Nikola Jokić, better known to NBA fans as “the “Joker,” and the Denver Nuggets are two wins away from securing the franchise’s first ever NBA championship. The team has been at the center of debate across major sports networks over the last several weeks. Those in and around Denver believe the team has not received enough attention to this point, especially when having Jokić, a two-time league MVP and five-time All-Star selection. Now that the entire country is being exposed to the generational talent, along with venerable teammates Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets are gaining notoriety many argue their play should have merited long ago.
Yet the fact that Denver is far from other major locales, along with the fact that the team has never previously won a championship, has ostensibly penalized the organization in terms of garnering coverage.
“I’m not going to name names on this one, but it was a colleague who said something [like], ‘I’m speechless after somebody did something amazing,’” recalled Ryen Russillo, podcast host and commentator for The Ringer. “And then another colleague [said], ‘It’s your job to not be speechless,’ and I thought, ‘Woah.’ That back-and-forth made the rounds. We all get it – we all have to figure out new ways to say stuff, but sometimes you’re just speechless.”
There are implicit rules to effective sports television according to Russillo, especially debate shows. One is to stick to what works and to talk about players who will move the needle. The most recent example that draws parallels to Jokić is with Giannis Antetokounmpo, and how he rapidly gained legitimacy and plaudits when he led the Milwaukee Bucks to an NBA championship in 2021.
“If Denver ends up winning this thing, which I’d expect they will, all of a sudden the rules change,” Russillo said, “and we’re allowed to talk about [Jokić] in the way we always should have talked about him.”
Russillo previously hosted radio shows for ESPN. He and former NFL quarterback Danny Kannel hosted the Russillo Show together, but ended his time at ESPN hosting solo when Kannel was laid off. While he returned to the “Worldwide Leader” and ultimately co-hosted the SVP & Russillo podcast with Scott Van Pelt, he departed the company in August 2019 to join The Ringer. Russillo made remarks about his time with the company on a recent appearance with Bryan Curtis on The Press Box podcast.
“Especially when I worked at ESPN, I think half the time I was on the phone with NBA teams, it would be to hear them bitch about somebody else that said something at ESPN,” Russillo shared. “I’d remind them; I’d go, ‘Just so you know, I work with a lot of these people, and it’s hard to watch everything. I try to watch everything and it’s really hard. Just remember that not everybody up there that’s on TV is watching nearly as much [as] they may think they are.”
Both Russillo and Curtis know that if the Denver Nuggets are to win the NBA Finals, it will represent a “coronation” for Jokić to become a regular part of the vernacular. Russillo believes he will be legitimately considered as the best all-around player in the NBA, but stopping there will never be enough for shows based on attracting an audience.
“It’ll be, ‘Does he have a chance to be this?,’” Russillo surmised. “We move the goalposts on players… [and] you have to raise the stakes. Once everything becomes accepted, ‘accepted’ isn’t a good topic anymore. It has to be, ‘Could there potentially be pushback from this?,’ and that’s kind of the game.”
Dan Le Batard: Chris Russo is a ‘Caricature of a Sports Media Personality’
“He’s had a rejuvenation – a radiant rejuvenation.”
Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo has turned heads lately in his First Take appearance, specifically through his “What Are You Mad About?” segment where he waxes poetic on various topics that agitate him. It was during a usual sit-down conversation though that produced a viral segment when he intricately outlined his Saturday plans with his wife being out of town.
Throughout his monologue, Russo insinuated the use of THC gummies, stating that he will have half at 12 p.m. and the other half at 3:25 p.m. in order to watch the college football games. The fact that Russo was allowed to divulge details of such, along with the fact that he is betting $10,000 on ESPN, a network owned by The Walt Disney Company, surprised Le Batard, one of its former employees.
“He’s had a rejuvenation – a radiant rejuvenation,” Dan Le Batard said on Thursday’s edition of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. “He did something yesterday that I’ve never seen, [and] on Disney television – on Disney television!… I have never seen a media member just say, ‘Yep, drinking, drugs and gambling – that’s my Saturday,’ and I’m jealous of him. I want that to be my Saturday.”
