These next eight days are going to be the most exciting of Tabitha Turner’s life.
On Friday, she will call the Atlanta Dream season-opener as part of an all-Black, all-female broadcasting crew the team announced earlier this week.
And next Sunday, she will be married underneath a structure the bride-to-be – and former Georgia Tech basketball player turned engineer – is designing and building herself.
“Nuts is an understatement,” she told USA TODAY Sports.
“It’s kind of a big deal,” Turner, 34, added. “Everything has kind of blown up the release of the news this past week.”
The crew also includes Angel Gray on the play-by-play and analysts LaChina Robinson and Autumn Johnson for the 2021 season.
“As the Atlanta Dream experiences new beginnings we are extremely excited to announce our new broadcast team for the 2021 season,” Dream co-owner and vice president Renee Montgomery, a former Atlanta player, said in a statement. “This broadcast team of all women is another positive step in our goal of providing empowerment to the diverse Atlanta community. It’s exciting knowing that moments such as these will create momentum, and we plan to keep that same level of energy moving forward.”
The last 11 months have brought significant change to the franchise, starting with Montgomery’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season to focus on racial justice and voting initiatives. Meanwhile, the members of the Dream who did play in the “wubble” took stances against ex-co-owner and former United States Senator Kelly Loeffler, R-Georgia, who denounced the Black Lives Matter movement. The ownership group that included Loeffler was sold the team during the offseason to a group that included Montgomery, which made her the first ex-WNBA player to be part of ownership.
It’s also a full-circle journey for the broadcasters, Turner said. Turner and Gray have previously served as the team’s sideline reporter. Johnson, who served as the sideline reporter for the NBA 2K League and as the NCAA’s women’s basketball correspondent this past season, would shadow some of the Dream broadcasts.
“LaChina is LaChina. She’s awesome at everything she does,” Turner said. “Angel has worked so hard. … To just have all the Atlanta people return back home … it’s well-deserved.”
Turner won’t have to start from scratch in forming relationships with the Dream. Some players are personal friends. Her straightforward nature will make sure those relationships won’t affect her broadcasting style.
“My first goal is to display these players on a platform to the public that makes them more relatable,” she said.
Knowing them on a personal level will allow for more interesting broadcasts, Turner believes.
“I just want to focus on telling the story of these players,” she said, “because that’s really the most important part.”
‘It’s my bachelorette party’
Upon hearing the news they’d be broadcasting the season’s first game together, Johnson called Turner.
“I was like, ‘Autumn, it’s my bachelorette (party), can I call you back on Monday?’” Turner said.
Everything is happening fast in Turner’s life at the moment.
As she prepares to say “I do” to Gary Wilkins, a former Georgia Tech defensive lineman who is now a player development coach at their shared alma mater, she’ll simultaneously study tape or conduct research for a few hours. When a break is needed, she’ll drive to the wedding venue – a renovated movie theater that now serves as an event space in Stone Mountain, Georgia — and put in some manual labor.
Broadcasting friends Robinson and ESPN’s Elle Duncan will be in attendance. Messages from six bridesmaids reminding her of certain tasks or responsibilities have been helpful.
“If I’m not reviewing notes for the games, I’m at the venue literally with gloves on, erecting frames or arches,” she said.
But after a weekend of pre-nuptial festivities, Johnson and Turner connected to start the preparation process.
“She’s a sponge,” Turner said of Johnson. “She wants to know so much.”
The plan for Friday, the first time they’ve worked together, is for Turner to serve as the “play-by-play” person for the first half while Johnson takes the reigns for the second. But Turner anticipates the entire broadcast to reflect a conversation between two friends.
Turner has climbed the ladder from stops at ACC Network Extra to sideline work with Raycom Media, contributing to a local radio station and working for the Georgia Swarm, a pro lacrosse team. She’s scheduled to call seven Dream games in 2021.
“I’m just happy to be a part of it,” she said. “This job wasn’t given to us. It was well-earned. It’s representative of the city that we live in.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.