The news broke late Wednesday afternoon in Bristol, CT. Just over a month after a year-old scandal flooded the news, Rachel Nichols was officially out at ESPN. The WorldWide Leader in Sports cut ties with one of The Hollywood Reporter’s “10 Most Powerful Voices in Sports Media ” after a leaked accidental recording caught Nichols claiming Maria Taylor, now with NBC, got a hosting assignment because she is Black. But Nichols wasn’t the only thing cut from ESPN on Wednesday. The network also cut the program that was centered around Nichols, ESPN’s The Jump.

The removal of Nichols felt predictable. Once the unintentional recording was leaked, and the New York Times story was written, it was just a matter of time before Nichols and ESPN parted ways. Amicable or not, Nichols’s departure means she will likely lay low for a while before eventually picking back up with another network. Whatever you think of Nichols’s apology, her connections to the NBA are enough that some networks will undoubtedly give her a second chance on the sidelines. Then she will work from the sidelines up to the hostess’s chair, and so on. Her time on-air is not done. But The Jump? That’s gone. 

ESPN’s The Jump was an all-NBA all the time show that aired weekday afternoons year-round. As the NBA has become a “year-round sport,” The Jump has become an important part of the lexicon. Segments on The Jump will cover off-the-floor things on #NBATwitter, TMZ, or Instagram and what’s happening on the floor. As the NBA grew, so did The Jump. As The Jump grew, so did the NBA’s stratosphere. 

The Importance

The Jump was not just a show about basketball. The show was at the forefront of everything about the NBA and WNBA that happens off the floor. The historic Milwaukee Bucks wildcat strike? The Jump covered it, stepping in as a breaking news team. When Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks organization was investigated for sexual harassment? Cuban didn’t come on SportsCenter to talk, he came on The Jump. The Jump started in 2016 to cover basketball, but lots of shows covered basketball then. What made The Jump stand out was that it covered basketball adjacent or, more accurately, important to basketball.

The Jump put basketball personalities on the air in a different way than other ESPN properties. Former players, coaches, and front office personnel always walk through ESPN shows to drop their insight, but The Jump allowed them to showcase their personalities. On a given episode, you could hear a former All-Star laugh about their favorite celebrations, a former coach let you in on the funniest locker room shenanigans they can share, and a former player let you know how the social unrest of the nation hits an NBA locker room. 

It’s not that The Jump didn’t cover what was happening on the floor, either. The Jump covered the X’s and O’s, player movement, and historical moments as well as anyone on national television. The show offered analysis from the perspectives of the people closest to the game. Tracy McGrady, Richard Jefferson, and Kendrick Perkins were all able to use The Jump as a chance to break down the game in their new role, post-playing career. 

In just over five years on air, The Jump featured Hall of Famers like Scottie Pippen and Paul Pierce. If boasted legends from the WNBA like Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart. Historical writers turned TV personalities like Michael Wilbon and Zach Lowe shared the same desk as TV hosts turned celebrities like Stephen A. Smith. 

The Irony

ESPN had to cut their ties with Nichols following her comments on Maria Taylor. While much of the recorded conversation came off as a disgruntled employee, Nichols crossed the line when she insinuated Maria Taylor’s Blackness was the only reason she got to cover the 2020 NBA Finals. Taylor is a two-sport Division I athlete (Volleyball and Basketball), had eight years of experience at the time, and was hosting the pre-game NBA Countdown for ESPN. In all her on-air analysis, Taylor’s experience as a player paired with her experience as a TV Host coalesced to give unique and insightful programming. What Nichols said was both inaccurate and inexcusable. 

What’s ironic about ESPN also canceling The Jump in addition to letting Nichols go is that The Jump, as a program bigger than Nichols, was a place to promote a diverse array of voices. 

Nichols implied there were equity issues at ESPN. When a basketball or basketball adjacent voice needed repetition, an audience, or a platform, The Jump was the show to start on. 

Now, without The Jump, ESPN lacks the laid-back basketball-centric show for all those same voices to use as a place to breakthrough. How does Kendrick Perkins get a television career if there were no The Jump? Or Richard Jefferson? Perkins has worked his way up to one of the premier ESPN hot take artists, and Jefferson has become one of the energetic new play-by-play voices in basketball. 

What’s next?

To the network’s credit, ESPN has not announced a full-time replacement for The Jump. If they’ve learned from the success of The Jump, and the strengths of the show, they very well could launch a new, similar show. Since The Jump started in 2016, the idea of a daily basketball show has really taken off. Other networks like The Ringer, NBCSN, and Fox Sports each have found some way to cover the 24-7-365 world surrounding the NBA. Further, networks continue to see new shows as a chance to raise and promote the voices of people previously underrepresented in the media. 

But that may not be what comes next for ESPN. The New York Post reports that Stephen A. Smith is trying to lobby for a “super team” show, in which he, Magic Johnson, and Michael Wilbon. It’s hard to imagine that any show with Magic Johnson would not be basketball-centric, even if he is a partial owner of the LA Dodgers. Michael Wilbon has covered numerous sports in his past, but he clearly favors basketball. Since joining ESPN Wilbon was a key part of their NBA Finals coverage pre and post-game, and his writing is most often also about collegiate or professional basketball. In his Twitter Bio, Wilbon describes himself as an “@ESPNNBA Analyst” 

And if the “Stephen A. Smith Super Team” is a basketball-oriented show, it’s hard to imagine that ESPN would also create a second, daily basketball show. Between all of their games and TV rights deals, the numerous SportsCenters, and other staples of their programming, ESPN doesn’t have the space for a second. 

A Stephen A. Smith super-team show would offer different faces and insight than is typical in a sports-journalist show. But is it new voices? Wilbon is a mainstay on Pardon The Interruption (PTI). Magic is the go-to person for thoughts on the Lakers, Los Angeles, and anything in between. Stephen A. himself is seemingly on every ESPN show the network airs. These are great voices from different backgrounds, but they’re not new voices. There’s little room for new personalities on a super team show. 

ESPN has done this all at the perfect time. College football is kicking off, and next week the NFL starts back. Basketball’s in a “dead period,” and ESPN has time to completely reconfigure any basketball show they want to replace The Jump

If that’s really something that’s possible. 

For more on sports, sneakers, and fandom, follow me @painsworth512 for more. Give our podcast “F” In Sports a listen wherever you listen to podcasts! Be sure to check our NEW weekly basketball show, The Midweek Midrange, on YouTube,Twitter, and Instagram!
About Author

Parker Ainsworth

Senior NBA Writer, Co-Host of "F" In Sports and The Midweek Midrange. Parker is a hoops head, "retired" football player, and sneaker aficionado. Austinite born in Houston, located in Dallas after a brief stint in LA... Parker is a well-traveled Texan, teacher, and coach. Feel free to contact Parker- https://linktr.ee/PAinsworth512

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