On a special portion of NBA Today, ESPN host and reporter Malika Andrews was left holding back tears after hearing from three special guests.
“You’re always working,” her sister Kendra said; “you’re such an inspiration to me and so many young women, young people of color.” She was congratulating her sister on her recent Emmy win for Outstanding Personality/Emerging On-Air Talent.
There were also messages from Mike and Caren Andrews, who raised their daughters Malika and Kendra in Oakland, Calif., with a love for sports.
“You’ve managed to take a lifelong family passion and turn it into a profession. It’s just amazing,” Mike told Malika on NBA Today.
The two are now both part of ESPN's NBA coverage.
Malika, 26, has been with the network since 2018 and became the host of its newest studio show, NBA Today, in 2021.
Kendra, 25, previously covered the Warriors for NBC Sports Bay Area. She now covers the beat for ESPN and makes frequent appearances on SportsCenter and with her sister on NBA Today.
For each, a key path to their current roles was the same place — the Sports Journalism Institute.
Each participated in SJI, a program created in 1992 that is celebrating its 30th class this summer. SJI has roughly 350 alums, 21 of them now working at ESPN.
The Andrews sisters are the second set of siblings to participate in the program. The first were Bryan Lee in 1998 and his sister, Brenda, in 2003. They both attended Harvard.
The Andrews sisters’ experiences interning at major newspapers and learning from some of the most prominent sports journalists in the industry laid the foundation for the legacies they’re building now, but it wasn’t an easy start for either of them.
Malika was part of SJI’s 2016 class. She had applied in 2015 but was not accepted, something that fueled her desire to become a professional journalist.
“SJI was kind of the first time I experienced a big no in my career,” said Malika, who applied as a sophomore at the University of Portland. “It was the first time I wanted something in this profession and not had it been met with ‘yes’ but with ‘you need to get better and work harder.’”
She recalls a personalized note, which encouraged her to “keep at it” and reapply. The note was from Gregory Lee Jr, then an editorial director at NBA.com.
“In 2015, we had a very strong class (which included Zolan Kanno-Youngs, now a White House correspondent for The New York Times, and Cam Wolfe, an NFL Network reporter),” said Lee, a co-director of the program and senior assistant managing editor at The Boston Globe.
“It was filled with juniors and seniors,” Lee added. “It was not about talent for Malika; she had it then. I was originally rejected by SJI when I was a student. I always tell students: ‘When you get in, it will be at the right time.’ ”
Malika applied the next year and became the first person from her school to be accepted into the program. She interned at the Denver Post, where she covered a variety of sports.
“Just think, if she was selected in the previous year, she could have been in Denver and covered the Super Bowl that year. Malika could have become an NFL reporter, like Wolfe eventually became when he was selected,” Lee said.
Malika’s determination has helped shape her career path, a trait she shares with her sister.
“We come from a family of hardworking women,” Kendra said. “I take inspiration from my mother and all my aunts, but I’d say my grandmother is a main figure for me. She was a trailblazer, juggling law school while also being a mother. She was also the first female partner at her law firm.”
Kendra, whose brain processes letters differently due to dyslexia, does not accept errors in her tweets or stories. She won’t let a typo slide.
“You have to hold yourself accountable” she said.
Meanwhile, Malika still remembers who beat her in “sports check” at SJI, recalling her second place finish on the recurring current events quizzes given during SJI boot camps: “I’m a competitive person; I wanted to win,” she said.
The winner was Aaron Reiss, then a student at Missouri and now an NFL editor at The Athletic.
Kendra, who attended Gonzaga and was in SJI’s 2017 class, said she found the program to be “one big fat learning experience.”
Kendra says SJI and sports checks taught her to think creatively. For example, during timeouts, she always watches the huddle and stands closely. “You might find a new feature,” she said.
The sisters are often asked what they envision for their futures, but both say they stay focused on the task at hand.
Malika would be happy to see NBA Today run for 20 years, and she is working to create that reality.
“Women get ushered off the air in a way that men do not. Longevity, especially in this business, is really difficult,” she said.
Kendra is happy living her dream at ESPN: “In this industry it’s a pinnacle,” she said. “I’m good without some 10-year plan.”