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The Familiar (Lebron) And Freaky (DeChambeau) Define 2020

“When a surreal year is revisited, the foremost sports memories will include LeBron James’ heavy responsibilities, on and off the court, and the rise of a science-lab experiment unlike anything golf has seen.”

Jay Mariotti

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It’s the definitive award for a normal sports calendar: Sportsperson of the Year. But this time, for reasons as overt as a six-inch swab shoved into one’s nasal cavity for 15 seconds, the title requires creativity. Survivor of the Year? Pummeler of the Pandemic? Braveheart of the Bubble? Crusher of the Covid? Sultan of Swab?

Whatever the description, it fits LeBron James like his snug Black Mamba jersey. Others are carving initials into this surreal moment, too, including mad scientist Bryson DeChambeau, the transformative carbs-and-weights android who gained 40 pounds, imposed his will and savage driver on Winged Foot and won golf’s U.S. Open. But there’s something about his Hans-and-Franz act that feels freakish, at least until he proves otherwise at Augusta National in November, bizarre as that sounds. And if you’re looking to the NFL for 2020 memories — see Russell Wilson — first ask this after a Sunday when injuries were rampant: Thanks to a coronavirus-shortened preseason, will anyone stay healthy?

As for LeBron, we know who he is and where he’s likely headed in the coming weeks. Even in wild and unrecognizable times, it’s still very much his sports world, like him or loathe him. He doesn’t have too much on his massive, mountain-range shoulders right now — parenting his namesake son through a weed-smoking drama from 2,500 miles away, fighting racial inequality and police brutality from a campus he can’t leave, chastising the media for dissing him in MVP voting and, oh, positioning the Los Angeles Lakers for renewed glory. We’ve entered the championship phase of our medical marathon and global mind-bleep — basketball, hockey, golf, tennis — and, clearly, James is among a sacred few separating themselves and leaving indelible sports footprints in the apocalyptic sand.

But for him, this is about more than outlasting the competition inside the NBA Bubble, winning a trophy and throwing a virtual parade, assuming that is possible amid the wildfire threats and Covid cases of southern California. Up 2-0 over scrappy Denver in the Western Conference finals, after Anthony Davis’ buzzer-beating three-pointer, James is nearing his ninth NBA Finals in 10 seasons. Bigger than all of that, he is accomplishing precisely what 2020 needed from an iconic athlete.

He is the consummate badass warrior, promoting Black Lives Matter, pushing Americans to vote (against President Trump) AND subduing all postseason comers while maintaining his mental equilibrium in restrictive confinement. He is pushing 36 and finishing his 17th year in the league, yet James is the one still standing after Giannis Antetokounmpo faded, Kawhi Leonard choked, Paul George battled demons and James Harden tripped on his beard again. LeBron never will be Michael Jordan, as “The Last Dance’’ docu-series reaffirmed, but I doubt Jordan would have lasted in the Bubble even with daily opportunities to golf and gamble. Nor would Jordan, at the time, have made any impact as an activist. To refer to James as multi-relevant this year is grossly understating his impact. A day doesn’t pass without him making a headline, and, over the weekend, he made at least three.

He ripped the judicial system — and rightfully so — for allowing actress Lori Loughlin and her husband to serve sentences in low-security prisons (yoga and pilates for Aunt Becky!) despite paying $500,000 in bribes in the college admissions scandal. Noting that a judge gave Loughlin a slammer of her choice, James responded on Instagram with five smiling/crying emojis: “Of her what!!??? I’m laughing cause sometimes you have to just to stop from crying! Don’t make no damn sense to me. We just want the same treatment if committed of same crime that’s all. Is that asking for to much??? Let me guess, it is huh. Yeah I know!! We’ll just keep pushing forward and not expecting the handouts! STRONG, BLACK & POWERFUL!’’ White privilege at work, wouldn’t you say?

