Malika Andrews Q&A: ESPN reporter on travel tips, rise, NBA postseason takeaways and more (2024)

National TV show host. Emmy Award winner.

Inspiration to women of all colors.

And she’s just 28 years old.

Malika Andrews has become one of the most recognizable sports media personalities in the country.

Since joining ESPN in 2018, the talented Andrews has gone from being an online NBA reporter to hosting NBA Today, ESPN's weekday NBA studio show – and doing State Farm commercials.

USA TODAY recently caught up with Andrews to talk about travel tips, her meteoric rise, NBA postseason takeaways, major WNBA storylines and the craziest answer she has received doing a live interview. Her answers were lightly edited for clarity.

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Looking at your partnership with Sling TV, you talk about travel tips. What’s your best travel tip?

Malika Andrews Q&A: ESPN reporter on travel tips, rise, NBA postseason takeaways and more (1)

MA: “Always bring a neck pillow. Oh my goodness. Those $8 neck pillows, they save my life. I get teased because I forget them so often when I go to the airport. My front closest that holds all of our coats and stuff when you come in the house, I have like 15 neck pillows all stacked up because I forget them so often. I’m like, I can’t get on this plane without one or my neck is going to be too messed up when I land. There’s nothing worse than having to work through a headache when you get into a place. There’s nothing worse than that. Besides having all of your apps downloaded, your Sling TV downloaded, your movies downloaded, whatever it is that you’re going to need on the plane, I’m usually working on the plane, I need the neck pillow. That is the most important thing to bring for me because I get so messed up if I accidentally fall asleep or something. I know I’m 28, but my body is actually 107. That’s very important to me.”

Having a snack at the airport is of high priority for Andrews, too.

MA: “What is it about airports that you’re always hungry? I won’t be hungry and when I get to the airport, I’m like, you know what, I need that Chex Mix. I need that, but neck pillow is No. 1. They don’t sound good any other time. You never walk into a grocery store and go, you know what I’m going to get, I’m to get some cheddar Chex Mix, and then you do it at an airport. Yep, this is for me. This is luxury.”

Your rise in this business has been amazing. You worked the 2021 finals, won an Emmy last year and you’re now hosting ESPN’s NBA Today. Clearly, a lot of work has gone into it, but how have you taken all of it in? Have you taken time to enjoy it or have you remained in the mode of, this is what you do, and this is what you’re trying to accomplish?

MA: “A little bit of both. I totally still have imposter syndrome. That I’m going to wake up tomorrow and it’s all going to be a dream and it’s all going to be gone. My wonderful bosses are going to wake up and realize, oh, we didn’t mean to give this to Malika Andrews. We meant to give this to someone else. I still feel like I have so much to do and so much to prove and so much to improve. It’s hard to sit down and say, oh, look at what I’ve done just because I have goals and I have hopes for longevity and people that I’d love to with work and projects that feel are out of reach that I hope someday don’t, but what’s cool is to see it mirror back to me by my family.

“My grandpa, who has Google alerts set up for me even though I tell him not to because sometimes it’s not the kindest of commentary – to hear and to see it reflected back. I get to share things with them. My mother, she’s been saving and saving for a couch and to be able to buy her that couch. Small things like that really mean a lot to me and getting to share that with my family. It never gets old, my dad texting me. The sunglasses emoji, that’s his emoji, and it never gets old him texting me, ‘Mika, I’m so proud of you. I watched your interview with ___________. I watched you host this’ or his client – he’s a personal trainer – ‘told me he saw you doing that.’ My mother is a teacher. Her students are huge basketball fans and they run in from lower school and elementary school and they’re like, ‘Oh Mrs. Caren, Mrs. Caren, we saw Malika doing this,’ that’s so cool. That residual effect, that doesn’t get old. That is something every single time, this is really cool, and this is one of my whys.

“It’s not for lack of hard work. I know that I’m young and I know that there are certain privileges that I’ve been afforded. I’ve worked incredibly hard, but I’ve also been incredibly lucky. My dad has this saying, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than be good, but when you can be both, that’s when you get something really special. I’ve had both. That’s not something I ever take for granted because there are a million of incredibly talented people in this business and in other businesses that never get their shot and I am forever grateful that I got my shot, and I don’t take that for granted.”

These NBA playoffs have been crazy. What’s been your biggest takeaways?

MA: “That I should stop making predictions (laughs). I end up looking silly. I need to say to the world that (Kendrick Perkins) was right and I was wrong. At the (Feb. 9 NBA) trade deadline, this man was high on the Los Angeles Lakers and I said, ‘Yeah, they’re going to be better, but I don’t know,’ and he had them going to the (Western) Conference Finals and I did not. He was right and I was wrong and I own that. There’s a reason he’s an NBA champion and I facilitate the conversations with NBA champions.”

