Many people watch sports for the entertainment value. Heck, I watch sports mainly to be entertained. I haven’t gone into work and said, “Did you see that buzzer-beater? Awww, man! It taught me something valuable that I can apply not only to my personal life but also my professional life!” I’d be known as the weird guy forevermore. Although it’s rare to discuss the lessons we learn from sports with great excitement, it would be silly to overlook examples that can actually benefit us.
There were a pair of Game 7s in the NBA Playoffs on Sunday. Two players in particular — Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard and Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard — provided memorable performances as well as some useful lessons. Lillard struggled as the Blazers beat the Nuggets 100-96. Leonard had a monstrous performance scoring 41 points in Toronto’s 92-90 win over the 76ers. Leonard also became the first player to hit a Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history.
Both games provided plenty of drama and excitement. Leonard’s game-winning shot touched the rim multiple times before dropping. It was like basketball’s version of the famous chip shot by Tiger Woods in the 2005 Masters where his golf ball just sat on the lip of the cup before finally falling in. To me, the excitement went beyond the games. Lillard and Leonard conducted themselves in ways on Sunday that are great examples for sports radio hosts. There are two lessons to remember.
Know When To Be The Go-To Guy (Or Gal)
Lillard is a star player, but doesn’t feel the need to always have a starring role. He had a rough game while only making three of his 17 shots from the field against Denver. Lillard deferred to his teammate, CJ McCollum, who had the hot hand. McCollum scored 37 points and hit a number of huge shots down the stretch. There were possessions in the closing minutes where Lillard didn’t even touch the ball. He has a great feel for what will benefit his team most, even if it involves him taking a backseat.
Meanwhile, Leonard was a monster for the Raptors against Philadelphia. He hit enormous shots and was clearly Toronto’s biggest star. Leonard knew the best chance his team had to win was for him to be a dominant player. He took 39 shots during the game, which accounted for 43.8% of the Raptors total shots. That’s a heavy workload. Lillard’s 17 shots only accounted for 18.2% of Portland’s overall shots against the Nuggets.
What’s the point here among this sea of numbers? Knowing when to have a starring role and when to defer is very important. Sports radio hosts need to have a feel for this just like athletes.
There are times to assert your dominance, and times to support others. It isn’t only about you. It’s about the show as a whole. Many hosts think they have to constantly shine the brightest for the show to be at its best. This is completely untrue.
There are instances when deferring to a co-host, guest, or piece of audio is the best approach. Maybe someone (gasp) is more knowledgeable than you on a certain topic. Maybe someone (deeper gasp) has an opinion that is more interesting than yours. Instead of trying to outdo everybody and everything around you, it’s smarter to highlight others and lend support even if you don’t stand out the most.
Commentators showcase this skill often. Vin Scully didn’t speak for over a minute after Kirk Gibson hit a dramatic walk-off home run for the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series. Jim Nantz didn’t speak for nearly three minutes after Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters. It wasn’t about the men calling the action. Scully and Nantz knew the true story wasn’t about them; they were just a part of it. It’s similar in sports radio. A necessary skill is to know when to shine and when to support.
The Rock used to say in his WWE wrestling days, “Know your role and shut your mouth.” The truth is being great is more about knowing your roles (plural). You aren’t just one thing constantly. Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, once handed the ball to running back Jonas Gray 37 times in a single game. Gray rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a 2014 Patriots win against the Colts. Did that mean Brady wasn’t a star because he had a supporting role that game? Nope.
Leonard had a starring role scoring 41 points. Lillard had a supporting role scoring 13 points. They both had a feel for what would benefit their team most. It would have been a bad approach for Lillard to try to force more shots when he was struggling, and for Leonard to defer to his teammates when he clearly had the hottesthand.
As a sports radio host, the same feel needs to exist for what will benefit the show most. It doesn’t stay constant. The roles for radio hosts can vary just like the roles for athletes.
Lillard and Leonard are comfortable being the people they are instead of the people others want them to be. Lillard has stated numerous times that he isn’t planning on leaving the Blazers to join a team that might have a better chance to win a championship. Many people think winning a ring is the only thing that truly matters. Lillard doesn’t subscribe to that theory. He values his teammates to the point that he considers the position they’d be in if he left Portland. Lillard also doesn’t believe that the star player has to always shine. He has a team-first attitude and trusts his teammates in key spots like he did on Sunday.
Leonard doesn’t have a dynamic personality. He’s okay with that. It didn’t sound like he hit a dramatic series-winning shot when he spoke with TNT’s Ros Gold-Onwude after the game. Instead it sounded like he either woke up from a nap or maybe was doing a halftime interview at a Summer League game. A New Balance commercial summarizes Leonard perfectly — “Kawhi doesn’t need to get your attention. He already has it. Game speaks for itself.”
Being yourself in sports radio is a key factor that many hosts overlook. The business requires hosts to stand out. We need to be different. We need to be noticeable. We need to be this. We need to be that. The most important “thing” you need to be is often the least emphasized — you need to be yourself. If you aren’t, the audience won’t ever know the real you. If they don’t know the real you, then you’re just another host giving another opinion.
I’ve been asked for dating advice on a few occasions. I’m very far from the authority on all things dating. I don’t start off by saying, “If there’s one think I’ve learned about women…” The main thing I stress is to be yourself. Find someone that loves you for you.
I think it’s similar to sports radio. There are ways to improve yourself — pay off your teases right away, play the hits, etc. There are ways to improve yourself in dating — open doors, don’t talk with food falling out of your mouth, listen. Improve yourself in both areas, but not at the expense of simply being yourself.
Dan Patrick shared a thought last week that hosts don’t need to have a hot take about everything. Patrick described a hot take by saying, “I’m going to go with something outlandish, something wild, and then you’re going to notice me.”
He’s right. A hot take about everything is overkill. A host that delivers nonstop hot takes is trying too hard to stand out. Do you know what happens when you seek a date by trying too hard? You end up in an exclusive relationship with yourself. Don’t force it.
I’m a very competitive person. I realized over the last week that my goal to stand out and succeed can come at an expense — you might start to stray away from who you truly are. Even if it’s the slightest difference, it can still be a dangerous game.
I wrote at the top of my notes, “Relax and be yourself. Stop trying to be more. Realize you’re already enough.” Cue “Kumbaya” to accentuate this point. It’s the truth though — trying too hard can be one of the worst moves you make.
It all comes down to knowing yourself and knowing the situation. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored the most points and John Stockton recorded the most assists in NBA history. Stockton is also 45th in career points. Abdul-Jabbar is 43rd in career assists ahead of some guy named Michael Jordan. Not too shabby. Neither player was just one thing. They both had a feel for when it was time to score and when it was time to set somebody else up to score.
This is sports radio in a nutshell. Hosts should look to score (by delivering opinions) and assist others (by bringing attention to their stances). A good mixture of both is necessary.
Just like Lillard and Leonard showed us last weekend — know when to dominate and when to defer. Hosts that have a feel for this are valuable. Hosts that are also comfortable in their own skin will do some damage in this business.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.