Then he made news as a father. James didn’t want his three kids joining him and his wife in the Bubble this month because, in his words, “My kids are adventurous and they love to do so much stuff. There’s nothing to do here.’’ That left 15-year-old Bronny, the high-school hoops sensation, to be adventurous in California: He posted a video of himself smoking a blunt, a clip that went viral before it was removed from his Instagram account. While hardly a capital crime, this is a distressing episode for LeBron, who hasn’t seen his children since Father’s Day and admitted to “numerous nights and days thinking about leaving’’ the Bubble. Bronny’s full name, as you know, is LeBron James Jr. He has 5.6 million followers on Instagram, 4.3 million on TikTok. His dad has talked openly about playing at least one NBA season with him. Think there isn’t concern about the fishbowl that awaits him and how he’s handling it? This is a father-son talk best done in person, not on a Zoom call, but in the middle of the playoffs, what is a dad to do? Nor should he blame the evils of social media; after all, LeBron also is the king of networking.

Nor can he do anything but look in the mirror and recall his teenaged self. In his book, “Shooting Stars,’’ LeBron admitted to smoking marijuana as a high-school junior. With co-author Buzz Bissinger, James wrote, “We had become big-headed jerks, me in particular, and we are to blame for that, but so are adults who treated us that way and then sat back and smugly watched the self-destruction.’’ He learned back then about the scarcity of trust, and that’s what he seemed to convey when he tweeted, as his son was being crucified on social media: “Exactly why I have my close circle cause as soon as you try to expand to a square the people who you thought was in your corner as the exact opposite. #MyThoughts.’’ Please keep in mind that James, in almost two decades in the high-profile public eye, has avoided scandal. Hey, kids try weed. At least half the players in the NBA smoke weed. He’ll deal with it.

It was his rant about the MVP vote, though, that suggests James is so amped to prove a point that he can’t possibly lose what would be his fourth championship. Not only did Antetokounmpo win the award for the second consecutive year, he won in a landslide — an outcome that looks dubious after his latest playoff bust as James appears title-bound. After winning MVP honors four times between 2009 and 2013, LeBron hasn’t won since. He also has lost six times in his nine NBA Finals appearances, always an eyesore, especially when compared to Jordan’s 6-0 mark. Now, Giannis is the beloved freak after Leonard became the darling of June. When asked about the vote, James let loose with a torrent of P-words.

“Pissed me off. That’s my true answer,” he said. “It pissed me off, because out of 101 votes, I got 16 first-place votes. That’s what pissed me off more than anything. You know, not saying that the winner wasn’t deserving of the MVP. But that pissed me off. And I’ve finished second a lot in my career, either from a championship (or) now four times as an MVP.

“I never came into this league to be MVP or to be a champion. I’ve always just wanted to get better and better every single day, and those things will take care of itself. But some things is just out of my hand and some things you can’t control. But it pissed me off.”

Not finished, he targeted the voters: 100 media members worldwide and one fan representative. It’s a strange system for such an important honor. “I don’t know how much we are really watching the game,” James said of the panel. “I’m not going to sit up here and talk about what the criteria should be or what it is. It’s changed over the years since I’ve gotten into the league. Sometimes it’s the best player on the best team. Sometimes it’s the guy with the best season statistically. I mean, you don’t know. I do know Giannis had a hell of a season.’’

But Antetokounmpo didn’t have a hell of a postseason. Nor did the Milwaukee Bucks, who never found their stride in the Bubble and wilted after boycotting a game to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake. The Lakers also were among teams that subsequently boycotted games, but thanks to James’ leadership and considerable activism experience, they maintained clear focus. It never has made sense that MVP awards, which are supposed to pinpoint the best players in their leagues in a given year, are based entirely on regular seasons. James is in the process of making a mockery of the method.

“He locks in. I mean, he goes into a different mode,’’ said Davis, who is the second-best player remaining in the Bubble, with apologies to Jimmy Butler. “He’s already in that mode regardless, because we’re trying to win a championship. I know he’d rather win a ring than an MVP award, but it definitely sparks him like he’s got a chip on his shoulder, like he’s got something to prove. He’s the best player in the league. I mean, every headline is about LeBron James, and everybody talks about what he’s done. But you look at this year, what he’s able to accomplish in the regular season and playoffs — for me, it’s clear-cut he’s the MVP.’’

