Rachel Nichols will not serve as ESPN's sideline reporter for the 2021 NBA Finals, the network announced. Nichols will be replaced by Malika Andrews.
News of Nichols's being taken off of the Finals assignment comes after a New York Times report detailing a conversation from last July, in which Nichols lamented ESPN reporter Maria Taylor’s increased NBA coverage at the network. Nichols also claimed in that conversation, which was with media and athlete adviser Adam Mendelsohn, that Taylor's additional responsibility was due at least in part to ESPN's "crappy longtime record on diversity."
"We believe this is the best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals," ESPN said in a statement Tuesday.
The network added that Nichols will continue hosting The Jump, ESPN's flagship daily NBA program.
"The first thing they teach you in journalism school is don’t be the story, and I don’t plan to break that rule today or distract from a fantastic Finals,” Nichols said, in a monologue that opened The Jump. “But 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.”
Taylor, who is Black, served as ESPN's host for coverage of the '20 NBA Finals, an assignment Nichols expected to receive, per the Times. In the audio obtained by The New York Times, Nichols said of Taylor that “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," Nichols added.
According to The Times, Nichols had reached out to Taylor personally to apologize via texts and phone calls. The messages have not been returned.
Taylor has been with ESPN since 2013. She is one of the network's lead reporters on college football coverage, and she began hosting NBA Countdown in 2019. According to the New York Post's Andrew Marchand, Taylor’s contract at ESPN expires July 20. The NBA Finals could end on July 22 if the series goes seven games.
ESPN reportedly offered Taylor nearly $5 million per year, up from her reported salary of $1 million per year, during negotiations last year. Marchand reported Taylor turned down the offer because she wanted to be compensated in a manner similar to analyst Stephen A. Smith, who makes $8 million a year.
Nichols worked at ESPN from 2004 to 2013. She left the network but returned in 2016.
The NBA Finals get underway on Tuesday. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. ET on ABC.