How Rachel Nichols Jumped Into Breaking Barriers

Who has a resume like Rachel Nichols? Not many! The extremely talented journalist sports the Sun-Sentinel, Washington Post, TNT, TBS, CNN and ESPN on her portfolio. She worked her way up from a do-it-all reporter to show creator and host.

Nichols’ resume speaks for itself and stands next to anyone in the industry. The pint-size talent had no problem standing tall next to NBA greats. And she’ll freely admit that she doesn’t sit at the anchor desk with a buttoned-up and polished PowerPoint presentation. She’s real, extremely authentic.

Nichols parlayed her genuine style into one of the best weekday NBA talk shows ever. She created The Jump for ESPN in 2016. The show was built around Nichols’s vision. She came up with the title, and she pitched very specific ideas on how she wanted to do things when then-ESPN president John Skipper recruited her back to the network from Turner Sports.

“My elevator pitch for the show was ‘it should feel like you’re sitting around talking about basketball with your friends, but what if one of your friends was Tracy McGrady?’” Nichols said.

But McGrady was only one of many friends. She called on a Hall-of-Fame cast of characters to energize the show.

“The Jump” has had NBA legends such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Paul Pierce and Scottie Pippen on as regular guests but also prominently featured former players like Matt Barnes, Stephen Jackson and Kendrick Perkins. Jackson credits Nichols for his start in broadcast television.

Oh, you thought the list stopped there? Rachel Nichols also created one of the most influential and popular programs for basketball culture. And she found guests that had connections to the sport as fans:

“I don’t know if there’s another sports show that would’ve had President Obama on, but also Snoop Dogg, Rob Lowe, Adam Sandler, Ice Cube and Ric Flair,” Nichols said. “It’s a great example of the breadth and diversity of people we’ve got to have on.”

Nichols opened every show with a magnificent monologue. She covered everything from how a North Carolina (since-amended) law dropping protections against discrimination affected the NBA, to, to the oceans of sacrifice needed to capture an NBA title. The result was content that didn’t shy away from modern analysis of basketball and wasn’t afraid of in-depth conversations about social issues surrounding sports.

“I had no interest in doing TV,” said McGrady. “But I couldn’t turn it down when Rachel Nichols called my name. When I was first sitting at the table with Rachel doing the show, I was a little intimidated. She knows her stuff. She’s very knowledgeable.”

Originally pitched as a show idea by Nichols when discussing a return to ESPN in 2015, she envisioned a fun and loose atmosphere where a diverse set of former players, reporters, and cultural figures. It blossomed into must-see TV.

“We didn’t have a daily afternoon NBA show the way we did for the NFL,” Nichols said, “and I thought that was something that would really appeal to our viewers. I’m thrilled we had staying power.”

It also morphed into a year-round program that didn’t stop just because the season ended.

The Jump was live in China when the fallout from Daryl Morey’s Hong Kong tweet made worldwide headlines and put the NBA in what Nichols called a “tenuous position” with the local government. It was the only daily show at the Orlando bubble and was on the air live when the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted and sat out their first-round playoff game against the Magic in protest of August’s Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha, WI.

“That’s a real span of time and events and places,” Nichols said. “And to have the show grow into something that can do all of that and do the fun kind of goofy stories while also tackling really serious stuff, issues of social justice, issues of gender have been really important and something I’ve been very proud we were able to grow into.”

Rachel Nichols got an exclusive first look at the I Promise School, the Akron, OH school created by Lebron James. When Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban faced a NBA’s sexual harassment investigation into his organization, Rachel Nichols was his first interview. One of her proudest moments is when she got Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady to sit down together and talk about their career paths shortly before Bryant’s death.

Reporter Brian Windhorst was on the set when the show debuted, and countless reporters provided insight and analysis to make the show complete.

“When we created the show, we wanted to make sure there was a heavy reporter presence so that viewers felt they were always getting the latest information, especially considering how quickly news tends to develop in the NBA,” Nichols said. “In the time since, so many of the top NBA reporters were an integral part of what the show became.”

Nichols grew The Jump into a groundbreaking, ever-evolving show that kept up with the league happenings without taking itself too seriously. Her well-informed, well-thought opinions were a large part of what made The Jump the best basketball show on television.

She didn’t have to represent working mothers, or women covering sports, but she did. She was well-equipped and prepared to break down barriers. Rachel Nichols created an environment for her different panelists to feel comfortable and a show for viewers and fans to enjoy.

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