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As LeBron Tried To Quit, Real Kings Had To Save The NBA’s Season

“In his biggest challenge as a social justice leader, LeBron James whiffed when he stormed out of a contentious players’ meeting and voted to cancel the NBA season, which required intervention from Barack Obama and Michael Jordan.”

Jay Mariotti

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Colin Kaepernick, he is not. If social activism would be the imprint that distinguished LeBron James from his contemporaries, all he has done now is feed the critics who told him to “shut up and dribble.’’ I can’t get past the image of James, when his strength and empathy were needed most inside a ballroom of emotional players, storming from a volatile meeting and vowing to burst the NBA Bubble last week after he and his Lakers teammates had voted to end the season.

He was ready to quit. Run from the pressure. Not take the final shot. Stomp out of the arena and rip apart his jersey, as we’ve seen before.

Only this wasn’t quitting in a playoff game. Or quitting on Cleveland to take his talents to South Beach. Or quitting on Cleveland again to take his show-business whims to Hollywood. This was the moment defining James as an American leader — how to maximize the collective voice of athletes incensed about another case of police brutality against a Black man — and, stunningly, his initial response was to shut down the league and go home. After all, his kids missed him in Los Angeles, and furthermore, his ex-Miami teammate, 40-year-old Udonis Haslem, was pushing too hard in demanding answers from James as the league’s longtime face and power broker. Would a boycott of games extend through the rest of the postseason? Was it time to return to work? Did LeBron have a plan?

Somehow, he did not.

“My mind began to figure out, what is the plan going forward? And if we don’t have a plan, then what are we talking about? Why are we still here?’’ said James, explaining his mindset at that moment. “There was no plan going forward, no plan of action. And me personally, I’m not the type of guy who doesn’t have a plan and then is not ready to act on it.’’

So, according to multiple reports, James got up from the large gathering of league players and coaches and said, “We’re out,’’ as every teammate but Dwight Howard followed, soon to be joined out the door by the other Los Angeles team, the Clippers. LeBron could have stayed inside the room all night — where did he have to go anyway, locked in a Bubble? — and hashed out the issues until a plan was formulated. Instead, as if the scene was beneath him, he exited while 11 other teams were voting to continue the postseason, which was not a good look for The King.

Kaepernick never quit, kneeling on a sideline until the NFL stopped paying him and TV networks stopped showing him. Martin Luther King Jr. never quit, stopped only by an assassin in Memphis. Quitting is an option no legitimate civil rights leader ever considers, yet James was doing just that as a petty megalomaniac — angry he couldn’t gain a consensus hours after the Milwaukee Bucks had launched the Great Sports Boycott of 2020, and frayed by his often-stated weariness of life inside the league’s restrictive campus. “He was at a place where he was fighting with his mind and fighting with his heart,” teammate Danny Green said.

But he was thinking with his ego. And when history records the story of these surreal times, it will remember how James nearly brought down the NBA — and probably other leagues, by extension of his clout — before two esteemed elders bailed him out and rescued sports, at least until the next crisis. It surprises no one that former President Barack Obama was one of them, taking a late-night call from James and Players Association president Chris Paul after the contentious session and, for starters, urging James not to go home. Rather, Obama reminded them that the Bubble, confining and soul-sucking as it is, still allows players their best chance to make mass statements about racial inequality and that they should work with the NBA instead of boycotting the season. The result: Though the league already is paying $300 million into a fund for the purpose, commissioner Adam Silver is creating a social justice coalition, turning NBA arenas into Election Day polling sites and asking ESPN and Turner Sports to help with expanded social justice awareness, such as public service announcements and morepregame coverage of players kneeling after recently abandoning that part of the story, as the NFL’s broadcast partners did post-Kaepernick.

“Fifteen years in this league, I’ve never seen anything like it. The voices that were heard, I’ll never forget it,’’ said Paul, who kept the peace in the room while James was saying peace-out. “Guys are tired. We’re all hurt. We’re tired of seeing the same (police brutality) over and over again and everybody expecting us to be OK just because we get paid great money. We’re human. We have real feelings. And I’m glad that we got the chance to get in a room and talk with one another and not just cross paths and say, `Good luck in your game today.’ ‘’ We understand the platform we have, and we wanted to keep our foot on the pedal.’’

Wrote Silver in a letter to players in the NBA and WNBA, whose teams also boycotted games last week: “I have heard from several of you directly and I understand the pain, anger, and frustration that so many of us are feeling in this moment. I wholeheartedly support NBA and WNBA players and their commitment to shining a light on important issues of social justice. I understand that some of you feel the league should be doing more. I hear you — and please know that I am focused on ensuring that we as a league are affecting real change both within our organization and in communities across the country.’’

     In a statement, Obama’s office said: “As an avid basketball fan, President Obama speaks regularly with players and league officials. When asked, he was happy to provide advice to a small group of NBA players seeking to leverage their immense platforms for good after their brave and inspiring strike in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting. They discussed establishing a social justice committee to ensure that the players’ and league’s actions this week led to sustained, meaningful engagement on criminal justice and police reform.”

LeBron? He took a Twitter shot at President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. He reminded us about the wonderful public school he has created, for at-risk children, in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. And when the season resumed over the weekend — the games he was willing to abandon because he didn’t like the tone in the room — he sidestepped his epic failure to lead. He even cracked wise about breaking ranks, saying, “I’ve had numerous nights and days of thinking about leaving the Bubble. I think everyone has, including (the media). There hasn’t been one person that hasn’t thought in their mind, `I got to get the hell out of here.’ It probably crosses my mind once a day.”

