Expectations regarding ESPN’s coverage of the 2020 NBA Finals landed Rachel Nichols in hot water within her own network. Those comments, made public in a New York Times report published Sunday, have now led to a change in assignment for her at the 2021 finals.
Nichols will not be the sideline reporter for the Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks series, ESPN announced Tuesday. Malika Andrews will assume the role, while Nichols will continue hosting her daily NBA show, “The Jump.”
“We believe this is best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals,” ESPN said in a statement.
In a video recorded last year, apparently without her knowledge, Nichols told Adam Mendelsohn – a longtime LeBron James adviser – that she felt Maria Taylor, who is Black, was chosen to host pre- and post-game NBA finals coverage because the network was “feeling pressure” about on-air racial diversity.
Nichols felt the job should remain under her responsibilities, as companies like ESPN started assessing and addressing longstanding diversity issues. The video recording eventually made its rounds around the company.
“If you need to give (Taylor) 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,” Nichols said from her Disney “bubble” hotel room to Mendelsohn in an excerpt published by the Times. “Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.”
Those comments created a rift inside ESPN that involved insider Adrian Wojnarowski and Jalen Rose.
Nichols publicly apologized for her comments during Monday’s airing of “The Jump,” which she’s hosted since 2016 when she returned to ESPN after a stint at CNN and Turner Sports.
“The first thing they teach in journalism school is don’t be the story,” Nichols began the show. ” … 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 part of this outstanding team.”
Andrews, 26, has emerged as an invaluable asset to the company across multiple platforms (TV, podcasts, digital), as well as someone who can break news.
Taylor’s contract is set to expire during the finals, which will air on ABC beginning Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.