Some championships this year should be affixed with an asterisk — such as in Major League Baseball, which never should have attempted its Covid-wrecked farce of a shotgun season, and college football, which persists in attempting a disjointed campaign as the virus batters campuses and at least one big-time coach (Florida State’s Mike Norvell). But anyone who tries to downgrade LeBron’s would-be title is an Ass-terisk. The same applies to Naomi Osaka, who took over women’s tennis at the U.S. Open while wearing the names of shooting victims on her masks. And the team that survives the NHL Igloo up north, maybe the surprising Dallas Stars.

DeChambeau? Until a scandal proves otherwise, The Hulk is taking over golf with a counterintuitive mixture of science, protein shakes, painstaking hard work and just enough nuances, such as a short game and, yes, even a few fairway landings between constant saves from the rough. He vowed last year to change his body and swing — but who knew he’d change the sport? Asked Friday if his ethos was big enough to overcome the Winged Foot carnage, he invoked Tiger Woods, who missed the cut for the eighth time in his last 15 majors in a crash that suggested Augusta 2019 will be his famous final scene. “That’s a question for the gods. That’s a question for God,’’ DeChambeau said. “I mean, Tiger has been able to do something like that many times before, so I think there is something. But human scientific research does not say that there’s anything about that.’’

This is a man who vows to live to 130. Is he human? For his next trick, he’ll try a 48-inch driver. “Keep pushing the boundaries,’’ he said.

In a signature 2020 scene, DeChambeau stopped on his way to the trophy ceremony to speak to his family on a big-screen Zoom call.

“I did it!’’ he said.

“You did it! Love you, buddy!’’ his mother said.

“Thanks for sacrificing everything for me,’’ he said.

“We’re going to open up a bottle of champagne,’’ she said.

Golf never has seen anyone like him.

But then, we’ve never seen any year like 2020.

The NFL can’t afford to lose stars such as Nick Bosa and Saquon Barkley to serious injuries in a limping procession that included Christian McCaffrey and Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers’ season might have been sabotaged by evil turf at MetLife Stadium, where coach Kyle Shanahan blamed a new surface that was “sticky’’ — knowing his team returns next weekend to play the Giants. Quarterbacks continue to rule the Monday morning Zoom conversations — water coolers are long gone — with the Tom Brady/Cam Newton comparison game still in flux. Brady played better in a victory while Newton, while continuing to impress, was denied on the game’s final play in Seattle, with the Patriots lining 10 men on the line and alerting the Seahawks to a run. Elsewhere, Patrick Mahomes rallied the Chiefs again after nearly meeting his match in the Chargers’ defense and rookie QB Justin Herbert; Aaron Rodgers avenged turmoil to regain his MVP sheen; and Josh Allen, Jared Goff and Ryan Tannehill hurled touchdown passes galore. We saw Wilson dominate the Patriots after declaring himself the league’s best QB, “without a doubt.’’ Bill Belichick agreed, saying he “doesn’t really see anybody better’’ in a dig at Brady, who isn’t in the conversation and might never be again.

And the fans? Little by little, they’re starting to return in increments, still not the sensible approach but unstoppable in a sports world that — as I’ve said and written repeatedly — still treats Covid like the common flu. In Dallas, 21,000 humans shrieked in joy — and spread saliva droplets — as the Cowboys staged an improbable comeback victory. (At least Jerry Jones wore a mask as he hugged people in his suite.) In Kansas City, a Chiefs fan tested positive after attending the season opener, forcing everyone who sat near him to quarantine. In Cleveland, only 6,000 fans were allowed, but that didn’t stop several from engaging in fisticuffs in a town that might not know what the coronavirus is. The league is weird enough this year — Green Bay players trying Lambeau Leaps with no fans to catch them, fake boos piped in over speakers in Philadelphia (natch) — to complicate matters with sick patients in hospitals.

