NBA Rumor: ESPN Drama

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“We mutually agreed that this approach regarding our NBA coverage was best for all concerned,” ESPN Senior VP/Production David Roberts said in a statement emailed to SBJ. “Rachel is an excellent reporter, host and journalist, and we thank her for her many contributions to our NBA content.” Roberts took over as the production exec overseeing ESPN’s NBA coverage two weeks ago, and this marks his first big move to reset how the network covers the NBA. Many more changes are coming, particularly on the studio side, sources said.

The move comes about a year after a private conversation that Nichols had with sports PR exec Adam Mendelsohn, when the NBA host complained that Maria Taylor was chosen to host “NBA Countdown” during the NBA Finals because of the color of her skin. Unbeknownst to Nichols, the comments were recorded and distributed among several ESPN employees. Details of the conversation and the subsequent fallout were reported by the N.Y. Times earlier this summer. Taylor has since left the network, agreeing to a deal with NBC Sports.

Maria Taylor headed to NBC?

Maria Taylor and ESPN are divorcing — and she is headed to NBC and will cover the Olympics, The Post has learned. Taylor, 34, leaves ESPN just weeks after the existence of a year-old private recording of leaked comments was reported by the New York Times in which fellow NBA host/reporter Rachel Nichols alleged ESPN gave Taylor the Finals hosting job to make up for what Nichols described as the network’s “crappy longtime record on diversity.”

ESPN responded to NABJ but did not address Nichols’s behavior directly. “We’re proud to lead the sports media industry in making significant progress to develop and place diverse talent on-air and in key leadership positions,” an ESPN spokesperson said, per the release. “Diversity, inclusion and equity are top priorities at ESPN. We recognize more work needs to be done, and we will continue our commitment to creating a culture that reflects our values. Our partnership with NABJ is an integral part of that commitment.”

ESPN had noted Tuesday that Nichols would continue hosting her show “The Jump” on weekdays during the Finals from the sites of the games. “We believe this is [the] 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 Tuesday. That may be true, from now on, but it was not the case hours after Tuesday’s announcement. Instead, “The Jump,” and Nichols, failed to appear as scheduled.

Perkins and Jefferson, however, also acknowledged the fact that Nichols’ actions had adverse effects, especially on Taylor. While they gave their support to Nichols, they also addressed the issue at large, with Perkins saying everyone should be more responsible. “I also know Maria Taylor. She’s a great person as well, very, very talented, hardworking, and I also feel like she deserves every opportunity that’s presented in her way. My only hope is we have a commitment to support each other through this process.”

Nichols on that tape suggested Taylor was awarded that gig to Nichols’ disadvantage because Taylor is Black — and because ESPN was under pressure to have more racial diversity in its lineup of on-air talent. In his first comments on the statements about Black Lives Matter and Me Too, Mendelsohn told CNBC, “I made a stupid, careless comment rooted in privilege and I am sincerely sorry.” “I shouldn’t have said it or even thought it,” Mendelsohn said in an email. “I work to support these movements and know that the people affected by these issues never get to be exhausted or have nothing left. I have to continue to check my privilege and work to be a better ally.”

The Times reported that he told the newspaper for its article, “I will share what I believed then and still believe to be true. Maria [Taylor] deserved and earned the position, and Rachel [Nichols] must respect it.” “Maria deserved it because of her work, and ESPN recognized that like many people and companies in America, they must intentionally change,” Mendelsohn said. “Just because Maria got the job does not mean Rachel shouldn’t get paid what she deserves. Rachel and Maria should not be forced into a zero-sum game by ESPN, and Rachel needed to call them out.”

Coach Rick Carlisle should have his staff rounded out within the next week, and there’s a strong chance that Calbert Cheaney will remain with the Indiana Pacers, a league source familiar with the situation told IndyStar. As the N.B.A. playoffs started in May, the stars of ESPN’s marquee basketball show, “NBA Countdown,” discussed whether they would refuse to appear on it. 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.

It had declined to discipline Nichols despite fury throughout the company over her remark, which she made during a phone conversation nearly a year ago after learning that she would not host coverage during the 2020 N.B.A. finals, as she had been expecting. “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.”

ESPN has been trying, and often failing, to deal with the scandal for months. But a fast-approaching deadline is forcing the network to show at least some of its cards. Taylor’s contract expires during the N.B.A. finals, which start on Tuesday between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks, yet few substantive steps have been taken toward a new deal even though Pitaro has identified Taylor as one of ESPN’s rising stars. Whether or not ESPN and Taylor agree on a contract, the internal damage from the past year has been substantial.

In response to questions from The Times, Nichols said she was frustrated and was “unloading to a friend about ESPN’s process, not about Maria.” But she added: “My own intentions in that conversation, and the opinion of those in charge at ESPN, are not the sum of what matters here — if Maria felt the conversation was upsetting, then it was, and I was the cause of that for her.” Nichols said she reached out to Taylor to apologize through texts and phone calls. “Maria has chosen not to respond to these offers, which is completely fair and a decision I respect,” Nichols said.

Nichols said the recording of the video by an ESPN colleague was hurtful. “I was shaken that a fellow employee would do this, and that other employees, including some of those within the N.B.A. project, had no remorse about passing around a spy video of a female co-worker alone in her hotel room,” she said, adding, “I would in no way suggest that the way the comments came to light should grant a free pass on them being hurtful to other people.”

Taylor, who had recently gained widespread acclaim for her on-air comments about the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, was fed up because she had also been disparaged recently by at least one other ESPN colleague for speaking about Floyd. She told executives, including Pitaro, the company’s president, that she would not finish covering the season. “I will not call myself a victim, but I certainly have felt victimized and I do not feel as though my complaints have been taken seriously,” she wrote in an email to ESPN executives, including Pitaro, two weeks after the incident, which was obtained by The Times. “In fact, the first time I have heard from HR after 2 incidents of racial insensitivity was to ask if I leaked Rachel’s tape to the media. I would never do that.”
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Ben Simmons likes report of Damian Lillard wanting to play with him

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