Connect with us
Jim Cutler Demos

BSM Writers

Michael Jordan Isn’t The Only One Full of Bull

“Columnist Jay Mariotti says the truth has been twisted by many characters of “The Last Dance” era, including the tag team of Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and writer Sam Smith.”

Jay Mariotti

Published

on

 Just when it seemed Michael Jordan was finished making history, with his savage conquests of sports and sneakers and even the eerie genre of pandemic TV, we find him caught in swirling crossfire that frames him as a threat to another life legend.

Pinocchio.

Since the final credits rolled on “The Last Dance’’ documentary series, Jordan has been called a liar by Jerry Reinsdorf, a liar and a snitch by Horace Grant and a liar by a Utah pizza maker. And he has been caught contradicting himself by a reporter, Jack McCallum, who released a 2011 taped interview in which Jordan indeed confirmed that he froze nemesis Isiah Thomas from the 1992 Dream Team, which he repeatedly has denied. All of which is fitting in the aftermath of a production — a Jordan vanity project and hagiographical romp — that portrayed him as a triumphant dictator, left many of his servants crumpled in his reinvigorated legacy dust and reminded us how the Chicago Bulls reign was as much about manipulation and infighting as winning.

Yet let’s not assume, simply because some are bitter about how they were portrayed in the Jordan-lorded series, that they’re all telling the truth and he isn’t. A whole lot of people have lied in this decades-old piss pot — then and now — which explains why the dynasty became a travesty that died nasty. What should have been a joyride, wrapped around the miracle of Jordan, too often deteriorated into dysfunction and finger-pointing that leaves me asking, to this day, how the Bulls won six NBA championships. And now Jordan’s detractors, after watching a film that couldn’t have made him look better, want him also to be remembered as a fraud so obsessed with control that he’ll tell fantastic lies to protect his narrative, a lonely man in his leather chair with a cigar and mixed drink.

Be careful before you let them.

Adam Martin (@adamuiowa) | Twitter

Because just as Jordan has his rules, there are The Reinsdorf Rules — and, by extension, The Sam Smith Rules, those of an ethically conflicted sportswriter and not the ballad singer or brewmaster of the same name. Yes, Jordan is all over the map on Isiah and needs to come clean. And I don’t really care whether he fell ill because of pizza poisoning, altitude sickness or a long night of partying; whatever, the man was mortally sick the next night and still scored 38 points in 44 minutes. But having covered the Jordan era as a Chicago columnist, I am compelled today to detail the machinations of a Bulls management dynamic that, quite often, oozed of more deception than a political backroom filled with aldermen.

And Reinsdorf and Smith always were in the smoky room together, as partners in slime.

On any list of essential occupations, sadly, a sports beat writer is no more vital now than a toenail painter or nightclub bouncer. That said, if and when seasons resume, there is a proper, professional way to cover a team. The process generally is defined as reporting for one’s core readers with tunnel vision — disseminating information and insight without selling out to sources as sugar daddies and slanting “news’’ in their favor.

Which is why Smith committed a flagrant foul, worthy of expulsion from whatever bogus media game he’s playing, when he claimed last week that Jordan “made up’’ and “lied about’’ why the era ended after the sixth title. See, Smith works for team chairman Reinsdorf — literally, as a staff writer for the Bulls.com website — after years of tickling Reinsdorf’s scrotum as the Chicago Tribune’s lead basketball writer. And his attack on Jordan’s integrity came only days (shocking!) after Reinsdorf testily emerged from his reclusive cave, saying he’s miffed at how Jordan characterized him in the final scene of the docu-series: as the owner who chose to dismantle the dynasty instead of prolonging it. “Maddening,’’ as Jordan put it.

Said Reinsdorf to NBC Sports Chicago, his broadcast-rights partner: “I was not pleased. How’s that? He knew better. Michael and I had some private conversations at that time that I won’t go into detail on. But there’s no question in my mind that Michael’s feeling at the time was we could not put together a championship team the next year.’’

Tone at the top - Chicago Bulls Confidential

He was calling Jordan a liar without actually using the L-word, a legal reflex as an attorney by trade. But he wasn’t done. In slippery Reinsdorfian fashion, as I witnessed often during 17 years at the Sun-Times, he relied on a henchman, Smith, to do his dirtiest work for him. Never mind that Jordan, after smirking and raising his eyebrows, reminded director Jason Hehir of the irrefutable timetable: Reinsdorf never interceded in the eight months after general manager Jerry Krause told Phil Jackson that he wouldn’t return as coach even if the Bulls went “82 and oh,’’ the eruption that prompted Jackson to coin the phrase “The Last Dance’’ and Jordan to vow he wouldn’t return without Jackson. Never mind how Reinsdorf used shifty semantics to say he made a last-gasp effort to keep Jordan and Jackson when, in fact, the damage had been done long before amid the owner’s insistence on backing Krause. Typically, Reinsdorf is trying a Hail Mary to sway public opinion that has been almost universally against him since then. Twenty-two years later, only his servant is buying in, making sure to spread the boss’ gospel during a quickie media tour.

