His sickly shrieks are still echoing through a barren Staples Center, up near the championship banners and retired jerseys. And the way his body tumbled off the floor, in a series of revolutions, as he clutched his wounded right leg — it almost seemed LeBron James was trying to sell us, as actors do, that this was a high-drama moment in the twilight of his incomparable career.
Was it the famous final scene? The one that signals, after 18 seasons and 1,566 NBA games, that he no longer can win titles?
“I haven’t seen him scream and scowl like that probably ever,” teammate Kyle Kuzma said.
“We do forget,” said Montrezl Harrell, “that he’s human.”
If we’ve learned through time to never doubt James’ resolve, as an athlete and an activist and a budding Hollywood mogul, we also know that his body can’t take much more pain and suffering. Though his triumphant performance in bubble-wrapped isolation last season was unforgettable, this fact remains: His time with the Lakers otherwise has been defined by health setbacks. Two years ago, a groin injury sabotaged a postseason berth. Now, just as he was making an energized run for a fifth MVP award, James is sidelined indefinitely with what is being called a high ankle sprain … but looked much worse. Before limping through the tunnel, he angrily knocked over a chair.
Is this a man who expects to be holding a fifth trophy this summer? Or one already painting himself as an aging underdog in his next playoff movie?
“Nothing angers and saddens me more than not being available to and for my teammates! I’m hurt inside and out right now,” James tweeted. “The road back from recovery begins now. Back soon like I never left.”
As he escapes to his private training cave until further notice, the potential ramifications of the injury can’t be understated. With All-Star wingman Anthony Davis dealing with more injuries himself — he has missed the last 15 games with a calf strain and tendinosis in his right leg — a repeat championship is in peril. Remember, the Lakers didn’t finish their title march in the Disney World Bubble until Oct. 11, then had only a few weeks to rest before training camp. James balked and suggested the league office wasn’t forthright with him about the quick turnaround, then oddly decided to become an Ironman and play all but one of the team’s first 42 games.
Was it a mistake to not prioritize strategic rest and tender, loving care for his 36-year-old bones? If so, it might ultimately damage James in his ongoing legacy quest. The Greatest Of All Time debate, which skewed heavily toward Michael Jordan after his grandeur was highlighted in last spring’s “The Last Dance” docuseries, was interrupted by James’ magnificent work in Orlando, when he won a pandemic title, fueled the Black Lives Matter movement and convinced a fair share of voters not to re-elect Donald Trump. A repeat title would be James’ fifth, one shy of Jordan’s total. Suddenly, the push for LeBron would heighten among his supporters, mostly millennials and Gen-Zers who don’t grasp the entirety of Jordan’s legacy.
But if James is finished winning hardware, there is no argument — at least from an all-basketball, politics-excluded viewpoint. And even if he does recover enough to make a spirited playoff return, it’s possible the Lakers can’t match the competition anyway. The Western Conference, still a beast, is defined by the firepower and two-way dominance of the Utah Jazz and the rise of the Phoenix Suns, who have Chris Paul playing Yoda to Devin Booker. Aren’t the Clippers now seeing light in Los Angeles, where they were mocked after a playoff collapse? Conceivably, the Lakers could slip to as low as sixth in the standings, and while homecourt advantage won’t exist in a COVID-guarded postseason, it will be hell surviving the West — let alone winning the Finals, where the Brooklyn Nets could await as they ride new MVP frontrunner James Harden in the regular season while safeguarding Kevin Durant for the playoffs.
When NBA commissioner Adam Silver insisted on launching this season in time for the Christmas TV money bonanza, did he consider the wear and tear on the superstars he so desperately needs? That his decision might prove counterproductive? Along with James, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid was angling for an MVP award before exiting with a bone bruise in his left knee. A Lakers-Sixers matchup in the Finals would have been a dream, a blast from the past.
Now, imagine a Utah-Milwaukee scrum. Basketball purists might love Rudy Gobert trying to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo, but for a league bruised by a 51-percent ratings decline for the 2020 Finals, that isn’t the marketing solution.
In their frustration, some Lakers players are making too big a stink about a fluky circumstance. Atlanta’s Solomon Hill fell into James while pursuing a loose ball, causing his ankle to roll awkwardly. “That’s an unnecessary play to dive in the leg like that,” Dennis Schroder said.
“A guy dove for a loose ball, took his leg out from up under him,” Harrell said. “I really don’t feel like it was one of those loose-ball plays. He had to go through his leg to get the ball, man. He was turned sideways. The ball was behind him. I mean, you’re jumping at an angle, going across this way, I mean, I don’t know how you feel that’s a loose ball.”
Truth is, they should be asking why James was in uniform to begin with. After reluctantly participating in a forced All-Star Game, he should have used the dog days to sit. No one is watching the NBA, anyway, as March Madness occupies the calendar. But James was starting to smell his first MVP award since 2013 — an absurdly long lapse — and the Lakers had been lobbying heavily for him as recently as last week.
“Bron should have been the MVP at least eight, nine, 10 times,” Kuzma said. “Everybody knows that.”
Said coach Frank Vogel, who frequently refers to James as the greatest player ever: “It’s a mistake on the voters’ part to go season after season without voting the best player in the league MVP. That’s the simplest way to put it. There’s been other players that have been deserving, but he’s been the best player in the league for as long as I can remember — maybe since his second, third year in the league. It’s just one of those things that’s unfortunate. It’s not right. And he should get it this year. He’s doing it every night, and no one is as deserving.”
The support prompted James to reverse his stance of recent seasons. Yes, he said just the other day, the MVP matters to him.
“It is something. It means something, for sure,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and say it doesn’t mean anything to me. And for me to be able to win it a few times in my career is always been special. And being in the running, hearing my name with some of the best basketball players in the league this year again, it would mean a lot. At my age, what I’m able to do, what I’ve been doing this whole season, what I bring to the table every single night on both sides of the floor. It would mean an unbelievable thing for me, especially at this point in my career. So, we just see where the chips may lay.”
Should he have more MVP trophies at this point?
“I should have more than four, I believe,” he said.
But in the biggest context of G.O.A.T. wars, another MVP award means little compared to a fifth championship. If LeBron James never wins again — and I’m beginning to think he will not — what a shame that his reign ended against the Hawks on a March afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, with few in the building and a space on the wall for a new banner that likely won’t be hung.
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.