Bristol, CT - June 14, 2017 - Studio X: Kevin Negandhi on the set of SC:AM (Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)
Negandhi, a West Philadelphia native and proud Temple grad, is the co-host of ESPN’s 6 p.m. SportsCenter. It’s a job he’s dreamed about since he was playing basketball by himself in his basement while also doing the play-by-play.
“My whole thing was when I had this concept as a 14-year-old kid, this ridiculous dream that I wanted to get into broadcasting and work at ESPN,’’ Negandhi says.
Dreams can come true and Negandhi is proof. He had some other ideas, but it always came back to working in sports, and specifically that place in Bristol, CT.
“I thought maybe I wanted to be an architect,’’ he said. “I was really good at drawing and putting stuff together and art and all of that stuff. But I was really into sports. I remember I took this building construction class in ninth grade. I hated the class after the first week, and said ‘I’m not doing this rest of my life.’
“Then, college basketball started later that same year. I remember watching this game, the exact moment. I’m watching the game and a kid is at the foul line and the play-by-play guy and the color analyst are profiling the kid and saying how he wants to do what they are doing. At that moment it hit me. ‘I can get paid to do this? I can follow sports and go on the road to different games?’ That night I watched SportsCenter and I said then I wanted to be the first Indian-American on the air.’’
Easier said than done. Not only did young Kevin have to break the barrier of becoming the first Indian-American to work on a national broadcast, but there was also the small matter of convincing his India-native parents that this what he wanted to do.
“This was 1989 and there was no one of my skin tone on the air doing sports,’’ he said. “I mention that because I also had to sell my parents on this idea. They were immigrants who came to America and wanted the best for me. Now, how do you sell your parents on this?’’
It wasn’t as tough as he thought it would be.
“My father was a big sports fan and mom understood my passion,’’ Negandhi said. “Sports was always the way I communicated with my Dad. He was very old school, very rigid, ‘You’re going to do this.’ You had to get the best grades. I had to do his homework, which was much harder than any homework I got from school.
“When I was 7, 8, 9 years old I’d get the Sunday Inquirer and grab two sections: the comics and the sports. I read the comics. Then I would get the sports section and retain stats and facts. So, when my Dad was [watching the Eagles game] and yelling at the TV at Ron Jaworski, I could tell him ‘No, Dad, Jaws has done this or that.’ That was the only way my Dad would pay attention to me.’’
Negandhi laughs at how years later Jaworski became a colleague and friend of his at ESPN.
While he would talk sports with his father, his mother figured out what he wanted to do just by watching and listening to him.
“Growing up in our area you always wanted to be Merrill Reese [the voice of the Eagles] or Harry Kalas [the voice of the Phillies],’’ Negandhi said. “My mom tells the stories of how I had a mini hoop in my basement and I had my own basketball league, my imaginary basketball league. She would come down the steps and say ‘Who are you talking to? Why are you talking when you’re playing?’ I would tell her it doesn’t actually happen unless you give play-by-play of it. You have to talk the play out.’’
Even after all of that, Negandhi says: “I still had to sell then that this is what I want to do for a living.’’
After he graduated from Phoenixville High School he went to Syracuse University, but transferred back home to Temple, a move he says became so crucial to his career.
“I always say that was the greatest decision of my life for my work career,’’ Negandhi said. “It gave me a chance to be in the Philly market. Gave me a chance to write at 19 years old, to be in the booth with Harry Kalas as an intern. Then working at WPHL 17, that opened the door to intern with Vai Sikahema and Big Al [Meltzer] and Ron Burke at channel 10. And that opened the door to get to channel 6 and work with Gary [Papa]. He was my guy. He was the guy I looked up to and wanted to be. My dream of ESPN was always there, but working in the Philly market was just a part of my DNA.’’
Mentors like Papa and Sixers announcer Marc Zumoff, as well as getting to work up close with Kalas and Reese, was the best education Negandhi could have wanted. All that intern work paid off.
“I’d be in the office at Channel 6, and they would send me to the Phillies game to get a sound bite,’’ he said. “To be in that market at 21, 22 years old, that was huge for me.’’
Negandhi’s first full-time gig came in Kirksville, MO at KTVO in 1998. The closest big city was St. Louis and that just happened to be the time when Mark McGuire was breaking the home run record and Kurt Warner was taking the Rams to a Super Bowl title.
“I applied for about 100 jobs and I got one,’’ he said.
Negandhi parlayed his work in Missouri to a job in Sarasota, FL at WWSB as an anchor/reporter and later the sports director, a job he held until 2006 when he made the move to Bristol.
“Sarasota was cool,’’ he said “You’re not Tampa, but you’re covering Tampa sports. And IMG [sports agents] was there, and they have so many first-round draft picks and that’s where they train. [Peyton] Manning, [Drew] Brees, all those guys, that’s where they trained. And then there was spring training. There were five teams in our area and that included the Reds who were in Sarasota when Ken Griffey Jr. got traded there. And when A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez] signed with the Rangers they were in Port Charlotte. That was in our market as well. I had so much great experience before I ever got to ESPN.’’
Negandhi arrived in Bristol in 2006, working various jobs from ESPN News to some Outside the Lines shows, some Baseball Tonight, some College Football Live and the occasional SportsCenter.
“I wear a lot of different hats,’’ he said. “But I love it.’’
In May of 2018, he was promoted to the prime post of co-hosting, with Sage Steele, the 6 p.m. SportsCenter.
“So Being the first Indian-American on a national network in American television history, it still blows me away,’’ he said. “It’s like holy crap, I thought of this when I was 14 and now it’s actually happened. Getting in was a challenge, it’s tough for anyone. I had a couple of mentors pull me aside, wanted to change my last name, change my look. I actually thought about it.
“The best advice I got was just get in, just break through. Because once you get in you can take it from there.’’
Negandhi, with an understanding wife, Monica, and three children, sons Brandon and Noah and daughter McKenna, worked his way up at ESPN.
“I told my wife, and she understood because she worked on TV herself, that we’re not going to be off on holidays. That’s when everyone else takes off. So, when everyone is off, I’m on [the air]. I got my breaks by working all the holidays.’’
Negandhi is at the top of his game, doing the job he wanted since he was a kid. He doesn’t forget his Philadelphia roots, however, and is still a huge fan, even though it can be tough on the national stage.
“It’s changed a little, and Stuart Scott was a perfect example with North Carolina that’s it’s OK to embrace what you like on the air,’’ Negandhi said. “Now, it goes against a lot of things we were taught, but I’ll never forget that when the Phillies made their run in ’08 and ’09, no one knew more about the Phillies than I did.
“And In 2009, the Eagles are in the NFC Championship Game in Arizona and I’m on the air doing SportsCenter while the game is on and Merrill Hoge and Trent Dilfer are in the studio with me. The [Eagles] defense collapsed and Kurt [Warner] had that drive to win the game. We’re on the air right after the game. The experience I had through the years of watching the Eagles and that this was going to be the final run and the way it ended. No one was more critical of the Eagles than me that day. Because I knew all the blemishes.
“When the Eagles had their Super Bowl run last year everyone had fun with me, but if any team ever deserved it, it was them. The thing is, if the team stinks I’m going to tell you the team stinks. If the team is good, I’m going to tell you why they’re good.’’