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Shut Up And Dribble? That Time Has Come, Lebron

A legacy bolstered by a unique double triumph — social justice leadership and his fourth title — has regressed into dangerous tweets, geopolitical hypocrisy, an ankle injury and whining about a play-in format, all as the Lakers struggle.

Jay Mariotti

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He never grew up. That is the only explanation for how LeBron James, so astute last year in campaigning against voter suppression and protesting the murder of George Floyd, has become such a social failure in 2021. I called him the Sportsperson of the Year as recently as December.

Today, he has morphed into someone I don’t recognize or respect, as if his identity has been hacked by … wait, is this the work of Al-G’s Goon Squad in the upcoming “Space Jam 2’’ production? Regretfully, it is not.

Everything We Know About SPACE JAM 2 - Nerdist

James appears to be suffering from megalomania. He is so driven by his newly acquired power and influence, he acts via impulse, like a child, instead of thinking through the potential consequences of his statements. The police officers who’ve protected him throughout his very public life, such as when racist graffiti was sprayed on the gate of his Los Angeles mansion, now want NBA commissioner Adam Silver to investigate him. And why not? When James tweeted, “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY’’ — beside an hourglass emoji and a photo of Nicholas Reardon, the Ohio police officer who fired the shots that killed a knife-wielding Ma’Khia Bryant — he struck me as a quick-trigger activist using a hand-held device to incite violence against police.

The fact he quickly deleted the tweet suggests James lacks the maturity and gravitas to be a responsible crusader. When O.J. Simpson displays more common sense, asking James to “pick his battles’’ and wait for more details before tweeting, it’s clearly time to minimize LeBron as an American leader. Wrote James, after removing the tweet: “I’m so damn tired of seeing Black people killed by police. I took the tweet down because its being used to create more hate — This isn’t about one officer. it’s about the entire system and they always use our words to create more racism. I am so desperate for more ACCOUNTABILITY.”

I am desperate for more ACCOUNTABILITY from James, who should be emphasizing peace and calm amid the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict. As it is, he comes off as a brand-fixated hypocrite, refusing to condemn China for human rights violations because he sells a lot of sneakers there and knows “Space Jam 2’’ awaits distribution this summer across a country of 1.45 billion people, give or take a few political prisoners. Remember when front-office executive Daryl Morey, then with Houston and now in Philadelphia, supported Hong Kong in its rebuke of the Chinese government? James attacked Morey, saying, “I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke. And so many people could have been harmed — not only financially (but) physically, emotionally, spiritually. So just be careful what we tweet and say and we do, even though, yes, we do have freedom of speech, but there can be a lot of negative that comes with that, too.”

It’s difficult not to laugh at the utter disingenuity here. Not educated about the situation at hand? So many people could have been harmed? Be careful what we tweet and say? Each claim also can be made about James’ “YOU’RE NEXT’’ tweet. Blatantly, and embarrassingly, he contradicted his own advice. The National Fraternal Order of Police certainly noticed, posting this tweet: “@KingJames, with his vast resources & influence, should educate himself and, frankly, has a responsibility to do so, on the facts before weighing in. This is disgraceful & extremely reckless. The officer saved a young girl’s life. No amount of gaslighting will change that fact.”

Nor did James do himself favors in Los Angeles, where a union representing LAPD officers wants to know if he violated league policies. There is no chance Silver, the free-speech champion, will address the matter publicly and irritate his meal ticket. But the local goodwill generated last fall by LeBron, who led the Lakers to a championship in the Disney Bubble, has subsided in a market that generally views him as a rented mercenary after Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and other legends played entire careers with the purple and gold.

Little has gone well for James since the start of the new season, which tipped off only 72 days after he won his fourth NBA title. Stubbornly, rather than plotting strategic early rest like other superstars, he insisted on playing every night — and suffered a high right ankle sprain that cost him six weeks, while title-tandem partner Anthony Davis was missing nine weeks with a calf strain and Achilles tendinosis. Both returned, but the Lakers are woefully out of sync as the playoffs approach, their chemistry in tatters as multiple losses mount. Once atop the Western Conference at 21-6, they might sink so far in the standings that they’ll have to win a play-in series — the league’s new device to curtail tanking and maintain interest in more markets — to avoid elimination.

Of course, Mr. Impulse fired away again, this time whining about the league.

“Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired,” James said of the play-in format.

Whoever would be Silver.

A title repeat looks impossible at this point, with guard Dennis Schroder out 10-14 days due to COVID-19 protocols. It’s unlikely James and Davis will stay setback-free through a postseason that won’t end until late July, with James sitting out the final six minutes of a Sunday loss and Monday night’s back-to-back against Denver with soreness in his problem ankle. Wisely, he’ll rest two more games this week. Just as he should accept Nikola Jokic as the presumptive league MVP, James should prioritize health over record and expect a play-in assignment against, oh, Steph Curry and the Warriors. Or Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. Or Ja Morant and the Grizzlies. Or, if the Lakers do keep the No. 6 seed, a matchup against Jokic and the Nuggets.

In all scenarios, James won’t be the sentimental favorite.

“I definitely want to get healthy. Not only for myself, but for our team,” he said. “I need to make sure my ankle is where it was before the injury. I’ve got to be smart with it. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day if I’m not 100 percent or close to 100 percent. It don’t matter where we land.”

Seems Kyle Kuzma, his younger teammate, has a better perspective at the moment. The Lakers are disjointed, with veteran Marc Gasol upset about reduced playing time after the signing of big man Andre Drummond. “I just don’t think we’re connected right now. I think we’re unhealthy and just not good enough,” Kuzma said after successive home losses to Sacramento and Toronto. “We’re just not together as a whole — team, staff, everything. … I don’t know, man. It’s just very tough. It’s just an unfortunate situation. It’s tough, man. It’s just tough, very tough. I’m not sure what to do.”

Said Davis, whose big buckets allowed the Lakers a breathing-room victory Monday: “The only way is up. We really can’t get any lower than this.’’

Is there a leader in the house? “Our team,’’ coach Frank Vogel said, “is a little shook.’’

For now, LeBron James has landed in a manure pile of his own doing. A legacy that never had looked shinier — a pandemic championship wrapped around a social justice triumph — now is smeared in pablum. It wasn’t long ago when he was sprawled outside a locker room in central Florida, soaked with champagne and smoking a cigar as he spoke to his mother via FaceTime. As detailed by NBA writer Ben Golliver in his new book, “Bubbleball,” James told her on the call: “Mama! Mama! Hey, Mama! I had to leave the locker room. They’re going crazy right now. I had to get away. There’s nothing that can stop me because this s— is nothing compared to the s— you had to go through.”

“God is good,” Gloria James replied.

“God is good,” her son said. “God is great. I hope I continue to make you proud, Mom.”

Watch LeBron James FaceTime His Mom After NBA Finals Win | POPSUGAR Family

It’s stunning how quickly his world flipped in a matter of, what, six months? At least he has the new movie.

Er, never mind. It isn’t an original, having been made a quarter-century ago by Michael Jordan, who won six championships in six Finals tries and never let maniacal political leanings twist his life into undoable knots.

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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