NBA reporter Rachel Nichols back on ESPN air after one-day rest following Maria Taylor race furor

1 year ago

ESPN sideline reporter, Rachel Nichols reports the game during Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals of the 2021 NBA Playoffs on June 24, 2021 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California.

Jim Poorten | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

After an odd, ultra-brief hiatus, Rachel Nichols is back on ESPN.

Nichols, a white NBA reporter, returned Wednesday with her show, "The Jump," after an unannounced, one-day break amid furor over her race-related remark last year about a Black colleague, Maria Taylor.

"There's so much to talk about today," Nichols said without irony early in Wednesday's broadcast of the basketball-focused show, which began as scheduled from Phoenix at 4 p.m. ET.

Much of the NBA media world has been talking about Nichols and Taylor since Sunday, when a bombshell New York Times expose revealed details of a July 2020 phone call Nichols had with Adam Mendelsohn, the high-powered communications advisor to Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.

During that call, which was captured by a live video camera in Nichols' hotel room without her knowledge, Nichols griped to Mendelsohn about Taylor getting a coveted job hosting ESPN's pregame and postgame coverage of the 2020 NBA Finals.

Nichols had assumed that job would be hers, as part of her contract, and suggested to Mendelsohn that Taylor got the gig because of her race — and because ESPN, which is owned by Walt Disney Co., wanted to burnish its "diversity" credentials.

"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," Nichols said on the call, audio of which was published by the Times.

"Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away," she said.

ESPN reportedly never disciplined Nichols for the remark, which, like the rest of the conversation, was fed into the network's control room in Connecticut from her camera. A tape of the video began circulating within ESPN shortly after the call.

On Tuesday, two days after the Times article, ESPN revealed that Nichols was being benched from covering the NBA Finals.

Nichols had served as the primary sidelines reporter during the NBA playoffs, and it was assumed she would continue that job during the Finals contest between the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks. Instead, Malika Andrews — who is Black — got the Finals sidelines spot.

Taylor, on the other hand, was named as a host with other ESPN talent of the network's pregame and halftime show "NBA Countdown."

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.

And ESPN did not explain why she was a no-show.

Instead of "The Jump," ESPN aired two other ESPN hosts, Jalen Rose and David Jacoby, who appeared on their show, "Jalen & Jacoby."

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke up in Nichols' defense Tuesday.

Silver told reporters that "people recognize that people make mistakes, that careers shouldn't be erased by a single comment, that we should be judging people by the larger context of their body of work and who they are."

Nichols had apologized Monday during her show for the controversy over her call with Mendelsohn.

"How deeply, deeply sorry I am for disappointing those I hurt, particularly Maria Taylor, and how grateful I am to be a part of this team," Nichols said.

Nichols has reportedly reached out to Taylor to apologize directly but has been rebuffed.

Mendelsohn, who is also white, in a statement to CNBC on Sunday apologized for a comment he made to Nichols during last year's call.

He had said to her: "I don't know. I'm exhausted. Between Me Too and Black Lives Matter, I got nothing left."

In an email to CNBC, Mendelsohn said, "I made a stupid, careless comment rooted in privilege and I am sincerely sorry."

"I shouldn't have said it or even thought it," said Mendelsohn, who last year co-founded James' Black voter advocacy group More Than A Vote. "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."

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