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Jay Bilas Is Continually Compelled By College Basketball

Derek Futterman

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Jay Bilas of ESPN

Studying to attain a law degree is an intensive task that requires commitment and dedication, along with having an erudite understanding of different types of law and standards of litigation. Completing law school is usually laborious for most students since the occupation involves meticulous preparation and the application of knowledge into real-world situations pertaining to intricacies such as burdens of proof, depositions and arraignments. Of course, the job of an attorney is to represent a plaintiff or a defendant and advocate on their behalf, and while much of their time is spent in offices and courtrooms, some have given broadcasting a try. It is fair to consider Jay Bilas a part of that group, specializing in commercial litigation and all things college hoops.

History scholars are surely cognizant of a maxim authored by former Pennsylvania governor and American pantologist Benjamin Franklin which states, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” It is evident that preparedness is paradigmatic in effectuating a greater chance at success, mitigating ostensible roadblocks before they occur. Bilas, through his law training, was taught methods of preparing for cases and today is of counsel at the law firm Moore & Van Allen.

Working as a lawyer, however, is not Bilas’ full-time job. That would be working for ESPN as one of its top college basketball commentators, providing analysis of players and teams both on studio programming and courtside for select matchups. His journey in sports media, unconventional in and of itself, kept him around the game he has fervently scrutinized in a variety of roles. It has afforded him a chance to disseminate his esoteric perspectives on the sport based on his previous experience – voluminous and stratified – along with his means of interpretation.

“I’ve learned about the game since I’ve played it and since I was an assistant coach,” Bilas said. “That’s been one of the great things about this job. If I had stayed as an assistant and had [my] own program at some point, I probably wouldn’t know as much about the game as I feel like I know now.”

Indeed, Bilas has been present around several accomplished college basketball programs through his role at ESPN, something that would not have been possible had he remained a member of the Duke University Blue Devils men’s basketball team’s coaching staff.

Led by head coach Mike Krzyzewski for 42 seasons, the team won five national championships and qualified for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament 36 times, posting an overall record of 97-30 and 13 appearances in the Final Four. Krzyzewski, an undisputed savant of the game, recruited Bilas to play for the team as one of the top high school basketball prospects in the country.

Before Bilas considered institutions in which to matriculate, he participated in an interview with a local media outlet where he expressed an interest in broadcasting after playing basketball. In his youth, his mother encouraged him to try a variety of different activities, including various debate courses and competing in ballroom dancing, shaping him into a multifaceted, avant-garde recruit with recognizance in many different subject matters.

Interested basketball programs took notice and made sure that they introduced Bilas to executives in their communication departments during his visits, giving him a more comprehensive understanding of interacting with the media. During his visit to Duke University, Krzyzewski introduced Bilas to Chuck Howard, an 11-time Emmy-winning producer with ABC Sports and pioneer in sports broadcasting.

In the end, Bilas had a decision to make between playing for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes; the Syracuse University Orange; the University of Kansas Jayhawks; or the Duke University Blue Devils. Shortly thereafter, he found himself packing his bags to travel from his hometown of Los Angeles to Durham, N.C. and immersing himself in its system and the shrewd intellect of Krzyzewski.

On top of that, his conversation with Howard led to Bilas landing a job with ABC Sports during the summers as a runner where he assisted in the production of signature events. Some of these spectacles included the 1983 PGA Championship, the 1984 Summer Olympics (held in Los Angeles) and Monday Night Baseball broadcasts featuring premier voices of “America’s Pastime.”

“It just kind of got me interested in it,” Bilas said, “and I just sort of pursued it, I guess, from there…. “I think [that for] anybody who gets into this kind of thing, you’re always thinking, ‘Well, can I do this? Is this something I should do?’ Chuck was very positive all the time.”

Bilas was a four-year starter under Krzyzewski and faced off against difficult opponents, most notably the University of North Carolina Tar Heels featuring a dynamic guard by the name of Michael Jordan. After winning the NCAA Division I men’s basketball national championship in 1982, “His Airness” proceeded to win six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and is referred to by many basketball pundits as the greatest player of all time.

He also was a two-time participant in the Olympic Games including in 1984 before his NBA debut, meaning that Bilas covered him when working for ABC Sports. He and the Blue Devils had ended Jordan’s Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) career just a few months earlier in an epic 77-75 upset, but it was one of the few games Bilas did not start because of an injury he had sustained three days earlier.

