Max Kellerman is expected to be removed from his longtime role as co-host of ESPN’s “First Take” in the near future, and it would stand to reason that Stephen A. Smith played a role in the decision. Apparently, Smith does not enjoy his on-screen debates with Kellerman.
Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports first reported on Wednesday that Kellerman is expected to be pulled off of “First Take.” According to Outkick’s Bobby Burack, Smith has wanted Kellerman gone for quite some time.
As Burack described it this week, Smith’s “disdain for Kellerman as a co-host is the worst kept secret in sports media circles.” Smith supposedly tried to have Kellerman removed from “First Take” when Smith was negotiating a contract extension with ESPN in 2019. The network did not accommodate the request but raised Smith’s salary to more than $10 million per year, making him the highest-paid employee at ESPN.
ESPN may not replace Kellerman with a full-time co-host and could instead use a rotation of in-house analysts and special guests to debate Smith. Kellerman is expected to remain prominent with ESPN as a boxing and MMA analyst. He could also replace Zubin Mehenti on the “Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin” morning radio show.
There is one person that Smith would probably love to partner with, but it’s unlikely that ESPN can make that happen.
LeBron James is about to enter Year 19 in the NBA, but he still clearly sees himself as the best player in the league.
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps polled ten NBA scouts and executives this week on a number of different topics. One such topic was “Who is the best player in the NBA heading into the 2021-22 season?” Brooklyn Nets star forward Kevin Durant and Milwaukee Bucks reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo tied for first place with five votes each. James, meanwhile, failed to receive even a single vote.
The Los Angeles Lakers star tweeted out an apparent response shortly after, thanking the panel for providing him with more fuel heading into the year.
James, who will be 37 later this year, turned in a 2020-21 season not far off from his peak production. He averaged 25.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.8 assists per game despite missing significant time with a high ankle sprain.
The four-time MVP has been widely seen as the best player in the NBA for over a decade now but obviously cannot remain so forever. James apparently does not think he has fallen off his perch yet though and will look forward to a season where many are writing off both him and his teammates.
Major changes could be coming to ESPN’s “First Take” with one of its co-hosts set for a potential departure.
According to Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports, co-host Max Kellerman is strongly considering leaving “First Take” after five years to focus more on his ESPN Radio duties and other TV appearances. Kellerman hosts the “Max Kellerman Show” on ESPN Radio, as well as a boxing show on ESPN2.
If Kellerman does leave, the network is not expected to bring in a new debate partner for Stephen A. Smith. Smith would instead likely debate other ESPN personalities or guests instead of having a permanent daily debate partner.
“It could be Stephen A. vs the World,” one source told Front Office Sports.
Kellerman has been Smith’s debate partner since 2016, succeeding Skip Bayless. There have been rumors that Bayless could return to ESPN opposite Smith, but his decision to sign a new contract at FOX Sports last year put that talk to rest.
Robert Griffin III still wants to play in the NFL, but the quarterback has landed a broadcasting gig in the meantime.
Griffin has agreed to a deal with ESPN, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media. His contract with the network includes an out that allows him to return to playing at any time.
RG3 has reportedly had multiple interviews with TV networks, and he has impressed executives. Two networks were said to be in a bidding war over him as of two months ago. ESPN apparently made the best offer.
It was previously reported that ESPN wanted to hire Griffin for both studio work and to serve as a color analyst for college games. He also may make appearances on shows throughout the week.
Griffin has expressed interest in serving as a mentor for one specific quarterback this season. He’s still just 31, so it is not out of the question that he will land a backup job in 2021. In the meantime, he has found a way to remain very visible.
Photo: All-Pro Reels/Flickr via CC-BY-SA 2.0
Maria Taylor finished hosting the NBA Finals for ESPN on Tuesday night, and that will be her last assignment with the network.
Taylor and ESPN both released statements on Wednesday announcing that they could not come to an agreement on a contract extension. ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro thanked Taylor and complimented her on her “remarkable success.” Taylor’s statement also indicated that the split was amicable.
“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,” Taylor wrote. “Words are inadequate to express my boundless appreciation, and I hope to make them proud.”
The statements came not long after Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported that Taylor is leaving ESPN to work for NBC. The 34-year-old is expected to be a part of NBC’s coverage of the Tokyo Olympics, which begin on Friday.
Marchand says Taylor could also become the host of “Football Night in America” when Mike Tirico takes over for Al Michaels as the play-by-play announcer for “Sunday Night Football.”
Taylor’s days with ESPN appeared to be numbered when she reportedly turned down $5 million per year from the network. She was said to be seeking Stephen A. Smith money, and we recently got a better idea of just how much that would be.
Then on July 4, a private audio recording was leaked to the New York Times of Rachel Nichols suggesting that ESPN stripped her of her contractual NBA Finals hosting role and gave it to Taylor to make up for their past poor record on diversity.
Marchand reports that Nichols will receive consideration to get her former job back as NBA Finals host with ESPN. Nichols illustrated with her recent social media activity that she has received a great deal of backlash over the Taylor controversy.
