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Michael Jordan Isn’t The Only One Full of Bull

“Columnist Jay Mariotti says the truth has been twisted by many characters of “The Last Dance” era, including the tag team of Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and writer Sam Smith.”

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 Just when it seemed Michael Jordan was finished making history, with his savage conquests of sports and sneakers and even the eerie genre of pandemic TV, we find him caught in swirling crossfire that frames him as a threat to another life legend.

Pinocchio.

Since the final credits rolled on “The Last Dance’’ documentary series, Jordan has been called a liar by Jerry Reinsdorf, a liar and a snitch by Horace Grant and a liar by a Utah pizza maker. And he has been caught contradicting himself by a reporter, Jack McCallum, who released a 2011 taped interview in which Jordan indeed confirmed that he froze nemesis Isiah Thomas from the 1992 Dream Team, which he repeatedly has denied. All of which is fitting in the aftermath of a production — a Jordan vanity project and hagiographical romp — that portrayed him as a triumphant dictator, left many of his servants crumpled in his reinvigorated legacy dust and reminded us how the Chicago Bulls reign was as much about manipulation and infighting as winning.

Yet let’s not assume, simply because some are bitter about how they were portrayed in the Jordan-lorded series, that they’re all telling the truth and he isn’t. A whole lot of people have lied in this decades-old piss pot — then and now — which explains why the dynasty became a travesty that died nasty. What should have been a joyride, wrapped around the miracle of Jordan, too often deteriorated into dysfunction and finger-pointing that leaves me asking, to this day, how the Bulls won six NBA championships. And now Jordan’s detractors, after watching a film that couldn’t have made him look better, want him also to be remembered as a fraud so obsessed with control that he’ll tell fantastic lies to protect his narrative, a lonely man in his leather chair with a cigar and mixed drink.

Be careful before you let them.

Adam Martin (@adamuiowa) | Twitter

Because just as Jordan has his rules, there are The Reinsdorf Rules — and, by extension, The Sam Smith Rules, those of an ethically conflicted sportswriter and not the ballad singer or brewmaster of the same name. Yes, Jordan is all over the map on Isiah and needs to come clean. And I don’t really care whether he fell ill because of pizza poisoning, altitude sickness or a long night of partying; whatever, the man was mortally sick the next night and still scored 38 points in 44 minutes. But having covered the Jordan era as a Chicago columnist, I am compelled today to detail the machinations of a Bulls management dynamic that, quite often, oozed of more deception than a political backroom filled with aldermen.

And Reinsdorf and Smith always were in the smoky room together, as partners in slime.

On any list of essential occupations, sadly, a sports beat writer is no more vital now than a toenail painter or nightclub bouncer. That said, if and when seasons resume, there is a proper, professional way to cover a team. The process generally is defined as reporting for one’s core readers with tunnel vision — disseminating information and insight without selling out to sources as sugar daddies and slanting “news’’ in their favor.

Which is why Smith committed a flagrant foul, worthy of expulsion from whatever bogus media game he’s playing, when he claimed last week that Jordan “made up’’ and “lied about’’ why the era ended after the sixth title. See, Smith works for team chairman Reinsdorf — literally, as a staff writer for the Bulls.com website — after years of tickling Reinsdorf’s scrotum as the Chicago Tribune’s lead basketball writer. And his attack on Jordan’s integrity came only days (shocking!) after Reinsdorf testily emerged from his reclusive cave, saying he’s miffed at how Jordan characterized him in the final scene of the docu-series: as the owner who chose to dismantle the dynasty instead of prolonging it. “Maddening,’’ as Jordan put it.

Said Reinsdorf to NBC Sports Chicago, his broadcast-rights partner: “I was not pleased. How’s that? He knew better. Michael and I had some private conversations at that time that I won’t go into detail on. But there’s no question in my mind that Michael’s feeling at the time was we could not put together a championship team the next year.’’

Tone at the top - Chicago Bulls Confidential

He was calling Jordan a liar without actually using the L-word, a legal reflex as an attorney by trade. But he wasn’t done. In slippery Reinsdorfian fashion, as I witnessed often during 17 years at the Sun-Times, he relied on a henchman, Smith, to do his dirtiest work for him. Never mind that Jordan, after smirking and raising his eyebrows, reminded director Jason Hehir of the irrefutable timetable: Reinsdorf never interceded in the eight months after general manager Jerry Krause told Phil Jackson that he wouldn’t return as coach even if the Bulls went “82 and oh,’’ the eruption that prompted Jackson to coin the phrase “The Last Dance’’ and Jordan to vow he wouldn’t return without Jackson. Never mind how Reinsdorf used shifty semantics to say he made a last-gasp effort to keep Jordan and Jackson when, in fact, the damage had been done long before amid the owner’s insistence on backing Krause. Typically, Reinsdorf is trying a Hail Mary to sway public opinion that has been almost universally against him since then. Twenty-two years later, only his servant is buying in, making sure to spread the boss’ gospel during a quickie media tour.