As a member of one of the highest-scoring college basketball recruiting classes ever assembled – which featured Mark Alarie, Dave Henderson and Johnny Dawkins in addition to Bilas – the team developed and made it all the way to the 1986 NCAA Division I men’s basketball national championship game. Although Duke was defeated 72-69 by the University of Louisville Cardinals, the team helped set the foundation in place for the program to thrive in forthcoming seasons.

Upon graduating Duke University with a degree in political science, Bilas was drafted to the National Basketball Association in the fifth round by the Dallas Mavericks; however, he never played an NBA game. After some time playing professionally in Italy and Spain, Bilas returned to Duke University where he served as an assistant coach on the basketball team and worked to earn a law degree. Having served as a player and a coach, Bilas has utilized these experiences to handle and implement feedback from media bosses over his time in the industry, rounding him into a bonafide professional and adept colleague.

“You welcome feedback because it lets you know what other people think and people whose opinions you really value and whose judgments you value, and you act on it, especially when it’s right and reasonable,” Bilas said.

“When you get criticism – constructive or otherwise – you have to ask yourself [first] if it’s right, and if it’s right you need to deal with it. Second, if it’s reasonable, and if it’s reasonable, you need to consider it carefully; if it’s unreasonable, you just dismiss it. I’m not saying that’s what you do with your bosses because anything you get from your bosses is going to be reasonable.”

With this year’s tournament having been the first Final Four without a qualifying No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seed – and busting all brackets in the process (there is approximately a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance of compiling a perfect bracket) –  it was an intriguing watch for college basketball fans. Bilas was part of ESPN’s coverage live from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on College GameDay and called the semifinal matchup between the University of Connecticut Huskies and University of Miami Hurricanes alongside Brian Custer on ESPN’s international feed, syndicated to over 180 countries worldwide.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all event, but it’s as compelling a sporting event as I’ve ever watched and certainly that I’ve ever been a part of,” Bilas said. “I think there’s something special about having played in it, and [having] a role as an assistant coach and then having a role as a broadcaster. You’ve seen it from a lot of different angles – and before all that, I consumed it as a fan. I was the same kind of kid that watched it and dreamed of doing that someday, so there’s a dream aspect to it that’s really cool, and it’s something you have a hard time putting it into words.”

When it comes to sharing his opinions of college basketball, Bilas has worked at the craft of broadcasting to divulge compendious insights and viewpoints to viewers. Having that ability came in part because of his experience following, playing and coaching basketball, along with his abilities as a lawyer. Yet part of what makes Bilas a versatile broadcaster and the recipient of numerous industry honors, including the Curt Gowdy Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, is by starting his sports media career in radio.

Less than a year after Bilas graduated law school and relinquished his duties as an assistant coach, he was offered a chance to work with Bob Harris on the Duke Radio Network as a color commentator for basketball games. He was hesitant about making the jump because he knew it would make it difficult to regularly practice law, but was urged to do so by legendary play-by-play announcer Dick Enberg, whom he met while in college.

“He felt like it was really good training,” said Bilas regarding Enberg’s view of radio. “If I remember right, he said, ‘Television is color by numbers, but the real artists are in radio.’ I think starting there really helped me because the play-by-play person is the one that paints the picture.”

Enberg was helpful for Bilas throughout his formative years in the industry, and they ended up working with one another beginning in 2003 covering the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament for CBS Sports.

Over the years working with ESPN and CBS Sports, Bilas has had the good fortune to be paired with play-by-play announcers such as Dan Schulman, Sean McDonough and Brent Musburger, and thoroughly enjoyed his time working with each of them. With Enberg though, the two formed chemistry on the air and a friendly relationship off the air, including one memorable outing to Belmont Abbey College, the place where Al McGuire first coached.

“We spent the whole day there and saw his old office [and] walked around the campus,” Bilas remembered. “He told Al McGuire stories all day. It was just a wonderful day; he was just a very thoughtful human being and very kind. I think that came through with him as a broadcaster.”

Even though he worked with CBS Sports for parts of its March Madness coverage, Bilas has primarily been with ESPN since 1995, causing him to diminish the amount of work he can do as a lawyer. As he assimilated into the network and its coverage of college basketball, Bilas’ abilities to make sense of the action stood out wherefore he earned desirable assignments. In attempting to describe his commentary style, Bilas underscored the importance of being genuine with your audience, ensuring his analysis is precise and any criticism is justified.

“I just kind of say what I see and interpret the game [in] the way I understand it and the way I was trained,” Bilas said. “….Getting inside all these different programs and being in their scouting reports and their practices and their coaches’ meetings over the last 27 years has taught me more about basketball than I think I ever could have learned if I had just stayed on that particular path I was on.”

