How ESPN’s Malika Andrews Went from Bubble Breakout to ‘NBA Today’ Host

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But one of the reasons why it was important for us to still have me as a part of the games, on the sidelines, is that the NBA really is about being around. You can’t sit in your ivory tower in the studio and just look at the games that are happening across the way. I hope to still be infused in the league like that.

How important was the bubble for you in establishing relationships with players? I assume you had some before, but I can imagine that was a pretty transformative experience in some ways.

It heightened things. I was one of the first people in the bubble, alongside one reporter from ESPN, one reporter from TNT, and one producer from each network—before players, before coaches, before executives, before nearly anybody. So they were watching our coverage to see what to expect. I hoped to become a trusted voice for that.

NBA players, I’ve learned, they value you putting in your time. They put in time, on the road, on their bodies, at games, performing for fans. So when they see you meeting them, making the sacrifices they made to go into the bubble—being away from your family, eating food you don’t always love, staying in a hotel for 107 days, all of those things— there was a respect and an appreciation that grew in me for them, and in them for me, I hope.

And obviously, I got to do a whole bunch of things that I’m not sure I ever would have gotten to do if I didn’t go to the bubble. My first sidelines was in the bubble. I was on SportsCenter, getting those reps in the bubble. We were our own camera and production, between the one producer and myself. So learning what all of the people behind the scenes do, being that two man band, how often do you get that at a national network?

That’s a really interesting insight, that the players respect you for being dedicated to your craft in the way they are to their craft, and that the bubble made that tangible in a way it may not be otherwise.

So many players get uprooted. They get traded. And so when they see you move around with them, when they see you uproot with them—how many experiences does a five-foot-seven woman share with a six-foot-seven NBA player? Not that many. This is one that only a couple hundred people in the world went through. So we always have that touchstone. Also, it was a scary time—dealing with coronavirus together. Because of our health, we were literally leaning on each other in a different way than I would have ever experienced otherwise.

Is there a moment, story, or memory you have that most stands out to you as signifying what your time in the bubble was like?

It’s hard not to think about the bubble and think about the Bucks’ wildcat strike. I had covered the Milwaukee Bucks the season prior, as a beat reporter. So to have the racial conversations we were having in this country come to a head, and to have it be with a team that I know so well, to be able to have these side conversations with players and coaches to understand better what was happening, to be wrestling with your own feelings about what was going on in the world—which all of us were insulated from to some degree because we were inside this bubble—I think [it was] all of that coming to a head. I tried to cover that with care and concern, but also a loyalty to the people watching, to help them understand the facts of the situation.

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