ESPN had to devise a new game plan for the NBA Finals.
The Disney-owned sports-media giant said it would move its veteran basketball reporter Rachel Nichols off sideline duties for the NBA Finals, slated to be broadcast tonight on ABC and feature the Milwaukee Bucks taking on the Phoenix Suns, and utilize Malika Andrews instead as it grapples with new scrutiny over how it handled a bizarre leak of Nichols on video appearing to disparage last year’s decision to use Maria Taylor in the 2020 Finals production.
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“We believe this is 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, referring to its daily basketball-news program.
Executives at the sports outlet no doubt hope the decision will put to rest a period of inner discord. In July of last year, Nichols was caught on video speaking to representatives of LeBron James about ESPN’s decision to have Maria Taylor host “NBA Countdown” during 2020’s NBA Finals. Her comments were recorded by a video camera she had left on and subsequently uploaded into ESPN’s system, where the footage was discovered and distributed by an employee. Nichols was frustrated that she hadn’t gotten the role, and suggested that ESPN’s interest in paying more attention to diversity was a factor in the decision.
During Monday’s broadcast of “The Jump,” Nichols said she was loath to make herself part of the story, but felt a need to address the issue, which has been exacerbated by a New York Times article on the imbroglio. “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 a part of this team.”
Andrews will be part of an on-air team that includes Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. The quartet will call the action courtside from Phoenix and Milwaukee.
Taylor will be joined on “NBA Countdown” by Jalen Rose, Jay Williams and Adrian Wojnarowski. The program will air on ABC half an hour prior to each game.
Approximately 300 ESPN staff and personnel will contribute to NBA Finals coverage.
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