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Where Dreams Come True: Bubble Succeeds, Lebron James Wins

“If the NBA’s audacious isolation experiment somehow works and leads to LeBron James winning a title, amid a pandemic and racial unrest, it would be a triumph like no other in sports history.”

Jay Mariotti

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Today is about pixie dust. We’re going to embrace a miracle. Let’s say dreams do come true, somehow, and that the NBA’s Trouble Bubble does become the Most Magical Place on Earth, a medical and social revelation, with no COVID-19 outbreaks, a minimum of calls to the snitch hotline and just enough stirring basketball to produce a champion and nominate Adam Silver to replace Anthony Fauci as America’s infectious disease guru.

You know what that means.

LeBron James might take a Fast Pass up Legacy Mountain, leaving an unprecedented historical footprint in what otherwise has been a year of comeuppance for sports.

Of all the audacious attempts to defy a pandemic and resume seasons, the NBA has the most realistic chance of avoiding a disaster on its Disney World bio-campus. I say that knowing the Bubble could burst at any time, knowing young men in their 20s might violate protocol and risk catching and spreading the coronavirus, knowing the possibility of serious injuries is higher than usual, knowing the attrition rate could leave the postseason in such tatters that the entire exercise will seem forced and bogus. Already, two players have tested positive DURING Florida quarantine, joining the 19 who’ve tested positive since July 1 and haven’t traveled to Orlando. Russell Westbrook is among the infected, cautioning legions of COVID-iots: “Please take this virus seriously. Mask up! #whynot.’’ And I’m still waiting for J.R. Smith to sabotage the grand experiment in ways only he could invent.

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But maybe the Bubble is a small world, after all. Maybe the league’s deliberate and thoroughly underpublicized decision to not test players for marijuana and other recreational drugs — know how much pixie dust is being smoked in those hotel rooms? — will counteract the boredom. Maybe Kyle Lowry, defending a league title with the Raptors, is dead-on when he says, “This thing will work perfectly. The league, the players, the players association, have done a phenomenal job of making sure we’re doing everything we can possibly do to make sure that we’re healthy, we’re safe and we’re in an environment where we can be successful and do our job at a high level.’’ And maybe, just maybe, a scientific wonder in central Florida will contain the virus and produce an event that truly would distract us from a hellish 2020, its economic ravages and an apocalyptic presidential election:

LeBron vs. Giannis.

Not sure about you, but I’d prefer seven games of Lakers-Bucks in early October over any vomit regurgitation involving Trump vs. Biden. And with all due reverence to Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose league takeover can wait a bit, the world’s collective eyeballs would shift to James. Not far from his 36th birthday, in his 17th NBA season, he might be viewing his final chance for a championship. While one might think — “Hey, what more does he have to prove?’’ — look, a fourth title under the most daunting circumstances, in spectator-less gyms while trying to ward off the damned virus for months, would provide unique closure to a magnificent, fascinating career.

He won’t be remembered as the Greatest Of All Time, with any lingering doubts rejected when a 10-part documentary series reminded holdouts of Michael Jordan’s preeminence. James still might think G.O.A.T. status is possible, letting this slip when talking about quarantine time spent with his family: “It gave me an opportunity to be home and make up a lot of time that I’ve lost over the years, because I’ve been playing in this league and striving to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, to ever play this game.’’ But a place does remain on the sport’s proverbial Mount Rushmore, three rocks alongside Jordan. And if James hoists a trophy in the Bubble to conclude the Pandemic Season, amid a turbulent American moment when his ongoing social justice mission never has been more important, yes, it would be a triumph like no other in sports history.

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Not once did he consider opting out of the season. As an observer of the world beyond sports, he grasps exactly what’s in front of him, and if he must remain sequestered from the outside world until Oct. 13, so be it.

“It never crossed my mind that we did not need to play this beautiful game of basketball that brings so many people together, that brings happiness, that brings joy to households, to so many families,’’ James waxed in a Zoom conference call, his first media interview since March. “I’m happy to have a platform where not only people will gain joy by the way I play the game and by the way our team plays the game, but also for what I’m able to do off the court as well.

