ESPN has benched Rachel Nichols for its coverage of the NBA Finals, following the uproar for her comments regarding Maria Taylor in 2020, where she suggested Taylor was picked over her to cover last year’s NBA Finals because of her race.
Malika Andrews will serve as the sideline reporter during the 2021 Finals; Nichols had held that position throughout the playoffs as part of ESPN’s top broadcast team with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. Nichols will still host her daily ESPN show “The Jump” on-site during the series.
Taylor will host the pre-game and halftime studio coverage, as she’s done all postseason. The NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns tip off Tuesday night from Phoenix on ABC.
“We believe this is best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals. Rachel will continue to host ‘The Jump,’” ESPN said in a statement.
Nichols opened “The Jump” on Monday by saying, although she didn’t want to make herself the story, she brought up the elephant in the room. “But I also don’t want to let this moment pass without saying how much I respect, how much I value our colleagues here at ESPN. How deeply, deeply sorry I am for disappointing those I hurt, particularly Maria Taylor, and how grateful I am to be a part of this team.”
In July 2020, a tape leaked of a conversation between Nichols and LeBron James’ advisor Adam Mendelsohn. In the conversation — which was accidentally recorded and uploaded to ESPN’s servers because Nichols forgot to turn her video camera off — 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.
Her comments still made waves, as The New York Times reported on Sunday that several of the company’s top NBA analysts had considered boycotting this year’s playoffs over how ESPN handled the situation.
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 prerecorded 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 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.”