Stephen A. Smith is currently the highest-paid employee at ESPN, and reports have claimed Maria Taylor wants to join him. If Taylor is truly seeking to be paid as much as Smith, we may now have a better understanding of her demands.
Richard Deitsch of The Athletic reported on Friday that Smith currently earns $12 million per year at ESPN. That number was confirmed by Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, who says Smith has an $8 million salary and $4 million production contract.
Smith signed his five-year, $60 million deal with ESPN in 2019.
Where does that leave Taylor? Marchand reported last month that the “NBA Countdown” host and sideline reporter turned down $5 million per year from ESPN last year. She is said to be seeking “Stephen A. Smith” money, but ESPN has since reduced its offer to between $2 million and $3 million.
Agents representing on-air talent at ESPN are obviously going to start negotiations at Smith’s salary, but that does not mean their clients are going to get it. Smith is arguably ESPN’s biggest draw and serves in numerous roles. It feels like he is on the air constantly.
Taylor may threaten to leave ESPN, especially in the wake of the Rachel Nichols controversy. If she refuses to take significantly less money than Smith, ESPN will likely let her walk.
Rachel Nichols may end up losing a third role at ESPN after she was already removed from two, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver made it clear on Tuesday that he does not agree with the way the network has handled the situation.
While speaking with reporters prior to Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Silver called the situation involving Nichols and Maria Taylor “disheartening.” He defended Nichols and said people should be judged by “the larger context of their body of work and who they are and what we know about them” rather than a single comment.
Silver also questioned why ESPN let the issue simmer for so long.
“I think it’s particularly unfortunate that two women in the industry are pitted against each other,” he said, via Jason Owens of Yahoo Sports. “I know that both Rachel and Maria are terrific at what they do. They work extraordinarily hard.
“I think part of the problem is that when people can’t get in a room and talk through these issues — this seemingly has festered now for a full year. I would have thought that in the past year, maybe through some incredibly difficult conversations, that ESPN would have found a way to be able to work through it. Obviously not.”
An audio clip that was leaked on Sunday featured Nichols complaining that Taylor was given the NBA Finals hosting job over her last year. Nichols criticized ESPN for its “crappy longtime record on diversity” but said she felt she was more deserving than Taylor. You can listen to the audio clip here.
It’s unclear how long ESPN has known about the recording.
So far, Nichols lost her NBA Finals hosting job to Taylor and lost her NBA Finals reporting job to Malika Andrews. ESPN also chose to cancel Tuesday’s edition of “The Jump,” which Nichols hosts.
An ESPN host completely butchered Chris Evert’s name while talking on air Tuesday.
ESPN was showing a graphic regarding Roger Federer’s accomplishment of reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. The achievement marked Federer reaching his 58th quarterfinal of a major, which is the most in the Open Era.
Federer is ahead of Evert and Serena Williams, who are tied with 54 major quarters. The ESPN host was going down the list and called Evert “avert” rather than the way she pronounces her name, which is EH-vert.
That was embarrassing. Even Evert saw the video and thought so.
Evert is an 18-time major winner and was a longtime No. 1-ranked player in the world. You would hope that someone talking tennis on TV would know her name, but that wasn’t the case for ESPN on Tuesday. I’m surprised the same person got Martina Navratilova’s name right.
Rachel Nichols was slated to serve as the sideline reporter for ESPN’s coverage of the NBA Finals, but the network has removed her from that role in the wake of recent controversy.
ESPN announced on Tuesday that Malika Andrews will replace Nichols as the sideline reporter during the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns. Nichols will continue to host “The Jump.”
The decision comes after an audio clip that was leaked on Sunday featured Nichols complaining that Maria Taylor was given the NBA Finals hosting job over her last year. Nichols criticized ESPN for its “crappy longtime record on diversity” but said she felt she was more deserving than Taylor. You can listen to the audio clip here.
Taylor will once again host “NBA Countdown.”
Nichols issued a teary-eyed apology during Monday’s edition of “The Jump.”
Katie Nolan’s ESPN show “Always Late with Katie Nolan” has not aired in over a year, but the network has yet to make a formal announcement about it. As many have speculated, the show has been canceled.
Bobby Burack of Outkick was told by sources on Monday that ESPN quietly canceled Nolan’s show. The report comes after people noticed that Nolan changed her Twitter profile to refer to “Always Late” in the past tense.
Nolan signed a multi-year contract with ESPN back in 2017 that reportedly pays her around $1 million annually. Her show initially aired on ESPN+ and was responsible for a couple of viral videos and a Sports Emmy nomination. However, poor viewership resulted in “Always Late” being moved to ESPN2 in September 2019.
Nolan still has her “Sports?” podcast and makes regular appearances on ESPN’s “Highly Questionable.” However, Burack notes that her long-term future with the network is in question now that “Always Late” has been canceled.
You may remember when Nolan briefly made her Twitter private last year following a spat with Jason Whitlock. The profile is public again, and Nolan has more than 600,000 followers.