Friday on the NBA’s Florida Campus at the Walt Disney World Resort, the Miami Heat will face the L.A. Lakers in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, getting one step closer to the end of an exciting season.
While it all appears seamless to the outside world, imagine the complexity of managing a season in the “NBA Bubble,” juggling safety and health standards, all while never sacrificing quality.
In front of the camera and behind it is a team of ESPN women who talk about the incredible support they received from their teammates inside and outside the Bubble and about the admiration they have for one another.
Many express pride in working for an organization that provides women with critical and leading roles. Front Row asked these ESPN colleagues to share their perspectives on working during this unprecedented season.
In addition, Front Row congratulates Doris Burke for becoming the first woman to serve as a game analyst on a network television or radio broadcast this deep into the postseason.
Rachel Siegal, Ben Cafardo and Shakeemah Simmons-Winter contributed to this post.
Doris Burke, NBA Analyst
“ESPN’s willingness to put women in non-traditional roles – both on-camera and behind the scenes – has helped change sports television. It matters to ESPN to change the landscape, and although change may come slower than we like it, it has to start somewhere, and ESPN has been a clear leader.”
Malika Andrews, NBA Reporter
“The women who work at ESPN are some of the sharpest minds in the business. I grew up idolizing the path Doris Burke fearlessly blazed and admiring the tough questions Rachel Nichols asked. The producers we have in the ‘Bubble’ — like Malinda Adams and Andrea Pelkey — and editors we have overseeing our ESPN.com reporting, like Cristina Daglas and Lauren Reynolds, set our coverage apart. It’s an honor to work alongside them all.”
Also see: Malika Andrews on life inside the Bubble
Malinda Adams, Bureau Producer
“I am a bureau producer for ESPN. My role in the Bubble is bigger than that. Not only do I produce, but I am also the photographer, sound person, lighting person, technical person, coordinator, and Mama Malinda. The job is now three times as hard. You are hauling gear on and off and bus and into arenas. You are shooting availabilities, live shots, and features.
“Before COVID, we had a real photographer and sound person helping the reporter and me do that. Now, it’s just me and Malika [Andrews]. Malika and I started out covering 22 teams. It’s amazing that it’s down to two now. There’s no way I could have done this without Malika. Two women in the trenches together working side by side, day after day for the same common goal has been unique. For the two of us to blaze the trail in the Bubble for the other women that joined us was key as well. Being a journalist is hard, fun, and rewarding. There’s nothing like witnessing something in person and being a part of that moment. To be here in the NBA Bubble during this historical moment has been worth every sacrificial second.”
Patty Mattero, Senior Operations Manager“Preparing for a championship has such a different meaning this year – seven weeks of nonstop Zoom calls 24/7, literally, to plan a ‘mini Olympic city’ to cover multiple games across three arenas for approximately 14 weeks straight. And we’ve had to learn and implement health and safety protocols from cleaning every piece of gear/supplies shipped in, to how to set up a television compound to hold NBA, Turner, and ESPN productions while keeping social distancing in mind for every plan you make. I am extremely fortunate to work and plan this major event with the most dedicated, passionate Remote Ops Team, coupled with the great partnership we have with the NBA. Throughout it all, I’ve focused on providing leadership and guidance to my team. I’m very excited we’ve made it to the Finals.”
Maria Taylor, College Sports Host And Reporter, NBA Countdown Host“I am thankful that we are actually getting to work the NBA Finals in 2020. I am balancing college football interviews with Finals prep. But my only job on NBA Countdown is to make sure that my co-hosts feel comfortable and that I am setting them up to talk about the topics and storylines that they are most passionate about. I work with my researcher to review the numbers that will tell the story of the matchup, and I am constantly devouring the articles and information that our NBA writers are contributing. On NBA Countdown, we just want to bring positive energy and high basketball I.Q. insight to what we hope will be an incredible Finals.”
Ashley O’Connor, Director, Programming & Acquisitions“We started preparing for the 2020 NBA Finals the day after Game 6 last year. Of course, this year, that was a lot longer ago than a normal season. The constantly evolving NBA Playoff and Finals schedule has put a unique spin to preparations this year and made it even more important for timely communication across all areas of the business, including ABC and Pixar. This year’s Finals will not be easily forgotten.”