“That was a complete and blatant lie by Michael,’’ Smith told 95.7 The Game, a San Francisco sports station. “There were several things in the documentary that I saw, I would know, that he made up or he lied about.’’

Later, Smith appeared on the Dan Patrick Show and elaborated: “He didn’t want to play that next year. He could have, in any number of ways. So he made that up too at the end: that `I wish I could have come back, I wanted to come back.’ He didn’t want to come back. … If he wanted that one (additional) year and the $40 million, he could have gotten it. He just didn’t want to play. … But it was a better story to end it that way. To say, `Hey, one more chance. Going for seven. We could have done that.’ Nah, he didn’t want to do that.’’

This isn’t professional reporting. It’s obedient, yes-sir, blame-deflecting trolling for the boss who employs him at the team website. The least Smith could have done was present Jordan’s side, but as Reinsdorf’s mouthpiece, he made the radio rounds for one purpose: To defend the owner, as he did for decades at the Tribune when Reinsdorf wasn’t signing his paychecks. As I wrote recently about the bleak future of independent sports media, I’m concerned that most aspiring writers will have to work directly as public-relations valets for leagues, teams and programs, or for outlets in bed with Big Sports. When young people see Smith operate in “The Last Dance’’ — as author of “The Jordan Rules,’’ the 1991 book — they might view Smith as a role model.

If so, don’t major in journalism. What Sam Smith does isn’t journalism.

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When I arrived in town after the first title, I was startled by the smarmy landscape of the Bulls beat. Smith was attached to the hips and lips of Jackson and Reinsdorf … and Jordan didn’t trust him, gravitating to other beat writers. Nor was it cool that one of our Sun-Times beat reporters, Lacy J. Banks, regularly played poker with Jordan. Reinsdorf didn’t like Banks, who had a lengthy newspaper career before passing away in 2012, and sometimes called Banks a liar to discredit him (seeing a trend here?). Uncomfortably driving past Sun-Times billboards across Chicagoland that heralded my arrival with my headshot and a menacing slogan — “Sports With An Attitude!’’ — I was compelled to drive an immediate stake into the politicking. And if I’ve told this story before, it’s worth telling here.

I’d heard rumblings about “The Jordan Rules,’’ yet to be released, and how Jordan wasn’t going to like it. So I called Smith’s book publicist and requested an advance copy. Indeed, for the first time in a mass-readership context, Jordan’s dictatorial side would be revealed in the book. Knowing the Tribune had invested thousands of dollars to publish Smith’s excerpts — yes, the Tribune paid for information from its own reporter — I quickly published a column about some of the book’s controversial contents, as provided by Smith’s publicist. This caused a furor; was a championship team going to be disrupted by a book? It also embarrassed the Tribune and landed Smith in hot water with his editors, who couldn’t believe his publicist had helped the rival paper beat the Tribune with its own, paid-for material. The Sun-Times was an underdog tabloid with financial problems. Already dealing with the recent demise of my previous employer, the great National Sports Daily, I had no time for Machiavellian sports-beat b.s. I was in the mood to brawl.

Amid the book ruckus, Bulls training camp started. Visiting the team’s suburban facility for the first time, I heard a voice: “Are you Jay?’’ It was Jackson, not pleased. Now, why would he be rankled? Ohhhhh, he was close with Smith, who often would write soft, lengthy features about him. Around the same time, as covered in “The Last Dance,’’ Krause had circled book excerpts that weren’t flattering to him and summoned Jackson to his office, wondering what was up. Hmmmm.

So when Jordan pinpointed ex-teammate Grant in the docu-series as the principal book leak, prompting Grant to brand Jordan’s claim as an “downright, outright, (complete) lie,’’ it’s curious how Jordan protected Jackson. Because it’s obvious Jackson was involved in the book. And if Smith already had Reinsdorf locked in as a major source, well, draw your own conclusions. I’m sure Grant provided a few stories, as did other team members and franchise personnel. And Smith does have a reporter’s eyes and ears, having been trained on the news side of the print industry.

