Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski has a saying. “You never are. You’re always becoming.” I’ve heard him say it in the one time I’ve ever had the chance to interview him. JJ Reddick, who played for Coach K at Duke, has talked about what that quote means to him on an episode of his podcast.
It’s a quote I couldn’t help but think about last week as I logged on to Zoom to chat with Jay Williams. This is a guy that went from promising NBA rookie to wasted talent to budding broadcaster to perhaps ESPN’s marquee name for basketball coverage.
Starting August 17, he becomes something else – morning radio host.
“My parents always made sure that it resonated with me that I was way more than the sports I played. I think that went to even another stratosphere when I went to Duke,” he tells me. “You wouldn’t think that would occur. You would think basketball would be such a primary focus, but when I got there, one of the things that really lured me to the program was Coach K saying ‘I promise you, by the time you leave here, you’re going to be a better man.’”
Being a better man has served Jay Williams well. This is a guy that would have been the top pick of the 2002 NBA Draft if not for the availability of a freak of nature and unrivaled marketing opportunity named Yao Ming. He was immediately put on the US National Team for the 2002 FIBA World Championships. Jay Williams was supposed to be the guy the Chicago Bulls built their future around.
That was all before his motorcycle accident.
Enough has been written about the 2003 crash that derailed Jay Williams’s playing career. There isn’t anything new I can add to the story here. Williams points out that when his life plan changed so drastically, he had to lean into to Coach K’s wisdom. It didn’t matter what his shooting percentage was or that he was a prolific scorer for the Blue Devils. The only ability he needed was the ability to evolve.
“I almost died. I have a limp when I walk. I separated my pubic symphysis by 13 and a half inches. I didn’t have the proper functionality in that area for a long time. So, for me, people go through things in life. Life happens if you’re lucky enough to experience life.”
It wasn’t a quick path, but to go from where he was the morning after his accident to where he his today should answer any question about whether or not he is ready to meet the challenges that come along with a daily radio show.
The new morning show will also feature Keyshawn Johnson, who comes to the East Coast from ESPN 710 Los Angeles, and SportsCenter anchor Zubin Mehenti.
Whatever it is Williams is in the process of becoming, he knows there will be a hill to climb. It’s hard to find someone that will tell you they don’t like Jay. It’s even harder to find someone that doesn’t sing the praises of Mike Golic, the ESPN Radio icon who’s 22 year run in mornings on the network had to come to an end for Williams to get his shot.
After a month of tributes, Golic finally said goodbye to the ESPN Radio audience on Friday morning. It was an emotional affair, born of a decades long relationship with his audience. Williams says he had a similar connection to Golic. It was Mike Golic’s influence that Williams says was a turning point in his media career.
“I’ve been with ESPN for a long time. Mike Golic was the first person I saw on there for an extended period of time doing that show. I remember sitting there thinking to myself ‘Wow, that is really cool. Mike Golic Sr. is Mike Golic Sr.’ He’s very comfortable with who he is and he is very comfortable being that person on camera.
“It was the first time in my career that I ever thought ‘I’ve gotta figure out who I am, so I can be who I want to be on air.’ I never thought about who I was. I was too busy running. I was too busy giving my opinions about other things to ever have an opinion about myself.”
Williams is quick to tell me this isn’t a role he campaigned for. He described hearing that Golic would no long be a part of ESPN Radio everyday like going through the death of a loved one and experiencing the stages of grief.
“I called him and I said ‘look Mike, I don’t know how this all happened, but I am in this position right now and I want to be great at this. I want to be a different version of you. And all your fans, I want them to listen to us. I don’t want to alienate anybody.’ Mike is so great. He said ‘Look, I have had an incredible run. Just be who you are, Jay. I’ve always had incredible times talking to you and relating to you. Just be the person that is relatable.’”
Aside from having to replace the name most associated with the network, Keyshawn, Jay, and Zubin are launching their show during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Now look, we have written plenty here about how a lack of live sports is no excuse to produce bad content, and these three certainly have more sports to work with than anyone that was on air in March.
Things do look a little less like a sure thing now though than they did even just two weeks ago. The Miami Marlins and Major League Baseball are serving as a cautionary tale for what can happen when you rush a season to fruition with no bubble and no real plan in place for what happens in the event of a breakout.
Williams has plenty to say about Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball. He’ll be able to say everything he wants about the NBA during ESPN’s TV broadcasts. As it relates to the start of his new radio show, he has his eyes squarely on football.
He sees the mountains that had to be moved just to get the NFL to workout testing and reporting protocols and it worries Williams. Just how prepared is the NFL?
“The fact that the league has these stiff reprimands for players that don’t show up to training camp, and yet these things aren’t in place, it puts them in a weird situation as well,” he says of NFL players. “So, with travel and with playing in frigid conditions, and seeing this whole thing, it’s not trending in the right direction.”
Williams is even more steadfast in his thoughts on college football in the fall. He says that the coaches and the schools have so much responsibility to get this right. They owe it to their players to make smart decisions about when to play and when to shut things down.
“I think that the responsibility for the collegiate universe is so imperative, and it is so challenging, because we all now recognize that this is about money,” he says of college sports. “This is about sustaining schools and issues of what these schools’ overhead is.”
Of course Covid-19 will be a major topic of conversation, particularly in the early days of Keyshawn, Jay & Zubin. We’ll all be counting down while simultaneously praying, bargaining with the universe, or simply crossing our fingers and hoping that football happens.
Jay Williams says he doesn’t want to be debating morals and ethics every morning, but he is clear in where he stands on this. He wants to understand how people with opposing views justify where they stand.
“I’m not a politician. I’m not a scientist. But for anyone that says ‘well, the cases are so slim’ I would say ‘I don’t know what the long term effects of Covid are. I don’t know what those data points or what those metrics are.’ It would be hard for me to tell somebody to go out and perform when I don’t know if it will have long term effects on you, or maybe it won’t. I don’t know.”
As my time with Jay began to wind down, and I sensed we were becoming friends, I asked him to be honest. Yes, the morning drive slot on ESPN Radio is one of the most valuable positions in all of nationally syndicated sports radio. I know he is excited, but how about put out? Is there anything at all he is dreading about August 17?
“I wake up early all the time anyway,” Williams says. He then acknowledges that waking up early and waking up and being ready to have involved conversations by 6 AM are two very different things. “Mike Greenberg told me what you’re doing is not your job. It’s your lifestyle. It will become your lifestyle.”
When morning radio becomes his lifestyle, Williams acknowledges that one of his favorite morning routines will have to change.
“My daughter comes in my bed every morning and we read and we play and that will be no longer. I’ll have to find other ways to do that.”
Positivity is the name of the game for Jay Williams though. You can still have the same kind of quality time with family at a different time of day. Morning radio, he says, is an opportunity to professionally grow in a way that he is prepared and excited for.
“In the big scheme of things, this is my job. I love my job. This platform is going to allow me to build connective tissue to people. That ultimately is my purpose.”
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.