For the last seven-plus years, Michael Eaves has been a mainstay at ESPN.
Eaves hosts a number of core ESPN programs, including SportsCenter and NBA Countdown. He has also anchored the Masters and reported from both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
A native of rural Kentucky, Eaves took an atypical path into broadcasting. Since he arrived in the field back in the mid 1990s, he’s worked at FOX Sports, Al-Jazeera America and several local stations before jumping to ESPN in 2015.
We caught up with Eaves recently to discuss his background, charity work for veterans, what it was like to cover Kobe’s death, his dream golf foursome and much, much more.
Let’s get started:
The Spun: Your background is absolutely fascinating. What was your childhood like growing up in Hopkins County, Kentucky, and how did it lay the groundwork for your eventual career in sports broadcasting?
Michael Eaves: Growing up in a small, rural town ended up actually being the very basis of my career first and foremost because I realized fairly young that small-town life was not for me long-term (although I absolutely loved the freedoms it provided me as a kid).
Secondly, because my hometown (White Plains, KY) was so remote, we didn’t have cable TV when I was younger, which led my father to buy one of those big 12-foot satellite dishes. If you had one of those in the early to mid 1980s, you could watch just about anything. So from the time I was 10 years old until I graduated high school; if I wasn’t somewhere actually playing sports, I was at home watching them on TV until I fell asleep at night.
The Spun: If you could have called the highlight segment for any sporting event in history on SportsCenter, what would it have been?
ME: Have to admit.. this one took some time! Originally, I was leaning towards some of the epic events I’ve witnessed in person (Mike Tyson vs. Lennox Lewis, “Bush Push” game between USC & Notre Dame, Kobe’s 81-point game, “Kick Six” game between Alabama & Auburn), but I think it would have to be Tiger winning the Masters in 1997. Not only was it one of the most dominating performances in sports history, but the cultural aspect of that victory transcended sports like few other events before and since.
The Spun: You and Zubin Mehenti were on the air immediately after Kobe Bryant’s death was announced and had to anchor all afternoon. What was that experience like?
ME: It was easily the best and worst day of my career. It was the worst because it was the first time, I had to report the death of someone I knew. I had done it before with people I had met or interviewed, but I had hung out with Kobe socially. And that’s why I wish that day never happened, even if it did end up being one of the events for which I am most associated. Zubin and I did six straight hours of live coverage that day, and the first three hours didn’t have a single commercial break. I was proud of our network, our show staff, my co-anchor, and myself that day for what we were able to provide to the viewers on the biggest sports story of the year.
The Spun: Veteran’s Day just passed. Can you tell us a little bit about your work with Team Rubicon?
ME: TR mobilizes military veterans and volunteers to help with disaster relief. I first became involved after developing a friendship with one of the co-founders of TR, Jake Wood. From donating my own money to twice hosting their biggest fundraiser of the year, I’ve been involved with TR for almost a decade. And what’s really crazy is that over the past year, two devastating natural disasters hit my home state just months apart and TR responded en masse to both of them.
The Spun: Also, I see you’ll be taking part in an event in conjunction with the V Foundation on December 5: “Booyah! A Celebration of Stuart Scott.” How meaningful is that event for you?
ME: First of all, Stuart and I were close friends after initially bonding through the National Association of Black Journalists and golf! Secondly, raising money for cancer research has been a focal point of mine since my early 20’s when my father died after three different bouts with the disease. And Stuart’s fund through the V Foundation is especially important because it addresses the much-overlooked disparities in cancer treatments and research. Just by raising awareness about those disparities and channeling money directly towards fixing them has literally saved countless lives!
The Spun: You’ve worked in Memphis and Los Angeles, two great cities that are very different and in different parts of the country. What are your favorite restaurants to eat at and things to do in each city and why?
ME: Well, BBQ is king in Memphis and when I lived there Neely’s was my favorite for sure! They even had a concession area at the FedEx Forum that served the best BBQ nachos you will ever have! Unfortunately, they are no longer there. During my time in LA, I lived mostly in the South Bay area and my favorite restaurant there is Palmilla in Hermosa Beach. I am a sucker for good Mexican food and Palmilla definitely has that, but the added bonus is their Pepino Diablo margarita. It’s so good, I had them give me the recipe so I can make them at home here in Connecticut!
The Spun: You are known for being a golf aficionado. Which ESPN employees are the best golfers you’ve had the chance to play with?
ME: John Buccigross is the best player that I have shared rounds with, but I think the best non-professional stick on our ESPN on-air roster is Taylor Twellman. Dude is just one of those athletes who’s good at just about everything. As if his hair wasn’t already enough reason to hate him (laughs)!
The Spun: What is your dream golf foursome and course to play?
ME: Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. They definitely need a reconciliation, and I would love to play the role of mediator. The teams would be MJ and me against Tiger and Charles, and this outing could only be played at Augusta National!
The Spun: What was your experience like on Below Deck Med? Also, what is something that people who watch the show might not realize about it that someone who was on it can see up close?.
ME: It was a pretty awesome experience. Something I had never even considered doing until Jemele Hill called me and asked me if I wanted to go, and I’m so glad we did. The thing that most people don’t realize is how many more people are actually on the yacht. Between the production staff (producers, cameras, etc.) and the additional crew staff that’s never seen, there’s easily another 20-25 people on the boat the same time we are.
The Spun: Predictions for BBN this college hoops season?
ME: At this point, the expectation is to just get out of the first round, since that didn’t happen last year (laughs)! All jokes aside, the hope is to always win the national championship with a trip to the Elite 8 being the baseline expectation. Kentucky should be at least that good each and every year.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes and media stars here.