“That was a complete and blatant lie by Michael,’’ Smith told 95.7 The Game, a San Francisco sports station. “There were several things in the documentary that I saw, I would know, that he made up or he lied about.’’

Later, Smith appeared on the Dan Patrick Show and elaborated: “He didn’t want to play that next year. He could have, in any number of ways. So he made that up too at the end: that `I wish I could have come back, I wanted to come back.’ He didn’t want to come back. … If he wanted that one (additional) year and the $40 million, he could have gotten it. He just didn’t want to play. … But it was a better story to end it that way. To say, `Hey, one more chance. Going for seven. We could have done that.’ Nah, he didn’t want to do that.’’

This isn’t professional reporting. It’s obedient, yes-sir, blame-deflecting trolling for the boss who employs him at the team website. The least Smith could have done was present Jordan’s side, but as Reinsdorf’s mouthpiece, he made the radio rounds for one purpose: To defend the owner, as he did for decades at the Tribune when Reinsdorf wasn’t signing his paychecks. As I wrote recently about the bleak future of independent sports media, I’m concerned that most aspiring writers will have to work directly as public-relations valets for leagues, teams and programs, or for outlets in bed with Big Sports. When young people see Smith operate in “The Last Dance’’ — as author of “The Jordan Rules,’’ the 1991 book — they might view Smith as a role model.

If so, don’t major in journalism. What Sam Smith does isn’t journalism.

Trailblazing Sun-Times sportswriter Lacy J. Banks dies | The ...

When I arrived in town after the first title, I was startled by the smarmy landscape of the Bulls beat. Smith was attached to the hips and lips of Jackson and Reinsdorf … and Jordan didn’t trust him, gravitating to other beat writers. Nor was it cool that one of our Sun-Times beat reporters, Lacy J. Banks, regularly played poker with Jordan. Reinsdorf didn’t like Banks, who had a lengthy newspaper career before passing away in 2012, and sometimes called Banks a liar to discredit him (seeing a trend here?). Uncomfortably driving past Sun-Times billboards across Chicagoland that heralded my arrival with my headshot and a menacing slogan — “Sports With An Attitude!’’ — I was compelled to drive an immediate stake into the politicking. And if I’ve told this story before, it’s worth telling here.

I’d heard rumblings about “The Jordan Rules,’’ yet to be released, and how Jordan wasn’t going to like it. So I called Smith’s book publicist and requested an advance copy. Indeed, for the first time in a mass-readership context, Jordan’s dictatorial side would be revealed in the book. Knowing the Tribune had invested thousands of dollars to publish Smith’s excerpts — yes, the Tribune paid for information from its own reporter — I quickly published a column about some of the book’s controversial contents, as provided by Smith’s publicist. This caused a furor; was a championship team going to be disrupted by a book? It also embarrassed the Tribune and landed Smith in hot water with his editors, who couldn’t believe his publicist had helped the rival paper beat the Tribune with its own, paid-for material. The Sun-Times was an underdog tabloid with financial problems. Already dealing with the recent demise of my previous employer, the great National Sports Daily, I had no time for Machiavellian sports-beat b.s. I was in the mood to brawl.

Amid the book ruckus, Bulls training camp started. Visiting the team’s suburban facility for the first time, I heard a voice: “Are you Jay?’’ It was Jackson, not pleased. Now, why would he be rankled? Ohhhhh, he was close with Smith, who often would write soft, lengthy features about him. Around the same time, as covered in “The Last Dance,’’ Krause had circled book excerpts that weren’t flattering to him and summoned Jackson to his office, wondering what was up. Hmmmm.

So when Jordan pinpointed ex-teammate Grant in the docu-series as the principal book leak, prompting Grant to brand Jordan’s claim as an “downright, outright, (complete) lie,’’ it’s curious how Jordan protected Jackson. Because it’s obvious Jackson was involved in the book. And if Smith already had Reinsdorf locked in as a major source, well, draw your own conclusions. I’m sure Grant provided a few stories, as did other team members and franchise personnel. And Smith does have a reporter’s eyes and ears, having been trained on the news side of the print industry.

Sam Smith Bulls – BlackSportsOnline

Unfortunately, to this day, he is ensconced in business bed with Reinsdorf, the ultimate reporting no-no. You scratch my back; I’ll advance your agenda. You pay me a salary; I’ll go on radio shows defending you and calling Jordan a liar. And Smith wasn’t alone in the Jerry-rigging. Any time Reinsdorf’s baseball team, the Chicago White Sox, thought a critic was too harsh, out came hillbilly homer Hawk Harrelson, who would interrupt a broadcast in Anaheim and, oh, rip me for two innings. Don’t make the mistake of confusing Chicago as a hardass hub of sports media. It’s a cartoon show and favor-fest, filled with its share of media fanboys and suck-ups. For every beat writer who did a standup job of covering the title-era Bulls, there was the creepy, accompanying constant of Smith being fed stories by the same suspects year after year.

