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Thank You, Jalen Suggs, For Letting Us Shriek Again

His epic bank shot, which saved Gonzaga’s perfect season, transcended team and gambling allegiances and reintroduced our bedraggled nation to the thrill of an iconic sports moment.

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This is what we’ve needed as much as oxygen and water, a sports tremor to thrill and unite us, a rush of joy that reminds America of its functioning pulse and heartbeat. Haven’t we had our fill of the pandemic, politics and pap? Just keep rewinding Jalen Suggs’ soul-stirring moment in time — dribble, dribble, dribble, stop, soar, pop, lean, bank off the glass, stand atop the sideline table as Bill Raftery shrieks, “Major onions!” — and let it whisk you into a Monday night that must be reserved for your pleasure wherever you are.

Watching Gonzaga plunder through college basketball, without a challenge, was no fun. Watching UCLA engage in ass-backwards role reversal — an 11-time national champion nearly executing an epic upset over what is still, at its core, a modest Jesuit program from Spokane, Wash. — was the universal ripple not felt in sports during our year in COVID captivity. Tom Brady, LeBron James, the Dodgers, Dustin Johnson, Naomi Osaka — all produced inspirational but predictable triumphs amid unprecedented challenges that should favor the proven and privileged. Those victories didn’t move us as one.

When Suggs finished a dazzling personal showcase with his buzzer-beater from 40 feet, the meaning extended far beyond another Gonzaga victory and a place beside Baylor in a richly compelling title game. It gave 2021 an all-time story to replay for decades, arguably the sport’s greatest finish ever, a viral visual to rip through the mutating variants and gift us something glorious to discuss beyond racial hatred and continuing exposure risks. Yes, it kept alive the Zags’ bid for the first perfect season in 45 years. Yes, it validated Suggs’ hype as a top-three NBA draft pick and all the recent stories about his close friendship with UConn’s Paige Bueckers, perhaps the best women’s player of her generation. Yes, it showed Gonzaga could survive an overtime minefield against the street-brawling Bruins, as created by Mick Cronin, a feisty S.O.B. by way of Cincinnati and a coach even Bill Walton can love.

But, tell me, when was the last time any of us sat by a technological device, linear or streaming, and went “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” And funny how the outburst didn’t have to involve an allegiance to a team or a wager placed before the game. This was sports at its iconic purest, in an era when leagues and broadcast networks want to stench it up with gambling overload, at a time when the NCAA continues to argue in the country’s highest court that players such as Suggs — who perpetuate the tournament’s memory-factory charm and keep putting $1 billion a year into the bank accounts of the NCAA and college programs — aren’t paid a penny.

Think Suggs cared about any of that dissonance? Watch the video. He was so convinced the shot was going in, he began to wander toward the sideline table, by some karmatic pull, before the ball bounced off the backboard and through the cylinder. This was his childhood dream taking shape, the one that had him leaping on a platform and celebrating such a shot just as Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade had done. Lucas Oil Stadium still was populated by more cardboard cutouts than human beings, but Suggs knew tens of millions were watching. He was introducing himself to a sports world that only knew him vaguely, as the combo guard from Minnesota who rejected a chance to play quarterback at Ohio State to devote his one and only collegiate season to Gonzaga, the upstart-turned-blueblood.

“I’ve always wanted to run up on the table like Kobe and D-Wade and go like that, and that’s the first thing I did,” Suggs said. “Man, that is something that you practice on your mini-hoop as a kid or in the gym just messing around. And to be able to do that, it’s crazy.

“I mean, it was nuts. And I still can’t speak. I have so many things going on in my head. I just can’t believe that happened. I don’t think it’s really going to hit me until I wake up tomorrow.”

He woke up. The shot really did happen, which surprised no one in the triumphant bob-and-weave of teammates celebrating with Suggs. “I knew it was going in. He’s got that magical aura,” said his coach, Mark Few. “Jalen makes those in practice all the time, last-second shots. I felt pretty good. I was staring right at it. And I said, `It’s in.’ And it was.”

NCAA Tournament | Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

If you’re wondering why Few has ascended to the top of his craft, as Roy Williams retires and Mike Krzyzewski contemplates the same path, observe how he handled a second-half sequence when Suggs was in foul trouble and not playing well. Few removed him from the game, then instantly put him back in. It was a strategic jolt to a 19-year-old’s system, a reminder that his best was needed for the Zags to avoid another big-game setback. His immediate response was almost as breathtaking as the buzzer-beater. As UCLA was threatening to pull away, Suggs saw 6-7 Cody Riley with an open path for an easy dunk. In an intrusion that screamed next-level, Suggs rotated and blocked the shot, then gathered the ball and threw a long bounce pass through various bodies to Drew Timme, who turned a would-be deficit into a two-point lead. “I couldn’t just give him a free bucket,” Suggs said. “Either I was going to find him at the line or make a play on the ball. It was tough to get it. I got it.”

“An amazing, amazing play,” Few said. “The beauty of Jalen is that he does make plays like that, where he comes down and blocks bigs because he’s so athletic and he’s so tough and he’s not afraid. He’s not afraid to try.”

Fun as it is in the aftermath to debate the shot’s place in college lore, the exercise is premature until Gonzaga seals the document forever and completes only the eighth perfect season. Christian Laettner’s miracle was followed by a Duke title in 1992. Villanova’s Kris Jenkins won the championship with his three-pointer five years ago. Michael Jordan’s jumper in 1982, though not a buzzer-beater, won a title for North Carolina. Lorenzo Charles’ putback that propelled Jimmy Valvano to seek a hug — it won the title for North Carolina State a year later. Suggs’ prayer won’t remain in the pantheon if Baylor wins, a possibility if the Zags don’t play a crisper overall game and struggle to defend Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague, the guard triumverate that has awakened offensively with exquisite timing. The defense already is elite, with the Bears forcing turnovers on 25 percent of opponents’ possessions this season. They are rested and deep. Gonzaga is neither.

“We didn’t come all this way not to win it all,” Butler said. “We came here to win it all through the culture of joy.”

Culture of joy? It’s the mantra of coach Scott Drew, who arrived 18 years ago in Waco amid the ashes of the ultimate scandal —  Patrick Dennehy was murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson, while coach Dave Bliss tried to cover up the homicide with lies. For those tired of money-bloated bluebloods, the Jesuits vs. the Baptists is a different twist. But as basketball cognoscenti know, the magnitude is much larger. Gonzaga and Baylor have ruled as the dominant programs of the college game and likely would have met for a title last year, pandemic permitting. They were supposed to play Dec. 5, but COVID won that matchup, too. Not since 2005 have the top two overall seeds met for the national championship.

“God blessed us,” Drew said. “The strength of our team is that we play with joy. Everyone tries to find the open man, play together and feel good for your fellow teammate.”

Will Gonzaga be strengthened by a rare test and finish the mission? Or have the Zags been exposed by Cronin, Johnny Juzang and UCLA’s culture of grit? It was easy sequestering in the Indianapolis bubble when the victories were in double digits. Now? Disappointed so often in the biggest moments, Gonzaga has used its Hail Mary quota. Even Suggs knows that.

March Madness: Jalen Suggs banks in buzzer-beating 3 to beat UCLA in Final  Four, keep Gonzaga perfect - ABC7 San Francisco

“When dreams start to become realities and you’re able to experience those things, it’s special. And those are things you’ve got to cherish,” he said. You’re never going to get another moment like this. You’ll never be able to relive this.”

Regardless of how this delectable tale ends, America thanks him. Because of Jalen Suggs, we can scream in a living room again. That is history in itself.

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 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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