This Brash Talker Is Out to Conquer Sports Media
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because, love him or hate him, Nick Wright demands attention.
By Matt Foley
After two decades of rocking a tight skin fade — including twice-weekly shape-ups on an undergrad budget at Syracuse University — Nick Wright did something crazy this summer: He grew out his hair.
“Everyone thought I was bald,” says Wright, the polarizing boy wonder cohost of FS1’s morning show, First Things First, kicking back in his Midtown Manhattan office. “We got a lot of tweets about hair plugs.”
No follicularly endowed man would accept such slander. So, when one of the loudest critics of Wright’s new do, Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter, stopped by the studio, Wright set out for vindication. Kanter’s verdict? The hair was real. Still, Wright’s root concern was about more than vanity.
In sportscasting, honesty is the foundation of any authentic connection with the audience. Bumbling hot-take artists traffic well, but long before his first skin fade, Wright set out to become the most well-known thought leader in sports talk. “That might be something that I’m chasing forever,” he says.
I would prefer to be your favorite, but second best is being hated.
So, when Wright’s credibility is challenged — be it on charges of excessive LeBron James stanning, false reporting or hair trickery — the only thing to tell is the truth. On this morning, that involves letting an NBA star ruffle your luscious locks. Three years into his television career, it’s self-deprecating moments like this that earn trust with viewers while helping Wright feel more comfortable on the set he shares with former NFL star Cris Carter and cohost Jenna Wolfe.
“I always err on the side of serious,” Wright says of his TV persona. “But no one ever got mad at funny. I’m working on that.”
At 34, Wright is a relative newcomer. In this era of shifting new media dynamics — where countless young personalities at companies like the Ringer, Barstool Sports and even ESPN have bypassed traditional channels to attain viral fame — you’d be forgiven for assuming falsely that Wright is another green millennial who was handed his role. A seasoned radio personality with an addiction to preparation — his office may have been carpeted in color-coded markers — Wright’s experience, good and bad and on and off the mic, far outweighs his age.
Born and raised in Kansas City to parents who “were from different worlds but stayed married” until Wright and his sister were teenagers, Wright decided to become a sportscaster when, at age 9, he realized he’d never make the NBA.
At age 12, Wright met the legendary sportscaster Bob Costas at an event in Kansas City. The precocious preteen asked Costas where he went to school (Syracuse) and what he did to become, well, Bob Costas. “Then I did the same,” Wright explains, maintaining correspondence with Costas along the way.
At Syracuse, Wright discovered a new professional idol: Colin Cowherd. “He does it at a higher level than anyone ever has,” Wright says. For a while, Wright struggled to be Cowherd, the master of winding analogies. But after being cut from the play-by-play staff at the student-run WAER — “I still can’t do those two-minute sports updates,” he admits — Wright went all-in on becoming a talk show host and ended up running the WAER sports staff.
Wright is, undoubtedly, not for everyone. He is eloquent, analytical and often measured in a way that’s foreign to many of his better-known peers, but his pointed assertions and bibliophile persona can also rub folks the wrong way. Whether he’s arguing that James is already the greatest basketball player of all time or illuminating how the NFL players’ protest has been twisted by politicians, Wright makes sure you get the point.
“There’s no one smarter and no one who works harder than Nick,” says Scott “Lazlo” Geiger, longtime radio host and program director at KRBZ-Kansas City, on which Wright regularly appears. “Sure, he steals all my shit, but he actually has the talent to make it great.”
This past April, Wright was named 2019’s Most Annoying Person in Sports Media by the sports blog The Spun. It was a shocking upset, with Wright taking down Cowherd, FS1 debate king Skip Bayless and ESPN’s jet-fueled jack-of-all-takes, Stephen A. Smith. He takes it as a compliment. “I would prefer to be your favorite, but second best is being hated,” he says. “The worst thing someone could say about me is ‘I don’t really care.’ ”
He can fill hours of time with radio-style monologues — which he still does, from 6 to 8 pm on SiriusXM 82 every day — but Wright is continuing to learn what works best for television. “[Wright] knows as much as anyone in this industry and still zealously inhales information,” says Wolfe, Wright’s cohost on First Things First. “He has become such a selfless player on set, believing the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
From an $8-an-hour job as a morning news producer in Kansas City, Wright climbed the rungs of the radio ladder. Along the way, he won $50,000 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and fell into a deep cycle of depression, alcohol abuse and gambling addiction.
Then he met his future wife. Danielle brought her two children on the couple’s first date, and Wright gravitated toward the role of family man and got out of his spiral. He’s since adopted Damonza, 19, and Diorra, 13. In 2014, the couple had a daughter, Deanna.
“I’m a 34-year old father of three putting kids through college and private school,” says Wright. “I’m here to work. If nothing else, no one is going to question that.”
Wright is at his best discussing the social and civil issues that frequently collide with sports. As the son of an academic and a firefighters’ union president, he’s pro-labor. As the father of a mixed-race family, he’s passionate about the role that race plays in society — and sports. “Race is the single biggest issue in this country and always has been,” Wright says.
For the kid who planned his rise to the top of the sports media world 25 years ago, it’s the only way he knows. “I know that this can all quickly disappear,” says Wright. “One day it will — but not because I was unprepared.”