In celebration of the NBA’s 75th anniversary, Bally Sports – throughout the season — will look back on the standout players, influential figures and memorable moments that helped shape the league.
When Lisa Byington was growing up, she was a sports fan divided. While her room was covered with Michael Jordan posters, she lived in Michigan and cheered for the Pistons. In the late 1980s and early 90s, the rivalry between the two Midwestern teams was fierce. The Bad Boy Pistons knocked Michael Jordan's Bulls out of the playoffs in 1989 and 1990, and Chicago had to get through Detroit to win its first championship in 1991.
In 1990, Byington’s parents bought her and her sister the ultimate gift — a trip to Chicago and tickets to the Bulls-Pistons Christmas day game at the old Chicago Stadium.
“I remember my dad said, ‘Hey, do you want to get as close to the court as you can?’ We got to the railing, where you could look over because we were sitting in the upper deck,” Byington said. “We went over kind of by the tunnel side where the teams come out, and I could see this bald head kind of coming through. I actually got emotional. I got tears in my eyes because here I could finally see the person who was on my walls and my ceiling."
Now, Byington does play-by-play for the Milwaukee Bucks TV broadcasts as the first woman to hold that job in the NBA. She gets the best seat in the house, but it all started with the love of basketball she learned in Portage, Mich. Her father was her basketball coach and the person who would watch all those NBA matchups with her.
“It was either me by myself, or me and my dad in the family room watching all the kinds of games," Byington said, "and Sunday afternoons were the best with the old-school NBC jingle.”
Throughout the 90s, "NBA on NBC" would feature marquee matchups on Sundays once the NFL season was over. So many of those games featured Jordan and the Bulls. When Byington hooped for her high school team, she picked up one of MJ’s habits.
“We had a Nerf hoop in the basement, and I'd just be kind of shooting around. And without me even noticing it, I was sticking my tongue out and I was doing these dunks," Byington said. "My mom would come down the stairs and she would say, ‘Why do you have your tongue out?'
“So then when I got high school and got a little bit of like media attention in high school, there's actually a photograph of the local paper in Kalamazoo, and they took a shot of me, dribbling a basketball and you could see my tongue out.”
Byington continued to play basketball and headed back to the Chicago area for college. She played for Northwestern and started a career in play-by-play, calling games for the Chicago Sky, March Madness, Big Ten Network and the NBA’s Summer League, where she ended up running into some of those players from the Bad Boy Pistons. She interviewed Bill Laimbeer before his Aces took on the Sky and called a few summer league games in Las Vegas with Isiah Thomas.
As they were on the air, Thomas told a story about a Christmas Day game against the Bulls. Byington said, “I was at that game.”
“He asked me on the air. He said, 'Who's the team that you followed?’ and I said, 'You, your team. You know?'" she recalled. "He had no idea. I said, ‘You know, I was a little bit screwed up because I loved the Bad Boys, but my whole bedroom was full of Michael Jordan posters,’ and he said, ‘Lisa, it's OK. My son had Michael Jordan posters, too.'"