Malika Andrews seems too perfect. At just 25 years old, she is a lead reporter for ESPN in the NBA’s Orlando bubble. She has been on national TV nearly every day for almost three straight months. If she isn’t a star already, then she is an assignment away from becoming one. It all looks so …
Malika Andrews seems too perfect. At just 25 years old, she is a lead reporter for ESPN in the NBA’s Orlando bubble.
She has been on national TV nearly every day for almost three straight months.
If she isn’t a star already, then she is an assignment away from becoming one. It all looks so easy.
Everything, though, isn’t always as it appears.
As a middle-schooler, just 11 years ago, Andrews was, in her words, “angry, depressed and anxious.” While she may have appeared unbothered, her pain grew inside, an unseen enemy that warped her emotions and caused a tremor in her family. She felt unseen and it manifested itself in different forms.
She fought with her parents. She flunked out of middle school. And she suffered from an eating disorder.
These issues perplex so many families, and the Andrews were no different.
“It is not like x+y=z,” said Andrews, trying to answer how the problems developed. “It was just a feeling that something was not right. I can’t explain it.”
It was so confusing for her and her family. Her dad, Mike (a personal trainer), and her mom, Caren (an art teacher), were supportive and loving. There were family dinners nearly every night. Living in Oakland, they all bonded over the Golden State Warriors. Malika skied, rode horses and rock climbed. Her younger sister, Kendra, idolized her.
Malika, whose mom is Jewish, had a Bat Mitzvah. She was becoming a young woman.
With her outer shell firmly in place, it all looked so perfect. Inside, though, it was not adding up.
“I think I need some help”
By the time Malika was 14, it was about survival.
“I can’t even describe how hard that was to get through,” Mike said.
Malika shunned her family and stopped studying. She was kicked out of Oakland’s Head-Royce School in 8th grade. The stress led to sickness.
“It doesn’t really fit neatly into a box,” Malika said of her eating disorder. “I struggled with restricting and purging. It is not really anorexia or bulimia. It is more anorexia than bulimia, but it doesn’t fit super neatly into a box, which I learned through my years of treatment that more and more eating disorders don’t fit neatly into a box.”
Malika has always been determined, and that strength came through paradoxically when she admitted vulnerability. Malika stepped over the growing fissures in her relationship with her parents.
“I got to a point that I told my mother, ‘I think I need some help. I don’t think I’m going to be able to figure this out by myself.’” Malika said.
When Malika was 14, her parents sent her to a year-round therapeutic boarding school in Utah. It pained Mike and Caren, but it was what she needed.
She found herself again and recommitted to her studies in Utah. She even graduated early at 17.
“Now, I look at it as one of the best things that could have happened to me,” Malika said.
A young media sensation
At just 17, Mailka didn’t want to immediately go to college. She returned home to Oakland and worked at her zayde’s (yiddish for grandfather) civil rights law firm for a year.
The 9-to-5:30 cubicle grind convinced her she wanted to have a job more like her parents. Their passions were their work.
Malika went to the University of Portland, but did not know exactly what she wanted to be. She chose to study communications to avoid math.
From there, she made friends who happened to be on the school newspaper.
The only available spot on the paper was in sports. Her sister, Kendra, was already fascinated by the idea that she could be paid to write about athletes.
Malika was, too. She was good at it, even writing a story that forced the school to add padding around the soccer field walls for safety. She was amazed her words could make a difference.
She would become the sports editor and then the editor in chief of the college paper. She won a National Association of Black Journalists scholarship with the added value of being able to learn from reporters, like Marc Spears and Sherrod Blakely. She trained with the Sports Journalism Institute, which promotes the development of young journalists to diversify newsrooms.
In 2016, NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski would be on Portland’s campus one day to record a podcast with the university’s new head coach, former Trail Blazers point guard Terry Porter.
Wojnarowski happened to pick up the student paper, The Beacon, where he read a feature on Porter. The strong lede and the byline stuck in Wojnarowski’s mind.
A year later, after graduating from Portland in 2017, Malika would introduce herself to Wojnarowski at a summer league game and, to her surprise, he already knew her name. It was just the beginning. She was becoming a sensation.
“Did you ever think?”
Malika hop-skipped from a Denver Post internship to a New York Times fellowship to a Chicago Tribune job before Cristina Daglas, who heads up ESPN.com’s NBA division, snatched her up to cover the Bulls and Bucks. Soon after, she was moved to New York to cover the Knicks and Nets.
In late June, ESPN bestowed her with the daily on-site reporter job in the Orlando bubble. Even though she’s a writer at heart, she fits on TV, despite her lack of reps.
Back in Oakland, her parents and grandparents have ESPN on nightly, which is not unusual. They have watched Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy forever. The trio began calling the NBA Finals when Malika was having her Bat Mitzvah at 13. Now, Malika is their colleague.
“I still can’t believe this is happening,” her dad said.
Family is No. 1 again in Malika’s heart. That sister who idolized her is on the same career path. Kendra, 23, is the Nuggets beat writer for The Athletic. She is dabbling in some TV, too. Malika is a career mentor, helping with angles and offering advice.
“I’m not perfect now,” Malika said. “I don’t think it is something you are ever ‘recovered’ from. It is something I have to actively work on every day.”
Her mother thinks her work helps Malika. She is already known in the business for being serious and focused.
A decade ago, Malika was in Utah trying to figure herself out. Her relationship with her parents is renewed.
“My mother reminds me all the time,” Malika said. “My mother and I have a wonderful relationship now. She says, ‘Man, did you ever think? Did you ever think?’ I say, ‘I never thought.’”
On Tuesday, Malika Andrews, again at just 25, was the sideline reporter for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference telecast on ESPN. She is believed to be the youngest ever to receive such an assignment.
“It reads like an after-school special to me when I look at it objectively,” her mom said. “She was a sweet kid, had a rough spot and then was able to overcome it and is now on national television doing work that I think she enjoys.”