Sam Smith Bulls – BlackSportsOnline

Unfortunately, to this day, he is ensconced in business bed with Reinsdorf, the ultimate reporting no-no. You scratch my back; I’ll advance your agenda. You pay me a salary; I’ll go on radio shows defending you and calling Jordan a liar. And Smith wasn’t alone in the Jerry-rigging. Any time Reinsdorf’s baseball team, the Chicago White Sox, thought a critic was too harsh, out came hillbilly homer Hawk Harrelson, who would interrupt a broadcast in Anaheim and, oh, rip me for two innings. Don’t make the mistake of confusing Chicago as a hardass hub of sports media. It’s a cartoon show and favor-fest, filled with its share of media fanboys and suck-ups. For every beat writer who did a standup job of covering the title-era Bulls, there was the creepy, accompanying constant of Smith being fed stories by the same suspects year after year.

To the point where here in 2020, after tens of millions watched “The Last Dance,’’ Smith is still performing his deeds and calling out Jordan to appease Reinsdorf.

Smith’s backers will accuse me of sour grapes. Sorry, I was a columnist covering the entire sports world, not just the Bulls, and I didn’t enter the media business to kiss up to owners for information and money. Reinsdorf tried to woo me in my first year, inviting me to his ballpark perch in Sarasota for a come-to-papa talk during Sox spring training. Not long after, in the wake of a column he must not have liked, I was told by his office assistant to not contact him again. I never did. And once you’re on the guy’s bad side, it becomes a real-life version of “The Godfather’’ — his baseball manager called me “a (bleeping) fag,’’ his top baseball executive confronted me in a Chicago rooftop bar while I was entertaining friends, his p.r. director waged an Internet smear campaign. And, oh, there was Hawkeroo again, slamming into the back of my chair in a Minneapolis press-box dining area, prompting me to quietly tell him to knock if off or I’d remove his prominent nose from his face.

Sometimes, Reinsdorf resorted to desperate measures, once with Smith in the middle. I’d criticized the owner for attempting to lowball yet another Bulls coach, Scott Skiles, before they finally agreed to terms on a new deal. The contract numbers provided to the Sun-Times, from Skiles’ agent to our beat reporter, were volunteered to me by phone by an editor who now works at ESPN.com. Meaning, the numbers appeared in my column AND in our news story. Two places.

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Not surprisingly, they were a slight fraction off the Tribune’s numbers for Skiles, as supplied to Smith by Bulls management. Next day, Reinsdorf and his lawyers contacted the Sun-Times. And next thing I knew, the same editor was calling me with bizarre news: The paper was running several retractions because of the “erroneous’’ numbers in my column. Again, I’d been given the numbers by an editor who called me with the info — the very numbers that appeared in our news story. Didn’t matter. The Sun-Times often buckled to whatever Reinsdorf wanted. And, of course, the Tribune ran a blurb about all of my retractions.

Two words: Dirty pool. Is it any wonder both papers have deteriorated to the point both could die any day?

The docu-series succeeded wildly in bringing back the Jordan years in their high-voltage entirety, including the discord that constantly seeped into the dominance and dampened the fun. But I tell these stories not to do my own “snitching’’ — amid a flood of post-documentary backlash that finds Reinsdorf, Grant, Scottie Pippen, Craig Hodges, Thomas and Krause’s widow among those upset with Jordan. My purpose is to establish a how-not-to manual for young beat reporters. It’s one thing to have important sources, quite another to sell out and serve as a lackey for life. Reinsdorf had his media lackeys, none bigger than Smith. Jordan had his — namely, close pal Ahmad Rashad. Krause had his in the national writing media. Jackson had his. And all the while, some of us were trying to maintain a semblance of professional independence and neutrality, wanting to avoid appearances of selling out or making money off the people we cover. I never was in anybody’s camp. Early on, at the old Chicago Stadium, I felt a nudge in my back as Bulls players jogged past press row before a game; it was Jordan, appreciative of a column where I wondered why the team media guide had strangely underplayed his importance with only a few pages devoted to him. It was proof of the farcical Krause mantra that eventually would break up the team: organizations win championships. 

But when I visited Jordan at a country club two summers later, wanting to know the truth about his gambling problems amid an NBA investigation, he threw an ice cube at me. I was in business bed with no one.

