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The Lessons We Learned In Those Game 7s

“Just like Lillard and Leonard showed us last weekend — know when to dominate and when to defer. Hosts that have a feel for this are valuable.”

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Many people watch sports for the entertainment value. Heck, I watch sports mainly to be entertained. I haven’t gone into work and said, “Did you see that buzzer-beater? Awww, man! It taught me something valuable that I can apply not only to my personal life but also my professional life!” I’d be known as the weird guy forevermore. Although it’s rare to discuss the lessons we learn from sports with great excitement, it would be silly to overlook examples that can actually benefit us.

There were a pair of Game 7s in the NBA Playoffs on Sunday. Two players in particular — Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard and Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard — provided memorable performances as well as some useful lessons. Lillard struggled as the Blazers beat the Nuggets 100-96. Leonard had a monstrous performance scoring 41 points in Toronto’s 92-90 win over the 76ers. Leonard also became the first player to hit a Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history. 

Image result for kawhi leonard joel embiid

Both games provided plenty of drama and excitement. Leonard’s game-winning shot touched the rim multiple times before dropping. It was like basketball’s version of the famous chip shot by Tiger Woods in the 2005 Masters where his golf ball just sat on the lip of the cup before finally falling in. To me, the excitement went beyond the games. Lillard and Leonard conducted themselves in ways on Sunday that are great examples for sports radio hosts. There are two lessons to remember.

Know When To Be The Go-To Guy (Or Gal)

Lillard is a star player, but doesn’t feel the need to always have a starring role. He had a rough game while only making three of his 17 shots from the field against Denver. Lillard deferred to his teammate, CJ McCollum, who had the hot hand. McCollum scored 37 points and hit a number of huge shots down the stretch. There were possessions in the closing minutes where Lillard didn’t even touch the ball. He has a great feel for what will benefit his team most, even if it involves him taking a backseat.

Meanwhile, Leonard was a monster for the Raptors against Philadelphia. He hit enormous shots and was clearly Toronto’s biggest star. Leonard knew the best chance his team had to win was for him to be a dominant player. He took 39 shots during the game, which accounted for 43.8% of the Raptors total shots. That’s a heavy workload. Lillard’s 17 shots only accounted for 18.2% of Portland’s overall shots against the Nuggets.

What’s the point here among this sea of numbers? Knowing when to have a starring role and when to defer is very important. Sports radio hosts need to have a feel for this just like athletes. 

There are times to assert your dominance, and times to support others. It isn’t only about you. It’s about the show as a whole. Many hosts think they have to constantly shine the brightest for the show to be at its best. This is completely untrue.

There are instances when deferring to a co-host, guest, or piece of audio is the best approach. Maybe someone (gasp) is more knowledgeable than you on a certain topic. Maybe someone (deeper gasp) has an opinion that is more interesting than yours. Instead of trying to outdo everybody and everything around you, it’s smarter to highlight others and lend support even if you don’t stand out the most.

Commentators showcase this skill often. Vin Scully didn’t speak for over a minute after Kirk Gibson hit a dramatic walk-off home run for the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series. Jim Nantz didn’t speak for nearly three minutes after Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters. It wasn’t about the men calling the action. Scully and Nantz knew the true story wasn’t about them; they were just a part of it. It’s similar in sports radio. A necessary skill is to know when to shine and when to support.

The Rock used to say in his WWE wrestling days, “Know your role and shut your mouth.” The truth is being great is more about knowing your roles (plural). You aren’t just one thing constantly. Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, once handed the ball to running back Jonas Gray 37 times in a single game. Gray rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a 2014 Patriots win against the Colts. Did that mean Brady wasn’t a star because he had a supporting role that game? Nope.

Image result for tom brady jonas gray

Leonard had a starring role scoring 41 points. Lillard had a supporting role scoring 13 points. They both had a feel for what would benefit their team most. It would have been a bad approach for Lillard to try to force more shots when he was struggling, and for Leonard to defer to his teammates when he clearly had the hottesthand.

As a sports radio host, the same feel needs to exist for what will benefit the show most. It doesn’t stay constant. The roles for radio hosts can vary just like the roles for athletes.

Be yourself

Lillard and Leonard are comfortable being the people they are instead of the people others want them to be. Lillard has stated numerous times that he isn’t planning on leaving the Blazers to join a team that might have a better chance to win a championship. Many people think winning a ring is the only thing that truly matters. Lillard doesn’t subscribe to that theory. He values his teammates to the point that he considers the position they’d be in if he left Portland. Lillard also doesn’t believe that the star player has to always shine. He has a team-first attitude and trusts his teammates in key spots like he did on Sunday.

Image result for damian lillard teammates

Leonard doesn’t have a dynamic personality. He’s okay with that. It didn’t sound like he hit a dramatic series-winning shot when he spoke with TNT’s Ros Gold-Onwude after the game. Instead it sounded like he either woke up from a nap or maybe was doing a halftime interview at a Summer League game. A New Balance commercial summarizes Leonard perfectly — “Kawhi doesn’t need to get your attention. He already has it. Game speaks for itself.”

Being yourself in sports radio is a key factor that many hosts overlook. The business requires hosts to stand out. We need to be different. We need to be noticeable. We need to be this. We need to be that. The most important “thing” you need to be is often the least emphasized — you need to be yourself. If you aren’t, the audience won’t ever know the real you. If they don’t know the real you, then you’re just another host giving another opinion.

I’ve been asked for dating advice on a few occasions. I’m very far from the authority on all things dating. I don’t start off by saying, “If there’s one think I’ve learned about women…” The main thing I stress is to be yourself. Find someone that loves you for you.

I think it’s similar to sports radio. There are ways to improve yourself — pay off your teases right away, play the hits, etc. There are ways to improve yourself in dating — open doors, don’t talk with food falling out of your mouth, listen. Improve yourself in both areas, but not at the expense of simply being yourself. 

Dan Patrick shared a thought last week that hosts don’t need to have a hot take about everything. Patrick described a hot take by saying, “I’m going to go with something outlandish, something wild, and then you’re going to notice me.” 

He’s right. A hot take about everything is overkill. A host that delivers nonstop hot takes is trying too hard to stand out. Do you know what happens when you seek a date by trying too hard? You end up in an exclusive relationship with yourself. Don’t force it.

I’m a very competitive person. I realized over the last week that my goal to stand out and succeed can come at an expense — you might start to stray away from who you truly are. Even if it’s the slightest difference, it can still be a dangerous game.

I wrote at the top of my notes, “Relax and be yourself. Stop trying to be more. Realize you’re already enough.” Cue “Kumbaya” to accentuate this point. It’s the truth though — trying too hard can be one of the worst moves you make.

It all comes down to knowing yourself and knowing the situation. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored the most points and John Stockton recorded the most assists in NBA history. Stockton is also 45th in career points. Abdul-Jabbar is 43rd in career assists ahead of some guy named Michael Jordan. Not too shabby. Neither player was just one thing. They both had a feel for when it was time to score and when it was time to set somebody else up to score.

Image result for kareem abdul-jabbar pass

This is sports radio in a nutshell. Hosts should look to score (by delivering opinions) and assist others (by bringing attention to their stances). A good mixture of both is necessary. 

Just like Lillard and Leonard showed us last weekend — know when to dominate and when to defer. Hosts that have a feel for this are valuable. Hosts that are also comfortable in their own skin will do some damage in this business.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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