Name and current title?
Jay Bilas, Of Counsel, Moore and Van Allen, PLLC and college basketball analyst for ESPN.
Where did you go to Law School?
Duke Law School, JD, 1992.
What is a typical day in the life of a college basketball analyst? Is it as fun as it seems?
It certainly beats working for a living! I have always loved basketball, and having played and coached, it is in my blood.
While I still enjoy the law, I often think about what Skip Prosser told me years ago regarding one of his friends, a former coach who was working as a banker. Skip said that when the banker was at work at the bank, he found himself thinking about what was going on in the gym, but when he was in the gym, he never wondered what was going on at the bank. I feel very much the same way. My typical day is traveling to a game site, going to practices, sitting in on meetings with coaching staffs, and preparing for games. I watch a lot of film of teams in preparation for games and my studio work, but my favorite part of the process is going to practices.
I was brought up in the game a certain way, but I have really come to appreciate the different philosophies and methods used by different coaches. I feel like I learn something new from every coach I spend time with.
Did you actively try to become a broadcaster, or did ESPN come to you?
I always thought about doing this, but when I began practicing law, I was just doing it for fun. I started doing radio games, and really only did it to stay close to the game and my friends in the game.
As I went along, some people heard me, and I got some offers to do television games. Each year, I seemed to do more and more games, and it became more and more problematic to make my law career and my basketball career work. I had to make a choice, and I chose the job that got me better seats to games.
Did you always plan on going to law school?
No. My father talked me into it. He thought it would be a really good education and a versatile degree. He was right. I have never regretted it.
So what’s your law/basketball balance like these days?
I practiced full time with M&VA for about nine years, and worked with ESPN on the side. Several years ago, it became too difficult to do 50 games and studio work each year while carring a full-time law practice.
I am now “Of Counsel” with Moore & Van Allen, and during basketball season, I am on the road five or six days a week. Really, I am now a basketball broadcaster who practices law on the side.
What’s been your best moment as a lawyer?
My best moment as a lawyer came during a securities arbitration when cross-examining a witness. I knew the witness was lying, and I was able to lead the witness down a certain path with his lying, and trap him with his own documents.
What was your best moment as a player? Admit it, being a player is way more exciting, right?
As a player, my best moments were with my teammates in games and practices. I had a lot of really good games in high school, college and professionally—and I played on some really good teams—but the best moments were the time I spent with my teammates, on and off the court. The guys I played with are still my best friends in the world.
Of course, being a player is a lot more exciting and fun than being a lawyer. Nobody sits around with his buddies watching Court TV. They watch ball games.
Have you been able to parlay your basketball/announcing career into legal business?
Not really. My job in basketball may be interesting to some, but it is certainly not enough when a client needs quality legal representation. I get a lot of questions from coaches, and I have helped some of them get legal help, but I don’t do it myself.
Are any of your clients unaware of your basketball background?
Sure, plenty. But I have also represented clients that had no earthly idea that I played, coached or currently broadcast games for ESPN. They just think I’m freakishly tall. And, they’re right.
You’ve had a couple of acting gigs over the years. How did that come about?
That was a total accident. I was asked to audition for a commercial that was to include a 6-foot-8-inch basketball player, and when I did, there were about 50 guys trying out for the part that looked exactly like me. I wound up getting the part, and it led to me getting an agent and more commercial work.
Then, my agent asked me if I wanted to go on some acting auditions, and he sent me on an audition for an action movie, just to see if I liked the process. I wound up getting that part, too. It was a feature-length motion picture, and I played an alien cop that chased an alien drug dealer to Earth. My character died in the back of a police car, and my head exploded. So, there was no sequel for me.
It was really fun, but I was hardly Sir Lawrence Olivier, although I don’t think Olivier could have pulled off the death scene in the back of that car any better than I could. I am still a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild. The best part is that I still get movies sent to me to vote on for the SAG awards. I sometimes get to see them before they hit theaters.
Sports Illustrated called you the best college analyst in the game. Must be pretty gratifying?
That was very nice, and very unexpected. It helped drown out all of the critics that think I’m full of it! I don’t worry too much about how I am thought of, really. I don’t do this for a compliment or to be a broadcaster, but because I really love basketball.