Smith isn’t the only guilty party in sports media. Sirius XM talk host Chris Russo always has been a shill for Major League Baseball owners, which explains why he told players to “go to hell’’ last week in a long, biting rant about ongoing labor negotiations, which seem particularly appalling during a pandemic. In the same vein as Smith works for Reinsdorf, Russo works for a network that has a long-term business arrangement with, yup, MLB.

NBA Star Joe Smith raps about Donald Sterling (Video)

At least Smith didn’t take money from Donald Sterling, the disgraced former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, who once suggested Smith become his general manager. But like commissioner David Stern, Smith was among those who continued to associate with Sterling even as he spewed racism for years. Why not use that relationship and his reporting platform to reveal Sterling as a racist years before a TMZ tape became the impetus for Adam Silver, Stern’s successor, to expel him from the league?

Funny, but the biggest story of my Jordan-coverage career came from simple, pound-the-pavement persistence. I made numerous excursions in the summer of 2001 to Hoops The Gym, a facility on Chicago’s west side, where Jordan was plotting his return to the NBA. He would see me waiting in the parking lot, yell at me for writing that he shouldn’t be trying another comeback, then give me another meaty column. Finally, on Sept. 10, one day before Jordan suddenly didn’t matter on Planet Earth, he stood in the parking lot and announced his Washington Wizards comeback to me and Jim Litke of the Associated Press.

That forced Smith, without the owner in his back pocket, to play catch-up in his belated news story. Every media outlet credited the Sun-Times and the AP — except one.

The Tribune credited the AP and another newspaper.

The Smith Rules, call them.

Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of “Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Podbean, etc.). He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. He appears Wednesday nights on The Dino Costa Show, a segment billed as “The Rawest Hour in Sports Broadcasting.’’ Compensation for this column is donated to ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom emphasizing investigative journalism.

Barrett Blogs

Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?

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How many times have you heard this sentence uttered at conferences or in one of the trades; radio has to do a better job of telling its story. Sounds reasonable enough right? After all, your brands and companies stand a better chance of being more consumed and invested in the more that others know about them.

But what specifically about your brand’s story matters to those listening or spending money on it? Which outlets are you supposed to share that news with to grow your listenership and advertising? And who is telling the story? Is it someone who works for your company and has a motive to advance a professional agenda, or someone who’s independent and may point out a few holes in your strategy, execution, and results?

As professionals working in the media business, we’re supposed to be experts in the field of communications. But are we? We’re good at relaying news when it makes us look good or highlights a competitor coming up short. How do we respond though when the story isn’t told the we want it to? Better yet, how many times do sports/news talk brands relay information that isn’t tied to quarterly ratings, revenue or a new contract being signed? We like to celebrate the numbers that matter to us and our teams, but we don’t spend much time thinking about if those numbers matter to the right groups – the audience and the advertisers.

Having covered the sports and news media business for the past seven years, and published nearly eighteen thousand pieces of content, you’d be stunned if you saw how many nuggets of information get sent to us from industry folks looking for publicity vs. having to chase people down for details or read things on social media or listen to or watch shows to promote relevant material. Spoiler alert, most of what we produce comes from digging. There are a handful of outlets and PR folks who are great, and five or six PD’s who do an excellent job consistently promoting news or cool things associated with their brands and people. Some talent are good too at sharing content or tips that our website may have an interest in.

Whether I give the green light to publish the material or not, I appreciate that folks look for ways to keep their brands and shows on everyone’s radar. Brand leaders and marketing directors should be battling daily in my opinion for recognition anywhere and everywhere it’s available. If nobody is talking about your brand then you have to give them a reason to.

I’m writing this column today because I just spent a day in New York City at the Disney Upfront, which was attended by a few thousand advertising professionals. Though I’d have preferred a greater focus on ESPN than what was offered, I understand that a company the size of Disney with so many rich content offerings is going to have to condense things or they’d literally need a full week of Upfronts to cover it all. They’re also trying to reach buyers and advertising professionals who have interests in more than just sports.

What stood out to me while I was in attendance was how much detail went into putting on a show to inform, entertain, and engage advertising professionals. Disney understands the value of telling its story to the right crowd, and they rolled out the heavy hitters for it. There was a strong mix of stars, executives, promotion of upcoming shows, breaking news about network deals, access to the people responsible for bringing advertising to life, and of course, free drinks. It was easy for everyone in the room to gain an understanding of the company’s culture, vision, success, and plans to capture more market share.