To the point where here in 2020, after tens of millions watched “The Last Dance,’’ Smith is still performing his deeds and calling out Jordan to appease Reinsdorf.

Smith’s backers will accuse me of sour grapes. Sorry, I was a columnist covering the entire sports world, not just the Bulls, and I didn’t enter the media business to kiss up to owners for information and money. Reinsdorf tried to woo me in my first year, inviting me to his ballpark perch in Sarasota for a come-to-papa talk during Sox spring training. Not long after, in the wake of a column he must not have liked, I was told by his office assistant to not contact him again. I never did. And once you’re on the guy’s bad side, it becomes a real-life version of “The Godfather’’ — his baseball manager called me “a (bleeping) fag,’’ his top baseball executive confronted me in a Chicago rooftop bar while I was entertaining friends, his p.r. director waged an Internet smear campaign. And, oh, there was Hawkeroo again, slamming into the back of my chair in a Minneapolis press-box dining area, prompting me to quietly tell him to knock if off or I’d remove his prominent nose from his face.

Sometimes, Reinsdorf resorted to desperate measures, once with Smith in the middle. I’d criticized the owner for attempting to lowball yet another Bulls coach, Scott Skiles, before they finally agreed to terms on a new deal. The contract numbers provided to the Sun-Times, from Skiles’ agent to our beat reporter, were volunteered to me by phone by an editor who now works at ESPN.com. Meaning, the numbers appeared in my column AND in our news story. Two places.

Destroyer of Newspapers' Vulture Fund Buys Majority Stake at ...

Not surprisingly, they were a slight fraction off the Tribune’s numbers for Skiles, as supplied to Smith by Bulls management. Next day, Reinsdorf and his lawyers contacted the Sun-Times. And next thing I knew, the same editor was calling me with bizarre news: The paper was running several retractions because of the “erroneous’’ numbers in my column. Again, I’d been given the numbers by an editor who called me with the info — the very numbers that appeared in our news story. Didn’t matter. The Sun-Times often buckled to whatever Reinsdorf wanted. And, of course, the Tribune ran a blurb about all of my retractions.

Two words: Dirty pool. Is it any wonder both papers have deteriorated to the point both could die any day?

The docu-series succeeded wildly in bringing back the Jordan years in their high-voltage entirety, including the discord that constantly seeped into the dominance and dampened the fun. But I tell these stories not to do my own “snitching’’ — amid a flood of post-documentary backlash that finds Reinsdorf, Grant, Scottie Pippen, Craig Hodges, Thomas and Krause’s widow among those upset with Jordan. My purpose is to establish a how-not-to manual for young beat reporters. It’s one thing to have important sources, quite another to sell out and serve as a lackey for life. Reinsdorf had his media lackeys, none bigger than Smith. Jordan had his — namely, close pal Ahmad Rashad. Krause had his in the national writing media. Jackson had his. And all the while, some of us were trying to maintain a semblance of professional independence and neutrality, wanting to avoid appearances of selling out or making money off the people we cover. I never was in anybody’s camp. Early on, at the old Chicago Stadium, I felt a nudge in my back as Bulls players jogged past press row before a game; it was Jordan, appreciative of a column where I wondered why the team media guide had strangely underplayed his importance with only a few pages devoted to him. It was proof of the farcical Krause mantra that eventually would break up the team: organizations win championships. 

But when I visited Jordan at a country club two summers later, wanting to know the truth about his gambling problems amid an NBA investigation, he threw an ice cube at me. I was in business bed with no one.

Smith isn’t the only guilty party in sports media. Sirius XM talk host Chris Russo always has been a shill for Major League Baseball owners, which explains why he told players to “go to hell’’ last week in a long, biting rant about ongoing labor negotiations, which seem particularly appalling during a pandemic. In the same vein as Smith works for Reinsdorf, Russo works for a network that has a long-term business arrangement with, yup, MLB.

NBA Star Joe Smith raps about Donald Sterling (Video)

At least Smith didn’t take money from Donald Sterling, the disgraced former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who once suggested Smith become his general manager. But like commissioner David Stern, Smith was among those who continued to associate with Sterling even as he spewed racism for years. Why not use that relationship and his reporting platform to reveal Sterling as a racist years before a TMZ tape became the impetus for Adam Silver, Stern’s successor, to expel him from the league?

Funny, but the biggest story of my Jordan-coverage career came from simple, pound-the-pavement persistence. I made numerous excursions in the summer of 2001 to Hoops The Gym, a facility on Chicago’s west side, where Jordan was plotting his return to the NBA. He would see me waiting in the parking lot, yell at me for writing that he shouldn’t be trying another comeback, then give me another meaty column. Finally, on Sept. 10, one day before Jordan suddenly didn’t matter on Planet Earth, he stood in the parking lot and announced his Washington Wizards comeback to me and Jim Litke of the Associated Press.

