Rachel Nichols is a well-respected voice in NBA circles. For the last five years, she has hosted The Jump on ESPN and steered the conversation on the Association, interviewing current and former players, coaches, and commissioner Adam Silver. It’s a long way from where it all started.
In a recent appearance on the All the Smoke podcast, Nichols detailed those early days in Chicago as a college reporter, including the times she attended interview sessions with Michael Jordan and never asked a question until he finally called her out.
Rachel Nichols called out by Michael Jordan
Before Rachel Nichols landed her first professional job, she cut her teeth in journalism school at Northwestern University in the early 1990s. Chicago during that time produced a boon for sports journalists, with the Bulls putting together their first of two three-peats.
When a green Nichols started attending Bulls practices, she understandably tried to blend in with the rest of the press corps, taking notes for her stories but not asking any questions of her own. That all changed during one session after practice when Michael Jordan went out of his way to get the cub reporter involved.
“I didn’t talk for like the first three or four practices that we covered,” Nichols told Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes on the All the Smoke podcast. “You’ve got this group of media around you with their little stuff, and I was just trying to not be noticed and learn and do. And by like the fourth time he just looked at me in the middle of a press clump of people and was like, ‘What, you don’t speak? Do you not speak?’ I was like, ‘Oh OK,’ and then asked my probably ridiculous question at that point because I was so nervous.”
Rachel Nichols rises to top NBA reporter
While Nichols’ first encounter with Jordan was an uncomfortable one, it was exactly what she needed. The now 47-year-old admitted that she remained “terrified” and took refuge behind her notebook during media sessions with Jordan for a time, but eventually grew more confident in her skills.
She graduated in 1995 and headed south, starting her professional career as a writer with the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. A year later, she headed up the coast and landed a gig with the Washington Post. She remained in D.C. for nine years before she transitioned to the broadcasting world and her first stint at ESPN in 2004.
Nichols worked at ESPN on a variety of programs, including SportsCenter, NFL Countdown, and Outside the Lines. She also had a recurring sideline reporter role on Monday Night Football. In 2013, she left the Worldwide Leader to focus on the NBA as a sideline reporter for TNT. She returned to ESPN in 2016.
Not afraid to ask tough questions
Those early days in Chicago covering one of, if not the most high-profile athlete in the history of sports in Michael Jordan more than prepared Nichols to ask any sports figure any question. And she has done just that.
In 2014, while working at TNT/CNN, Nichols grilled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, asking whether he was willing to surrender some of his power after admitting he had made mistakes in the past. She also asked him why the Atlantic City prosecutor’s office said they had not received any communication from the NFL after Goodell had suggested they had asked the prosecutor for information on the case.
Impressively, Nichols’ questions for Goodell came just a week after confronting Floyd Mayweather on his history of domestic violence.
Goodell, Mayweather, and any athlete or sports figure who has ever had to answer a question asked by Nichols knows that she pulls no punches. And they all have to thank Michael Jordan for that.