As I sat in my seat, I wondered ‘why doesn’t radio do this on a local level‘? I’m not talking about entertaining clients in a suite, having a business dinner for a small group of clients or inviting business owners and agency reps to the office for a rollout of forthcoming plans. I’m talking about creating an annual event that showcases the power of a cluster, the stars who are connected to the company’s various brands, unveiling new shows, promotions and deals, and using the event as a driver to attract more business.

Too often I see our industry rely on things that have worked in the past. We assume that if it worked before there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for the client. Sometimes that’s even true. Maybe the advertiser likes to keep things simple and communicate by phone, email or in-person lunch meetings. Maybe a creative powerpoint presentation is all you need to get them to say yes. If it’s working and you feel that’s the best way forward to close business, continue with that approach. There’s more than one way to reach the finish line.

But I believe that most people like being exposed to fresh ideas, and given a peak behind the curtain. The word ‘new’ excites people. Why do you think Apple introduces a new iPhone each year or two. We lose sight sometimes of how important our brands and people are to those not inside the walls of our offices. We forget that whether a client spends ten thousand or ten million dollars per year with our company, they still like to be entertained. When you allow business people to feel the excitement associated with your brand’s upcoming events, see the presentations on a screen, and hear from and interact with the stars involved in it, you make them feel more special. I think you stand a better chance of closing deals and building stronger relationships that way.

Given that many local clusters have relationships with hotels, theaters, teams, restaurants, etc. there’s no reason you can’t find a central location, and put together an advertiser appreciation day that makes partners feel valued. You don’t have to rent out Pier 36 like Disney or secure the field at a baseball stadium to make a strong impression. We show listeners they’re valued regularly by giving away tickets, cash, fan appreciation parties, etc. and guess what, it works! Yes there are expenses involved putting on events, and no manager wants to hear about spending money without feeling confident they’ll generate a return on investment. That said, taking calculated risks is essential to growing a business. Every day that goes by where you operate with a ‘relying on the past’ mindset, and refuse to invest in growth opportunities, is one that leaves open the door for others to make sure your future is less promising.

There are likely a few examples of groups doing a smaller scaled version of what I’m suggesting. If you’re doing this already, I’d love to hear about it. Hit me up through email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com. By and large though, I don’t see a lot of must-see, must-discuss events like this created that lead to a surplus of press, increased relationships, and most importantly, increased sales. Yet it can be done. Judging from some of the feedback I received yesterday talking to people in the room, it makes an impression, and it matters.

I don’t claim to know how many ad agency executives and buyers returned to the office from the Disney Upfront and reached out to sign new advertising deals with the company. What I am confident in is that Disney wouldn’t invest resources in creating this event nor would other national groups like NBC, FOX, CBS, WarnerMedia, etc. if they didn’t feel it was beneficial to their business. Rather than relying on ratings and revenue stories that serve our own interests, maybe we’d help ourselves more by allowing our partners and potential clients to experience what makes our brands special. It works with our listeners, and can work with advertisers too.

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BSM Writers

Brandon Kiley Doesn’t Pretend To Be Someone He’s Not

“There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it.”

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There must have been something about Brandon Kiley that everyone saw as a young aspiring sports radio host. Nick Wright saw enough to bring him to Houston at SportsRadio 610 as an intern for a summer. Will Palaszczuk saw enough to urge him to apply for his old job in Columbia, MO at KTGR. Ben Heisler saw enough to know he’d fit perfectly with Carrington Harrison in afternoon drive at 610 Sports in Kansas City. 

Maybe you can chalk it up to Kiley being able to make such great contacts. Or maybe it’s just that he was supremely talented at a young age. Odds are it’s a combination of both. But he was destined to be a sports talk host somewhere, it just turns out he’s having success over the air in a city he never imagined he’d work in. 

A Kansas City kid, Kiley knew at 16 years old he wanted to be a sports radio host. He was even more sure of it when he started doing college radio at Mizzou. But it was in Houston where he got his real taste of what sports radio was like.

“I went to 610 in Houston for the morning show with Nick Wright,” Kiley said. “He basically just assigned me as an extra producer. We had known about each other through Twitter and I had a little bit of a relationship with him beforehand. I think he knew I was willing and able to take on more tasks than a typical intern would usually do. Essentially, I became an extra guest booker, cut audio for them, and came up with topics at night. It was like he had an extra producer for the summer and it was my first real experience doing something like that.”