That forced Smith, without the owner in his back pocket, to play catch-up in his belated news story. Every media outlet credited the Sun-Times and the AP — except one.

The Tribune credited the AP and another newspaper.

The Smith Rules, call them.

Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of “Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Podbean, etc.). He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. He appears Wednesday nights on The Dino Costa Show, a segment billed as “The Rawest Hour in Sports Broadcasting.’’ Compensation for this column is donated to ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom emphasizing investigative journalism.

Sign up for the BSM 8@8

The Top 8 Sports Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox, every morning at 8am ET.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.

BSM Writers

Who is Next if Charles Barkley Leaves NBA Television?

“Many entertaining and interesting analysts grace the television airwaves today, but none are Charles Barkley. His exit would create a massive issue for the NBA as it would take away its top TV star, and the league’s best program outside of games.”

Jason Barrett

Published

on

Say it ain’t so Charles! TNT’s shaky future with the NBA has pushed Charles Barkley to the brink of exiting television. Though it’s possible his remarks on Friday night were voiced to put pressure on the league to do business with TNT or to increase offers from other networks, if he is being truthful, next season will be the last hurrah for Sir Charles on Inside The NBA. With no Barkley on the show, it likely creates additional changes as well.

Should Barkley depart, many will be sad and disappointed. However, once time passes, the love and appreciation for what Inside The NBA delivered will be remembered forever. Simply put, it’s one of the best shows ever created on sports television.

The NBA’s move away from TNT opens the door for NBC and Amazon to build their own NBA programs. ESPN meanwhile will likely fine tune their roster and approach to try and seize the opening created by TNT’s best show going away.

But subtraction doesn’t always lead to addition for networks. There still needs to be something special to entice viewers to watch. A perfect example is this year’s NBA crew on ESPN. Mike Breen is still exceptional but the chemistry with Doris Burke and JJ Redick isn’t close to what existed with Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. When people know each other, like each other, and understand what each brings to the table, chemistry is produced. That is the special ingredient that has made Inside The NBA a hit for decades.

Many entertaining and interesting analysts grace the television airwaves today, but none are Barkley. His exit would create a massive issue for the NBA as it would take away its top TV star, and the league’s best program outside of games. Increased rights fees can be celebrated all day long, but being talked about before and after the games is vital. That’s what Inside The NBA delivers unlike any other NBA program.

So that raises an important question, if Chuck leaves, who’s next?

Draymond Green is an obvious choice, and the odds on favorite. TNT has been including him on shows for a while now so he can blend in with Shaq, Kenny, and Ernie. He’s a champion, well spoken, unafraid to speak his mind, and is an accomplished host at The Volume. His familiarity with younger viewers is another advantage. The only issues, he’s not as funny as Barkley, and he may wish to continue playing. If he does, that creates a problem. Should he choose to retire after the 2024-2025 season, and if the Warriors part ways with Steve Kerr, could Green’s coach join him on set? Kerr did work for TNT before heading to Golden State.

LeBron James will likely be pursued too, likely even more than Green given his star power. But are networks going to want to pay the game’s most popular player Tom Brady money to work on a pre/post game show? Is that really what LeBron wants to do? If the cast involved LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or a mixture of LeBron’s friends, maybe that gets his attention. But James can create his own content and make millions off of it. There’s also no guarantee he leaves after next year especially if his son doesn’t get drafted.

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are two other talented stars with strong chemistry who could sit opposite Shaq and command the viewers attention. They’re not Barkley, but they’re stars with chemistry who alongside Shaq could speak the same language. Pierce especially has shown he’s unafraid to speak his mind. Plus networks do like personalities with ties to popular teams such as the Lakers and Celtics. I personally can’t see the network turning to Paul and Kevin to fill Barkley’s spot. If LeBron and Draymond are still playing though, and nobody can fill Chuck’s shoes, adding championship players with chemistry isn’t a bad Plan B.

Vince Carter, Jamaal Crawford and Steve Smith were mentioned by Barkley as guys he could potentially pass the baton to. I can’t see that happening. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Robin Lopez, Kevin Love, and Andre Iguodala may also be options if they desire to work in TV. Each offers insight, personality and an ability to speak and present themselves well on camera. Most are accomplished and familiar to NBA fans too. Steph Curry will also be courted by networks when he stops playing. I just can’t see him leaving in a year. He’s more reserved, though his dad has excelled as a television analyst in Charlotte.

Barring something out of the box being done such as a network luring Michael Jordan to television, Bill Simmons being hired or the next crew featuring coaches such as Kerr, Erik Spoelstra, and Doc Rivers or the Van Gundy Brothers and Mark Jackson, replacing Barkley is a tall order. His exit likely means Kenny and Ernie go too. Shaq is the one of the four who could transition to a new cast. He has more years ahead if he wishes to stay involved.

