Q: Your work in the NBA bubble was impressive. But was it difficult to be so isolated and away from your family?
A: Being away from my family was obviously the hardest part. I mean, you can’t just go back and forth. But that being said, the time there felt really crazy, productive and cool. Like you were part of history and part of something so big. Once you spend … seven days in a hotel room, once you get clear of that, you do feel really safe and protected. And especially the bubble in the fall of last year, when the coronavirus was raging, no vaccine in sight. And to feel like you were walking around in this really safe island. . . .
Q: You've had this show for five years, "The Jump," which is all basketball. But anybody who follows you knows you have a wide range of experience. About that Floyd Mayweather interview you did a few years ago — I don't think people understand how hard it is to talk to famous people and then to try to get famous people to actually answer your questions. And it was a fascinating piece of interviewing when you confronted Mayweather about domestic violence.
A: I can’t say that I would have necessarily brought it up just completely out of the blue in an interview that was supposed to be promoting a boxing match. But when he came out that week and talked about Ray Rice and sort of tried to make excuses for a player who punched his wife on a video camera, that to me felt like he had put it in the conversation. Then we talked about his history as well. . . . Sports is one of the few places left in America where you get a lot of different people gathering under one tent. And because of this, it’s really one of the few places you have conversations where people on both sides are in the same conversational bubble. It’s where stuff in this country is getting worked out a lot of the time.
Q: In the same spirit, we've grown up watching athletes interviewed at their lockers who just resort to endless cliches. You have such a great rapport with so many great figures. How do you break through?
A: I’ve been covering sports for more than 20 years, so these guys have seen me around, had the chance to see whether I am just showing up sort of quickly in and out or am I getting there early? Am I staying late? Am I bothering to go to the second practice? Once they see you do that, I think they’re more ready to have a real conversation. Then part of it is finding ways to ask questions that maybe aren’t the usual cliche questions.
Q: I want to ask you a couple of very nitty-gritty sports things. One is about Marcus Smart of the Celtics. He drives me insane half the time. And other times I say this guy's a genius, but does he need to shoot all those three-pointers?
A: I will say go back and look at some playoff wins for that team over the last few years. Some of those, he has had high percentages on his three. I am in on Marcus Smart. One hundred percent. The heartbeat he provides to that Celtics team. . . . You can be Steph Curry and hit the three-pointer. But then there’s a million little things in the course of a game. The way you stand, the way you elbow someone, the way you get in on them without the referee seeing or the way you do it with the referee seeing. He’s so savvy about that kind of stuff. So I love him as a player. I think there’s a reason the best people are the best.
Q: You spent years covering the Washington Capitals as the beat reporter, here, on hockey.
A: I was 22 years old when I got that beat and there was some resistance on the team. They never had a woman as their day-to-day beat writer before. And again, I want to make it clear I never experienced the truly awful stuff some of the women ahead of me did. What was really interesting was to see how through that preseason I was able to kind of break through. I remember that by my second year covering the team, there was some player who didn’t make the team even, and he was pretty explicitly bad toward me. But before I even had a chance to react, one of the other players walked over to him and said, “That’s Rachel. We don’t do that to Rachel.”