Maria Taylor really enjoyed introducing Malika Andrews amid Rachel Nichols ESPN drama

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Maria Taylor joyfully embraced ESPN reporter Malika Andrews in her NBA Finals sideline debut on Tuesday night amid major drama at the network.

The “NBA Countdown” host was all smiles in her first broadcast since a leaked video over the weekend exposed white ESPN host Rachel Nichols’ for making disparaging “diversity” comments about Taylor, a black rising star at the network.

“Now it’s my pleasure to welcome in Malika Andrews, who will be on the sideline for the first time in an NBA Finals game in her career,” Taylor proudly said, while Andrews smiled wide standing near the court in Phoenix.

Earlier on Tuesday, the network released a statement informing Andrews would join the NBA Finals sideline crew in place of Nichols, who was removed from her duties.

“We believe this is best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the NBA Finals. Rachel will continue to host The Jump,” ESPN said before the Suns’ Game 1 victory over the Bucks.

Taylor did not address the explosive ESPN situation in the pre-game show. Her “NBA Countdown” co-hosts – Jalen Rose, Adrian Wojnarowski and Jay Williams – did not hash up the turmoil either.

ESPN canceled Nichols’ Tuesday episode of “The Jump,” The Post’s Andrew Marchand first reported. The network instead aired “Jalen & Jacoby,” and plans to return “The Jump” to television on Wednesday.

In the leaked audio clip, published by the New York Times, Nichols can be heard discussing her ESPN contract with Adam Mendelsohn, the longtime adviser of Lakers star LeBron James and James’ agent, Rich Paul.

The call was recorded on July 13, 2020, in Nichols’ Florida hotel room inside the NBA Bubble. She said she wasn’t aware at the time the camera was on.

Nichols can be heard telling Mendelsohn that ESPN gave NBA Finals hosting duties to Taylor, although, she claimed the job was written in her contract.

Nichols went on to imply that Taylor received the gig because she is black and the network was “feeling pressure” about its “crappy longtime record on diversity.”

Following the leak, Nichols issued a tearful apology on her daytime NBA show. She has been silent on social media since the floodgates opened. The Times also reported that Taylor has not answered several calls and texts from Nichols.

Taylor’s ESPN contract is set to expire this month, and it’s unclear if she’ll remain with the network. The Post’s Andrew Marchand reported Taylor is looking for a major raise, in the “Stephen A. Smith” ballpark. He rakes in nearly $8 million annually.

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