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Fearless: ESPN’s Rachel Nichols-Maria Taylor feud diminishes NBA star Chris Paul’s magical moment

Op-ed
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Don't be confused about the Rachel Nichols-Maria Taylor battle. This is clear as daylight. Nichols was caught in a private moment saying that Taylor was, basically, a diversity hire when she replaced Nichols on ESPN's NBA coverage. So yes, Taylor's credentials were questioned. But there are no innocent victims here.

This is pure deathsport.

Taylor and Nichols are two tough women using dirty tricks, pettiness, gossip, and back-stabbing to fight out this political battle for personal goals. And if you think Taylor had nothing to do with leaking the Nichols tape that supposedly victimizes her, well, then you need to catch up.

But you know, I'm already wrong about one thing. I said there are no victims. There is one: Chris Paul.

Nichols' and Taylor's blood-curdling fight, their co-workers' panic in the storm, ESPN management's wishy-washiness, and the media's cowardice — dropping Woj bombs in their shorts — are all balling up to hijack the NBA Finals from Paul, who deserves the moment.

It was stolen from him time and again over the past 10 years. So let's just forget about the Real Housewives of ESPN for a minute. Turn away from the crash on the ESPN highway and check out Paul. Give him his moment.

Paul had 32 points and nine assists for Phoenix Tuesday night in the Suns' 118-105 victory over Milwaukee in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. That came after he scored 41 on the Los Angeles Clippers to clinch a spot in the finals.

He is 36 years old, playing on his fifth team. And this is his first NBA Finals. He is basically a journeyman star, if there can be such a thing, without a championship.

We like to compare legacies, so imagine what Paul's would be if former NBA commissioner David Stern hadn't used his veto power in 2011. That's when the New Orleans Hornets tried to trade Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he would've been teammates with Kobe Bryant. Stern nixed the deal.

Imagine if Paul had spent several years as Bryant's wingman, he could've gone down as the second greatest point guard in NBA history, after Magic Johnson.

But Stern stepped in and put a stop to that trade — according to The New York Times — when several other team owners complained that the Lakers would be too good.

How many championships would Paul have won? What would we be seeing today, instead of a seemingly good guy and team player who is still searching for the greatness label that comes with winning a title?

Do you know what Paul did when Stern nixed the deal? He called an agent and looked for advice on how to plot against Stern. No, wait, that's Nichols' playbook. No, he sat on incriminating evidence, and then went public with it when … oops, no, that's Taylor.

Unless I missed it, Paul didn't pitch a fit or go public or start conniving. It appears that Paul handled adversity with class when he was denied something he wanted. He was denied something. He bounced around to several teams, looking for that chance at a title.

And now, in his first year with the Suns, it is within reach.

Paul's reaction to Stern's heavy hand is testament to his talent, confidence, and will to succeed.

Meanwhile, ESPN removed Nichols from her sideline reporting gig during the NBA Finals. Her daily NBA show "The Jump'' was inexplicably canceled for the day.

Although it's a bit hard to pin down exactly what Nichols did terribly wrong here, beyond gossip with a friend and expose her unapproved wrongthink.

On the call with LeBron James adviser Adam Mendelsohn, Nichols said that Taylor's race — she's black — played into her replacing Nichols on the show "NBA Countdown.'' Nichols called ESPN diversity hiring "crappy'' and said that if they wanted to fix that, they shouldn't do it in a way that costs her. If they hurt others? Presumably that would be OK.

Nichols was looking for advice on how to protect her space.

ESPN has known about this for a year and done very little other than, apparently, giving in to Taylor's wishes to not have Nichols live on her show. Instead, Nichols' appearances are recorded in advance so that she and Taylor don't interact.

So, exactly what is ESPN's stance? The company didn't take one until after Nichols' story went public.

Meanwhile, Taylor is trying to get a new contract with ESPN. Her current one runs out this month. She reportedly was offered $5 million, but she turned it down, wanting Stephen A. Smith-level money, meaning roughly $8 million. And while I don't know for sure that she leaked that tape, it sure seems probable, as it will now be hard to dump her.

You have to wonder: If any of these people — Nichols, Taylor, ESPN management — had Paul's level of talent, confidence, and will to succeed, would this version of Real Housewives of ESPN have a healthier storyline?

Chris Paul is the real story here. He's had injuries, missed games because of COVID, and yet he's on the brink of his greatest achievement.

"It's been a lot,'' he said. "I'm telling you.''

Here's hoping he gets what he deserves. In fact, here's hoping everyone gets what they deserve.
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