Andrews then acknowledged the “individual excellence” that has been on display in the playoffs.

Malika Andrews Q&A: ESPN reporter on travel tips, rise, NBA postseason takeaways and more (2)

MA: “We talk so much about parity and how great that is for the league and we’re certainly seeing that with teams, but the individual excellence we have seen in these playoffs. I know he doesn’t want to be called ‘Playoff Jimmy,’ but the impressive, dominant, ‘where has this been all regular season, this is why the playoffs (matter)’ and the best excellence of Jimmy Butler. The sort of causal excellence, if you will, of Nikola Jokic. You look up and he has a triple-double and you don’t even realize it and he’s throwing these outlet passes that are absolutely insane.”

“Like (Stephen Curry’s) 50-point performance (In Game 7 at Sacramento). Jayson Tatum’s 51-point performance (in Game 7 versus Philadelphia). I know it’s a culmination of what we’ve seen in the league over the last couple of years. This offensive explosion, we’ve covered it on NBA Today, but to see that in the playoffs has been just delightful. New faces, new players, new people on the stage alongside the Stephs, the LeBrons. I know for many fans for many years, the feeling was, basically, LeBron and Steph just had reservations at the finals and it was just a matter of what appetizers you all ordered to get there, but I’m enjoying this. I’m enjoying the individual delights and surprises along the way.

“The Miami Heat, the eighth-seeded Miami Heat have a legitimate chance. I’m not betting against Jimmy. Are you? That, to me, has just been great and what makes it fun.”

The WNBA season has started. Caught your interview with league commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

You’ve got Brittney Griner making her return, Becky Hammon’s suspension and talent in droves in the league. What are your major storylines going into the season?

MA: “There are four big storylines that I wanted to talk with (Engelbert) about. The sort of explosion of super teams between the Liberty (having Breanna Stewart) and the Aces (adding Candace Parker) and what that means to the league and how good that is for the league. I think we are at a time where there is just so much talent. I listened to Mark (Jackson), Mike (Breen) and Jeff (Van Gundy) on the (Game 2 Lakers-Nuggets) broadcast (Thursday night). It’s the 27th year (for the WNBA) and where the league is now. They kind of have all the building blocks. They have superstars, they have super teams, they have rivalries. This is the time to buy stock in the W. This is the time. If you haven’t already, you’re actually already behind the 8-ball, but this is the time. This is going to be one of those years that has everything. I’m really looking forward to that.”

Andrews then talked about Griner making her return after being detained in Russia for about 10 months and the WNBA suspending Hammon two games without pay after an investigation into allegations a player was bullied for being pregnant.

Malika Andrews Q&A: ESPN reporter on travel tips, rise, NBA postseason takeaways and more (3)

MA: “I worked with Becky. I have nothing but wonderful experiences learning about the game through her eyes and the barriers that she has pushed forward and down so that people like me can have a seat at the table. One thing that I think was important that the commissioner hit on in our interview was just that in a workplace with women, built on the backs of women, there are conversations that need to be had about respect that doesn’t necessarily have to take place in the same way in workforces that look different than in the W. They did an independent investigation with an independent law firm. I thought that was important that was unscored by the commissioner something that all of us can take away from is that piece of respect.

“The other two storylines are one, the fact that the W is one of the hardest professional sports leagues to get to have a long career in because of the limited rosters and because of the limited teams. We’ve seen so many high-profile big-name players cut from rosters in recent weeks and that’s underscored this need to have more opportunity. That goes back to what I said that this is the time to buy stock in the WNBA. Whether it’s expanded rosters. Whether it’s adding teams. Those things just don’t happen overnight, but that’s what I hope the future holds for the W just because there’s too much talent to let the No. 1 pick from two years ago not be on a roster.”

Charli Collier, the top overall pick in the 2021 draft, was waived by the Dallas Wings this week.

MA: “It’s a little bit mindboggling. We’ve seen No. 1 picks in the NBA have immense struggles for many years and some of those high picks, sure after a couple of years, they aren’t in the league anymore, but some of them are because they had the opportunity and the flexibility to be able to foot the bill while they were recovered or got the help or whatever it is that they needed. Markelle Fultz is the perfect example and a wonderful story. Freaking Joel Embiid didn’t play for the first two years of his career, but there’s an infrastructure there to support that and there’s not that infrastructure there yet in the WNBA and that’s my hope. That infrastructure comes.”

