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NBA’S Cruel Reality: A Shooting Trumps A Doncic Party

America’s latest police episode against a Black man has angry NBA players wondering why they’re still in the Bubble for games, a weight Luka Doncic can’t begin to lift despite his electric emergence.

Jay Mariotti

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We have borrowed from Europe to make better automobiles, snazzier fashion and fruitier wine. So, we certainly can channel The Luka Doncic Experience to create a cooler NBA. His bullrush into the American sports consciousness has been as necessary as it is invigorating, allowing this distressed league to embrace an element — pause, cheer, revel — beyond an infectious disease and ongoing racial injustice horrors.

That element would be basketball. Remember the joy of ball?

It’s still difficult for LeBron James and the league’s players to embrace love for their game when hatred contaminates the world. In the country’s latest social fail, a 29-year-old Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot in the back several times from point-blank range by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis., as Blake tried to enter his SUV in broad daylight with three of his children inside. Two NBA players, including playoff breakout star Donovan Mitchell, were so incensed by the shooting that they expressed regret the NBA relaunched its season in the Disney World Bubble.

They want justice, not basketball, to be the national priority.

They certainly aren’t wrong.

Milwaukee Bucks: George Hill talks NBA's return amid variety of issues

“We can’t do anything. First of all, we shouldn’t have came to this damn place, to be honest,’’ said George Hill of the Milwaukee Bucks, a franchise based 40 miles north of the shooting scene. “Coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are. … We’re down here playing in the Bubble to do these things for social justice and all that, and to see it all still going on and we’re just playing the game like it’s nothing — it’s just a really messed-up situation right now.’’

As for the Bucks’ wavering title chances, Hill isn’t concerned: “Until the world gets their s—- together, I guess we’re not going to get our stuff together. Watching that stuff in Wisconsin really breaks my heart.’’     Tweeted Mitchell, who has led the Utah Jazz to a contender’s role in the Western Conference with prolific scoring outbursts: “F THE GAMES AND PLAYOFFS!!! THIS IS SICK AND IS A REAL PROBLEM WE DEMAND JUSTICE! ITS CRAZY I DONT HAVE ANY WORDS BUT WTF MAN! THIS IS WHY WE DONT FEEL SAFE!!!!

After watching the graphic footage in Kenosha, including fires burning into the night, James barely could control his anger. Any excitement about a dominant performance by the Lakers on Kobe Bryant Day — 8/24, the two numbers he wore during his legendary career — was blunted by the Blake shooting. He barely cared his team is up 3-1 over Portland in the first-round series. “I can’t even enjoy a playoff win right now, which is the sad part,’’ James said. “People get tired of hearing me say it, but we are scared as Black people in America. Black men, Black women, Black kids, we are terrified. Because you don’t know. You have no idea. You have no idea how that cop that day left the house. You don’t know if he woke up on the good side of the bed. You don’t know if he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. You don’t know if he had an argument at home with a significant other, if one of his kids said something crazy to him and he left the house steaming. Or maybe he just left the house saying today is going to be the end for one of these black people. That’s what it feels like.’’

The league knows it can’t separate the insignificance of games from another racial tragedy. An exodus of players from Orlando remains possible in that the postseason, still in the first round, won’t produce a champion at least early October. For now, the players are trying to do their jobs and maintain focus while obeying a schedule in a restrictive environment. In that context, Doncic’s breathtaking performances — including his game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer Sunday — provide at least a temporary escape from the cruel realities of Black America, the ceaseless pain.

Black people in America are scared,' says LeBron James after Jacob ...

Said James: “If you’re sitting here telling me that there was no way to subdue that gentleman or detain him before the firing of guns, then you’re sitting here and you’re lying to not only me, but you’re lying to every African American, every Black person in the community because we see it over and over and over. If you watch the video, there was multiple moments where if they wanted to, they could’ve tackled him. They could’ve grabbed him. Why does it always have to get to a point where we see the guns firing? His family is there, the kids are there, it’s in broad daylight. … It’s just, quite frankly, it’s just f—ked up in our community.’’

Yet only hours before, James was tweeting his admiration for Doncic like many NBA players, imitating announcer Mike Breen’s call of the final shot. “Sheesh. That’s ridiculous,’’ wrote Steph Curry, master of the dramatic.

