Robin Roberts / Instagram
On an early Thursday morning in April, Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts slipped on her fuzzy green good-luck slippers for a rare live chat with basketball legend Michael Jordan.
Since March 25, Roberts has been hosting the show from her Connecticut home over concerns of catching COVID-19 given her pre-existing conditions. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2012. The slippers were a gift from co-workers during radiation treatment, and have become the go-to footwear for her new reality—interviewing famous people from a makeshift studio in the basement, often with help from her dog Lukas.
The virtual sit-down with Jordan, who plays a major role in ESPN’s ratings juggernaut The Last Dance, felt full circle for Roberts. She was an ESPN sportscaster back in the 1990s, and the six-time NBA champion is one of her personal heroes.
She began the at-home broadcast with a grin. “A moment we’ve been looking forward to sharing with you,” she said, “Michael Jordan!”
Turns out Roberts didn’t need the good-luck slippers. The interview—Jordan’s only one prior to the debut of the series—was a success: ten minutes of honesty from the notoriously closed-off hardwood hero. Jordan opened up to Roberts about the series and his time as a college athlete in North Carolina. He also praised his parents and brother Larry for being some of the biggest influences in his life.
“It means a lot to know that, even from home, I still have value,” Roberts tells ELLE.com. “I know a lot of people are feeling that way working at home, missing being in the office, missing their colleagues, wondering if they are still contributing [enough]. It meant so much to be able to get a rare interview like that, one that a lot of people wanted.”
Roberts has landed a number of big interviews during the pandemic, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Russell Wilson and Ciara, and Jennifer Garner. She says Jordan agreed to speak with her via video chat because she can “talk the [basketball] language and walk like an athlete.”
Roberts played basketball at Southeastern Louisiana University and ended her career as one of the school’s all-time leading scorers and rebounders. She became a sports anchor and reporter for WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1983, and joined ESPN (which is jointly owned by Disney and Hearst, ELLE.com’s publisher) as a sportscaster seven years later. She became well-known for her signature catchphrase, “Go on with your bad self.”
One of her favorite assignments was covering the 1992 Summer Olympics U.S. men’s basketball team, nicknamed the “Dream Team” for its stacked roster: Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, and, of course, Michael Jordan.
Roberts says Jordan was “always, always, always, always, always very respectful” to her. One of the “good” ones, she adds. “I have my horror stories of going into certain locker rooms,” she says. “When I came along there weren’t many women, and even fewer women of color, who were sports reporters. I was so grateful that somebody… [was as] respectful as he was.”
For years, Roberts was among just a handful of female sportscasters on network television. She’s also one of the only women to make an appearance in archival footage from the The Last Dance. “I think it’s very indicative of that time,” Roberts says. “[My] ultimate goal, was to work at ESPN and [I] have nothing but fond memories. It’ll be always a part of my DNA. But I had kind of hit a ceiling there in what I was going to be able to do. Some of that is reflected in the series, but again, you have to think about the time.”
After 15 years in sports, Roberts was hired by GMA as a correspondent. She worked her way up to lead anchor, and is known for securing major sit-downs with everyone from President Obama to Prince Harry. At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, she worried being homebound might prevent her from landing more exclusive interviews, but “luckily, that’s not the case,” she says.
“I miss being in the studio with my colleagues so much, and [at first] I was really reluctant to leave the studio, because I wanted to be there for our audience,” she says. “Thankfully, with the setup I have, we’re making it work.”