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John Thompson Was A Titan On The Court, On The Air & In Life

“Some people are successful at whatever they do, and for Coach Thompson everything he did, he did with a gravitas, style and class that was unmatched.”

John Michaels

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2020 has been one of the worst years for many of us, and to lose a legend like John Thompson hurts immensely in a year already full of hurt.

There are a few men who walk into a room, and are just larger than life before they say a single word. John Thompson was one of those men. His mere presence was enough to garner respect from everyone, and his death has brought about an outpouring of support from former colleagues and players alike.

John Thompson, the basketball coach, would have been enough to write a massive book about, but when you add his career outside of coaching, you realize very quickly that John Thompson is one of the great people to walk the earth.

John Thompson, longtime Georgetown basketball coach, dies at 78 |  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Thompson took over a little known program, Georgetown, in the early 70s and transformed them into a national power. This is a story that never should have happened at a place like Georgetown, but it took a once in a lifetime coach like Thompson to elevate the Hoyas to national prominence. From 1972 to 1999 Thompson would amass a .714 winning percentage, make three Final 4s and become the 1st African American head coach to win a National Championship in 1984. Georgetown was the “it” school in college basketball for a long time, and helped usher in the Big East Conference as must watch hoops. 

Bomani Jones said it best on his podcast, “Georgetown was the first Mid Major to be great.” When you stop and process those words, he’s right. Georgetown was never supposed to be a basketball power. Georgetown was never supposed to be in Final 4s and Georgetown was never supposed to be a household name, but John Thompson made them all of that. 

The Thompson story is much bigger than the on court acumen though. What Coach did for kids in the DC area, and kids at that school can not be undersold.

I read an excerpt from Alonzo Mourning’s book Resilience: Faith, Focus, Triumph. In it, Mourning writes that he was hanging out with the wrong crowd his freshman year of college, meaning one of the biggest dealers in the DC area. Thompson would go to the dealer’s house and basically tell him to stay away from Zo, that he wasn’t that type of kid. How many coaches would have the stones to make that visit, or two, have the respect of the community to get the results he was looking for. Coach Thompson never has to worry about Alonzo Mourning being at the wrong house again after that. 

Allen Iverson is another well told story. Iverson was the super prodigy who could’ve gone to any school in the country until he was involved in a fight a bowling alley. Basically every school in the country except Georgetown turned the other way. Iverson would go to Georgetown and have a brilliant career ultimately going to an Elite 8 and becoming the first overall pick in the NBA draft.

Go back and watch Iverson’s HOF speech, watch the tears roll down his face thanking John Thompson and know what an impact Coach had on AI’s life. “Thank You for saving my life” Iverson took to Twitter and said it again on Monday.

https://twitter.com/alleniverson/status/1300433377166843905?s=20

Thompson was more than just a basketball coach, and after retirement he decided to get into broadcasting. His voice shook the airwaves, he spoke with such power and intelligence that you got smarter every time you listened to him. 

What was then Sportstalk 980 in DC gave him a chance just a few months after he retired from coaching and the original idea was to have him as a weekly guest. He was known to be rough with the media, but once he hit the airwaves it was like he had studied all his life to be in radio.

On Monday, the station, now called The Team 980, was filled with tributes both on air and online including morning man Kevin Sheehan sharing this clip.

https://twitter.com/kevinsheehanDC/status/1300599967418118144?s=20
https://twitter.com/team980/status/1300797611700563969?s=20
https://twitter.com/scottlinn980/status/1300442674017828865?s=20
https://twitter.com/980cj/status/1300509463363887107?s=20

Thirteen years later Thompson signed off for a final time but not before bringing in the biggest guests and a barbershop like sound to the airwaves. Rev Jesse Jackson, Spike Lee, Bill Russell, Coach K and many others were always welcome on the show, and what made the show great was he connected with audience members young and old. Thompson was just as successful on the air as he was on the bench.

He would also spend time on the radio row circuit, which is where I got to meet one of my heros. Growing up in South Florida, Miami didn’t have the Heat, and the Canes didn’t play basketball for almost 25 years. Georgetown became my adopted team, because they reminded me of the Miami Hurricanes football team. Tough, rugged and in your face. 

Thompson was on radio row in Dallas in 2014, and we got the scheduled interview. For anyone that’s been to any radio row, you know that it’s a cattle call of sorts. You get 10 minutes or so with a big name guest, then they move to the next station. When Coach Thompson came over, his handler brought a taller chair for him to sit on, which was different than anyone else who sat on the normal chair that was provided. John Thompson is the type of guest who you just allowed to talk, and don’t rush his answers. As I sat literally feet from my favorite college hoops coach ever, that one bead of sweat was pouring down my back. Honestly I don’t know what I asked, but for ten minutes it was me and a legend. His voice overpowered my headphones and I was mesmerized by every word he spoke. After the interview I thanked him, we shook hands, took a picture and he moved to the next table.

John Thompson, Legendary Georgetown Basketball Coach, Dies at 78

A year later in Atlanta, once again I got to speak with Coach Thompson and much like the year previous I enjoyed every second of getting a chance to speak with an icon. Very rarely in 16 years of radio have I been intimidated by a guest, but two times Coach JT did that too me. 

Some people are larger than life. Some people have a purpose on earth to do better for others. For John Thompson, whether it was Allen Iverson, Dikembe Moutombo, Alonzo Mourning or countless other Hoyas, he helped make them better men. Some people are successful at whatever they do, and for Coach Thompson everything he did, he did with a gravitas, style and class that was unmatched. I’m truly humbled to have had the opportunity to spend 20 minutes of my life talking to him, and he will be forever loved and missed. RIP to a legend who will never be forgotten. 

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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