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 high-profile talents, has left the company.
In an unusually succinct press release, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro acknowledged that Taylor “chose to pursue another opportunity,” but said he was “proud of the work we’ve done together.”
The departure has been expected since early this month, when NewsMadura reported disparaging comments about Taylor by one of her colleagues at ESPN, Rachel Nichols. Speaking to an adviser to LeBron James that Nichols didn’t know was being recorded, Nichols, who is white, said that Taylor, who is black, was given the role to host the NBA finals instead of her because ESPN- executives “felt pressure” about diversity.
The comments, made a year ago, festered within ESPN throughout the professional basketball season and sparked tension among staff beating the NBA before boiling over in May. On the first day of the playoffs, Taylor, along with her “NBA Countdown” on-air colleagues, Jalen Rose, Jay Williams and Adrian Wojnarowski, considered boycotting the show in response to a directive from ESPN executives they thought that Nichols benefited from it.
Some NBA players weighed in on social media, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was frustrated with how ESPN had handled the situation, saying he thought “ESPN would have found a way to get through it. Obviously not. “
Last week, Pitaro sent a memo to staff highlighting that Taylor had been selected to host “NBA Countdown” for the finals on merit alone, and said a future town hall-style meeting would address issues of diversity and inclusion.
Taylor’s contract situation loomed during the final. Negotiated years ago, the plan was for the deal to expire during the NBA and college football off-seasons — the two main sports she did for ESPN. The NBA finals were held later than usual due to the coronavirus, leaving ESPN in a pinch.
Taylor’s contract expired on Tuesday, the day the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Championship in Game 6. Executives feared the situation would get messier if they had to replace Taylor for Game 7.
But they were able to strike a deal for Taylor to stay with the company until the end of the finals, and ESPN executives kept trying to re-sign her to a long-term contract until recently.
No new destination for Taylor has been announced, but she is about to sign an agreement with NBC, according to two people familiar with the negotiations and not authorized to speak about it publicly. At NBC, Taylor could become the studio host for the NFL pregame show “Football Night in America” and the Super Bowl when it comes to airing it. The Olympic Games, tennis and horse racing are also possible at NBC.
Taylor’s departure could force major changes in ESPN’s NBA coverage.
At the very least, the company will have to pick a new host for “NBA Countdown,” the pre-game and halftime show, which has changed staff over the years in an ineffective attempt to recreate TNT’s widely acclaimed “Inside the NBA” or even his own “College GameDay”. It may also need to come up with a new production structure: Just before the season started, in late 2020, the senior producer who ran “NBA Countdown” left ESPN and the executive vice president above her was fired.
ESPN must also decide whether to return Nichols to her role as chief sideline reporter for NBA games next season. She was replaced during 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 for College GameDay, the side reporter of the college’s national soccer championship game, and covers the college women’s basketball tournament and the NFL draw.