Cassidy Hubbarth, NBA Reporter & Host, Hoop Streams
“Not only do we have strong and highly qualified women in such prominent roles throughout our NBA coverage, but each woman has a unique voice and contributes their individual strengths towards a collective greater good. I feel proud that my voice and contributions matter on such a big stage.”
Also see: Cassidy Hubbarth’s NBA Playoff Chronicles
Rachel Nichols, Host and Reporter, The Jump“Earlier in the Bubble, the Toronto Raptors’ Director of Communications was recalling a particular playoff series back in the early 2000s, and how she, myself and one other reporter were the only women among the couple hundred media in the arena night after night. So to be reminded of that, and then turn around and see the way ESPN has put women front and center down here, is so meaningful. I look around this arena in Orlando now, in 2020, and see the great Doris Burke breaking barriers in the broadcast booth, I see Malika Andrews breaking news right and left on SportsCenter, I see our producers Andrea Pelkey and Malinda Adams, who are not only marshalling our coverage on-site but actually physically shooting so much of what you see from the Bubble, along with Jessica Shobar, who has been producing our upper-arena coverage.”
Cristina Daglas, Senior Deputy Editor, ESPN.com
“Preparing for the Finals involves a ton of conversation with writers and editors, making plans and then blowing up those plans to make new ones. It’s exhilarating because, for the only time all year, all eyes are on two teams. We can do some of our best and most innovative work, from reporting and storytelling to essays for television and postgame podcasts. It’s where you’re really able to see the power of this team on full display.”
Hilary Guy, Coordinating Producer, The Jump
“The women within the NBA project are always checking in with one another. In non-COVID times, Senior CP of NBA Countdown, Amina Hussein, and Cristina Daglas, who oversees all of our digital NBA and combat coverage, and myself all sit right next to one another in the LA Production Center. There’s a camaraderie and solidarity between us – even when we aren’t in the office – and we all have each other’s backs. This support is especially apparent now, as I am on maternity leave.
When I had my daughter on Sept. 5, in the middle of the NBA conference semifinals, Amina and our senior production coordinator, Andrea Fonseca, immediately stepped up to fill any holes in my absence. I trust them completely and I’m so grateful that during such a busy time, they are covering for me and ensuring that The Jump is in good hands. That’s the kind of teamwork and support any of us would give one another, even when everyone is slammed during the most important part of our year.”
Samantha Vanoni, Production Manager
“Everything we’ve done in the past – processes, etcetera – had to be revamped and rebuilt for the Bubble. Helping the group work through the new processes we created on a daily basis was extremely important. We also needed to ensure that everyone felt safe and secure. I’m excited to have contributed to a new normal where health and safety are at the forefront every day, and in every action.”
Judi Weiss, Senior Remote Operations Producer
“I am absolutely thrilled about the number of women here in Orlando who are in managing roles, as well as the NBA Broadcast Operations on-site management team, also run mostly by a strong group of females. Women have had a good mix of responsibility down here – from the technical to production, talent, operations. Senior Remote Operations Manager Patty Mattero is back in Connecticut, supporting the on-site team, though she was unable to travel down she has been all in on this project alongside our team. It is a mark of how the industry is changing and where our strengths are shining through. I am proud of the work we have done over the last 100-plus days on the ground, mixing a lot of strong personalities that meshed well together. We all brought our own skillsets and ideas, and this is what made everything so successful.”
Lindsey Hertel, Remote Operations Coordinator
“I only started October 2019 and the operations team here trusted me to take on large tasks and projects and executing them how I thought was best. It gave me the chance to work hands-on, ask questions when I didn’t know something, and also the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. Something I like to do for the Ops women is buying flowers weekly. It’s a little something to show my appreciation for their mentoring and guidance on this event. I feel supported when my team reminds me of the great job I’m doing here. It’s been over 90 days now, and emotions can be all over the place. When something doesn’t go exactly as planned, it can make you feel a little down. They have been my biggest fans and supporters over these last 3-1/2 months. They make me feel like I can accomplish anything.”