Imagine the confidence he left Houston with as he traveled back to Columbia for another year of college at Mizzou. Few, if any, on campus could have claimed the kind of summer Kiley just had. He parlayed that experience into a once-a-week show at KCOU, the student radio station. The following semester, he pitched the idea of doing a daily show

“I told them I’d take any time slot available,” Kiley said. “The one that I got was the very glamorous 6-7 am time slot. There weren’t a whole lot of college kids that wanted to wake up that early every morning. I ended up having a rotating cast of co-hosts and it ended up being super valuable because I learned how to work with a lot of types of personalities.”

He excelled as a host and found his style behind the mic, and soon after, he got his first big break. In March of 2014, Will Palaszczuk contacted Kiley and told him he was taking another radio job outside the market. The two knew of each other, seeing as both were in Columbia and covering the same games in town. Palacsuk told Kiley he needed to apply for the spot he was leaving at KTGR.

“There was literally one sports station and one sports show in town and it was that one,” Kiley said. “I applied to him the previous semester and said, hey man, if you guys have anything available I would love to come work there. It just so happened he got a job elsewhere and he called me up and said, ‘Hey man, I don’t know what your plans are, I’m about to take another job and they’re going to post my job available. I don’t know if they’re going to make it a producer or co-host gig, but I think you should apply because I think you’d be good at it’. Will’s good work helped a ton in terms of me landing the gig. I graduated and told them I wanted to make it full-time.I was essentially a producer and co-host for the afternoon show. I never even applied anywhere outside of Columbia”

For two years, Kiley stayed at KTGR and covered the Missouri Tigers. He was fresh out of college and living in a college town doing what he loved in his early 20’s. It wasn’t a bad life. But one night in Columbia changed his entire professional career. It just so happened it occurred on the rooftop at Harpo’s, one of the most well-known establishments in town.

“My roommate at the time, we both worked at the radio station in Columbia,” said Kiley. “He worked at the hit music station and I worked at the sports station. We all went out one night at Harpo’s and he said, ‘Hey, I just want to let you guys know I’m getting out of radio and moving to Kansas City.’ I was like, oh shit, what am I going to do? Our lease was up in two months, so the timing worked out well and I was looking at Barrett Sports Media looking where I could go next.”

“My girlfriend at the time, now my wife, was from St. Louis and there was a job available there. I had always thought, that’s not a place I want to live, why would I ever want to live in St. Louis? They didn’t have a football team, it just didn’t seem like a great fit for me. But my buddy tells me he’s moving and I’m like, St, Louis it is! That night I ended up applying for the job and got a call back from Chris “Hoss” Neupert, who at the time was the PD here, and asked if I would be interviewed with him and Kevin Wheeler, whose show I would be producing.”

So off to St. Louis he goes. For three and a half years, Kiley embraces his new city and tries to work his way up at 101 ESPN. 

But the Kansas City kid felt a pull back to his hometown. Oddly enough, Ben Heisler even reached out to tell him he was leaving the station to pursue another opportunity in sports. It felt like the perfect time to pursue his dream of doing sports radio at the station he grew up listening to.

“I’m from Kansas City and grew up listening to 610 Sports Radio,” Kiley said. “A guy I listened to growing up was Nick Wright. I also listened to a bunch of Carrington Harrison, Danny Parkins and Ben Heisler. Those guys had what I consider one of the best shows in Kansas City sports radio history. I got to know them through Twitter and Heisler sent me a text. He knows I’ve always been interested in moving to KC. He tells me he’s about to get out of radio and into more fantasy football stuff and his job is going to come open.

“I had applied for multiple other jobs in KC over the years and had never gotten any real consideration. When Heisler left, I knew Carrington and thought this might work out. I ended up getting in contact with their PD Steven Spector and it felt like a real opportunity. I got what I considered to be my dream job, producing in the afternoons and hosting a Saturday show at 610 Sports. I thought, what could there be more in life than this? This is the best.”

But life happened and he had to make a decision around three months after moving to Kansas City.

“2-3 months later it became clear, it was going to be difficult for my girlfriend, now wife, to move to Kansas City with all of the family ties she had in St. Louis,” said Kiley. “It was the decision of, do you stay in Kansas City and chase the dream or do we alter the dream, in terms of the job, and see if there’s anything in St. Louis?”

He never thought his best years and most successful years as a sports radio host would come in St. Louis but they have. It’s a city he loves and he’s worked hard in hopes it will love him back. But he’s also not going to pretend to be someone he’s not. Though it can sometimes be hard for St Louisans to accept someone that’s not from there, Kiley doesn’t act like he attended World Series games in 1982, listened to Jack Buck growing up or watched Kurt Warner at the Edward Jones Dome. He’s himself.