I still think of myself as a basketball guy rather than as a broadcaster. The people whose opinions I really care about are the players and the coaches. I don’t worry about whether they like me or not, but I always want to be fair and honest with them. I always want to make certain that my admiration for them shows through.
You’ve also been nominated for an Emmy. Do you want to win one? Does it matter?
I never even thought about it until I was told I was nominated. I was nominated twice, and I would have been honored to win, but I was very pleased just to be in the discussion. It was way more than I deserved.
In seems that what fans love about your basketball analysis is your honesty. You’re not afraid to be critical, whether you’re talking about Duke and Coach K, or UConn and Jim Calhoun. Do coaches ever get upset with you? Ever had any arguments (or “heated discussions”) with anyone over your on-air opinions?
I have never had a coach get upset, and I always tell people that I want to know when they disagree or if they think I am wrong. My aim is to get it right every time, and when I give an opinion, I have thought about it and believe in it. That certainly doesn’t make me right, and I may be wrong from time to time, but I’m always willing to admit when I am wrong.
Actually, I have had coaches tell me that they listen to what I say because they know I am prepared. I don’t know whether that is really true, but it is a nice compliment.
A big part of your job is arguing with chatterboxes like Dickey V. and Digger Phelps. Does your legal training give you an edge?
My legal background helps me with everything I do. Our guys actually don’t argue that much. We may differ on an issue here or there, but I can’t begin to tell you how much I respect Dick and Digger.
I played against Digger’s teams when he was at Notre Dame, and Digger is a really smart and savvy basketball man, despite that silly highlighter he waves around. Digger is one of my good friends, and I really admire him.
Dick was an outstanding coach and is an astute basketball mind. I really enjoyed it when Dick did our games when I was a player. He is one of the nicest people I know.
There’s talk of the NBA changing its age limit to 20 when the current contract expires in 2011. Do you think that’s going to pass legal muster? And more importantly, is that a good thing for both the pro and college games? Will it bring back dynasties? Is that what fans want to see?
As long as any age restriction in part of the Collective Bargaining process, it will pass antitrust muster. I think that the longer a player is in college, generally, the better it is for the player and the NBA. The NBA would be better able to scout, evaluate and draft players if they spent a couple of years in college, and the players would be more mature mentally and physically upon arrival in the league.
Sure, players like LeBron James are ready at age 18, but there are so few like him and countless others that need the time to develop. But, it is all up to the NBA and the NBA Players Association.
Is recruiting blue chippers today different than you when you were being recruited? What college was runner-up in the Bilas sweepstakes?
I grew up in Los Angeles, and I was rated in the national Top 40 my senior year in high school. I was very fortunate to be recruited by almost everyone, but my decision came down to three coaches: Coach K, Lute Olson [Long Beach State, Iowa, Arizona] and Jim Boeheim [Syracuse].
When Coach K recruited me, I had never really heard of him. I just really liked and trusted him, and I am really proud that I committed to him when it wasn’t the easy thing to do.
Recruiting is really different now. When I was in high school, you didn’t really know all of the best high school players outside of your region. Now, the players play in national tournaments every summer, and they all travel extensively and know each other very well by the time they get to college. Plus, the kids now are much more focused on becoming pros. We didn’t even think about professional basketball until we were seniors in college.
What amazes me is how much more advanced the players are now, and how athletic and skilled they are. The game and the players keep getting better and better.
Do you have any interest in coaching? In other words, if Duke offered you the job when Coach K retires, would you accept?
I was an assistant coach at Duke for three years under Mike Krzyzewski from 1990 through 1992. I had played for Coach K, and while I was playing professional basketball in Europe, he offered me a job on his staff. I fully intended to pursue coaching as a career, but when I got married, my wife and I decided that coaching may not be the best choice for our family. I think my wife just didn’t want to live in Normal, Illinois where I still teach basketball. I am a Skills Instructor for Nike, and every summer I have the privilege of working with some of the best high school and college players in the country.
And, I still get offers here and there to get back into coaching. Maybe someday. Who knows?