NBA

ESPN’s Maria Taylor Traces Her Achievements to a Famous Couple’s Inspiration

Maria Taylor has been immersed in sports since her days as a basketball and volleyball player in high school and at the University of Georgia, where she was a four-time All-SEC pick in volleyball.

She is now a sideline reporter and studio host for ESPN, putting her face-to-face with big-time names. So, chatting up LeBron James is nothing out of the ordinary for her. On the other hand, Nick Saban and Barack Obama have been a bit tougher.

Maria Taylor has risen through the ranks as a reporter

ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor before the Rose Bowl game between Stanford and Iowa. | Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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Maria Taylor began her on-air career covering the Georgia Bulldogs and the Southeastern Conference for regional networks and syndicators, then joined ESPN2 in 2013 as a college football sideline reporter. It all started with her trademark determination at the start of her college career.

I told my athletic director I wanted to work in sports broadcasting from Day 1,” Taylor told Men’s Journal. “I got my first job because he called Learfield/IMG and said, ‘You have to give Maria a job because she’s in my face every day.’”

Taylor moved in 2014 to the SEC Network, where she handled a variety of sports. Her major break came in 2017 when she joined ESPN College GameDay as the host. On Saturdays in the fall, she serves as the sideline reporter for games called by Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit.

Taylor now also hosts ESPN’s pre-game show for Friday and Sunday NBA contests, another major career move.

“When I got to ESPN I went to my bosses and said, ‘Hey, one day I’d like to host College GameDay,’” she recalled. “’What are the steps to get me there?’ Closed mouths don’t get fed.”

Nick Saban and Barack Obama were special cases

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ESPN reporter and host Maria Taylor is only 33 years old but has close to a decade of experience in front of TV cameras. That helps explain why she comes off as confident and composed on the air.

There are exceptions, and just about any young reporter assigned to SEC football for the first time can identify with Taylor when she says she was intimidated early on by Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban and other huge figures.

“There’s just an aura that comes with them,” she said. “But I’ve learned to shift the intimidation away from me. I just really respect what they do and who they are.”

And then there was the Duke vs. North Carolina basketball game on Feb. 20, 2019. Yes, that game, the one in which Zion Williamson blew out a Nike sneaker and injured his knee on ESPN. The hype around the game in general and Williamson, in particular, led to former president Barack Obama attending.

“That was my first time being completely starstruck!” Taylor admitted to the magazine. “We had an inkling Obama might show up because Zion was playing and everyone had been coming to see him, like Jay-Z and LeBron. After I found out Obama was coming, I decided to say, ‘Because of you and Michelle I can be who I am now.’”

Obama threw Taylor for a loop by complimenting her work on Get Up on ESPN.

“I was shocked to think that he had even heard my voice,” she said. “And he was in that black bomber jacket — it was cool Barack Obama, cool #44.”

The best advice for Maria Taylor came from a colleague

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While Maria Taylor is becoming increasingly well-known in sports circles through her TV work, she isn’t a pioneer. For all the criticism ESPN comes under, it has long launched the careers of female on-air talent. Robin Roberts is one of the Black women who paved the way for many others.

Taylor credits Roberts for the best career advice she’s ever received.

“Make everyone in the room believe that there’s no place you’d rather be from the time you start out making coffee, which I’ve done, to when you get to host the NBA Finals. Your reputation is going to precede you. Make sure it’s a good one.”

Maria Taylor, quoting Robin Roberts

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