Many observers consider in-game coaching interviews to be of limited value, since players are answering questions at a time when they should be focused on the game. As a result, they may not offer deep insight into their views on the interview topics. Furthermore, players can lose their jobs if they fail to win enough games, often providing considerable distraction during the interview.
However, journalist Rachel Nichols felt these interviews allowed fans to connect to players when she said, “I think that making the sport more accessible to more people is a good thing.” She added that she was never particularly interested in the XFL, but she did like the access to players that journalists were able to get. The XFL is a minor league of American football founded in 2018 that’s currently scheduled to resume play in 2023. Nichols viewed the media as a conduit between fans and players, allowing fans to get closer to the game. She considered anything that provided fans with greater access to the game to be a good thing.
Nichols has covered major sports like football, basketball, tennis and the Olympics at the Washington Post for almost a decade. She joined ESPN from 2004 to 2013, during which she earned two Emmy Awards for her appearances on NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. She was also a sideline reporter for Monday Night Football on ESPN.
Nichols’ next job was at CNN and Turner Sports, where she created Unguarded with Rachel Nichols. This show aired weekly on CNN and had over a billion viewers. Nichols also reported on sports for TNT and TBS during this period before rejoining ESPN in 2016.
Most in-game interviews are inconsequential, according to Nichols. However, great ones do occur every so often, including those with Rick Carlisle, Greg Popovich and Brad Stevens. Nichols also found that her practice of preparing for these interviews ahead of time often paid off during her two decades of covering the NBA.
She became well acquainted with every player in the league during this period, as a result of talking to them year after year on The Jump. Nichols hosted this sports talk program on ESPN from 2016 to 2021, which primarily focused on the NBA. She intentionally took The Jump on the road to remain informed by direct sources, rather than staying behind a desk reading second-hand reports. Nichols strongly felt that talking directly to players was a requirement for having any sort of authority as a sports journalist.
The practice of regularly going to games definitely wasn’t the norm for an ESPN studio show at the time, but her close relationship with players provided her with viewer credibility. They provided clear evidence that she had been talking to these players for years, giving fans a strong buy-in to what she was doing. These interviews were just Nichols and a player having a conversation, without forcing anything.
She greatly favored a conversational style that consisted of just talking about basketball and felt these were her best interviews. She didn’t ask a lot of closed questions about who, what, where and why that are typical for journalists. Instead, she would ask a few open questions that would start an extended conversation.
Modern players are more prepared for primetime interviews, because they’ve grown up with cell phones that allow everyone to record video. Players from previous generations didn’t have this experience, even when they were skilled at providing interviews. For example, Magic Johnson was often interviewed by local news outlets, but even he wasn’t recorded on video every single day.
In comparison, today’s superstars have likely been in thousands of videos before they graduate from high school. By the time they’re in the NBA, they’re quite comfortable with giving interviews in front of the camera. They can be themselves more, which the NBA encourages.
Nichols was also capable of conducting hard interviews, for which she received consistent praise. She looked at these interviews as the process of asking the tough questions that were sitting in front of her. Nichols didn’t ambush her subjects and gave fair warning about the topic she was going to talk about. For example, she interviewed businessman Mark Cuban about sexual harassment allegations. Nichols was very open with Cuban before his interview on The Jump, telling him she was going to ask the tough questions.
Nichols believes the NBA understands better than the NFL that being straightforward is the best approach for celebrities to take when dealing with issues that could affect their reputation. They should allow someone to ask them the hard questions and answer them the best they can, allowing the press and public to move on. Nichols adds that these issues become bigger problems when you allow these questions to linger.
Learn more about Rachel Nichols here: https://whoisrachelnichols.com/