“That wasn’t my love and I can’t pretend that it was,” said Kiley. “Have there been times, especially early on where that was a potential issue for me? Yeah it was. There was a time where the audience probably said, this guy isn’t a St Louisan. But this is home for me now and I’ve adopted it. It does in a lot of ways remind me of Kansas City, where if you take the time to know what the soul of the city really is, in terms of sports, I think people can appreciate and respect it.”

Kiley doesn’t hold on to his Kansas City roots on the air, in terms of the topics he talks about. He’s a Chiefs fan and even writes for Arrowhead Pride, but he’s not going to talk a lot about the Chiefs in a city that doesn’t have an NFL team. He’s also a Mizzou grad and talks about the teams on Rock M Nation, but again, he’s rarely, if ever, going to do several segments a day on the Tigers. Instead, he knows the audience wants to hear about the Cardinals. Blues talk is clearly next in line. Everything else falls down the order if not off of it completely. 

Kiley grew up watching baseball, so he can easily break down what issues the Cards’ offense may be having in the middle of May, but hockey was different. He didn’t grow up around the game and the transition to having in-depth conversations on the Blues was a more difficult task. 

“When I came here the first time it was during the middle of a Blues’ playoff run. At that time I was just plopped into this thing, and I didn’t know shit about hockey. I had probably watched about 10 hockey games in my entire life. I’m looking at Kevin Wheeler like, I’ve got to be honest I don’t have a lot on hockey I’m going to be able to help you with. If you could help bring me along with it, that would be great. Over the years I’ve been able to take it in. I used to host a show with Jamie Rivers, who’s a former Blues player. If you told me five years ago I’d be able to do that, much less enjoy doing that, I would have said you’re out of your damn mind.”

Whereas most sports radio shows in football markets are searching for content to help fill segments, this is one of the sweetest times of the year for Kiley and everyone at 101 ESPN. The Blues are deep in the playoffs and the Major League Baseball season is underway. His show BK and Ferrario covers it all every weekday from 11 am – 2 pm. 

Kiley never thought this would be his life, but he loves what he’s built in St.Louis and doesn’t give off the vibe he’s looking to leave anytime soon. He’s a great example of someone who didn’t pigeonhole himself into just one market. He was willing to look outside of his hometown and has found true success. 

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Will Middlebrooks Has Been The Breakout Star Of The Red Sox Season

“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?”

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The Boston Red Sox experience in 2022 is just different. In every way.

The team has struggled out of the gate. They certainly aren’t the team that was two wins away from the World Series last year.

Fenway Park doesn’t even accept cash anymore.

But it’s not just that the Red Sox are different on the field or at the ballpark – they are different on television too.

When loveable, longtime Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy died in October 2021 at the age of 68, we knew that consuming the Red Sox on TV would never be the same.

There is no replacing Jerry Remy. One person can’t do it. No way.

And the fans know it.

The bosses at the NESN know it too. They haven’t tried to replace Remy on the broadcasts with just one person. 

In fact, they’ve brought in several new people to the broadcast team. A group of people just rotating in, giving viewers a different experience and a different perspective every night. 

They’ve added former Red Sox players Kevin Youkilis and Kevin Millar to the broadcast booth roster. They’ve added Tony Massarotti of 98.5 The Sports Hub as well.

And in the pre- and post-game studio, they’ve taken a similar approach, which is an extension of previous years, mixing and matching host Tom Caron with a slew of former Red Sox players including Jim Rice, Tim Wakefield, Ellis Burks, Lenny DiNardo, and former Sox infielder Will Middlebrooks, who will be in the studio for about 40 games this season.

I think that NESN has found a formula that works. It’s been fun and informative – and different. In a year that serves as a constant reminder of what’s been lost as a viewer, it’s refreshing to realize that these broadcast teams are giving you something gained.

A star is born.

When I mentioned to Caron that I wanted to write a piece on Middlebrooks, he said: “He’s a rising star.”

And it’s easy to see why he feels that way.

Will Middlebrooks is young (33), accessible, opinionated, active on social media, and he has the playing resume to legitimize his point of view.

But it took some real coaxing to get into the business in the first place. After a devastating leg injury ended his playing career in 2019, Middlebrooks was unhappy.

