Zora Stephenson ’15 makes history calling play-by-play for the Milwaukee Bucks

The former Elon women’s basketball team captain and current Bucks sideline reporter became the first woman to handle play-by-play responsibilities in the franchise’s 53-year history.

In the hours leading up to Friday night’s Milwaukee Bucks game, social media buzzed with the news that history was in the making. Elon alumna Zora Stephenson ’15 was slated to serve as the play-by-play announcer on the Bally Sports Wisconsin broadcast of the Bucks’ game against the Charlotte Hornets. In doing so, Stephenson would become the first woman to handle play-by-play for a broadcast in the Bucks’ 53-year franchise history.

Zora Stephenson ’15 smiles with color analyst and former Bucks star Marques Johnson during the Bally Sports Wisconsin broadcast of the Milwaukee Bucks’ game on April 9. Photo courtesy of Stephenson’s Instagram account

The ground-breaking news was shared and retweeted by numerous media outlets, including The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch, a leading authority on sports media.

Alas, the Bucks fell at home to the Hornets, losing 127-119, but Stephenson’s job on the mic has been widely celebrated. In fact, The Athletic ran a detailed Q&A with Stephenson hours after the game.

The franchise also produced a short video, titled “History Made,” to acknowledge the milestone.

The former Elon women’s basketball team captain admitted that 20 months ago when she switched career paths from news reporting to become Milwaukee’s sideline and digital reporter, she didn’t envision this weekend’s history-making events.

“When I transitioned from news to sports, calling an NBA game as a play-by-play announcer never even crossed my mind!” said Stephenson, in an email to the School of Communications. “At the time, I don’t think I even thought it was a possibility or an option.”

With regular play-by-play broadcaster Jim Paschke on leave for a single game, Stephenson joined color analyst and former Bucks star Marques Johnson in the booth. Fortunately, it was an anticipated move that had been in the works for a couple of weeks. And leading up to the broadcast, Paschke worked with Stephenson to help the Elon graduate find her own voice, per The Athletic.

In the hours before the Milwaukee Bucks’ April 9 game, the NBA franchise ran the above graphic noting Stephenson’s historical play-by-play call. Photo courtesy of @Bucks Twitter

While Stephenson conducts extensive prep work for her regular sideline responsibilities, she said that the play-by-play role brought additional layers of complexity. “It’s just more of everything – more in-depth, more time speaking, so much more you have to know and be ready to handle,” she said. “As the play-by-play announcer, you are the captain of the ship, it’s a lot of responsibility.”

Overall, Stephenson said she was pleased with her performance, and plans to take time to critique herself. “I thought it went really well,” she said. “I still need to watch the entire game back and then I’d probably be able to give you an in-depth analysis, but it was an exciting moment and an opportunity I worked really hard for. I hope I rose to the occasion.”

Before arriving in Milwaukee, Stephenson had a decorated news reporting career, earning multiple Emmy Awards as she worked her way from Greenville, North Carolina, to Denver. Always the reporter and storyteller, she said that aspiring sports reporters and announcers should embrace all that comes with the job.

“Fall in love with the craft, the skills it takes to be good at whatever job you’re doing,” she said. “Fall in love with working hard. Fall in love with storytelling. Don’t fall in love with being on TV.”

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Originally from northern Virginia, Stephenson played four years of basketball at Elon, where she holds the school record for single-season 3-point percentage. Stephenson was a three-year starter for the Phoenix and appeared in 121 games over four seasons.

In addition to serving as a women’s basketball team captain, Stephenson contributed to “Elon Local News” and “Elon Phoenix Weekly,” served as an in-game host on the big screen at football games, and welcomed visitors to campus as a tour guide.

​In 2019, Elon honored Stephenson with a Top 10 Under 10 Alumni Award, recognizing her along with nine other honorees who have achieved major professional success, served as difference-makers in their communities and loyally support Elon.