At this stage, though, 2020 belongs to James. Which is astonishing, recalling how he looked “washed’’ last season, to use his media-mocking term. When the NBA season was halted March 11 and didn’t resume until July, he could have dismissed the Bubble as an absurd aberration and checked out. Instead, the King reinvented himself as Prince of the Pandemic. If the Lakers go on to play Butler and the Heat — an intriguing matchup of LeBron’s current and former teams … and Pat Riley’s former and current teams — it won’t be easy. Unlike, say, the dissension-torn Clippers, the Heat have created a closer bond inside the Bubble. In taking a 2-1 lead in the Eastern finals, they’ve rattled the Celtics into a screaming, chair-throwing scene in their locker room and returned to win twice from double-digit deficits.

“Man, we got grit,” Bam Adebayo said. “I’m happy to be on this team with these guys because everybody in here has a different story. We all come from nothing, and that’s what’s beautiful about this team, man. You put guys that come from nothing together, and they have a vision.’’

Said Butler, who finally seems to have found his happy place in NBA life: “We believe in one another. We know what we’re capable of. Yeah, we get down at times, but we never hang our heads, because we know if we play the right way, we give ourselves a chance to win. With this group of guys, man, it’s always smiles out there on the court.”

The Heat will win titles in the future, especially if Antetokounmpo takes his talents to South Beach. But no one can stop LeBron James when he is sensing a chance to finish first again, not second, in a career that often has been more grating than rewarding. Plenty of people in this country aren’t watching sports, glued to news channels weeks before the most important and potentially poisonous presidential election ever, even as athletes bust through the gloom to invent new ways to showcase preeminence.

But if there’s one sports figure who is polarizing enough to draw an audience in October, it’s the Braveheart of the Bubble. The title sticks.

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NBA Basketball Media Continues to Pile On The Boston Celtics

These Celtics have yet to win a ring and that is on them, but the media criticism levied against them has been inane.

John Molori

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Logo for the Boston Celtics and screengrabs from ESPN
Screengrabs from ESPN's First Take and Get Up

They are the most unfairly criticized team in the NBA, a team that cruised to 64 victories and earned the number one seed in a very tough Eastern Conference. They have taken two NBA playoff series in five games respectively and lead the Eastern Conference Finals 2-0 versus Indiana.

I speak of the Boston Celtics, and despite these sterling facts, their two superstars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and the team as a whole, continue to garner criticism from the roundball media.

These “experts” say that the Celtics cannot be trusted and that they have not played to their potential. The Celtics have been to the Eastern Conference Finals six times since 2017 and made it to the NBA Finals in 2022, losing to the Golden State Warriors, but to listen to the basketball cognoscenti, you would think they are a bunch of green-clad slugs.

I get it, the Tatum-Brown Celtics have yet to win an NBA Championship, and I agree that if they don’t win it all this year, it will be a failed season for sure. After Boston defeated Cleveland in the Eastern semifinals, TNT analyst Draymond Green stated that no one cares that the Celtics once again made it to the conference finals. He is 100% correct, but that does not mean that the Celtics are utter garbage.

It’s really hard to win an NBA playoff series in five games. The Celtics have already done that twice in these playoffs, but instead of giving the Celtics credit for taking care of business, many commentators have denigrated them for how they are winning and the teams they have faced or did not have to face.

Joel Embiid was hurt. Giannis Antetokounmpo was hurt. The Knicks were banged up and the Cavs lost Donovan Mitchell. Well, too bad. Injuries are a part of the game. Are we forgetting the Celtics have been crushing playoff series without Kristaps Porzingis? When the Celtics get attention from the national media spotlight, it is usually with an air of disappointment and disgust. I’m wondering why.

ESPN and FS1 give endless attention, hope, positivity, and forward-thinking to the Los Angeles Lakers. Simply put, the Lakers are a mediocre to decent basketball team at best. They were dumped in the first round of the playoffs and if not for their history, LeBron James, and the city in which they play, they wouldn’t even be in the discussion. They are the New Orleans Pelicans with Snoop Dogg at courtside.

