Season a dream come true for Warriors rookie sideline reporter

As any Bay Area sports fan knows, the Golden State Warriors are in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1975. But the Warriors aren’t the only ones to watch in their series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So is Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, or “Ros” as she is known, a 28-year-old in her rookie season as a Warriors’ reporter for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

During the regular season and first round of the playoffs, she was a sideline reporter on the CSN Bay Area telecasts of Warriors games; since then, her reports and insights have been featured on “Warriors Playoff Central” pre- and post-game shows and on the sports recap show “SportsNet Central.”

“I was just really excited to have my first opportunity to cover an NBA team,” said Gold-Onwude, who played college basketball at Stanford University. “Just to get to the highest level of basketball in the U.S. and be on the pro level was exciting enough. To get to the championship now, to the finals, I mean, this has really been a dream come true.”

Warriors’ star Steph Curry is interviewed by Ros Gold-Onwude. photo/comcast sportsnet bay area

The Warriors posted a franchise-record 67 wins this season, then marched through the playoffs without much of a challenge, aside from trailing the Memphis Grizzlies 2-1 in their best-of-7 second-round series. The Warriors promptly won three in a row.

“That really tested their character in the face of adversity and made them tougher,” Gold-Onwude said.

When she found out she would be part of CSN Bay Area’s postseason coverage, “I literally did a little dance in my living room,” Gold-Onwude said. “I was so happy to continue with the Warriors as far as they go.”

How did Gold-Onwude get here? Determination and, according to her, a dedicated Jewish mother.

There’s truth to jokes about Jewish moms, Gold-Onwude said, and her mother, Patricia Gold, is no exception. Especially in the worrying department.

Whatever she was up to, “I always knew that my mother would be worrying about it,” Gold-Onwude half-joked. “But that’s the reason why I think I’m able to have success. She was so engaged with making sure I got on the right path.”

Gold-Onwude grew up in Queens, New York, with a Nigerian Christian father and an American Jewish mother. She recalled having both a menorah and a Christmas tree in her home during the holiday season.

It was her mother who gave her a basketball at age 4, helped organize neighborhood teams and drove her daughter to countless games.

Her mom also put her in touch with Tara VanDerveer, the head coach of the women’s basketball team at Stanford, where Gold-Onwude played from 2005 to 2010 (sitting out one season with a knee injury). Gold and VanDerveer were college roommates at SUNY Albany in the early 1970s, though Gold wasn’t on the basketball team like VanDerveer was.

Still, Mom had game. “I would play her as a little kid and, she was always so competitive, she would never let me win,” Gold-Onwude mused. “I would be so upset after losing but, eventually as I got older, I could really dominate her. But she’s always had a nice little jump shot. She never played on any team or anything but she loved it.”

In recent years, Patricia Gold was diagnosed with dementia and early onset Alzheimer’s. In the beginning stages, her long-term memory became stronger than her short-term memory, and she began to tell stories about her own mother, Rhoda, and her grandmother, Minnie, who came to the United States from Riga, Latvia, to escape the Nazis.

But as the disease progressed, the stories became harder for Gold-Onwude’s mother to remember.

“It really inspired me to try and gather as much information about my mom’s side of the family as I could before the stories stopped coming out of her,” she said. “I wanted to learn more about Israel, discover more about the Jewish religion and lifestyle.”

At Stanford, Gold-Onwude’s hectic schedule left little time for her to explore African-American and Jewish clubs on campus. However, she gradually became close with Richie and Nancy Lobell, a local Jewish couple who staunchly support Stanford athletics. They came to all of her games, invited her to their house for Jewish holiday meals and gave her advice throughout college. Nine years later, she still considers them her “second parents.”

After college, Gold-Onwude visited Israel for the first time when the Israel women’s national team was attempting to recruit her. And why not? The 5-foot-10 point guard had helped Stanford make three consecutive trips to the Final Four and, as a senior in 2009-10, she was named co-Pac-10 defensive player of the year. (She ended up playing on the Nigerian national team as it failed in its attempt to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.)

Ros Gold-Onwude on the job photo/comcast sportsnet bay area

While in Israel, she met some members of her mother’s family in Jerusalem. She spent two nights, including Shabbat, with them, touring the Old City and looking at old family pictures.

Inspired by that visit, Gold-Onwude went on a Birthright Israel trip in November 2014, on which her fellow travelers light-heartedly voted her “MAJ,” or Most Athletic Jew. She enjoyed the opportunity to travel with a range of people, including others who were discovering their Jewish identities for the first time, she said. She hopes to continue exploring her mother’s side of the family.

But for the time being, Gold-Onwude has her hands full with the Warriors, a team that has seen quite a turnaround since being purchased by Jewish owners Peter Guber and Joe Lacob in 2010.

She called her experience as the Warriors’ sideline reporter “the learning opportunity of a lifetime.” However, it’s been just a stop on what has been a quick rise in sports broadcasting, which began at Stanford when she worked for KZSU, the school radio station, and graduated with a degree in communications.

After getting her start on the Cardinal Channel, a digital network on YouTube, she has since been hired to provide analysis on women’s college and pro games televised by the Pac-12 Networks, ESPN and the MSG Network.

But none of those gigs has come close to the excitement level of covering the Warriors, which has proved to be a tester at times.

“In the press box they have a rule where you can’t cheer, and I think that’s a horrible rule! How sad is it that you could be watching Steph Curry razzle-dazzle through the defense … and you can say nothing? It’s crazy. I’d rather be thrown out,” she said with a laugh.

While Gold-Onwude loves watching Curry do his thing, Warriors forward Draymond Green remains a personal favorite.

“A lot of sports figures only talk to the media after a win or after a personal great day,” she said. “Draymond will talk to you after a loss … when no one else wants to. I think there’s a maturity in that and a professionalism that he brings to the workplace every day.”

Green, meanwhile, was quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle article about Gold-Onwude as saying, “She’s  phenomenal. She understands things from the athlete’s standpoint. She has a high basketball IQ.” That article noted that “her rapport with the players and her knowledge of the game comes shining through the screen.”

Though Gold-Onwude’s mother can no longer follow her career, the two still bond over basketball. In fact, Mom, in her dementia, sometimes talks about playing for a pro women’s team, asking her daughter if she knows of any teams that might be interested.

To that end, Gold-Onwude and her friends recently threw her mother a birthday party they called “The Patty-Poo Sweet 60 Slam Jam.” Her mother played and they gave her a special MVP award.

“On her 60th birthday, I just wanted to give her the game,” Gold-Onwude said. “Her passion is the one that I carry for sports.”

Sara Weissman
Sara Weissman

Sara Weissman is the editor in chief of New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine, and a former J. intern who graduated from U.C. Berkeley. She can be reached at editor@newvoices.org.