All good things do eventually come to an end but there’s plenty of gas left in the tank for Barkley and Inside The NBA. Holding on to the show for a few more years makes the most sense right now. The league is in even stronger financial shape following new rights deals with networks. As big as those wins are though, they’ll feel much less special if its flagship program and top television star are gone after next season.

Barrett Media Music Update:

Last week I revealed that Ron Harrell, Robby Bridges, and Kevin Robinson were joining our Music Radio writing team starting July 15th. Today, we have two more additions to announce. I’m thrilled to share that Bob Lawrence and Keith Berman will join Barrett Media as weekly columnists when we launch on July 15th.

Bob currently serves as Market Manager for Seven Mountains Media overseeing the company’s Parkersburg, WV/Marietta, OH markets. His radio resume includes previously serving as GM of the RAB’s National Radio Talent System, Corporate VP of Programming/Content at Saga Communications, CEO of Pinnacle Media Worldwide, and Market Manager for New South Radio in Jackson, MS. Adding Bob’s experience and perspective will help folks in management, programming, content, and sales.

Keith meanwhile has great history writing in this arena. He spent 7 years at Radio and Records working as a format editor, news reporter and features writer. After R&R shut down, he teamed with Kevin Carter to launch RAMP (Radio and Music Pros), spending 3 years co-writing daily issues until leaving the site in 2012. His passion, knowledge, and love for the industry remains high, and I’m excited to have him on board as we make our move into the music radio space.

In addition to adding Bob and Keith, I’ll have an announcement soon later this week regarding our editor. It’s been an extensive process, that’s involved a lot of phone conversations. I’ve enjoyed getting to know everyone the past few weeks, but have made my decision. With the launch less than 30 days away, there’s plenty to do and the right leader is important.

Lastly, I’m hiring a few features reporters and have interviewed some excellent people. Our job post on the website and LinkedIn produced nearly 200 applications in one week. I’ve got a specific plan for how I want to lay this out, so I’m hoping to nail things down with interested writers this week, and have a final announcement next week. We’re almost there.

Thumbs Up:

Sports Radio 610: I loved the creativity from Sports Radio 610 in Houston last week. The station took June 10th and turned it into 610 Day. Shows welcomed back former hosts Nick Wright, Rich Lord, and Josh Innes for conversations, which included stories and behind the scenes details about specific issues. Innes in particular hadn’t been on the station in more than 10 years, so it was a very cool moment. The buzz even led to Houston’s Mayor John Whitmire declaring June 10th, Sports Radio 610 Day. Great work by Parker Hills and his team.

X: Social media platforms have their fair share of warts but X made an improvement this week. Elon Musk’s company made Likes private. After doing so, an increase of activity followed. I’ve never liked seeing high profile people torn to shreds based on what they clicked like on. Assumptions get made and they’re often overblown. Individuals deserve to use their accounts how they wish. The only ones hurt by this move are the media outlets looking to generate traffic over it. If you think losing an opportunity to play Peeping Tom on people’s activity is still an issue, remember, the thought still lives in their head, even if you saw it on X.

Steve Stone: Simplicity can make a big difference in branding when used right. This 30 second video promo from Steve Stone is a great example. I saw it on LinkedIn last week, and thought it was easy to follow, highlighted what’s provided, and the tag line at the end (More Than a Voice, An Advantage) was excellent. Steve’s attention to detail for marketing himself always stands out in a strong way. A great lesson for today and tomorrow’s leaders.

Pablo Torre’s ‘The Sporting Class’: The conversations between Pablo Torre, John Skipper and David Samson are always must-listen/watch if you enjoy sports media business content. The past week’s discussion on WNBA rights was smart, interesting, and the type of insight you look for if trying to learn and understand what’s going on in the industry. Just a fantastic show that should be on your radar each week if you work in the media business.

Thumbs Down:

Tim Cato: When coaches or athletes take the media to task, many like to rip them for it. But sometimes it’s justified. That was the case last week when Dallas Mavericks Head Coach Jason Kidd put The Athletic reporter under a heat lamp for a ‘long ass question’. Too often writers and hosts use questions to show how much they know or they’ll tiptoe around sensitive issues or combine 3-4 questions at once trying to get everything in. The problem with that, it rarely results in good answers. Less is always more. It may not feel as deep but better responses come from short questions built around Who, What, Where, Why, When and How.

KC Morning Sports Radio: Kansas City listeners have had the luxury of waking up, driving to work, knowing that Nate Bukaty would be alongside Steven St. John on WHB, and Josh Klingler would be mixing it up with Bob Fescoe in 610 Sports. Yet in the span of two weeks, Bukaty and Klinger each announced they’re stepping away from FT hosting. That leaves Fescoe and St. John either operating solo, utilizing contributors or working with new partners.