Andrews continued by talking about learning more and more about the WNBA from conversations with sisters Chiney Ogwumike and Nneke Ogwumike, who is the players’ union president. She wrapped up her WNBA breakdown talking about Griner’s return to the Phoenix Mercury.

MA: “We were a show that covered Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia very closely. If not daily, weekly. I am so, I don’t want to say impressed because it doesn’t feel like the right word, but what has struck me is the sadness, the sorrow, the worry, the fear that her and her wife went through for several months to then see the joy that she is able to bring at least from what we are able to see of her stepping out and speaking up and using her platform and playing the game and having a smile on her face and immediately returning to basketball, that’s strength is something that has stuck with me and has stood out to me through all of this. I don’t have a team because I cover the league, although Chiney, yes I root for you and I root for your success with the (Los Angeles) Sparks because I love you, I’m hoping that (Griner) can one, have a wonderful season, but two, go to all these arenas and feel the amount of support that she had throughout this process because really an entire country rallied around her. In the divisive state that we're all in, it is not often that you see that sort of united front and support.”

More:Andrews wins Emmy

Craziest answer you’ve received while doing a live interview?

MA: “I’ve had my fair share of moments. Patrick Beverley showing up in a Versace robe last year the day after he hit that shot for the Timberwolves (against the Clippers in the 2022 NBA play-in tournament) and he jumped on the scorer's table. He came on the show the next day just wearing the Versace robe, matching sandals and we’re like, ‘When you’d know you’d hit that shot’ and he’s like, ‘When I woke up.’ Now everyone says, ‘When I woke up.’ The whole image of he’s in this robe. The producer gets in my ear, you can’t see it, but he says, ‘Just wait until to see what Pat Bev’s fit is today’ and I was like, oh I can’t wait. I’ve had my fair share of those type of moments.”

Andrews later noted her ‘I’m fine in the West’ interview with Ja Morant, whose NBA future is uncertain after being captured on camera having a gun twice. The Grizzlies have suspended him from team activities as the NBA investigates the second gun incident.

MA: “I hope that Ja gets whatever support he needs right now because he is so much fun to watch play and to cover. I have enjoyed every interaction that we have had. So, I hope he sorts through whatever is going on with him right now and it’s a much more layered and complicated discussion J.J. Redick said on ‘First Take,’ and I totally agree with that, but he’s always fun.”

Then on a lighter note, Andrews talked about an interview with T-Wolves All-Star Anthony Edwards that involved eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos chips.

MA: “I told him that I never had them and he eats them by the bag. He’s like, ‘You’ve got to put your full hand in the bag. No napkins. This is a finger food.’ Those type of answers have always made me go, this is fun, and this is why we do this. As much as we have responsibilities to those serious stories, I’ve taken a pie, a literal pie, from Richard Jefferson. We’ve pied each other in the face. This is what makes it fun.”

Lastly, you talked about goals. I don’t know if this is one, but watching the State Farm commercials, acting might be something in your future. I’m curious how that’s played out for you being with Jake from State Farm and being in those commercials?

MA: “I’ve only had to play myself. I so admire Stephen A. (Smith), his ‘General Hospital’ role. I’m like, ‘OK, I see you, you’re doing it.’ I feel like my acting career, the first (State Farm) commercial we did with J.J. (Redick) and the coffee pot, if I was even mentioned for a supporting role in that commercial, I’d be happy. Originally, that was something that sort of built through J.J. and J.J.'s character. That was not an original part. We just saw what J.J. was capable of. We had such awesome people on that set. That was something that was just added in the moment. If I was even mentioned as a footnote in that commercial.”

State Farm has been in partnership with the NBA for more than a decade as the two have collaborated on numerous charitable efforts.

MA: “State Farm and the NBA have sort of become synonymous with one another. I’ve had so much fun in the spot with Boban (Marjanović) and with Perk and with J.J. and with Rel Howery. It’s something I look forward to now. It’s like, oh, what are they going to come up with next?”

Andrews concluded by saying watching the commercials is a way to turn her brain off even if it’s while on her Sling TV app cleaning up after one of her true loves – horses.

MA: “I’m always watching these games and you see these commercials over and over and over again, the same ones, some of them make me laugh out loud. They make me laugh out loud. Even the ones I’m not in. The fact that even they think that, oh, you could be a part of this. I don’t think I’m very funny. I’m a lot of things, I have a sense of humor, but I’m not quick with one-liners and things like that. The fact that I can be a part of this is awesome. The one with Chris Paul with the long shorts and Jalen Rose, that makes me laugh out loud.”

Malika Andrews Q&A: ESPN reporter on travel tips, rise, NBA postseason takeaways and more (2024)


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