Sports

ESPN reomves Rachel Nichols from NBA finals duty after leaked comments

Rachel Nichols removed from NBA finals after leaked comments

ESPN has replaced Rachel Nichols as its sideline reporter for the NBA finals following a report detailing critical comments she made about Black colleague Maria Taylor.

The network announced Tuesday that Malika Andrews would handle that role starting Tuesday night when the Milwaukee Bucks meet the Suns in Phoenix for Game 1 of the best-of-seven-games series. Sister network ABC will air the game.

On the day of the start of the NBA FinalsESPN’s premiere daily NBA show was missing from the network’s schedule. Viewers who tuned in on Tuesday found the two-man team of Jalen & Jacoby, who are usually The Jump‘s lead-in. A subsequent Jump schedule spot was filled by the network’s Highly Questionable as reported by New York Post.

According to Post media columnist Andrew Marchand, “the plan is to have it on tomorrow.”

The changes in scheduling came just minutes after ESPN announced Tuesday that Maria Taylor will be hosting the network’s pregame and halftime shows for the NBA Finals. Those duties have been at the center of a controversy involving comments made by Rachel Nichols, host of The Jump, about Taylor potentially assuming the Finals hosting role.

The rolling controversy has now enveloped one of the network’s signature shows — on which Nichols already apologized Monday. Given that, it is unclear how her return might be stage managed. And with Taylor leading coverage of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns tonight, the timing is not fortuitous.

Likewise, ESPN also announced on Tuesday that Nichols no longer will be the network’s sideline reporter for the Finals, a position she held last year and during big games this season. That role will go to the network’s very capable NBA reporter, Malika Andrews.

Taylor’s ascension might put pressure on the network in another way, however. If the series goes to a seventh game, the New York Times reports Taylor’s contract with ESPN “expires near the end of the finals, and to date the two sides are not close on a renewal.” In fact, after being offered $5 million the host reportedly wants $7 million, a salary range the network reserves for its very top stars, such as Stephen A. Smith.

One ray of NBA Finals hope for ESPN is the fact that the Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo “has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable” for tonight’s game, according to Andrews. An epic performance by Antetokounmpo — or even just a good series — would go a long way toward redirecting viewers’ attention from the broadcast booth back on the court.

In a phone conversation that was accidentally recorded and the Times obtained, Nichols said: “I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world – she covers football, she covers basketball. 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.”

The Times’ report said the show’s crew was angry with Nichols, who apologized Monday while hosting The Jump.

Nichols, who has hosted the daily weekday basketball show since 2016, will continue in that role onsite during the finals. She returned to the network that year after working for ESPN from 2004-13.

“We believe this is best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA finals,” ESPN said in a statement. “Rachel will continue to host The Jump.”

Taylor will again host the NBA finals pregame and halftime shows, though the New York Post reported that her contract ends later this month and she had rejected an extension.

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