It’s strange to see both shows change at the same time. However, if there’s one advantage, it’s June, and football season is still nearly three months away. Hopefully each show gets stronger, but for today, KC radio listeners have lost something from the shows they’ve consistently depended on.

Sign up for the BSM 8@8

The Top 8 Sports Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox, every morning at 8am ET.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading

BSM Writers

Eavesdropping: Mind the Game with LeBron James and JJ Redick

“To have a guy like Kyrie Irving as the ultimate wild card, that’s like having a ‘Draw 4’ in your hand every time someone deals you cards in Uno.”

Published

on

Graphic for an Eavesdropping feature on Mind the Game with LeBron James and JJ Redick

Back in March, it was announced that two popular names in the sport of basketball would be coming together to produce a new basketball podcast. The co-hosts are LeBron James, considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, along with ESPN NBA analyst JJ Redick, who was the 2006 National college player of the year and played in over 900 NBA games mostly with the Orlando Magic, the LA Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers.

The podcast is produced by James’ company Uninterrupted as well as Redick’s ThreeFourTwo Productions. Redick said back in March, “It’s meant to be a very free-flowing conversation about the sport and about the game. If you look at it in a very simplistic way, it’s just about basketball.” So as the NBA Finals are going on, I decided to eavesdrop in on Mind the Game with LeBron James and JJ Redick.

Before I get to the episode, I should point out that since the podcast was first launched, the Los Angeles Lakers fired their head coach, Darvin Ham, and Redick’s name has been mentioned as a possible replacement, especially now that Dan Hurley has turned down the job to remain at UConn. This adds another layer to the podcast and is something Stephen A. Smith has called an “an egregious thing to do. I am not talking about the podcast itself, I’m talking about the timing.”

Smith believes James wanted to showcase Redick’s knowledge of the game and that the podcast is somewhat of a ploy by James to get the Lakers to hire Redick. Smith thought with Ham on the coaching hot seat, the March debut of the show made it obvious to him there was more meaning behind it than just these two guys deciding to do a podcast together

Regardless of the reasons for it, there is really only one way to describe the podcast when you listen in, and that is that it’s a Masterclass on basketball. This is not two talking heads sitting around generally analyzing the two teams and then making predictions on the NBA Finals series between the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks.

Interestingly, although the title of the episode is “NBA Finals” and it is billed as an NBA Finals preview, the Eastern Conference finals had not concluded yet. This led to a humorous line from Redick at the beginning when he said they were recording the episode with the Mavericks up 3-0 in their series with the Minnesota Timberwolves. “We are going to go a little bit on the assumption that Minnesota will not be the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit,” he said. “Could happen. I’m not saying it couldn’t. In which case this whole episode is fu**ed.”

Fortunately for them, but not so much for the Timberwolves, they did not come back, and Dallas did move on to play Boston in the Finals. However, with Minnesota still involved at the time, it allowed for Redick to ask James about Anthony Edwards and the comparison between himself and Edwards as both made deep playoff runs at the age of 22.

“I didn’t even know what was going on,” James said. “I was 22 years old; I’m trying to take in as much information as I possibly could. But more importantly I just wanted to go out there and not overcomplicate myself with information and just go out and play free. As a 22-year-old I felt like that’s what I should be doing.”

James said it was a little bit like playing with house money. Nobody expected his team to be where they were, they were the clear underdogs in a series against the veteran San Antonio Spurs, and James felt complete freedom just to go play the game, which Edwards was experiencing as well.

From there, you really get to see why this is not just your regular old basketball podcast for fans. This is a high-level course and if you have not taken the prerequisite courses (meaning you really understand the game), you may not even understand what it is they are talking about.

One of the major features of the show is Redick working on his coaches’ white board and actually drawing up plays. In this case he started out with a set the Boston Celtics are known to initiate their offense from and goes through many of the various options they have out of this configuration.

Redick and James say the set is called a ‘Horns 2’ or a ‘V2’ set up. Redick explains. If you are watching the show on YouTube, you will see definitions put up on the screen which helps you follow along on what the two hosts are talking about.

For this particular setup, the definition explains a ‘Horns’ set as “a half court set in which two bigs set ball screens on both sides of the ball handler with one big rolling to the rim and the other popping above the three-point line.”

The next subject brought a great question from Redick to James about the difference between being an underdog in a series versus being the favorite.

“Going into a Finals when you’re the underdog, you definitely have a different demeanor you have a different feeling,” James said. “It’s a different weight that’s on your shoulders and in your mind and on your back and on your chest. You can feel less anticipation. I have been on both sides. I have been the favorite and lost and have been the underdog and won.”

There are some laughs between the two hosts who have really good chemistry together. But mostly it is just straight, high level, basketball talk. Almost like two coaches sitting in a room watching tape and talking to one another in a language only some can understand. The show, however, is filled with little nuggets you can learn to be a better basketball fan and to understand why teams do things in certain situations.

