We now know what’s next for Rachel Nichols. Nichols was removed from ESPN programming last August after more than a year of reporting and discussing Nichols’ 2020 comments on Maria Taylor in a phone conversation that was also recorded on ESPN servers, internal sharing and outside of those comments, ESPN’s own actions in the wake of it (including Nichols’ replacement with Malika Andrews as a secondary NBA Finals reporter for ESPN/ABC) and more. She officially left ESPN in January after reaching an agreement on the remaining year of her contract, and she has now landed with Showtime Basketball. Here’s more about it in a Showtime release:
SHOWTIME Sports® announces that veteran NBA journalist, broadcaster and analyst Rachel Nichols is joining SHOWTIME Basketball, the burgeoning content vertical that delivers cutting-edge, authentic and compelling content from all corners of the sport. As host and producer, Nichols will contribute to several SHOWTIME Basketball programs and projects across multiple platforms. The announcement comes as SHOWTIME Basketball’s hit video podcast ALL THE SMOKE WITH MATT BARNES AND STEPHEN JACKSON releases a revealing new interview, its first session since leaving ESPN in 2021, where Nichols talks about his journey in the media sports and what has led to this next chapter in his long 25-year career.
Recognized as one of the architects of today’s NBA studio television landscape, Nichols will contribute award-winning storytelling to SHOWTIME Basketball as she strengthens a cast that includes Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, JR Smith and the King of NBA Twitter Josiah Johnson.
“We are thrilled to welcome Rachel Nichols to the SHOWTIME Basketball family,” said Brian Dailey, Senior Vice President, Sports Programming and Content, Showtime Networks Inc. “Rachel brings unparalleled journalistic credibility, deep knowledge of our roster and a work ethic that takes us to another level.
“I’ve had the chance to live my dream job alongside some of the best journalists in the business for over 25 years, and this new development deal with SHOWTIME Sports gives me my widest playing field yet. “, said Nichols. “They asked me to produce, create and host new sports programming across all platforms, working alongside Hall of Famers, multiple guys with championship rings and an ultra-creative team behind the camera. We’re going to have so much fun.”
Showtime shared Nichols All the smoke interview (she is seen above during this) with AA before it was published. The full interview is now available:
For starters, Nichols talks about joining Showtime: “I’m so thrilled. For 25 years I learned to do what I love for work, which is also a little crazy in itself. And for that next step to be with Showtime Sports, to work with some crazy, cool, talented people that I look up to and respect in front of and behind the camera, I’m so excited to join you.
She then discusses her departure from ESPN:
“It all started very well a few years ago. We can go back to 2019, three years ago. ESPN gave me a new contract, I’ve been there before The jump, and in the contract was that I was going to host the NBA Finals. And you’ve known me for years, I’ve covered this sport for decades, the idea that I was going to host the NBA Finals, that was my dream job. It was my first time doing it. It simply meant the world. I mean, I personally called every executive involved to thank them. I was so, so excited.
“They put everything in writing in the contract, they put out a big press release about it. And one of the things I asked for in the contract was that any pre-game show that I did would be a continuation of our daily show, The jump. Because it was something we started together that I was so proud of, and I didn’t want there to be any confusion either. There’s a lot of politics at ESPN. And I knew the NBA Countdown work was always open, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to honk my horn NBA Countdown. I wanted to stay with The jump, it was important to me. And I thought making that distinction would really help things.
“And Maria Taylor ended up getting the NBA Countdown work. I really wanted to make an effort to welcome him, to open my door to him. I sent her flowers when I got the job because I was really, really happy for her.
Jackson then asks “What changed about the way you felt at work?” Nichols says: “Things got complicated later in the season. You all know that was in 2020. We had a pandemic. There was the tragic murder of your friend, George Floyd. There were a lot of difficult conversations with this country looking at itself and seeing what needed to change, what needed to be different. And The New York Times spoke in July 2020 about racism at ESPN and the lack of opportunity for people of color. And ESPN executives said, I think, about what people would expect, “We’d like to give people more opportunities, we’re continuing to grow,” all of those things.
“Around the same time I got a phone call asking if I would step down to have Maria host the NBA Finals and go back to being a sideline reporter. They pointed out it was my choice, they don’t They weren’t telling me to do it, because it was in my contract. But they were putting a lot of pressure on me. They were like, ‘Well, you’re not a team player.’ Which every business woman knows is a code, right? Women are supposed to be kumbaya, and team players, and helpful, and men are aggressive sharks, and all that? I I was just like, ‘Hey, I worked so long, decades for this job. I did everything that was asked. We put on some great shows before the playoffs. And I wanted a chance to do it. TO DO.
Nichols then goes over leaving for the bubble and the new gear she was using there, which led to her call being recorded and forwarded to ESPN headquarters (where it was eventually shared in internal and then disclosed externally).
“I didn’t realize that if you left a particular app running in the background, the line from my hotel room, looking at my hotel room, in Bristol, would remain open. So I thought I had I’m done for the day. I did what you would do on day one in a hotel room, I spent hours unpacking, called my husband, talked to my kids, I called some friends, talked to my doctor.
‘Unfortunately throughout this time no one at ESPN told me there was an open line to my hotel room that anyone watching the stream could see me. Nobody turned it off, decided’ Oh, she clearly doesn’t know she’s being watched unpacking, doing all that other stuff.’ And at least one person decided to sit down and watch me and start spying on me like I was their own personal TV show And when they heard something they thought was juicy they took their cell phone and they started recording my conversation.
The full interview with Nichols is worth watching when this episode is released. But this discussion above of his personal context for these remarks is particularly noteworthy. Much of it had been there in some form or way; for example, there were a lot of news stories about Nichols’ contract specifying her role as host of the NBA Finals, and ESPN was promoting it publicly when she signed that contract. But his particular discussion of the case is new.
And it certainly helps to have Nichols’ official perspective there. Viewers can factor this into the larger analysis of what she said, how it was seen (in particular, it’s significant that she admits her own mistake in leaving the app running, which should forever close the door to ‘hacking’ criticism some people have floated around, but still raise the questions she cites about the ESPN employee’s decision to watch and record it), how it was perceived and what it led to.
Nichols’ comments here don’t immunize her from criticism for what she said, but they do illustrate her side of this controversy in a more official way than we’ve seen to date. And viewers can always come to their own conclusions about her, Taylor, and ESPN’s handling of the whole situation. But no matter where they land on it, Nichols’ official comments on it have to be heeded.
As for his new work, the Showtime Basketball brand includes a wide variety of content. This includes video podcasts like All the smoke through documentaries like Kevin Garnett: Anything is possible, Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story, shut up and dribble, NYC Stitch Gods and more.
Documentaries air mostly on Showtime, both on linear and on its standalone streaming service (which can now be bundled with corporate sibling Paramount+), while many podcasts are available for free on the channel. Showtime Basketball YouTube and elsewhere. It will be interesting to see exactly what Nichols does with Showtime Basketball. And it will be interesting to see what reception she receives from the NBA world now that she has taken on this new role.
[Showtime Basketball on YouTube]
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