Matt Barnes ‘couldn’t believe’ what ESPN did to Rachel Nichols during Maria Taylor controversy
Matt Barnes does not believe Rachel Nichols got a fair shake at ESPN.
Nichols was sidelined and later reached an exit agreement with the network after she was heard on a surreptitiously recorded call with high-powered sports publicist Adam Mendelsohn, expressing frustration that Maria Taylor would be replacing her as the lead sideline reporter during the NBA bubble playoffs in Orlando in 2020.
On the call, which was leaked to the New York Times, she bemoaned that the decision was being made as a result of diversity initiatives in the wake of the summer of George Floyd riots.
Barnes and Stephen Jackson’s “All the Smoke” podcast network, which includes their own show as well as one hosted by Nichols, is migrating from Showtime to Meadowlark Media, which is run by Dan Le Batard and former ESPN president John Skipper.
Barnes joined Le Batard’s show earlier this week to discuss the new partnership, and brought up Nichols as a mentor to himself in the media space.
3Matt Barnes said ESPN let Rachel Nichols ‘catch fire’ after the New York Times leaked a private audio recording. WireImageBarnes also had a role as an NBA analyst at ESPN at the same time he and Jackson hosted Nichols on “All the Smoke” last year and she publicly explained her side of the Taylor story in detail for the first time.
“After the interview, it went viral, everyone started talking about it and kind of hearing what happened,” Barnes told Le Batard.
“I got a call from the bosses at ESPN, kind of wanting to know my angle and why I did it. I explained, ‘Rachel’s been a dear friend of mine and she gave us a tremendous opportunity to learn underneath her, and she was always there for any questions we had along this space.’ When she told me what happened, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe ESPN and these other companies were just going to kind of let her catch fire and not speak the truth.”
3Rachel Nichols at the 2021 NBA Draft. NBAE via Getty ImagesBarnes explained that he and Jackson gave Nichols the chance to speak “her truth” on their podcast, and expressed happiness that Nichols has returned to the media mix.
This was a conversation between me and a friend, we talked about a lot of different things, Nichols told “All the Smoke” last year. He brought up the article that had been in the paper about the lack of opportunities for people of color at ESPN, and we started talking about how my situation may intersect with some of the race and gender history of a network that is well-documented and complicated.
The conversation in her hotel room was eavesdropped on and recorded by an ESPN employee, who heard it remotely because Nichols’ video camera recorded the call to a company server.
Nichols added, I have fought through a lot of things in this business to get to where I am. To me, it felt like, Hey, if you have a problem, if it is this article, if it is something else, whatever it is, why are you coming to the two women here to solve it?
Taylor ultimately left ESPN for NBC Sports.
I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world …, Nichols was recorded as saying on the 2020 phone call, became public about a year later. 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.
3Maria Taylor left ESPN for NBC Sports. Getty ImagesNichols’ daily show, “The Jump”, was renamed to “NBA Today” and she was replaced as host by Malika Andrews.