Mike Ryan Ruiz, the executive producer of the program, chimed in on the situation and reminded Le Batard that Russo went to many Grateful Dead concerts. In response, Le Batard referred to it as “circumstantial evidence” that did not directly support Mad Dog’s drug use.
“Yes, his performance showed that he had short-circuited and fried all of his brain cells in a way that was obvious, but he wasn’t saying out loud, ‘You know what I’m doing during my sports analysis consumption time? I’m going to come on next week and talk about Colorado, and I’m telling you right now, I was high while I was watching,’” Le Batard said. “Not usually part of the commentary.”
Le Batard referenced former NFL running back Ricky Williams, who smoked marijuana on the night before games and tested positive for the drug three times. The reason he brought him up was to assert that he thinks Russo would have been one of the most likely people to defame Williams’ character.
“[He is] one of the guys most likely to rip him as a character assassination for daring to do marijuana that all of it would get so normalized that my media member who’s on ESPN representing old-timey media [who] can’t shut up about Bob Cousy – that guy is out there saying, ‘Yeah, I’m doing drugs on a Saturday,’” Le Batard expressed.
Le Batard acknowledged his incredulity towards Russo betting $10,000 on a college football game, but understands that he has been successful throughout the years with his time on WFAN, SiriusXM and MLB Network. The style of sports television that has pervaded the airwaves in recent years lends personalities the ability to frolic in palaver and enjoy themselves, a stark contrast from when Le Batard was with the “Worldwide Leader.”
“What I see happening all over television now – sports television – [is that] there are so many people dancing and laughing and having a good time on sports television, genuinely enjoying themselves,” Le Batard said. “It used to be starched and stiff, and now I am watching.”
In a recent conversation with Stephen A. Smith on his podcast, The Stephen A. Smith Show, the First Take featured commentator called Le Batard “sanctimonious.” Reflecting back on the conversation, Le Batard agrees with him because he does not seek broad appeal and adheres to the principles and platforms he views as righteous and worthwhile.
Earlier this week, Le Batard revealed that he declined an interview with Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill when he was informed that he could not ask him about off-field issues. Although Russo is one of the most accomplished sports radio personalities of all time, Le Batard is not sure what to think about these types of situations and a new style of sports talk taking the airwaves.
“He has made a lot of money in this industry being a caricature of a sports media personality,” Le Batard said of Russo. “Skip Bayless – before Skip Bayless, man, that dude invented argument television. That started with [Mike] Francesa and Russo on the radio, and it infected everything in the coverage of newspapers, fandom [and] sports television.”
Dave Portnoy Accuses Washington Post of Tortious Interference
Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy went viral on Twitter Wednesday after posting video of him confronting a Washington Post reporter over the phone and accusing her and the newspaper of tortious interference.
Portnoy called Post food writer Emily Heil after he learned that she had been contacting advertisers of his pizza festival in Brooklyn this Saturday. Heil sought comment from those advertisers about doing business with Portnoy, who she wrote in one particular email that Dave “has a history of misogynistic comments and other problematic behavior.”
Heil said she was working with fellow food writer Tim Carman on a piece about the festival, which will feature over 35 pizzerias – all of which Portnoy has featured in his “One Bite” reviews at one point or another. But Portnoy felt like there was more to what she and Carman were up to.
“To me, it’s kind of like tortious interference,” Portnoy said. “Like we’re doing an event. Everyone’s happy about the event. I’ve raised $50 million for small business, I’ve helped pizzerias, none of that. It’s ‘Dave’s misogynic and problematic.’ And I’m happy to talk about it! Because to me nobody would like if someone’s going around sending that email to their sponsors. And again, you’re not questioning it. It’s almost like a statement of fact. This is what I am.”
“You said it in a way that is putting sponsors on the defensive!” he added.
Portnoy felt like Heil and Carman were going to publish something similar to what was posted on nj.com Tuesday calling out sponsors for working with Portnoy. He didn’t believe Heil and Carman would give him a fair shake, that they already had their minds made up about him and that they were only going to contact him after they’ve compiled a mass of negative topics to discuss.