Still, the Lakers remain in the A block on many network hoops shows. Do you want to talk about a lack of trust, disappointment, and not reaching potential? How about the defending champion Denver Nuggets?

Yes, they have a two-time MVP in Nikola Jokic, but what about his team this year? They fell to a bunch of playoff neophytes called the Minnesota Timberwolves, losing Game 7 at home. Meanwhile, the Celtics took out an always tough Miami Heat team and a highly competitive Cavaliers team, 5 games each. All these Celtics do is win. Does it matter if the wins are pretty? Since when is that the media litmus test?

In a recap of Game 1 of the Eastern finals, a thrilling 133-128 overtime win for Boston, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps said that the Celtics almost “coughed up” another game at home. He went on to say that all the Pacers had to do was inbound the ball and hit a free-throw, and they would have won. Fine Tim, but guess what? They didn’t get it done and the Celtics did. Mistakes and capitalizing on mistakes are a big part of basketball.

Bontemps went on to say that if the Celtics don’t win Game 2 vs. Indiana, the Game 1 win will not matter. This is quite possibly the most foolhardy statement uttered in this year’s NBA playoffs. When four games win a series, every win matters. I understand that the Celtics lost Game 2 at home in their first two series, but so what? They righted the ship and swept both series the rest of the way.

During Game 1 against the Pacers, the Celtics jumped out to an early double-digit lead, but Indy came back to tie the game as good NBA playoff teams are known to do. ESPN’s Lisa Salters asked Boston guard Jrue Holiday how the Celtics lost the early lead. Holiday calmly replied that the Pacers are an NBA team as well. Exactly.

At the end of Game 1, after Boston stormed back in regulation and dominated the OT, ESPN play by play announcer Mike Breen said that the Celtics “survived” Game 1. It was an interesting choice of words that underlined the unfair criticism of Boston.

Coming back in a game, hitting big shots, and winning when it matters is not surviving. It is stepping up, closing the door, and being clutch. Breen is probably unfamiliar with these words because he’s been hanging around the Knicks too long.

On the May 21 edition of ESPN’s First Take, the talented and eloquent Andraya Carter questioned whether the Celtics can be trusted pinpointing Jayson Tatum in the conversation. Austin Rivers vehemently disagreed and the two engaged in a lively debate. The morning after the Celtics won Game 1 vs. the Pacers, ESPN’s Get Up crew still dogged them.

The eminent host Mike Greenberg asked the panel how Jaylen Brown could get open for the “easiest” three-point shot of the game to tie the game with just seconds left in regulation.

If you watch video of the shot, however, it was hardly easy. Brown was in the far corner with the 6-10 Pascal Siakam in his face and the Indiana bench just a couple of feet away most likely yelling Dicemanesque obscenities his way. These are the types of unmerited insults tossed at the Celtics. Brown hits an amazing shot with everything on the line and it is somehow considered the easiest shot of the game. Really?

Much of the rancor toward the Celtics is based on their stacked roster and the perceived lack of talent in their opponents, but let me get all historical on you for a minute. The nearly unanimously coronated greatest player in the history of the game, Michael Jordan, did not play all-time great teams in winning his six NBA Championship series.

In 1991, it was an old Lakers team. In 1992, it was the utterly forgettable Portland Trailblazers. In 1993, it was an aging Phoenix Suns team with Charles Barkley trying to get a

ring. In 1996, it was a good, but not great Seattle Sonics club, and in 1997 and 1998, it was the Utah Jazz. I’ll give the Jazz Karl Malone and John Stockton, but the rest of the team did double duty in a men’s weeknight league at the Northern Utah YMCA.

In fact, a team’s competition is trivial. If you win, you win. It doesn’t matter who is on the opposite side of the court. The Celtics have yet to win a ring and that is on them, but the media criticism levied against them has been inane.

