Internal ESPN Drama Over Rachel Nichols-Maria Taylor Video Becomes Public
The Maria Taylor situation at ESPN just got more complicated. Publicly at least. Behind the scenes things have been ugly for a while, according to the New York Times. A new report reveals that NBA Countdown stars Jalen Rose, Adrian Wojnarowski and Jay Williams, along with staff members, were prepared to boycott the show because ESPN had taken the side of Rachel Nichols in a dispute that has been boiling for about a year. Via the New York Times:
They were objecting to a production edict from executives that they believed was issued to benefit a sideline reporter and fellow star, Rachel Nichols, despite comments she had made suggesting that the host of “NBA Countdown,” Maria Taylor, had gotten that job because she is Black. Nichols is white.
This actually goes all the way back to the Disney Bubble. Specifically, when the NBA and its broadcast partners were arriving in Orlando to finish the '19-'20 season. While most people were still in quarantine, Rachel Nichols had a call with Adam Mendelsohn, the longtime adviser of LeBron James and Rich Paul. The call took place on July 13, 2020. That's where Nichols complained about losing her spot hosting NBA Finals coverage to Taylor and criticizing ESPN in the process.
“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.”
Remarkably, on July 15, Deadspin ran a story about the phone call. Someone had sent edited video to Deadspin, apparently leaving out the specific comments about Maria Taylor. Via Deadspin:
It is also worth noting that the videos were sent to Deadspin as an attempt to discredit Nichols’ job status within ESPN, and with the public at large, with the anonymous source texting our reporter that the videos would “expose” Nichols as a “back-stabber” and a phony ally.
As Deadspin pointed out at the time and the New York Times confirmed, Nichols was dealing with a new technology setup and didn't know she was being recorded and the call was being broadcast back in Bristol. Someone recorded Nichols' feed with their cell phone and ESPN has been trying to deal with this ever since.
Things have gotten more heated over the last couple months as Taylor has been negotiating a new deal. Last week Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported that Taylor had turned down $5 million a year and asked for "Stephen A. Smith money." After that report came out, Rose made the comment on NBA Countdown that Taylor deserved a raise.
Taylor's contract is up within the next couple weeks. With the NBA Finals possibly stretching past the end of her contract, it is unclear who will host coverage for ESPN if the series goes the distance.