One discussion on the episode was about whether a team should foul late in a game when they are up three and the other team has the ball. The idea, of course, is that they can only score two points from the free-throw line. This is something that has been talked about by many analysts over the years. However, on Mind the Game, James and Redick go into a discussion about why you should consider fouling when you are up six points, and the other team has the ball. James said the idea here would be to keep things as a two-possession game and not allowing the other team to potentially hit a 3 and make it a one-possession game.

As the two got more into the Celtics-Mavericks matchup, Redick asked James what the absolute best thing was the Celtics did that the Mavericks would have to contend with. “Passing and dribble penetration,” James answered. This brought the white board back out and Redick and James broke down the Celtics offense. “The spacing is what starts everything for them offensively,” Redick said about Boston as he diagrammed on his board.

At this point, video clips are introduced and add to what James and Redick described. First, Redick would draw up a few things Boston may do offensively and then video would play showing exactly what they had talked about. This led into the discussion of how Dallas could stop Boston’s offense and James said, “You can’t give the other team too much of the same.” He described switching up the defensive looks and even talked about how pushing an offensive player slightly off their spot can change things in a big way.

The hosts will often refer back to things they have talked about or reviewed in previous episodes, but if you are not familiar with terms like the aforementioned ‘Horns’ or ‘V2’ set or what a flare is, or a thumb up/thumb down play or what it means for the defense to blitz an offensive player, you may have a tough time keeping up.

Fortunately, James and Redick do speak the same language and as long as you can follow along with their high-level basketball IQ’s, you will enjoy their uncanny recall of players, games and even certain plays. So far, the YouTube channel for the show has 653,000 subscribers and this particular episode had been viewed over 789,000 times at the time I tuned in, so obviously it is something basketball fans are enjoying.

As the show wrapped, both hosts threw out major flowers to James’ former teammate Kyrie Irving who has been playing well for Dallas. This is another great thing you hear during Mind the Game, which is what someone like James thinks about other players in the league. “I would call him The Wizard all the time,” James said about Irving. “There was nothing on the basketball floor that Kyrie couldn’t do. Sitting here watching him, I’m so fu**ing happy and so proud to watch him to continue his growth. At the same time, I’m so fu**ing mad that I’m not his running mate anymore.”

Redick said Irving can be an X-factor in the Finals and James replied, “To have a guy like Kyrie Irving as the ultimate wild card, that’s like having a ‘Draw 4’ in your hand every time someone deals you cards in Uno. …he’s the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen, he has the best gifts I’ve ever seen of any NBA player.”

Sign up for the BSM 8@8

The Top 8 Sports Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox, every morning at 8am ET.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading

BSM Writers

Chase Daniel Making YouTube Content as Unique as His NFL Career

Daniel and 23 others were chosen to attend the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp where they had the chance to meet and get coaching from media executives from all of the different NFL broadcasting partners.

Published

on

Photo of Chase Daniel at NFL Broadcast Boot Camp
Photo Courtesy: Chase Daniel X Account

Chase Daniel had a well-documented, somewhat unparalleled NFL career. 13 years, five starts, 273 career passes and over $40 million in compensation. He has been called a ‘Backup QB Legend’ by some and the ‘Backup QB GOAT’ by others. A former Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Daniel went to Missouri after having been named the EA Sports National High School Player of the Year. He has always competed, always been one of the hardest working people on the team and generally succeeded beyond expectations.

As his NFL career was winding down, Daniel started doing work for the NFL Network. In 2022, he did 30 shows for the network while he was still playing for the Chargers. He did not play last season and did say that while he has not yet filed the paperwork, it was ok to “break the news” he has retired from playing.

As for the work he did with the NFL Network while still playing, Daniel said, “I think that just sort of scratched the itch a little bit as part of their Monday post-game show. It was really valuable reps, valuable from what I was able to learn.”

Daniel credits his on-air teammates, Omar Ruiz, Adam Rank and DeAngelo Hall for teaching him a lot about television. He said his first full year away from the game, he didn’t want to go all-in, rather dipping his toes in as he was acclimating to home life and being ‘Dad’ and ‘Coach’ to his kids.

“But I ended up loving doing that stuff. I did Total Access on Fridays, and I was on all their draft coverage and all their combine coverage which was awesome.”

Daniel was also doing two different podcasts, one with The Athletic and one with Trey Wingo. And while he still plans to be a part of a national television platform, it is something else that he started on his own and continues to do mostly on his own, that has been drawing a lot of attention his way.

Daniel, like many former athletes, started a YouTube show, The Chase Daniel Show. Initially it was going to be an interview-style presentation, but Daniel had an idea he thought could really hit if done the right way. “I knew in the back of mind, if I could somehow find a way to break down quarterbacks in a way that really hadn’t been done before, there would really be a market for it,” he said.