Even the legendary Michael Wilbon piled on saying that if the Knicks were completely healthy, he would have picked them to beat the Celtics. All due respect to Mr. Wilbon, but a fully healthy Knicks team still may not have beaten the Pacers, sharpshooting like Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon.

On Get Up this past week, ESPN’s Alan Hahn said that Jayson Tatum is not in the same league as LeBron James. No kidding, Alan. LeBron James is the leading scorer in NBA history, a man who has defined the sport for two decades. Hahn doubled down however, stating that Tatum is not in the same league as Luka Doncic.

Doncic is an immensely skillful player, but that’s about it. His Mavericks are in the conference finals for only the second time in his career. He has taken his team absolutely nowhere. Doncic is the is the Josh Allen of the NBA. Super stats, but not a sniff of a conference championship to his credit. His name is Luca, and he lives on the second bill to Tatum.

On the May 22 edition of First Take, Stephen A. Smith noted that Jayson Tatum scored 12 points in the Game 1 overtime period, but also added that Tatum shot 2-10 in the fourth quarter and early in overtime.

Fair enough, but he then stated, “You’re looking for him, and he was nowhere to be found when it really counted.” Huh? So, it didn’t really count in overtime? Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Celtics and the Pacers was a tremendous NBA playoff game, one that should go down in history as a classic.

Instead, it became a springboard for continued unfounded Celtics trashing. Not every competitive NBA game is perfect. Teams make mistakes and miss shots. That’s basketball.

Game 2 saw the Celtics drub the Pacers 126-110 making them 10-2 in the playoffs with multiple trustworthy players delivering in the clutch. This series might end in 4 or 5 games, or could go 7, but to once again paraphrase Draymond Green, nobody cares as long as you win. Despite the baseless media negativity, that is exactly what the Celtics have been doing.

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Ken LaVicka Looks Ahead Following ESPN West Palm Exit

“The last thing I wanted to do was bus throw.”

Derek Futterman

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Ken LaVicka
Courtesy: ESPN West Palm

Although April Fool’s Day had recently taken place, the message Ken LaVicka was delivering on the air early in the month was hardly a joking matter. In an announcement that came as a shock to listeners and LaVicka himself, he revealed that he was leaving ESPN West Palm after 17 years with the outlet. For the last three years, he was the co-host of the popular LaVicka, Theo and Stone midday program, which provided local listeners with discussion and revelry surrounding sports in South Florida and in the United States as a whole.

While it was insinuated to LaVicka that there were financial reasons for the exit, the entire move left him uneasy and uncomfortable, suddenly finding himself out of regular hosting work and looking for a new job. After all, he had been appearing on the air for the Good Karma Brands-owned radio station since 2007, one year after he completed college at Valparaiso University. Over the years at the outlet, he augmented his standing through shifts as an update anchor and fill-in host to eventually being granted his own full-time hosting slot.

The audience within the West Palm Beach and Treasure Coast marketplace had become accustomed to his voice and opinions for more than a decade, making the move difficult for both parties involved. In fact, as LaVicka was divulging the news in the last 20 minutes of what was his final show on the station, he articulated that it was not only he and his partners losing the midday show, but those listeners that encompass the audience as well.

“It was ultimately a corporate decision,” LaVicka said. “It was definitely not mutual. I would prefer to still be at ESPN West Palm. I am unhappy that I’m not at ESPN West Palm, but hey, we’ve been in the business a long time. I’ve seen a lot of friends end up losing jobs over decisions that come from a much higher paygrade, and so I think that ultimately that’s what happened to me.”

When reflecting back on the circumstances that led to his departure from the station, LaVicka believes that he was seen as expendable. Outside of his hosting work, LaVicka is a play-by-play announcer for Florida Atlantic University and calls NWSL soccer matches on various digital platforms. Although LaVicka is appreciative of the company’s belief for him to find his footing again, he is crestfallen to be off the air but conducted himself with professionalism throughout his egress.