“It seemed like you were going to try to shame sponsors for being associated with me and put them in a box when I know they all love me,” he said. “But nobody wants the Washington Post writing an article, ‘Sponsor associated with misogynic, racist piece of shit.’ Nobody wants that and that’s what you’re trying to do. And even on this call it’s pretty clear that’s what you were trying to do.”
“I’m afraid with what I’m seeing already here all it does is it validates a hit piece,” Portnoy added.
Dave challenged Heil further, who said the one particular email Portnoy was referring to was the most pointed of the emails sent to festival sponsors. She said it was worded that way to try and get a response.
“Sometimes you have to say something like this,” Heil said. “It’s like it’s sort of a reporting tactic. When you want someone to respond, you kind of have to indicate that there might be something negative and then you get them to engage. That’s all I was trying to do.”
“That is a sad state of journalism if that’s a tactic you have to, what I would say is make up something about somebody,” Portnoy responded.
Eventually they settled on a time of 10 a.m. today to conduct an interview. Portnoy said he would be recording the conversation like he was the one on Wednesday, and Heil didn’t have issues with that.
But later Wednesday, Portnoy tweeted that the interview had been cancelled. He said Heil attempted to reschedule for 5 p.m., but since Portnoy had previously agreed to 10 a.m., he stuck with that or nothing at all.
Jordan Bondurant is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. He’s a multimedia journalist and communicator who works at the Virginia State Corporation Commission in Richmond. Jordan also contributes occasional coverage of the Washington Capitals for the blog NoVa Caps. His prior media experiences include working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Danville Register & Bee, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, WRIC-TV 8News and Audacy Richmond. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @J__Bondurant.
Dan Le Batard: ‘ESPN Got Mad at Me’ For Giving HOF Vote to Deadspin
“I didn’t like the sanctimony and so I just made a cartoonish exit.”
A recent ESPN investigative report by Mike Fish looked back at the Biogenesis scandal that rocked the sports world a decade ago and involved the likes of major stars in baseball such as Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun. 10 years later, it is still talked about, but is the outrage about PEDs and steroids still the same?
Pablo Torre, Dan Le Batard, and Katie Nolan talked about that story on an episode of Torre’s podcast, Pablo Torre Finds Out. Torre remembered his days at Sports Illustrated where two highly acclaimed investigative reporters dedicated that time in their career to the scandal’s most high profile target.
“I remember being at Sports Illustrated and there was a beat. Selena Roberts and David Epstein, two great investigative reporters, were on the A-Rod beat. This was a thing we would crusade about morally. It felt important. All I can think about now is how we just had a conversation about all of the weird shit we are doing to improve ourselves. I don’t know if our tolerance for this stuff has changed consciously, but it just feels like we care less in general about the weird things we all try to do to get an edge to improve our performance on the field, as human beings.”
This story allowed Le Batard to relive the time in 2014 when he gave his Hall of Fame vote to Deadspin.
“I just wanted to make the moral stand of you can’t keep these guys out of the Hall of Fame because you sportswriters are suggesting to me that if I gave you the ability to write better and make more money by smearing some cream on your muscles that you wouldn’t do it. I didn’t like the sanctimony and so I just made a cartoonish exit.
“ESPN got mad at me and were like why didn’t you do it on ESPN. Because then it wouldn’t have worked. I had to do it with an entity that was trying to make fun of the whole cathedral of sports.”
During the segment, Le Batard called the Biogenesis story “one of the most Miami sports scandals you will ever see” and reflected on how things have changed for A-Rod.
“All of us were pissed off because he lied to us and the betrayal and all he had to do to erase all the outrage and get every sports broadcasting team to want to employ him is date J-Lo and he fixed all of it.”
Ricky Keeler is a reporter for BSM with a primary focus on sports media podcasts and national personalities. He is also an active podcaster with an interest in pursuing a career in sports media. You can find him on Twitter @Rickinator555 or reach him by email at [email protected].