People take sides when it comes to in-game interviews. They either get a kick out of them or they look upon them as an unneeded distraction. But if you ask Rachel Nichols, in-game interviews serve a larger purpose; they serve the fans. And there are plenty of team owners, managers and, yes, even players who want to serve the fans.
Rachel Nichols is notable for her work in journalism and sportscasting. Working for either CNN, ESPN or another network, she has covered nearly every sports world imaginable, including the NFL, NBA, NHL, MBL, the Olympic Games and much more. In short, Rachel Nichols knows exactly what she’s talking about on the topic of sports interviewing.
“I think that any time the fans can feel a closer connection to the players, to the team, to the game—that’s something worth pursuing,” says Nichols. “It’s important to make sports more accessible to as many people as possible. And the media makes that possible through those in-game interviews.”
It’s true that most of the in-game interviews are just the same thing said by different players. Most players will say something about the other team’s strategy. Most will say something along the lines of, “I think we’re going to go into the second half with a lot of energy…” things along those lines. “But every now and then you get some memorable moments,” Rachel says. “And I considered those the golden moments.”
Rachel Nichols believes in preparation in order to get the “gold” in interviews. The diminutive reporter covered the NBA for over 20 years, and she did her research and learned as much as she could about every player during that time. She always made sure that she knew what she needed before talking to a player.
Take The Jump, her studio show at ESPN, that she decided to take on the road. “That wasn’t the normal way of doing things,” says Nichols. “But I didn’t feel like I was earning my place unless I was putting boots on the ground and really putting the sweat equity in.”
Rachel Nichols earned much more than information about the players she was interviewing. She earned street cred with the fans. When she would ask a player about their newborn baby or express sympathy for a recently lost family member, it wasn’t just a novelty comment to get ratings; it was clear that she cared. Over the course of her career, it was almost as if Rachel Nichols was part of the team. In the fans’ eyes, Nichols was as much a part of the game experience as the plays taking place on the field.
“Interviewing should just feel like a conversation,” says Nichols. “It should feel like sitting around talking about basketball, because those are the best interviews I did. A lot of the good interviews I did, I wasn’t even asking questions. At the end of every question, I’d bring something up and then they would jump in. That, to me, is just as good an interview as a who, what, why, or where question.”
Nichols feels that today’s generation of players are better prepared for in-game interviews than their counterparts of yesteryear. Many of them exude a poise in front of the camera that makes them a natural as far as interviews go, reflects Nichols. “You can tell they aren’t camera-shy,” she says. “A lot of them have done their own video work, either on YouTube or elsewhere, long before they even graduated from high school. It’s great, because it makes them more engaged during the interview. They’re less “deer in the headlights” and more “I’m ready for my close-up.”
Rachel Nichols is a good judge. After all, she’s not known for taking the soft approach. Never afraid to ask the tough questions, she was never known for shying away from the elephant in the room. If the team was getting crushed, she’d come right out and ask why.
This was one of the reasons why fans loved Nichols, too. It was often as if she was plucking questions out of fans’ heads while they sat there in their living room. She asked what fans wanted to ask. “The media is a conduit to the fan. The media is just the vehicle for fans to get access to the game,” Nichols says.
As far as the NBA compared to other sports leagues, Nichols feels like the NBA understands this better than some others. Says Nichols, “If you were in a situation where you messed up, that’s the smartest thing to do. Let someone ask you the tough questions, answer them the best you can, and then everyone can move on. It’s when all those questions are still lingering because you haven’t allowed anyone to ask them. That presents a problem.”