“The last thing I wanted to do was bus throw,” LaVicka said. “Was I disappointed? Absolutely. Was I bitter? For sure, and I still feel bitterness towards the situation that unfolded. But I also think that the positives of the opportunities afforded to me by Good Karma Brands for almost 20 years, and also at the end them trying to, while making a tough decision that was going to have an adverse effect on me, try and do it in the most professional and classy way possible that you could in that spot, it kind of allowed me this freedom.”

There exists a dichotomy between LaVicka’s time at ESPN West Palm ending and that of the midday program itself. Upon discovering that he would not be retained, he made this distinction and felt despondency towards having to leave his co-hosts Theo Dorsey and Stone Labanowitz. The broad age cohort on the program and varying perspectives on sports was an aspect that LaVicka believes engendered a unique offering on the air. LaVica has been at the station the longest among the trio, and his partners understood the importance of having the ability to say goodbye to the listeners through the platform.

LaVicka remembers starting at the outlet and describes the first office he worked out of as an “absolute closet,” but it proved to be a place where the business continued to flourish. Originally being from Chicago, Ill., he adjusted to living in southern Florida while also having an ability to focus on growing his career.

The perception that he had of sports talk radio when he was studying in college and participating in the student-run radio station differed from what he ultimately experienced working at ESPN West Palm. It was preceded by a year working at then-FOX Sports 100.5 FM in Madison, Wisc., also owned by Good Karma Brands. LaVicka accepted the role three days before he was supposed to move to Dickinson, N.D. to work as a sportswriter for The Dickinson Press, deciding to pursue his passion in radio.

Nearly two decades later, he evinces an ongoing, axiomatic shift pertaining to multimedia consumption and content creation. LaVicka believes it has become more difficult for terrestrial radio outlets to find businesses who want to associate with their work and delivery methods, although it is dependent on the marketplace. The apprehension he possesses in this regard, however, is in whether talented young people will be able to secure and subsequently capitalize off opportunities.

“Local radio will not die,” LaVicka prognosticated. “It’s still too much of a bonding entity for it to go away completely, but the expectations of how much money a local station can bring in just using traditional means as its way of bringing in income – there’s going to have to be some forward thinkers in that local radio space because you can’t just go, ‘The person goes on air – sell sponsorships’ It doesn’t work like that anymore.”

LaVicka himself is currently looking for a new role in the industry and is not opposed to moving out of south Florida if the opportunity is right for him and his family. Since losing his job at ESPN West Palm, he has endured many sleepless nights and pondered over the amount of fortitude and patience he has within the process.

Even though he is not ruling out an eventual return to ESPN West Palm, he views the outcome as unlikely. The value working there, however, comes in being able to relate and appeal to a diverse, transient audience residing within the locale. Good Karma Brands is assisting him with the process by promoting his work and providing him with financial assistance as he prepares for his next career move.

“I don’t want to come off as cocky, but I’m very confident in myself that given an opportunity; given a role – a sizable role that is something that’s going to be consumed by a lot of people – I get that opportunity, I’m going to excel in it,” LaVicka said. “There hasn’t been any point in my career on air where I haven’t been given an opportunity and then it didn’t completely expand past I think what the initial expectation was, and this includes my time at Florida Atlantic.”

While LaVicka is open to opportunities in terrestrial radio, he is also exploring working in the digital realm and recently started a YouTube show with WQAM digital content producer Zach Krantz titled By All Accounts. LaVicka first met Krantz at Miami Dolphins practices and training camps when he was working on The Joe Rose Show, and they shared several laughs and memorable moments.

When LaVicka and his wife welcomed their second child into the world, it required a stint in the neonatal intensive care unit at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Fla. Their newborn daughter ended up spending 72 hours there where her health improved. Krantz discovered the circumstance shortly after it began and reached out to LaVicka to offer his support, understanding the stress with the situation after his son was in the NICU for several months.

“[He] made sure to come find me at the hospital and put me at ease [and] talked me through the process,” LaVicka said, “and that was massively important to me, had a major effect on me and also gave me an idea of the type of person Zach Krantz is.”