“Being able to use my platform, use the NBA’s platform, to continue to talk about what’s going on — I will not stop until I see real change for us as Black America, for African Americans, for people of color. And I also believe I can do both. I can bring happiness to a lot of homes with the way I play the game and the way the Lakers are going to play the game, and I will continue to push the envelope and continue to keep my foot on the gas in creating real change for us as people of color in America.”

Besides, who ever said LeBron has to be Jordan? The world in 2020 is radically different than the world His Airness ruled in the 1990s. Jordan is unquestionably the best player ever, but as he acknowledges, he shrunk as a sneaker capitalist when asked to take significant social stances back then. James is a leading activist for the times, and if you understand his place in the ethos — not as demonstrative as Colin Kaepernick but forceful when necessary — you grasp why he isn’t wearing one of the league’s social justice messages on the back of his Lakers jersey. Why replace JAMES with “Black Lives Matter’’ or “I Can’t Breathe’’ when he has been preaching and wearing related t-shirts for years? I’m guessing he isn’t thrilled with the concept, and Silver should be whistled for a personal foul for not soliciting his advice.

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“I commend anyone that decides to put something on the back of their jersey. It’s just something that didn’t really seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal,’’ James said. “I would have loved to have the say-so on what would have went on the back of my jersey. I had a couple things in mind, but I wasn’t part of that process, which is OK. I’m absolutely OK with that. Everything that I do has a purpose. It has a meaning. So I don’t need to have something on the back of my jersey for people to understand my mission or know what I’m about and what I’m here to do.

“This is the mission I’ve been on for a long time now. And it’s great that a lot of people’s ears are opening, a lot of people are understanding, a lot of people are recognizing. A lot of people still don’t get it and are still afraid to talk about it, but the racism that goes on in America, especially for my people, people of color, it’s still here. But we have ears. We have some ears. And we will continue to push the envelope and let people know that we are human as well — no matter our skin color, no matter how we look, no matter how we sound. We don’t want to just be used for our God-given abilities as far as our talent on the floor, our talents in the music industry, our talents in the industry as far as clothing and things of that nature. We also want to be recognized for our talent and our brains because that’s what we are, just like everybody else. And we should be treated that way.’’

His social mission will carry on, of course, championship or otherwise. And winning it all might not happen. The Lakers are without Avery Bradley, who opted out because of coronavirus concerns, and won’t have Rajon Rondo and his broken right thumb for eight weeks. Why Smith is anywhere near this undertaking, I cannot explain, and it could be the Clippers — deeper and better defensively, with a rested Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — win the Western Conference. As they’ve always said in Los Angeles, it would take a cold day in hell or the throes of a pandemic for the Clippers to one-up the Lakers.

But James is rested, too, with the spectacular Anthony Davis by his side. And his teammates, who received his texts during the break — “Can’t wait to get back on the floor with you guys, finish what we started’’ — realize what’s at stake for the old man. Why do you think he left his personal chef at home? He wants to eat what his teammates are eating, hang out where they’re hanging out, smoke whatever … uh, not going there.

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“LeBron knows it, being Year 17 for him at 35 years old,’’ Danny Green said. “Guys are getting older. Some guys might not be 100 percent healthy or be able to perform at the level they (want). Some guys may leave, free agency, things change, things happen. So we all know our team, with our experience, within the business, of what’s at risk. If you have a special group, you better take advantage of it this year.’’

It’s clear the contender with the fewest setbacks and injuries — to be blunt, the fewest positive tests — likely will win the title. Think any Lakers player, including Smith, would dare incur the wrath of LeBron? “I believe the NBA and Adam Silver took all precautionary measures to make sure that we as a league are as safe as we can be,’’ James said. “(Silver) has given me no reason to never not believe him since he took over. Obviously, there can be things that happen, but we’ll cross that line if it happens.’’

None of us is bigger than COVID-19. But some of us still can rise above the wretched, invisible foe and achieve the unthinkable. If we’re daring to wish upon a star anytime soon, wish upon LeBron James in a Bubble that doesn’t pop.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

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

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WRONG BAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WORTH EVERY PENNY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

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

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

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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

But is that why you sell sports radio?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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

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