Hoop Story #041: Hannah O'Flynn Director/Producer, ESPN

Hoop Story #041: Hannah O'Flynn Director/Producer, ESPN

Tell us your back story. Where are you from? When did you first fall in love with the game of basketball? Were there people in your life who inspired and encouraged your passion?

I grew up in Ipswich, Massachusetts about 30 miles north of Boston. My parents threw me into everything: soccer, baseball, tennis, basketball, lacrosse, track, you name it. Although I’m one of five girls (Pride and Prejudice swag) they somehow managed to drive us to all of our practices and never missed a game. 

Early morning wake ups, long drives to tournaments, emphatic cheering from the sidelines, late nights helping with homework and listening to the many tears after tough losses… My parents are undoubtedly my real MVPs. 

They supported my tomboy self. I’m talking XL tees, shorts past the knees, perpetually ready to hoop attire. They also  introduced me to female athletes like Venus and Serena Williams and Mia Hamm. I can remember going to see Mia Hamm play on my ninth birthday, watching Harry Potter after the game, and blasting Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi” on the ride home! 

Although neither of them were big hoopers, my parents have always been huge fans of the game and have done everything in their power to support me and push me to thrive in doing what I love. My dad legitimately put a regulation sized hoop in our living room after I had a few games of Shaq-like free throw shooting. Even now, I get shots up at home while my mom and I watch March Madness together. 

My true love for basketball began in middle school. My sister Brigid and I would travel an hour every other day to our AAU practices with coach Avery in Lynn. This was on top of playing other sports. We truly lived and breathed it. 

My high school coach, Mandy Zegarowki, built a winning culture and I looked up to a bunch of the girls on the team. I became obsessed with getting better spending hours in the backyard or at the Y, and summer sessions working on my game. Mandy’s husband Zach, also a coach, would tell us to “turn the page” when a play didn’t go our way. Mandy’s family became my basketball family and epitomized attention to detail and hard work. I spent my summers in their backyard court playing with their kids Michael, Masey, Marcus and Max. Even now, I catch Michael (Carter-Williams) or Marcus’s games whenever I can. 

My love for the game has only grown since I’ve graduated. When I first moved to New York, I barely knew anyone so I would go to the courts. As I’ve moved and traveled throughout the world, basketball has always been home for me, and local courts are where I find my people. Now it’s become the main focus of my career in production. I’ve found so much inspiration, not just in hoopers, but in creatives and those who love to capture and tell the game’s stories.

You ran track, played soccer, and basketball in high school and then track and field while at Dartmouth. How has being an athlete influenced your creative work?

Being an athlete has taught me to have confidence in my abilities, to improv on the fly, to be prepared and work hard, and that failure is essential for growth and progress.

So much of my creativity as an artist, musician and producer stems from the lessons I’ve learned as an athlete. I bring the same imagination and mindset to the court that I do to a jam session or a content brainstorm. You show up with a certain skill set and adapt based on your surroundings. 

As a producer and director, what kind of projects do you work on? Where do you draw inspiration from? Do you have a personal style?

I work on projects that challenge me creatively and push me out of my comfort zone. I always try to push the envelope and rethink how content is being created and consumed. What makes a story unique? Has it been done before? How can I tell it differently? What hasn’t been tried?

I draw inspiration from everything. It’s an extremely exciting time to be a creative with easy access to other similarly talented people across social media, streaming services, and other platforms. On Instagram alone, I have a gold mine of content I save down daily. Video transitions, After Effects animations, poses for portraits, moves I want to try on the court, places I’d love to shoot, songs I want to edit to. The list never ends and I refer back to it often.

My friends have told me they can tell when I’ve worked on a project. “It has that signature Hannah sauce” as my friend Rod says. I’m truthfully still figuring out what flavor that sauce is, but I’d say my “style” is dynamic and ever-changing. My coworkers at the NBA called me the “content god” so I suppose I’m doing something right. 

You worked for the NBA after college. What was that experience like? What were the most memorable moments from your time there?

“Ball is Life” took on a whole new meaning when I accepted a starting role at the NBA. I worked my way up from a logger to a producer and editor over three years and boy do I have stories! 

Whether it was on the road... 

  • producing the NBA All-Star Social Circuit in LA and creating unique questions for each player
  • celebrating the Storm’s WNBA Championship in a champagne filled locker room alongside Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart
  • interviewing Kobe Bryant on the sideline at WNBA All-Star
  • learning juggling and hand eye coordination tips from Candace Parker
  • capturing Diana Taurasi’s contagious energy in a rapid fire interview after a close win

Or in the office… 

  • turning around a documentary style recap of the NBA finals overnight for millions to watch when they wake up the next morning
  • recording myself playing saxophone for audio under an animation for the All-Star Dunk Contest in New Orleans  

The majority of my proudest moments and projects at the NBA stemmed from pitching an idea that went beyond my role and what I was “supposed” to do. If an opportunity does not present itself or an idea doesn’t exist, create it. 

You’re now with ESPN. Walk us through a typical week. What kind of projects are you working on? Anything you’re particularly proud of?

My role at ESPN has changed a few times since I started a year and a half ago. I was a producer on a show called “The Replay" on Quibi, covering all of the biggest stories in sports in a five minute long authoritative recap. The idea was that you wake up, turn on the show while you drink your coffee or have a bowl of cereal, then feel totally caught up. I assigned video segments, wrote and approved scripts, and worked in the control room with our talent.

Although the platform itself failed, I was really proud of our team’s product and execution on a brand new show. We were constantly pitching concepts and considering new ways of telling these stories. It was priceless to get start-up like experience within such an established company. 

I’m currently producing and managing content on the ESPN app as well as social handles like Snapchat. We cover day to day sports news as well as timeless evergreen content. From ridiculous highlights like the “Top 5 Poster Dunks of the Season”, to hilarious “Worst Travels in NBA Historory," to focusing on one of my favorite players to watch, Paige Bueckers in “She’s Only A Freshman."

I absolutely love having creative freedom and coming up with new ways to tell stories that will hit home for sports fans worldwide. 

What stories aren’t being told enough in the world of basketball or sports in general? 

Oh, this one is easy! Only 4% of media coverage across all sports focuses on women. I’m working to change that narrative daily. It is so critical to invest in women and share their stories. 

The recent NCAA tournament weight room fiasco was proof of hardships and stereotypes female athletes still deal with daily. Yet the engagement of the women’s games the night of the Iowa vs UConn was more than double the men’s, and the 4 million viewers of the Stanford-Arizona game was the most for a women’s final in seven years.

There is clearly an appetite for the women’s game and the audience is growing. 

I attribute a lot of that to professional athletes and brands amplifying these athletes on their platforms and creating social media spaces to inform and inspire sports fans and the next generation.

For those on instagram, a few female focused sports accounts I adore are: @highlighther, @togethxr, @espnw, @wslam, @overtimewbb, @voiceinsport, @fiba3x3w, @ballislifewbb, and @wnba.  

Tell us about your plans to ride along with The Hoop Bus this summer? What excites you most about the upcoming trip?

I’m riding on a Magic Hoop Bus across the country alongside a team of badass female hoopers starting next month. When I play pick up, I rarely run into another girl on the court. The fact that we are showing up fully equipped with an all female starting five is pretty unheard of, especially in the streetball world.

My goal is to establish a pick up community and place for girls runs in every major city we visit. We’re painting courts, giving out meals, breaking ankles, and shattering glass backboards.

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