While he said it took him a while to figure out how to draw on video like an NFL analyst working on a telestrator, once he did it didn’t take him long to see he did have something many people were interested in. His first breakdown video of Justin Fields, then with the Chicago Bears, was viewed over 160,000 times and at the time Daniel had less than 1,500 subscribers on the YouTube page. He is now nearing 50,000 subscribers.

“Well, this is a hit, let’s start doing it,” Daniel said he remembered thinking. He said by October of last year he really had it the way he wanted it and continued to crush it with breakdown videos.

“I never want to come across as condescending or smug, I want to be a teacher,” Daniel said when asked why he chose to do this style of analyzing football. “I want to be able to further the game of football from a standpoint of your mother-in-law and the nerds of football can both understand what I’m talking about. It has been such a fun thing. It’s probably the thing I am most proud of, the YouTube channel.”

As for what is to come this season and how he plans to grow the channel and the content, Daniel said he is not quite ready to reveal all of what is to come but he has a lot of big plans in the works.

“We are just excited to continue to make this better,” he said. “It is a very big, strategic mission for me this year, to make it even better and to get it to 100,000 subscribers. I think you’re going to see even more in-depth breakdowns. I think you’re maybe going to see some live breakdowns.”

Daniel mentioned the possibility of airing live shows this season on YouTube and also on X. He also talked about the possibility of doing some alternate broadcast style shows where he brings others on to his platform to break things down with him.

Daniel also is very active on social media and says he tries to reply to as many of the comments he gets about his videos as possible. His whole goal is to really have a one-on-one relationship with those tuning in for this content.

“I tried to base my whole YouTube channel off of ‘you and me.’ I’m in one person’s computer screen or on one person’s phone, but I am talking to you. If you’re watching my video, you are inside an NFL QB room with me, and we are watching the game the day after we played it, and this is what my QB coach is going to say for 12 plays. And this is what is going to be said in a meeting room and I am going to teach ball.

“I know from being around two hall of fame coaches to being around a hall of fame quarterback, to being in seven different quarterback rooms. I know what is actually being coached. And I love breaking down film.”

As for what exactly he’ll be doing on the network television side this fall, those conversations are still ongoing as he and his representatives with Rubicon Talent work through the various options. In April, Daniel and 23 others were chosen to attend the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp where they had the chance to meet and get coaching from media executives from all of the different NFL broadcasting partners.

“I wanted to go because I want more opportunities and I wanted more coaching on how to call games,” Daniel said. “I think that is one of the more difficult things to do. Because you may think you are going to call it one way, but the game may play out much differently. I feel like that’s where I am good. I feel like I can see something happening in real time and automatically understand from a strategic standpoint what is happening and why it is happening.”

Daniel said he got great feedback from a lot of high-level executives and that a lot of it now is just about timing and “getting in somewhere.”

In explaining what the boot camp was, he said, “It was two and a half full days. I am a note taker, and I took copious amounts of notes. We had Fred Gaudelli (Pete Rozelle Award winning NFL TV producer) teach a class for 90 minutes talking about what it’s like to call a game and telling us what is expected of us. He reminded us, “You serve an audience.”

“They did this for podcasts, talk radio, game calling on radio, game calling on TV,” he said. “They taught you everything for the first two days with panels and groups, then the last day is ‘Let’s see what you learned.'”

Daniel said that last day consisted of calling parts of a game, getting feedback and doing it again before getting more feedback. That continued throughout the time with the various sections of the industry they were working on. He said while calling a game, he was getting feedback from NBC Sunday Night Football coordinating producer Rob Hyland.

Daniel said, “I’m a football player at heart, I like to be coached. A lot of times you don’t get coached in TV. That was the best part of it was all the feedback and coaching that I got.”

As for which direction he’d prefer to go as it relates to working in the studio or calling games as a color analyst, Daniel said he would like to do both and can see himself excelling at both.

“I love to grind, I love to be in it,” he said. “I enjoy it and I see the value in it. There aren’t a lot of people who root themselves in pure facts and film. I can have my opinions, but I deal in what I see on film, and I say what I see. Thats what I try to base my opinions off of.

“I see the value that I can bring to networks where I will crush it in the studio and would be the most prepared guy out there if they put me in the booth. For me, there’s a fire that burns deep to be out there and wanting people to see what I see as I coach ball.”

Daniel says he tries to be his own style but does point to the way Tony Romo started talking “in front of the play” as a way to describe what he likes to do. He says he watches a lot of old games and will listen intently to the broadcasters and sometimes he will turn the sound down and call the game himself.

Daniel, now 37 years old, says he was raised “old-school,” and that he was taught from a very young age that he was to work hard at every single thing he does. While his media career is just getting started, in typical Chase Daniel fashion, his hard work is already putting him out ahead of the pack.

Sign up for the BSM 8@8

The Top 8 Sports Media Stories of the Day, sent directly to your inbox, every morning at 8am ET.

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Advertisement

Upcoming Events

Barrett Media Writers

Copyright © 2024 Barrett Media.