Krantz came up with the idea to start a program with LaVicka, reaching out to him shortly after his exit from ESPN West Palm. Within his proposition, he explained that they already possessed strong chemistry and rapport and would work together to begin a show from phase one. Despite the program still being in its early stages, LaVicka can sense palpable growth potential that could perhaps turn into its own sustainable entity if it continues to grow. The venture is not evanescent, but rather something he is committed to growing in the long run as he discovers the media landscape and searches for the most optimal long-term solution.

“I want this thing to be broad,” LaVicka said. “I want it to be fun, but I think that I also want to make sure that it at least plays to our strengths, which is being petty sports fans; which is showing favor to South Florida sports, making sure that we’re being extremely relatable in the grand scheme of things.”

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How Advertisers Can Protect Their Digital Ad Spend

Invalid website traffic from automated scripts and “bad bots” will waste $71 billion this year.

Jeff Caves

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Graphic for digital advertising

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) partnering with digital marketing companies for their ad spend can enjoy significant advantages. Digital companies, such as many radio stations’ digital departments, often have more expertise than SMBs in spending money wisely to generate website traffic and, crucially, in avoiding the waste of ad dollars on fake traffic. Fake website traffic has increased by 33% in just two years. Invalid website traffic (IVT) from automated scripts and “bad bots” will waste $71 billion this year. Here are some questions advertisers can ask their digital partner to help eliminate fake ad engagement:

Make Data and Machines Work

Ask your digital partner if they use advanced data analytics and machine learning to optimize your ad spend. By employing predictive analytics—predicting future outcomes—savvy digital marketers can identify audiences most likely to engage genuinely with your ads. Inquire if they use Google Analytics and how it can help flag potential fraud and protect your investment.

Blockchain Technology for Ad Verification

To ensure transparency and security in your ad campaigns, some digital marketers leverage blockchain technology. This technology records every click and impression, guaranteeing that each interaction is genuine and that payments are made only for verified interactions. Blockchain makes it more difficult to change, hack, or manipulate data.

Advanced Attribution Models

Check if your partner uses multi-touch attribution models, which consider all touchpoints in the customer’s journey to your website. This approach provides a comprehensive view of how each ad contributes to conversions. Algorithmic attribution models apply sophisticated algorithms to improve ROI measurement.

Partnerships with Anti-Fraud Organizations

Ask if they collaborate with anti-fraud organizations to reduce fraud in digital advertising. Some digital companies ensure that campaigns and partners are certified by organizations like TAG, guaranteeing that ad placements are genuine and not plagued with fake engagements.

Private Marketplaces

Ensure that ad placements are with trusted publishers, reducing the risk of fraud. Some digital companies use private marketplaces, where a limited number of advertisers can buy and access premium inventory that is less susceptible to fraud, ensuring higher-quality ad placements for your business.

Real-Time Bidding (RTB) and Enhanced Filters

Your digital partner should set criteria for real-time bidding to ensure only high-quality, vetted traffic is considered. Real-Time Bidding is an auction setting where ad impressions are sold and bought. And transactions occur within seconds. Once an advertiser’s bid wins the auction, their digital ad is instantaneously shown on the website or property of the publisher.

Dynamic bidding strategies can adjust in real time based on the quality and performance of the inventory, maximizing the efficiency of your ad spend. Attempting this on your own can be challenging and less effective.

Focus on User Engagement Metrics

Ensure that deeper engagement metrics are employed, such as time spent on a page, scroll depth, and interaction rates, to provide a clearer picture of ad effectiveness. Analyzing post-click behavior helps determine the quality of engagements, ensuring that clicks result in meaningful interactions.

By partnering with well-established digital marketing companies, SMBs can access advanced technologies and strategies to ensure that digital marketing efforts are practical and efficient. Make sure your website conversions are as high as possible. YouTube and Google Search are leading the way in combating bot traffic, while LinkedIn, Google Video Partners, and X are less effective at blocking “bad bots.” Finding a reliable digital partner is crucial to protecting your ad spend and maximizing your returns. Beware of the bad bot and ensure your advertising efforts drive genuine value.

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