"Former NBC Sports Philadelphia sideline reporter." That's not a phrase Molly Sullivan expected to read this week after covering the Sixers for the past five seasons, especially as the network geared up for coverage of Thursday's NBA Draft.
But on Monday, Sullivan was informed she was being let go from her job covering the Sixers, a decision that has left Sixers fans, the Philadelphia sports community and national media pundits puzzled.
"I'm OK. I'm hurt. I'm crestfallen," Sullivan said in an interview. "It took less than a minute to be told I'm no longer part of the process."
Sullivan, who was hired as the Sixers sideline reporter during the 2012 offseason, said she wasn't given much of an explanation about why her contract wasn't renewed, other than the network decided to move in a "new direction" and was streamlining its Sixers coverage. Even with the backdrop of recent layoffs and high-profile exits at NBC Sports Philadelphia, Sullivan said she was taken by surprise.
"This was more than just an assignment for me. I'm genuinely upset and taken a back," Sullivan said. "I thought I would be here for a long time."
NBC Sports Philadelphia declined to comment. The network hasn't said much about the move, other than wishing Sullivan "the best in her next chapter" in a statement and confirming that longtime play-by-play announcer Marc Zumoff and analyst Alaa Abdelnaby would return to call Sixers games next season. It's unclear if NBC Sports Philadelphia will replace Sullivan on the broadcast, but it would be unusual not to have a sideline reporter during Sixers games.
There has been an outpouring of support for Sullivan from local and national sports figures ranging from beat reporters to television hosts. Colleagues, such as Derrick Gunn, called it a "sad day" for the network, while many national sports pundits were confused by the NBC Sports Philadelphia's decision to remove its popular sideline reporter after posting its highest Sixers' ratings in six years.
Scott O'Neil, the CEO of the Sixers, was among those who weighed in on social media about the network's decision. O'Neil, who joined the Sixers in July 2013, wrote that he appreciated Sullivan's approach to covering the team, which produced "honest, filled with high integrity and entertaining content."
Sullivan said the outpouring of support has been overwhelming, especially the calls she's received from Sixers players, coaches and members of her television crew. Though she wouldn't reveal what was discussed, Sullivan said the conversation she had with Sixers head coach Brett Brown shortly after she announced her departure cut deep.