He could afford to smile only after the intervention of Obama, probably the one man on the planet who could talk James out of leaving. “President Obama is a great man. He’s a great man,’’ he said, taking his usual shot at Trump. “I wish he was still the President of the United States.’’

How curious at age 35, after taking relentless political stands on social media and going to war against Trump, that LeBron required not only the 44th President to calm the seas … but Michael Jordan. He was the second savior, the bridge between the owners and players, and an effective one at that. As chairman of the league’s Labor Relations Committee, Jordan used his position as Charlotte Hornets owner to urge other owners to simply let the players vent and understand their frustrations. This was no small feat, knowing some owners didn’t support the idea of painting “BLACK LIVES MATTER’’ prominently on the three Bubble courts. But the owners obeyed Jordan and listened. Then he counseled the players, advising them to stay united and making sure they finish what they’ve started at Disney World. “He was huge in making sure that whatever we want to do together, we get it done,” Rockets star Russell Westbrook said.

Oh, the irony. Only last year, James was calling himself “the greatest player of all time,’’ assuming the Cavaliers’ 2016 rally to beat the Warriors finally had elevated him above Jordan in the age-old debate. And while never saying it, James figured he was a slam-dunk winner in any social awareness comparison, knowing Jordan shied from political positions as a capitalist during his playing career and once said, infamously, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.’’ But here was Jordan, in 2020, wisely ruling out quitting as an option. The other day, Jordan’s former teammate in Chicago, Craig Hodges, recalled how he was rejected by Jordan and Magic Johnson when he suggested the Bulls and Lakers boycott Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals after the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers.

“I knew the answer before I went to them,” Hodges told CBS Sports. “What’s funny to me is how quick they dismissed it. Both conversations lasted less than two minutes. Magic was coming on the court the day before the first game, and I asked him about it and he tells me `it’s too extreme.’ I’d already discussed it with Mike in the locker room, and he tells me, `Man, that’s wild, man.’ “

Almost 30 years later, Jordan was urging James to keep playing. But he did so from a more enlightened social platform. “I am deeply saddened, truly pained and plain angry,” Jordan said in May after George Floyd was choked to death. “I see and feel everyone’s pain, outrage and frustration. I stand with those who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough.’’

It remains doubtful whether the season will finish. One more police shooting, God help us, and everyone goes home. As James should have anticipated, the Bucks were horrified by the Blake shooting just 40 miles down I-94 from Milwaukee. “One thing that moved me as a human being was that, if you really want to accomplish something, you can. We were able to get his family’s number within, like, 30 minutes,” said two-time reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, recalling how Bucks players spoke to Blake’s family the day of their boycott. “We came together as a team, went in a circle, talked to his dad, and his dad was tearing up telling us how powerful what we did on that day was for him and his family. That’s bigger than basketball. We’re going to remember the way we felt for the rest of our lives.”

On that, James could agree. “Obviously, the Bubble season will never be forgotten. In sports, this is the first time we’ve been able to do something like this, but this moment is much bigger than us playing basketball,’’ he said. “Hopefully, years down the line, when America is in a better place, you can look back at this moment and be like, `That was one of the catapults that kind of got it going.’ ‘’

The Clippers also voted to cancel the season, remember, and while Pat Beverley and even superstar Kawhi Leonard avoid criticism because they don’t carry LeBron’s weight, they are dealing with daily anxiety that could crack their title hopes. Marcus Morris, for instance, is a headhunter who could sabotage his team at any moment after again trying to maim Luka Doncic on Sunday. In that cranky-mood vein, who knows if the Bubble has six more weeks of staying power when we haven’t even discussed the ongoing coronavirus threats, heightened by this week’s arrival of close family members and friends of the players?

And who knows if the league honors its pledge to support the players? “All you can do is give us your word. If the word you have given us is not fulfilled, then we’ll attack that moment,’’ said James, whose teammate, Anthony Davis, went so far to say, “We won’t play again,’’ if the owners don’t keep their word. Celtics forward Jaylen Brown, one of the league’s young social justice leaders who voiced ballroom feelings independent of James, has his doubts. “I’m not as confident as I would like to be, I’ll say that,’’ said Brown, who drove from Boston to his native Atlanta to march in a protest months ago. “I think promises are made year after year. We’ve heard a lot of these terms and words before. We heard them in 2014 — reform. We’re still hearing them now. A lot of them are just reshaping the same ideas and nothing is actually taking place. Long-term goals are one thing, but I think there’s stuff in our wheelhouse as athletes with our resources and the people that we’re connected to that short-term effect is possible as well.

“Everybody keeps saying, `Change is going to take this, change is going to take that.’ That’s the incrementalism idea that keeps stringing you along to make you feel like something’s going to happen, something’s going to happen. People were dying in 2014, and it’s 2020 and people are still dying the same way. They keep saying `reform, reform, reform,’ and ain’t nothing being reformed.’’

There was no shortage of symbolism when Bucks guard George Hill, the first player to demand league support after the Blake shooting, explained why he was late in taking the court Saturday. “You want the honest truth? I take a s— every time before the game,’’ he said.

A fitting parable for an NBA s—storm, wouldn’t you say?

Sure, he’s still LeBron James. He’s still seeking his fourth championship, still an elite player, still routinely capable of a 36-point triple-double used to oust Portland in the first round, still a model family man who has avoided scandal despite living half his life in the searing public eye.

But suddenly, for the first time in forever, it doesn’t seem like he’s The King anymore.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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