Malika Andrews on the set of “NBA Countdown” during the Eastern Conference Finals last month. (Photo/Kohjiro Kinno-ESPN Images)
Malika Andrews on the set of “NBA Countdown” during the Eastern Conference Finals last month. (Photo/Kohjiro Kinno-ESPN Images)

The Warriors aren’t in the Finals, but Oakland’s Malika Andrews is

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When the NBA Finals begin Thursday evening, the Golden State Warriors will not be competing for their eighth championship.

They didn’t even make the playoffs this season, and the end of the Steph Curry-Klay Thompson-Draymond Green dynasty that brought four titles to the Bay Area since 2015 appears nigh.

Yet as the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics compete for the golden Larry O’Brien trophy, Bay Area Jewish sports fans will still have a local to root for: Malika Andrews, the Oakland-born host of ABC’s “NBA Countdown” studio show.

Like a deep Curry 3-pointer, Andrews has made a big splash in the male-dominated sports journalism world over the last few years. A former newspaper reporter, she worked the sidelines for ESPN during the 2020 NBA playoffs, which were held in a “bubble” at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida due to the pandemic. The following year she was tapped to host “NBA Today,” a weekday afternoon show that has grown its female audience during her tenure. In 2022, she won an Emmy in the “emerging on-air talent” category and became the first woman to host the NBA Draft. This month, for the first time, she will host the pregame, halftime and postgame shows during the Finals.

Oh, and she’s only 29.

“I knew back when we were studying for her bat mitzvah that she was a force to be reckoned with,” recalled Cantor Ilene Keys of Oakland’s Temple Sinai, where Andrews celebrated her bat mitzvah in 2008. “Even at 13, Malika showed a maturity that was beyond her years.”

Keys added, “I’d like to think that her connection to the Temple Sinai community helped to shape who she is and gave her the confidence to be the leader that she is today.”

Growing up, Andrews played volleyball and basketball and rode horses. She also rooted for her hometown Warriors (who played at Oracle Arena in Oakland at the time and now play at San Francisco’s Chase Center). She enjoyed watching Dubs games on TV with her parents — Caren, a white, Jewish artist and art teacher, and Michael, a Black, non-Jewish personal trainer — and younger sister, Kendra.

“When Malika and I were done with our homework, when my dad got home from work, when dinner was all cleaned up, that’s when we would hang out together as a family of four … watching the Warriors,” Kendra Andrews said on a 2021 episode of the NBC Sports Bay Area show “Race in America.”

Malika Andrews, who declined an interview request through her representatives, said on the same show that it was Kendra who inspired her to pursue a career in sports journalism. Today, Kendra Andrews also works for ESPN as the Warriors beat reporter.

“I like to say it was her idea, but I did it first,” Malika Andrews said at the time.

Although she moved to Los Angeles for her “NBA Today” hosting gig and her sister lives in San Francisco, they remain close. Malika referred to Kendra as her “best friend” in a recent Instagram post.

The sisters frequently appear on air together, which has led to some light-hearted moments.

“Is that my watch?” Malika asked Kendra after the latter finished reporting on the Warriors’ 2022 playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies. “No! How would I have taken your watch?” Kendra replied. The clip went viral and has been viewed nearly 20 million times on YouTube.

In an email to J., Caren Andrews said she is “proud of both of my children” and confirmed that she and her daughters identify as Jewish. She declined to answer other questions, saying she was too busy with responsibilities at the end of the school year.

While Malika Andrews has not spoken publicly about her relationship to Judaism, she opened up about other aspects of her life in a September 2020 interview with the New York Post. As a middle school student at the Head-Royce School in Oakland, she struggled with anxiety and an eating disorder. She was asked to leave in eighth grade due to her poor academic performance and was sent by her parents to a therapeutic boarding school in Utah.

“Now, I look at it as one of the best things that could have happened to me,” Andrews told the Post.

After graduating from that school, she briefly worked in the San Francisco law firm of her Jewish grandfather, Sanford Jay Rosen. Then it was on to the University of Portland, where she studied communications and wrote for the school newspaper, the Beacon. She served as its editor-in-chief during her senior year.

Following stints at the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, she was hired by ESPN in 2018 to cover the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves. At that time, she told the Beacon, she was the only female NBA regional reporter and the only woman of color covering the league at the network.

To what does she attribute her success? Hard work and networking, she said on “Race in America.”

“The dirty secret of this industry is that people gravitate towards who they know, and so I wanted to make sure that I was getting to know folks around this industry,” she said.

Stephen A. Smith, Malika Andrews, Chris Paul, Michael Wilbon and Bob Myers on the set of NBA Countdown during the 2024 Eastern Conference, May 27, 2024. (Photo/ESPN/Kohjiro Kinno)
(From left) Stephen A. Smith, Malika Andrews, Chris Paul, Michael Wilbon and Bob Myers on “NBA Countdown.” (Photo/Kohjiro Kinno-ESPN Images)

Rabbi Erez Sherman, the senior rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and the host of the “Rabbi on the Sidelines” sports podcast, said he appreciates Andrews’ probing interviews with NBA players. Over the years, she has sat down with the biggest stars in the game — Curry, LeBron, Luka, Jokic, Durant, Morant and Wembanyama, to name a few.

“She knows what the audience wants in terms of the stories,” Sherman told J. “She’s getting deep under what’s happening on the court, and she brings a depth of insight.”

In fall 2022, when NBA star Kyrie Irving found himself at the center of a firestorm after promoting a documentary with antisemitic tropes on social media, Sherman was invited to appear on “NBA Today” to discuss the situation. During the segment, he brought up the fact that Andrews is both Black and Jewish.

“Wow, you need to tell that story. You need to get us together,” he said, referring to Jewish communities and non-Jewish Black communities. Andrews smiled politely but did not respond.

Sherman told J. he hopes Andrews will share that part of her story one day.

“I love when [Jewish] sports personalities and entertainment personalities talk about themselves,” he said. “When people share about who they are, it often leads to deeper respect from the outside world.”

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.