Sports Broadcaster Rachel Nichols Reflects on Reporting During the Pandemic

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Rachel Nichols has spent more than 25 years as a TV host, anchor, and sports reporter. Despite her extensive background, nothing could have prepared her for the impact COVID-19 would have on professional sports. 

During the spring of 2020, the National Basketball Association (NBA) chose to have players from all teams play the remaining games of the season in Orlando, Florida. The NBA also opted to hold the playoff games for the 2019-2020 season in Orlando. As a result of this decision, 22 teams arrived in Orlando in July 2020, four months after a temporary pause to the season.

Rachel Nichols Has a Unique View of a Unique Season

As a former CNN/Turner Sports host and ESPN host, Nichols has a unique vantage point for the end of a season disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Fans who otherwise would have felt disconnected from what was going on in the NBA depended on her to bring them real-time reporting. 

The NBA only allowed a limited number of people into what it dubbed as the bubble to contain the spread of the virus. For Nichols, that meant she had to remain in Orlando and could not travel back and forth to spend time with her family between her reporting duties. She initially had to spend seven days in quarantine but felt that the sacrifice she made was worth it.

The few other members of the media who could enter the bubble also felt like they were part of something historic. When the delayed season finally ended with the Los Angeles Lakers winning the playoffs, it was Rachel Nichols who presented the team with their trophy. 

Nichols Hosted the Only NBA Show Allowed Inside the Bubble

Rachel Nichols created an ESPN show about the NBA called The Jump. During the early days of the pandemic, she was the only one allowed to air her show inside the bubble. Only a limited number of film crew personnel could enter the bubble at one time, which created logistical challenges she could not have imagined. 

Looking back, Nichols expresses deep appreciation for the producers who ensured the show got on the air despite extreme challenges. Filming staff had to remain at least six feet apart for social distancing purposes, and they were already working with a limited crew. Interviewing players before and after games also proved to be an enormous challenge.

Interviewing NBA Players from Six Feet Away

Under normal conditions, Nichols stands only inches away from players while she holds a microphone and interviews them. With the six-feet rule in place, both she and the players had difficulty hearing each other. Both parties to interviews did the best they could, repeating questions and answers as necessary so fans watching on TV could hear them clearly.

Confined to one square mile of space, Nichols found herself walking a lot between interviews and to give herself something to do during the time she would have normally been home with family.

Racial Tensions during the Summer of 2020 Contributed to the Challenges

Coronavirus was not the only thing dominating the news that season, as Black Lives Matter movement also took place. Among the deaths of Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Aubrey, Blake’s death hit the NBA and women’s NBA particularly hard. Because Blake was from Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks chose to show their support for the family by sitting out one game. 

Rachel Nichols was quick to dispel the story that the Bucks planned the sit-out in advance. As she explained, the players felt so overcome by emotion that the idea of not playing the first game after reporters announced the death of Blake just happened at that moment. 

Two Years Later

Now that the threat of coronavirus has subsided and a vaccine is available, Nichols feels that the NBA bubble was successful. She felt safe inside of it and honored that she could still do her job reporting happenings in the NBA to fans who would otherwise have no connection to what was happening.