Amid a typical college basketball broadcast, there are ebbs and flows engendering the accentuation of information and entertainment, along with balancing objectivity and subjectivity. Through this multifarious discourse, consumers in part remain engrossed in the on-air product, although some pundits would argue that the games themselves are the primary drivers of ratings and revenue rather than the commentary.

Even so, listening to a lackluster broadcast booth can foment indignation and displeasure from consumers, sometimes acting as a catalyst for viewers to change the channel.

“I think all of our jobs in this are saying the right thing at the right time in the right tone,” Bilas said. “….There are certain times when somebody may take something the wrong way or not how you intended it. I don’t place that responsibility on the listener. If I didn’t get the point across for them to understand it in the way I intended, that’s on me.”

Occasionally, Bilas will be criticized by viewers for showing bias towards one team, an accusation he considers an example of fans being unreasonable. Game commentary, in essence, is meant to communicate what is happening during a contest.

The broadcast equips statistics, graphics, detailed preparation and quotes from interviews to enhance its storytelling and provide context to moments. National commentators will usually place more attention on the team winning the game and/or discuss what everyone is talking about, maintaining their ethos and objectivity while doing justice to the product on the floor.

“Of course I may have said some nicer things about the team that won than the team that lost; that can happen,” Bilas expressed. “You kind of ask the question sometimes: ‘Which was more biased? My mouth or your ears?’”

Since the launch of College GameDay in 2005, Bilas has been a part of its panel as an analyst, causing him to adjust his approach in presenting information. He affirms that the setting cultivates discussion in less of a granular manner than game commentary, instead expounding on the landscape as a whole.

Additionally, Bilas interviews college basketball players in a segment called “94 Feet” for the show, conversing so viewers can learn more about them away from the court. He also appears on other ESPN studio programming, including Get Up!, SportsCenter and select ESPN Radio programs.

“I’ve always tried to just be conversational with my colleagues in the studio,” Bilas said. “I’m answering the question that a colleague asked and having a discussion with my cohort.”

When he is not calling games or voicing his opinions in the studio, Bilas may be writing a story for ESPN.com. In working to disclose his ideas and thoughts to readers, he believes they last longer because of the means through which they are being delivered. In today’s information-driven era with a dwindling attention span and emphasis on timeliness, possessing an alacrity to serve his audience is critical for him to adequately perform his versatile role.

There are opportunities, however, for Bilas to go into detail about topics, just as he did on the definition of “toughness” in his New York Times bestselling book titled, “Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court.”

“In my life as a lawyer, I had to do a lot of writing,” Bilas said. “You try to convey your thoughts in as concise a way as possible. That’s similar to what you try to do on the air when you’re speaking, but I’ve done a lot of writing over the years and I’ve always really enjoyed it.”

When crafting its booth for Thursday Night Football, the management team at Amazon Prime Video made what was perceived by many people to be a questionable decision in pairing Kirk Herbstreit with Al Michaels. Herbstreit, a former player and insightful college football studio analyst and color commentator, worked a total of 49 assignments in the fall – 33 of those being live game commentary and 16 being appearances on College GameDay. By assimilating himself into broadcasts of National Football League games, he brought unique perspectives realized from his time covering players in college that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Moreover, he was able to implement what he observed during NFL games into his college football coverage, better informing viewers on how the game is changing and what the next generation of players needs to do to prepare.

Bilas has called some NBA games throughout his career, but his primary focus is on college basketball. Where a comparison between Herbstreit and Bilas can perhaps be drawn though is in Bilas’ coverage of the NBA Draft on ESPN through which he discusses the intersection between college and professional basketball. Additionally, he talks about the transition period and characteristics of draftees to supply context to the broadcast.

“Most of these players I see in high school – so you cover them when they’re younger and as they develop to the pro level and how they translate to the pro level,” Bilas said. “I’m not necessarily covering the NBA; you’re covering talent being drafted by the NBA.”

Leading up to the 2014-15 college basketball season, Bilas agreed to a contract extension with ESPN that resulted in him being added to ESPN Saturday Primetime telecasts of college basketball games. While he has appeared on the network’s platforms as a color commentator, studio analyst and writer, he is able to promulgate his thoughts regularly through his use of social media platforms.

Over his career, Bilas has been able to amass large followings across several different mediums despite not having a legitimate strategy in terms of creating and sharing content.

Since being purchased by Elon Musk, Twitter has endured a variety of changes, including removing its signature blue verification check marks from accounts that do not subscribe to its new “Twitter Blue” service. The forthcoming change has received plenty of criticism, being loathed by many users who state it will make it difficult to know the legitimacy of Twitter accounts.