Doncic has that effect on people. He is conjuring a brand of style and telepathy not previously seen in the sport, a hybrid already evolutionary before his 22nd birthday. How does one who’s built like a running back, thick and wide-shouldered at 230 pounds, operate with such finesse and dazzle, maneuvering and forcing through big-boy defenses and ignoring attempts to bruise and bait him? Why does he anticipate plays before everyone else on the court, as if dabbling in extrasensory perception or electronic sign-stealing? It’s cliche to call him a savant — the description is used for many when he is one of a kind — and rather than liken him to a particular legend, it’s more apt to compare his passing skills and vision to Larry Bird, his court awareness to James, his handle to Jason Kidd, his near-the-logo shooting range to Damian Lillard and his flair to Curry. Let’s avoid Michael Jordan analogies, please, but Doncic does wear his sneakers.

He also has the perfect nickname for a closer: The Don.

“He sees the game in 6G, not 5G — another level beyond what most people see,’’ said Rick Carlisle, who truly might be coaching the first wireless superstar with the Dallas Mavericks.

Luka Doncic | 2019-20 Season Highlights | NBA.com

Forget the dictum that even a phenom must learn to fail in the playoffs before he prevails. Doncic already has blasted through that wall with what Carlisle suggests was “maybe the greatest game played by a second-year player … a game from another planet.’’ The Mavericks can lose their first-round series against a title favorite, the Los Angeles Clippers, and The Don already has foot-printed an epic NBA memory: 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists in Game 4, daggered by his artful step-back trey, joining Jordan — unavoidable, I guess — as the only players to nail win-or-lose shots to cap 40-point playoff performances. Jordan’s effort is known as The Shot.     The Don? He gave us The Hit … on Kobe Bryant’s birthday, no less.

“I was just trying to make it,’’ said Doncic, still humble as a hoops world stirs. “I can’t explain the emotions I had, not only when the ball goes in but when I see the whole team running toward me. That was something special. One of the best feelings I’ve ever had. Just something special.’’     Does he realize the magnitude of it all? “My feelings are not here right now,’’ he said. “I’ll think about it and let you know next time.”

Next time could be next game, for all we know. In a league historically defined by stylish, dominant personalities, Doncic arrives as a well-timed, unique conversation piece amid the fatigue of COVID-19 and the searing emotions of Black Lives Matter protests. He is not from Ohio, New York, California or anywhere in the U.S. Nor is he part of an African-American sector that comprises about 80 percent of NBA players. He hails from Slovenia, best known for mountains and forests and rivers, and he learned the game as a coach’s son. He’s hardly the first Europrodigy to crash the NBA scene, as he grew up watching Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and the Brothers Gasol. But unlike past decades, when international hype often exceeded production and occasionally led to a Darko Milicic flop, Doncic soon will inherit a post-LeBron era when he and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek Freak, are the league’s dominant players.

It’s not a stretch right now, given James’ self-mocked balding head and the inconsistent patterns of Antetokounmpo’s Bucks and Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers, that Doncic is emerging as the world’s best all-around player. It’s a refreshing, urgent breakout for a league facing a fraught financial future, including a TV ratings plunge that President Trump and his supporters attribute to an overemphasis on racial equality and Black Lives Matter crusades. No doubt segments of America are weary of sports activism, from James and Curry to prominent coaches such as Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr. Yet James, Hill, Mitchell and other players and coaches had every right to vent publicly about the Kenosha shooting.

Khris Middleton Postgame Interview - Game 4 | Bucks vs Raptors ...

“At the end of the day, it’s up to our lawmakers, it’s up to our police department to stop shooting us. It’s that simple,’’ said the Bucks’ Khris Middleton. “They’re there to provide safety. There’s different ways to de-escalate situations than shooting someone, especially when running away or in the back.”

“It’s just sickening. It’s heartless,’’ Hill said. “It’s a f—ed-up situation. You’re supposed to look at the police to protect and serve. Now, it’s looked at harass or shoot.’’

Said Miami forward Bam Adebayo, after the Heat swept the Indiana Pacers: “Just seeing that video, it’s ridiculous. Someone has to be held accountable.’’

“Getting swept is tough, but at the end of the day, nobody’s dead,’’ said the Pacers’ Victor Oladipo. “People are dying. This is not OK.’’

In the larger vein of social justice, Doncic has earned the praise of his league brethren in more ways than one. During a Game 3 exchange, the Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell referred to Doncic as a “bitch ass white boy.’’ This could have been an explosive situation for NBA commissioner Adam Silver … except Doncic defused it by hugging Harrell and shaking his hand before Game 4, explaining to the media, “Sometimes you say things you don’t want to say. He apologized. So no problem.’’

Said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, marveling at Doncic’ poise during the flap: “`Luka, I guess, was shocked that he needed to reach out.’’

It’s possible no single gift from heaven can help the NBA, or America, at this stage of the racial quagmire. Having the Luka Doncic Experience is comforting, but neither his breakthrough nor Mamba’s Day can save the league from what ails a nation.

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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