Maria Taylor leaves ESPN after NBA Finals

On Tuesday, she hosted the NBA Finals for ESPN. The next day she was gone.

ESPN announced on Wednesday that Maria Taylor, one of the network’s most prominent talents, had left the company.

In an unusually terse press release, Jimmy Pitaro, the president of ESPN, acknowledged that Taylor “chose to seize a new opportunity”, but said he was “proud of the work we have done together”.

The departure had been expected since earlier this month, when the New York Times reported derogatory comments made about Taylor by one of her ESPN colleagues, Rachel Nichols. In a conversation with a LeBron James advisor who Nichols was unaware he was on tap, Nichols, who is white, said that Taylor, who is black, got the role of hosting the NBA Finals for him because ESPN executives “were feeling the pressure. “On diversity.

The comments, which were made a year ago, escalated within ESPN throughout the professional basketball season and caused tension among employees covering the NBA, before spilling out in May. On the first day of the playoffs, Taylor, along with his “NBA Countdown On-air colleagues Jalen Rose, Jay Williams and Adrian Wojnarowski, considered boycotting the show in response to a directive from ESPN executives which it says them, benefited Nichols.

Some NBA players took to social media and Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, was frustrated with the way ESPN had handled the situation, saying he believed “ESPN would have found a way to fix it. . Obviously not. “

Last week, Pitaro sent a memo to staff that pointed out that Taylor had been selected to host the “NBA Countdown” to the final on merit-only, and said a future town hall-style meeting would address diversity issues. and inclusion.

Taylor’s contract situation weighed on the finals. Negotiated years ago, the plan called for the deal to expire during the NBA and college football dead seasons – the two main sports she covered for ESPN. The NBA Finals came later than normal due to the coronavirus, putting ESPN in a bind.

Taylor’s contract expired on Tuesday, the day the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Championship in Game 6. Executives feared the situation would get more complicated if they were to replace Taylor in Game 7.

But they managed to strike a deal for Taylor to stay with the company until the end of the final, and ESPN executives kept trying to re-sign her to a long-term contract until all. recently.

No new destination for Taylor has been announced, but she is close to signing a deal with NBC, according to two people familiar with the negotiations who were not authorized to speak publicly. At NBC, Taylor could become the studio host for the NFL pre-game show “Football Night in America” ​​and the Super Bowl when it comes to the network’s turn to air it. The Olympics, tennis and horse racing are also reportedly options on NBC.

Taylor’s departure could force big changes in ESPN’s NBA coverage.

At a minimum, the company will need to pick a new host for “NBA Countdown,” its pre-game and halftime show, which has changed staff over the years in an ineffective attempt to catch up with the much-loved “Inside the NBA “from TNT, or even its own” College GameDay “. It may also be necessary to find a new production structure: just before the start of the season, at the end of 2020, the main producer who ran “NBA Countdown” left ESPN and a vice president above her was fired. .

ESPN must also decide to return Nichols to his role as senior reporter for NBA games next season. She was replaced in the NBA Finals by Malika Andrews, who previously worked at The Times.

Taylor’s departure leaves a void in other areas for ESPN. She is also an analyst on “College GameDay,” the secondary reporter for the College Football National Championship game and features coverage of the Women’s College Basketball Tournament and the NFL Draft.

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