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Maria Taylor is leaving ESPN, network announces

ESPN said Taylor's last assignment for the network was her NBA Finals telecast during Game 6.
ESPN Analyst Maria Taylor talks before the game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns during Game One of the 2021 NBA Finals on July 6, 2021 at Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix.
ESPN analyst Maria Taylor before an NBA Finals game on July 6, 2021 in Phoenix.Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images file

Sports reporter Maria Taylor is leaving ESPN after she and the network failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension, the company announced Wednesday.

“So thankful to Jimmy [Pitaro] 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," Taylor said in a statement. "Words are inadequate to express my boundless appreciation, and I hope to make them proud.”

Earlier this month, the network announced that Taylor would return as the pregame and halftime host for the NBA Finals, which wrapped Tuesday night with the Milwaukee Bucks taking the championship.

ESPN said in its statement Wednesday that Taylor's last assignment for the network was her Finals telecast during Game 6.

“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," network chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement.

The departure comes weeks after Taylor's colleague, ESPN broadcaster Rachel Nichols, apologized for suggesting that Taylor was picked to host last year's Finals because the network was under pressure to address its "crappy longtime record on diversity." Taylor is Black.

"So the first thing they teach you in journalism school is don't be the story. And I don't plan to break that rule today or distract from a fantastic finals, but 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," Nichols began on the July 5 episode of "The Jump."

"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 outstanding team."

Nichols made the controversial comments about Taylor during a leaked phone call last year with Adam Mendelsohn, LeBron James' adviser, and James' agent, Rich Paul, according to The New York Times, which published excerpts of the call.

During the conversation, Nichols vented about Taylor's being selected to host the 2020 NBA Finals coverage. Nichols, who is white, had expected to host the coverage and was instead asked to be a sideline reporter.

"Guess what that would clear the way for? For Maria to do the hosting full time," she says. "I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball. 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. Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away."

The New York Times reported that Nichols unintentionally recorded the call on a camera that feeds video to ESPN's control room. The audio from the call was then recorded on a cellphone from the control room and shared with others.

Shortly after Nichols' apology, ESPN pulled her as a sideline reporter for this year's Finals and replaced her with reporter Malika Andrews.