Last spring, I was connected with Molly Sullivan through a fellow athletics communications colleague who reached out to her after attending a Sixers game in Philly. Recently I had read a blog she wrote about being a female working in the NBA so when Eric told me he got her contact information for me and told her about SparklesandSports.com, I was so excited. Molly was awesome and so willing to do a Q&A for us. After months of back-and-forth emails we finally were able to link up because let’s be honest - when you work in sports, you’re always busy.
So, a little bit about Molly for those of you that don’t know her. She’s the courtside reporter for the Sixers on NBC Sports Philadelphia. She dives in a little to her career background throughout our interview but one thing I want to point out is that her path to sideline reporting in the NBA is unique. She came up through the entertainment industry and has a PR background. She’s also a mother to a beautiful little girl and I’d be lying if i didn’t idolize her shoe collection.
So shoutout to Eric Rhew for reaching out to Molly after a Sixers game last year and thank you to Molly for being so open, and patient, throughout our process.
As a competitive athlete your whole life, did you always want to pursue a career in sports or was it something that just happened as your career took off?
As a student-athlete, my favorite time to think about life after swimming was before a UNC home basketball game as the pool was literally down the corridor from the Dean Dome. So while Allen Iverson was in Philly talking about practice, I was in Chapel Hill having a similar conversation in my coach’s office. No joke. I would sneak out of swim practice to watch the broadcasters and production crew in action during their pregame. But it didn’t end there. Teammates still give me a hard time about some of the questions I would ask in the elevator to a member of their coaching staff, or while walking to the parking lot with a player, or the scoop I managed to pull from the athletic trainer and strength coach that both programs shared, or from their executive assistant that manned the entrance, or the replays I would study.
I’ve always wanted to talk NBA for a living, whether in a board room or on the baseline. Now as I enter my tenth year with the NBC Sports family, this will be my sixth full season reporting on the NBA, my first love, and for a city that has my deepest respect. But it hasn’t been entirely glamorous.
Prior to becoming the sideline reporter for the 76ers, I was the lone college basketball sideline reporter at my first NBC Sports regional network. The smartest professional move I ever made was pitching Steve Hurlbut for that role. I was their lone sideline reporter for college basketball because, well, I was told they didn’t have a budget for one, so I worked the regular seasons for gratis and for the experience. I did, however, earn a paycheck for working eight games in three days during the Mountain West Conference basketball tournaments.
Beyond that, my first paying job out of college was actually a double. From 9 to 5, I was a publicist for a PR company where I learned the other side of reporting. Then from 5:30 to 11, I worked as a TV news production assistant, where I edited packages, ran audio in the studio, wrote scripts and field produced for nightly newscasts.
Those 15-plus hour days helped set me up for a producer gig until my reporter missed a shoot and my boss told me to step in. So my first on-air gig went down because I was the only one at the location. My life altering lesson here was to always be prepared.
Next I moved from reporting on a weekly segment to hosting and producing my own weekly show which launched me into hosting my own daily half-hour show. In my spare time, I even wrote and published a book.
None of this experience was classified as sports, but without it, I wouldn’t be here today. Did I always want to pursue a career in sports? Without a doubt. Anyone who knows me well will tell you the same. It just took me a few years to find my niche.
When my agent first received the call from Philly, I panicked because I had my sights set on the NBA since I was four-years-old and didn't know if I was ready for what I believed was my dream job. With three days notice before my first game on the Sixers sideline...cue my girl, Nancy Sinatra:
'You only live twice, or so it seems
One life for yourself, and one for your dreams
You drift through the years and life seems tame
Till one dream appears and love is its name
And love is a stranger who'll beckon you on
Don't think of the danger or the stranger is gone
This dream is for you, so pay the price
Make one dream come true, you only live twice'
You feel me? My love, here, is the NBA. I was ready.
When your professional career began you were focused in the entertainment industry? What was that like? A lot of the readers on sparkles&sports work in the industry and often wonder what it is like on the outside. Would you like to share any insight?
I’ve learned to trust the timing of my life. Far better to travel well then to arrive. Growing up in Las Vegas, I cut my teeth in one of the few cities where sports and entertainment are genuinely intertwined.
My first reps in front of the camera were as an entertainment reporter but I often found myself covering the sporting events that were in town where my favorite assignments were NBA Summer League, USA Basketball and the staple of boxing matches that I was able to include in my schedule. Chasing Britney Spears and Paris Hilton around town in that stretch proved to be slightly different than a shootaround with LeBron prior to the 2008 Olympics. My first assignment for E! News was an exclusive sit-down with John Legend. Rather than focusing on his new album and dating life, we discussed college football and ironically even his time at UPenn.
When you love sports, like we do, you can’t turn it off. The key, for me, has been to find my own light and shine it on a working environment that allows me to grow. When your vision is clear it’s much easier to determine what you’re willing to sacrifice. Resiliency. Leadership. It was all developed through the power of sport.
When you were up and coming did you have a female mentor? Was it someone you knew personally or just someone that you looked up to and idolized? If you didn’t, why do you think the reason was. For me, the reason I began this blog with Katie is because neither of us had female mentors when we started working in college athletics. We had each other but there was never really anyone we could go to. Over time that has changed for me but it’s because I more so had to seek out mentors.
First, thank you for stepping up as a resource for women in sports. But I've never thought of myself as a female sports reporter. Just a sports reporter.
In regards to your question about a female mentor, my Mom first carried that torch. Surrounding yourself with quality people, not just women, is crucial. If you work hard, good things will eventually happen, but only if you watch closely, listen even closer and stay true to yourself.
I went from training with all guys as a distance swimmer to being the only female traveling with the Sixers. You’ll have people try to shake you. You may get overlooked or be underestimated. You’ll likely cross paths with dishonest people, those who have ulterior motives and are unethical. But you must keep moving forward. Build a circle of trust and hold tight to that circle.
Although female reporters are becoming more popular in the industry, there is still significantly a small number. What challenges have you faced being a female in this business? Do you feel like you are respected off the bat or is it something were you feel you need to prove yourself daily?
Proving myself daily makes it fun. Jordan once said that when he realized that someone could have been watching him for the first time, it made him play for that person. That’s always been my mentality as a competitor. I’m only as good as my last report or my last interview.
I don’t take myself too seriously, but I take my role very seriously. Growing up, my father would literally mute sideline reporters that he thought didn’t add any value to the broadcast. To this day, I work hard so the viewer doesn't press mute.
Trust is everything...as a reporter and in real life. The trick is to maintain that trust and respect which certainly doesn't happen overnight. As a female, there are a number of trailblazers who helped set the stage. I don't want to ever let them down. From daily interactions around the Association to being one of five females selected by the NBA to vote for the league's most outstanding performers of the season.
Going back to the core of your question, Olivia, I'm struggling with how to format that truthful answer you are seeking. Instead of using concrete examples, of which I have many, I will tell you this...always fight for what's right.
You’re a young mother now. Do you think that has changed your outlook on your career in any way? Do you have any advice for young moms or soon-to-be mothers?
Isabella has gracefully provided endless perspective the past 16-months. There’s a lot more I would like to accomplish professionally but Mom will always be the best title I will ever have. My advice for new moms or those soon-to-be is to stay connected to reality. I now quietly ask myself regularly if my daughter would be proud of how I handled a situation or if I’m living a life that represents the values I’m teaching her.
A lot of people change as their careers grow. Some change physically, some change emotionally. How do you remain true to yourself through the roller coaster of life?
Considering this roller coaster I’m currently on…The only thing I’m willing to bet on is myself.
Hey, we got this.