Some people are referring to the shift in strategy as an apocalyptic occurrence that will destroy the platform and companies such as ESPN and The New York Times are declining to expense their employees’ subscriptions should they choose to purchase one. In addition, star athletes including Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes have stated that they will decline to pay for verification.

Whether it is sharing opinions on college basketball, posting game highlights and other content or simply tweeting out Young Jeezy lyrics, Bilas uses Twitter in a variety of ways. He declines to engage with many users in the comment sections though, calling it an unhealthy practice, and limits his time on social media to safeguard against the ostensible dangers it presents.

“I don’t think it’s one of my main functions,” Bilas said of social media. “I enjoy it; I’m still trying to figure out some of it.”

When looking at today’s media ecosystem, virtually any user has the ability to select what, when, where and how to consume content, along with being capable of producing their own independent media and amplifying their own voice. Digital platforms have revolutionized the ways information is shared and connections are fostered and maintained among people, precipitating a culture featuring influencers: prominent users online who have built a significant following.

Even before the onset of college athletes being able to monetize their name, image and likeness (NIL), they could be considered part of this group; however, their impact has surely been aggrandized since then with marketing and promotional deals to supplement their play.

In the first year of the NCAA allowing NIL deals, college athletes earned an estimated $917 million, with many of the highest earners being women in college basketball. Bilas has been outspoken against the entity’s principle of amateurism, which stated that college athletes participated in sports because of their love of the game, while coaches, executives and administrators profited from annual multibillion dollar earnings. He has expressed how the NCAA spread what has turned out to be a false narrative stating that compensating athletes would hurt women’s sports in order to protect its own interests, in addition to advocating for the educational value associated with building and managing a brand.

Bilas asserts that college athletes have always had a voice, but digital media and NIL have made it where they need not express themselves through traditional media outlets. Instead, athletes are able to instantaneously share how they feel on digital media platforms, whether that be through social media posts, live streams or podcasts. Athletes feel empowered and are arguably more direct towards their legions of fans than ever before, a trend that continues to augment in prominence across various professional sports.

“There’s no downside to this,” Bilas said. “It’s all just one, moderate step toward where athletes are going to be in the future, and that’s being compensated to their fair market value and being allowed the same economic rights as literally everyone else. They’ve never had that, and they still don’t have that.”

As March Madness comes to a close with tonight’s national championship game between the San Diego State University Aztecs and the University of Miami Hurricanes, Bilas legitimately does not have an interest in one team to win a game over another. In fact, he has not had a rooting interest in virtually any college basketball games over the last 30 years – aside from the contests his son, Anthony, played as a member of the Wake Forest University Demon Deacons – depicting objectivity and an inherent absence of bias in his work.

“When I started in broadcasting, that was the first time I had ever gone to a game where I didn’t care who won,” Bilas said. “It’s been 30 years now where I’ve gone to countless games without caring who wins, and that was a different feeling at first.”

Following the conclusion of the college basketball season, Bilas’ contract will expire with ESPN amid an organizational restructuring of The Walt Disney Company under new CEO Bob Iger, which will reportedly result in company-wide layoffs eliminating $5.5 billion in operating costs. The strategy was uncovered ahead of an annual shareholder meeting today where Iger is expected to field questions over his strategy and the company’s involvement in sports media through ESPN.

As part of the restructuring, ESPN is now considered to be its own entity and is being overseen by Jimmy Pitaro, who earned the title of chairman in the process. Since then, Pitaro has established a new executive leadership team which included naming Burke Magnus as president of programming and original content. ESPN veterans such as Norby Williamson, Stephanie Druley and David Roberts report to him in order to foster continued success and innovation pertaining to the network’s programming and future strategy.

Consumers may have a louder voice, but finding an open door into traditional media outlets can, perhaps, be considered more difficult than ever before. When he was young, Bilas received sagacious advice from his father, who operated a television sales and repair business, which stated: “The best way to get a job is [to] do the one you have.” These words encapsulate part of the reason why Bilas remains invested in the moment. He implores young people to do the same, focusing on the journey more than the destination, but being intentional in their actions and how they present themselves to an industry fueled by innovation, hard work and passion.

“I’m not looking beyond what’s in front of me today, and it doesn’t mean I don’t have plans [or that] I [have] never planned anything,” Bilas said. “I don’t think about sort of those kinds of goals and, ‘Accomplish this; accomplish that.’ I just want to accomplish enjoying what I’m doing, and if I do that, whatever opportunity comes my way, I’ll be able to evaluate it in time.”

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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

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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