The 2021 NBA Finals are set to kick off in Phoenix, Arizona this weekend, but the most interesting moments of tonight's game may take place on the sidelines. With ESPN broadcasting the series, many viewers will be locked into their televisions as Maria Taylor and Rachel Nichols lead the network's coverage. However, a recent report from the New York Times suggests that Nichols may not believe that her talented colleague is worthy of the position.
Nichols' name began to trend on July 4 after the New York Times published recordings of a conversation between the ESPN host and communications guru Adam Mendelsohn. Nichols can be heard saying that Taylor was included in the network's NBA Finals coverage because ESPN was “feeling pressure” about its “crappy longtime record on diversity.”
“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols told Mendelsohn.
“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.”
As the New York Times report made the rounds on social media, many viewers and members of the media shared their disgust for Nichols' comments and support for Taylor's new career opportunities.
"Maria Taylor deserves every job she is given because of her ability. Period. Keep shining Maria Taylor," ESPN's Holly Rowe tweeted.
"Sending love and support to my dear friend, Maria Taylor. Maria has always been an advocate, a sister, and a gracious human being. The fact that she is an absolute star and generational talent is only the icing on the cake. Proud of you, black woman," Bleacher Report's Taylor Rooks added.
In addition to sharing support for Taylor, many took to social media to openly support Kayla Johnson. Johnson is the digital video producer who came across the video of Nichols speaking to Mendelsohn, sent it to Taylor and shared it with human resources. According to the initial report, Johnson was suspended for two weeks without pay and given "less desirable tasks" at work upon her return. To date, she is the only person that has been punished for this incident.
After facing criticism on social media over the holiday weekend, Nichols returned to ESPN to host The Jump. During the opening moments of Monday's show, Nichols spoke about the issue very briefly.
”I also didn’t want to let this moment pass without saying how much I respect and 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,” Nichols said.
While Nichols did talk about the incident briefly, the majority of the discussion was led by her colleagues, Richard Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins. Perkins told viewers that Nichols had a “great heart” and that Taylor “deserves every opportunity that is presented her way.” Jefferson added that the broadcast crew has has “difficult conversations during this time period.”
“Those conversations don’t end here,” Jefferson added.
“We will continue to have uncomfortable conversations. No one is excused. She is not excused, I am not excused, Perk… This doesn’t just go away. But we have to learn and understand it and become better for each other. And really through our actions more than anything. And that is our responsibility.
One day after the show aired, The Washington Post reported that Malika Andrews will take over Nichols as the sideline reporter at the 2021 NBA Finals. It is unclear what Nichols' role will be with the network moving forward.