*Oops. When ESPN’s NBA host/reporter Rachel Nichols made private comments about the network’s decision to have Maria Taylor, who is Black, host the NBA Finals, we’re sure she didn’t anticipate them being leaked. Well, they were and now all hell’s breaking loose because of them.
The New York Times is reporting that several of ESPN’s top NBA analysts had considered boycotting this year’s playoffs over how the company handled the situation.
Nichols had a conversation in 2020 with Rich Paul who is LeBron James’ agent and James’ advisor Adam Mendelsohn. That convo between them leaked because Nichols accidentally recorded it by leaving her video camera on and it was subsequently uploaded to ESPN’s servers.
In the conversation, Nichols expressed frustration that Taylor had been chosen over her to host “NBA Countdown” during last year’s NBA Finals, suggesting that the network made the decision because it was “feeling pressure” on diversity.
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols said in July 2020. “If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity — which, by the way, I know personally from the female side of it — like, go for it. Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.”
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After the video spread internally at the network and was later partially leaked by Deadspin, Taylor told ESPN execs that she had decided to not finish covering the NBA season. She reconsidered, however, after the network agreed to have Nichols’ sideline reporting segments be pre-recorded and presented as if they were live so that she would not interact with Taylor on-air. NYT reported that Taylor believed ESPN broke its word when it aired live segments with Nichols even though they did not include interactions with Taylor.
This past May, as this year’s playoffs were about to get underway, ESPN NBA production management informed the “NBA Countdown” team that if Taylor still refused to interact with Nichols, then no other sideline reporters, including three Black women, would appear live either. The decision prompted an internal backlash from the show’s on-air panel, including analysts and former NBA stars Jalen Rose and Jay Williams, and ESPN’s top insider Adrian Wojnarowski, whom reportedly called Nichols a “bad teammate.”
After multiple calls between network president Jimmy Pitaro and the show’s panel, the restrictions were rescinded. But the damage may have been done, as Taylor’s contract is set to expire this month. The Times says it is “increasingly likely that those could be her last weeks at the network.”
Meanwhile, in a statement, Nichols said her comments to Mendelsohn and Paul were meant to be in private and that her frustration was directed at ESPN and not Taylor, per se.
“My own intentions in that conversation, and the opinion of those in charge at ESPN, are not the sum of what matters here — if Maria felt the conversation was upsetting, then it was, and I was the cause of that for her,” Nichols said.