“I sat around and sulked and was angry about it for about three months,” he said. “And my wife, Jenny (Dell), finally said, ‘You need to get off your butt and do something, find not just, work, but find something you’re passionate about again.’”

He didn’t know at that time that he was passionate about media work, but Dell, who works for CBS Sports, volunteered him to do a show at CBS Sports HQ in Ft. Lauderdale, near where their family resides.

“She said, like it or not, you have a show in three days. You’re going to try it out, and if you’re good at it, they’re going to hire you,” he recounts of their conversation. “I was like, I don’t want to do it. I’m not ready to talk about baseball. I hate baseball right now. I just have such a bad taste in my mouth from everything that happened over the past year.”

But that didn’t deter Dell from pushing her husband to take the chance.

“She said, well, I don’t care. I already told them that said you would do it,” he says. “So she kind of threw me to the wolves, but for the best. And I went in and I gritted my teeth and just got it done and then talked baseball. I did it a couple of more times and they said, ‘Hey, you’re decent at this. We’re going to hire you on for a year!” “And here we are, I’m four years into it,” he joked.

And over those four years, Middlebrooks has ballooned into one of the most recognizable follows for baseball fans. In addition to working at NESN and CBS Sports, he’s also one-half of the Wake and Rake podcast, has appeared on ESPN Radio, has done color commentary for college baseball, and has more than 155,000 Twitter followers.

Resonating with Boston 

When I ask Middlebrooks about landing the NESN gig for 2022, he beams through the phone. He says he wanted the challenge of working in Boston and he welcomed the opportunity to expand his media footprint.

It’s evident that he loves the Red Sox – and the city of Boston. How couldn’t he? He made his Major League debut with the organization, played parts of three seasons with the team, won a World Series with the Sox, and met his wife in the city.

“If I was going to work for an organization or a regional sports network, why not the Red Sox, for someone that I’m actually a fan of?” he said. 

While it’s clear that Will loves Boston, and it’s clear why NESN loves him, what needs more unpacking is the attachment that the Red Sox fans have to him considering he spent just those three seasons there and doesn’t live in New England full-time. 

Middlebrooks can’t quite figure out why the people of the region hold him so close, but he does have a good hypothesis.

“I think that if I left anything, it was people saying, ‘well, he played hard. He gave everything he had,’ he said. “And I know that’s really important in Boston, just the blue-collar mentality of ‘keep your head down, work, play as hard as you can, even if things aren’t going well, just bust your butt and be a good teammate and all that.’”

But there just may be something else at play.

“I think a lot maybe had to do with when the marathon bombings (2013) happened…I’m pretty outspoken on social media about that stuff and with my teammates, we all rallied around each other,” he said. “I think I was just lucky enough to be a part of a team that was really special to everybody in Boston. So they embraced me after that.”

The Family Dynamic 

Dell has been in sports media for more than a decade as a host and sideline reporter for CBS and NESN before that. She knows the business and its nuances. She understands when and how to look at the camera and when and how to ask questions of athletes. She knows the expectations of her husband’s current employers. She’s undoubtedly a great resource to have.

But as Middlebrooks finds his own footing in the business, and as his star grows, what is that dynamic like? She has the answers to the tests already, but how does he balance using that resource versus figuring things out on his own?

“I’m very open to anything she has to say,” he said. “I’ll come out of my office, like, ‘Hey, that was pretty good!’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, it was good…but…”

“She always has something, and at first it used to really annoy me, because I’m like, man, I thought I was doing really good,” he said. “And she’s like, ‘No, you are doing good. I’m just trying to help you get to that next level. There are just little things here and there that you don’t know.’ And as a competitor, it’s really frustrating. But you know, after a couple of minutes I walk away, I’m like, you know what? I’m really appreciative to have that access to someone that can help.”

What’s Next?

At such a young age with such already vast experiences, it seems plausible that even bigger media steps could be in play for the former infielder. I asked him if he has a goal he’s working towards. Sunday Night Baseball? The MLB Network? Something else?

“One thing I’ve really learned is to not look too far down the road and kind of just live in the moment and enjoy the moment,” he said. “I’m really happy with being with with CBS and with NESN, and within that umbrella, of course, I would like to grow. Does that mean in the booth? Does that mean more games pre and post? Sure I’m up for anything where they want me, because what I’m doing right now, I feel like is a dream job outside of playing and I’m so happy with it.”

Middlebrooks has been on the NESN broadcasts all week and will continue through this weekend as the Red Sox host the Mariners in a four-game series.

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