fans that know their stuff, so it’s been great to have conversations. And in terms of the guys on the team, people talk about this all the time, how it really is a good locker room, and from what I’ve seen, that’s completely true. All these guys are just, at the core, good people, and that’s what matters most.
You have experience yourself with playing basketball. Why do you think that will be an advantage for you with covering the Bucks?
Well, because my job now is centered around basketball, so to have a background in this sport, I think, is definitely a positive. And I keep saying it, combining my love of the game with my passion for storytelling in one job, that’s what the dream is, right? An opportunity to go to work and do something that you believe in, and that doesn’t feel like work. That’s what the amazing part of it is, and I think what everyday people strive to do. So, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to continue to grow as a professional, and as a reporter with a first-class organization. I played all different levels of basketball. Most recently, I did play in college. Played Division I, so I understand the game from a player’s perspective, and I think that’s important.
You mentioned in your introductory video at Bucks.com that you know what life is like for a basketball player, with traveling and things that go beyond just the game.
Yeah. I mean, obviously, I don’t have the perspective of an NBA athlete, which is on an entirely different level with the number of games that they play, and the distance that they travel going cross country, and everything like that. But I understand what it’s like to have to land in a city, and then wake up early the next morning and have shootaround and treatment, and then have to perform at a high level. And then, when you’re in college, you get finished with a game, and you go and study, or sometimes writing a paper, right? The grind never stops, so I understand the fact that they’re going through a lot. They have a lot going on at one time. And that is not easy. I think people need to realize that, too. It’s not easy.
How would you describe your typical interview preparation?
Well, I’m blessed that I have an amazing mentor named Jim Paschke, who sits right next to me in the office. I’ve already learned so much from him. He is an incredible professional, and the absolute best at what he does, so it’s great to run so many things by him on a preparation level. It’s really just research. I mean, if you go back to your school days of really researching a topic, that’s what I do on a daily basis, and I’m always making sure that I’m up to date on all of the news, and everything that’s going on, and being really observant when I’m around. And then, making sure that transfers into my questions. Obviously, you can’t get all of the information that you know in a question, but it can help you formulate your question.
So yeah, my preparation really comes down to research, and just, honestly, talking to people as well, and getting to know everybody in the organization.
Are there aspects that key you into what types of questions to ask? What are some things that help you with formulating questions?
Yeah. So, the way that I formulate my questions, it all depends on the situation, right? Are we in-game? Are we at practice? Are we doing a feature? I think the environment matters. And then, beyond that, it’s background. If it’s a game, you’re asking more game-specific questions. If it’s practice, you’re maybe asking forward-thinking questions. If it’s a feature, it’s fun, and it’s lighter. So, it’s a really hard question to answer, because it really depends on the situation. I guess the short answer of that is understanding the atmosphere, and always remembering what the objective of your question is. What type of answer are you trying to get? Don’t just ask questions to ask questions, make sure there’s a purpose.
It’s just like, when I’m asking some in a game, I’m formulating it way different than when I’m asking it if we’re doing a sit down. It just really depends. I wish I had a one-word answer for that.
I imagine you have to be more on your toes when it’s right in the moment.
For sure. You have to be ready to adjust. Say you have a question in the second quarter, the fourth quarter’s probably irrelevant. So, you have to be paying attention, able to adjust, and then, sometimes, just think on the fly. It’s not always about what your question is. More times than not, it’s about how they answer that first or second question that probes that third and fourth question.
What are your main goals for your first season with the Bucks?
I hope to stay out of everyone’s way. [laughs] I just want to be the constant professional, and tell the best stories possible that really show people who these men are, and who everybody behind the scenes is. And obviously a big part of that is what they do on the basketball court, especially, which is so exciting right now. And there’s really a different storyline. But then, also, asking questions that show your personality, really, a little bit, and humanize who these people are. I think that’s important as well.
And then, honestly, just to have fun. I think that’s why I’m so excited, because I have a job that’s fun, and talking about basketball. I don’t want to take it too seriously. So, I think that’s really important as well, just to have fun.