This is what we’ve needed as much as oxygen and water, a sports tremor to thrill and unite us, a rush of joy that reminds America of its functioning pulse and heartbeat. Haven’t we had our fill of the pandemic, politics and pap? Just keep rewinding Jalen Suggs’ soul-stirring moment in time — dribble, dribble, dribble, stop, soar, pop, lean, bank off the glass, stand atop the sideline table as Bill Raftery shrieks, “Major onions!” — and let it whisk you into a Monday night that must be reserved for your pleasure wherever you are.
Watching Gonzaga plunder through college basketball, without a challenge, was no fun. Watching UCLA engage in ass-backwards role reversal — an 11-time national champion nearly executing an epic upset over what is still, at its core, a modest Jesuit program from Spokane, Wash. — was the universal ripple not felt in sports during our year in COVID captivity. Tom Brady, LeBron James, the Dodgers, Dustin Johnson, Naomi Osaka — all produced inspirational but predictable triumphs amid unprecedented challenges that should favor the proven and privileged. Those victories didn’t move us as one.
When Suggs finished a dazzling personal showcase with his buzzer-beater from 40 feet, the meaning extended far beyond another Gonzaga victory and a place beside Baylor in a richly compelling title game. It gave 2021 an all-time story to replay for decades, arguably the sport’s greatest finish ever, a viral visual to rip through the mutating variants and gift us something glorious to discuss beyond racial hatred and continuing exposure risks. Yes, it kept alive the Zags’ bid for the first perfect season in 45 years. Yes, it validated Suggs’ hype as a top-three NBA draft pick and all the recent stories about his close friendship with UConn’s Paige Bueckers, perhaps the best women’s player of her generation. Yes, it showed Gonzaga could survive an overtime minefield against the street-brawling Bruins, as created by Mick Cronin, a feisty S.O.B. by way of Cincinnati and a coach even Bill Walton can love.
But, tell me, when was the last time any of us sat by a technological device, linear or streaming, and went “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” And funny how the outburst didn’t have to involve an allegiance to a team or a wager placed before the game. This was sports at its iconic purest, in an era when leagues and broadcast networks want to stench it up with gambling overload, at a time when the NCAA continues to argue in the country’s highest court that players such as Suggs — who perpetuate the tournament’s memory-factory charm and keep putting $1 billion a year into the bank accounts of the NCAA and college programs — aren’t paid a penny.
Think Suggs cared about any of that dissonance? Watch the video. He was so convinced the shot was going in, he began to wander toward the sideline table, by some karmatic pull, before the ball bounced off the backboard and through the cylinder. This was his childhood dream taking shape, the one that had him leaping on a platform and celebrating such a shot just as Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade had done. Lucas Oil Stadium still was populated by more cardboard cutouts than human beings, but Suggs knew tens of millions were watching. He was introducing himself to a sports world that only knew him vaguely, as the combo guard from Minnesota who rejected a chance to play quarterback at Ohio State to devote his one and only collegiate season to Gonzaga, the upstart-turned-blueblood.
“I’ve always wanted to run up on the table like Kobe and D-Wade and go like that, and that’s the first thing I did,” Suggs said. “Man, that is something that you practice on your mini-hoop as a kid or in the gym just messing around. And to be able to do that, it’s crazy.
“I mean, it was nuts. And I still can’t speak. I have so many things going on in my head. I just can’t believe that happened. I don’t think it’s really going to hit me until I wake up tomorrow.”
He woke up. The shot really did happen, which surprised no one in the triumphant bob-and-weave of teammates celebrating with Suggs. “I knew it was going in. He’s got that magical aura,” said his coach, Mark Few. “Jalen makes those in practice all the time, last-second shots. I felt pretty good. I was staring right at it. And I said, `It’s in.’ And it was.”
If you’re wondering why Few has ascended to the top of his craft, as Roy Williams retires and Mike Krzyzewski contemplates the same path, observe how he handled a second-half sequence when Suggs was in foul trouble and not playing well. Few removed him from the game, then instantly put him back in. It was a strategic jolt to a 19-year-old’s system, a reminder that his best was needed for the Zags to avoid another big-game setback. His immediate response was almost as breathtaking as the buzzer-beater. As UCLA was threatening to pull away, Suggs saw 6-7 Cody Riley with an open path for an easy dunk. In an intrusion that screamed next-level, Suggs rotated and blocked the shot, then gathered the ball and threw a long bounce pass through various bodies to Drew Timme, who turned a would-be deficit into a two-point lead. “I couldn’t just give him a free bucket,” Suggs said. “Either I was going to find him at the line or make a play on the ball. It was tough to get it. I got it.”
“An amazing, amazing play,” Few said. “The beauty of Jalen is that he does make plays like that, where he comes down and blocks bigs because he’s so athletic and he’s so tough and he’s not afraid. He’s not afraid to try.”
Fun as it is in the aftermath to debate the shot’s place in college lore, the exercise is premature until Gonzaga seals the document forever and completes only the eighth perfect season. Christian Laettner’s miracle was followed by a Duke title in 1992. Villanova’s Kris Jenkins won the championship with his three-pointer five years ago. Michael Jordan’s jumper in 1982, though not a buzzer-beater, won a title for North Carolina. Lorenzo Charles’ putback that propelled Jimmy Valvano to seek a hug — it won the title for North Carolina State a year later. Suggs’ prayer won’t remain in the pantheon if Baylor wins, a possibility if the Zags don’t play a crisper overall game and struggle to defend Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague, the guard triumverate that has awakened offensively with exquisite timing. The defense already is elite, with the Bears forcing turnovers on 25 percent of opponents’ possessions this season. They are rested and deep. Gonzaga is neither.
“We didn’t come all this way not to win it all,” Butler said. “We came here to win it all through the culture of joy.”
Culture of joy? It’s the mantra of coach Scott Drew, who arrived 18 years ago in Waco amid the ashes of the ultimate scandal — Patrick Dennehy was murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson, while coach Dave Bliss tried to cover up the homicide with lies. For those tired of money-bloated bluebloods, the Jesuits vs. the Baptists is a different twist. But as basketball cognoscenti know, the magnitude is much larger. Gonzaga and Baylor have ruled as the dominant programs of the college game and likely would have met for a title last year, pandemic permitting. They were supposed to play Dec. 5, but COVID won that matchup, too. Not since 2005 have the top two overall seeds met for the national championship.
“God blessed us,” Drew said. “The strength of our team is that we play with joy. Everyone tries to find the open man, play together and feel good for your fellow teammate.”
Will Gonzaga be strengthened by a rare test and finish the mission? Or have the Zags been exposed by Cronin, Johnny Juzang and UCLA’s culture of grit? It was easy sequestering in the Indianapolis bubble when the victories were in double digits. Now? Disappointed so often in the biggest moments, Gonzaga has used its Hail Mary quota. Even Suggs knows that.
“When dreams start to become realities and you’re able to experience those things, it’s special. And those are things you’ve got to cherish,” he said. You’re never going to get another moment like this. You’ll never be able to relive this.”
Regardless of how this delectable tale ends, America thanks him. Because of Jalen Suggs, we can scream in a living room again. That is history in itself.
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.