ESPN said Wednesday that it is parting ways NBA Countdown and NBA Finals host Maria Taylor after failing to come to terms on a contract extension. The news comes a day after what has turned out to be Taylor’s final assignment: covering the deciding Game 6 of the NBA Finals won by the Milwaukee Bucks.
“Maria’s remarkable success speaks directly to her abilities and work ethic,” said Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman, ESPN and Sports Content, in a memo today. “There is no doubt we will miss Maria, but we remain determined to continue to build a deep and skilled talent roster that thoroughly reflects the athletes we cover and the fans we serve. While she chose to pursue a new opportunity, we are proud of the work we’ve done together.”
Taylor had been the subject of leaked comments made by one of ESPN’s highest-profile female hosts, Rachel Nichols, who was worried about Taylor potentially assuming the Finals hosting role.
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Because of a pandemic-shifted season, Taylor’s contract expiration date fell not in the NBA offseason, but in the heart of the Finals. That ESPN in a tough place, with the face of its coverage potentially leaving the network before the final Finals game, which would have been Thursday. The Bucks Game 6 series clincher last night saved the network that additional drama.
It can not escape, however, the difficult decisions that lay ahead. The network will have to replace Taylor as an analyst on College Football GameDay, as the college football national championship sideline reporter, the NCAA women’s basketball tournament host and as the face of the NBA pregame show. Nichols would have been the natural fit for the NBA gig, but after the recent controversy, that does not look likely. It’s also unclear whether Nichols will return as the main sideline reporter for NBA games. She was replaced during the Finals by Malika Andrews.
Multiple reports put Taylor headed toward NBC, where she could (quickly) take on some facets of Olympics coverage — stateside, apparently. Taylor, who covers college football as well, could also potentially become the host of the network’s Football Night in America, after Mike Tirico slides over to do Sunday Night” Football play-by-play in 2022.
Comment from Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman, ESPN and Sports Content:
Maria’s remarkable success speaks directly to her abilities and work ethic. There is no doubt we will miss Maria, but we remain determined to continue to build a deep and skilled talent roster that thoroughly reflects the athletes we cover and the fans we serve. While she chose to pursue a new opportunity, we are proud of the work we’ve done together.
Comment from Maria Taylor:
So thankful to Jimmy and all of my great teammates and friends at the SEC Network, College GameDay, Women’s and Men’s college basketball, and the NBA Countdown family — the people who believed in me, encouraged me, pushed me, and lifted me up. Words are inadequate to express my boundless appreciation, and I hope to make them proud.
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