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Coach K, The Lifeblood Of College Hoops, Couldn’t Stop Its Demise

In retrospect, the retiring Mike Krzyzewski should have left Duke to coach Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, because his exhaustive attempts to rescue the college game have fallen on deaf ears

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The basketball is round, spinning on a volatile axis, capable of transforming suddenly on a singular week in June 2021 that shakes a sport to its core. Mike Krzyzewski is retiring from the most accomplished career a college coach has known, which is monumental news in its own context until dovetailed with the possible fadeaway of LeBron James as the game’s dominant force.

Duke's Coach K to retire following upcoming season, sources confirm |  WAVY.com
Courtesy: Getty Images

The NBA will proceed without LeBron, if he indeed is breaking down and fading from peak performance, with Steph Curry and Damian Lillard among the reigning showmen, Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo as breathtaking Euro-legends and the Brooklyn Nets as the villainously contrived superteam. The same can’t be said for college hoops without Krzyzewski, who created a four-decade culture machine at Duke and, more than any other figure, drove the popularity of March Madness to billion-dollar heights.

He tried his damndest in recent years to prevent the demise of the college game, warning everyone who listened that the infrastructure was decaying. But what he developed in Durham — a highly desirable fortress where team and academia came first while elite players were prepared for the next level — deteriorated elsewhere into teenaged hero ball and the accompanying sleaze. Dirtbag coaches waged corrupt recruiting wars, enlisting jail-bound assistants to offer everything from illegal payments to sex, and regular seasons were so ragged that they became unwatchable. Even March was diluted, with a sense the magic would be fleeting once the NBA waived its one-and-done rule.

That sad day is coming, soon. Meaning, Coach K’s last stand was his one season with Zion Williamson, one of countless stars to come through rowdy Cameron Indoor Stadium — from Grant Hill to Kyrie Irving to Jayson Tatum to, of course, the reviled Christian Laettner — and leave imprints on the college level. Those days are gone, with top high-school players bypassing programs for the NBA G League (which offers deals as high as $500,000), pro leagues in Europe and Australia or the new Overtime Elite league, backed by the likes of Jeff Bezos and Drake.

Last summer, as conferences struggled to plan a full season through a pandemic after the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA tournament, Krzyzewski pleaded once again for the college game to hire a commissioner — and not let the bumbling NCAA president, Mark Emmert, continue his mismanagement. “We’re the thing that the NCAA is most concerned about, because men’s college basketball produces 90 percent or more of the money for the NCAA, not college football or any other sport,” he said. “So we need to have the tournament, we can’t have it where two years in a row you don’t have the NCAA Tournament. (The NBA) navigated it really well with the (Disney World) Bubble, and they have Adam Silver. And that’s what I’m saying we really need in college basketball.”

Without central leadership, the sport stumbled through a Bubble-less regular season marred by positive COVID-19 tests and isolated players. True to form, Krzyzewski surveyed the landmines and suggested the games go on pause, which prompted Alabama whipper-snapper Nate Oats to pounce. “Can I ask you something?” he said.”Do you think if Coach K hadn’t lost the two non-conference games at home, he’d still be saying that?” Oats came to his senses and called Krzyzewski to apologize, but reality had set in. No longer was Coach K viewed as a sacred figure, by all, as much as a 74-year-old making excuses. They weren’t listening to him anymore, which was as telling as it was shameful. The new breed didn’t care about what Krzyzewski and other coaching titans had built since the 1970s. They didn’t care about his 41 seasons, five national championships and 1,170 wins.

Good the hell luck without him. Preferring to preserve his wavering health and brighten the bags under his eyes, Coach K will leave after next season as the winningest basketball coach in Division I history. He is exceeded in national titles only by UCLA’s John Wooden, who won his 10 in less complex times when competition wasn’t as formidable.

“Mike’s been fantastic for the game of basketball,” said Roy Williams, who retired two months ago as Krzyzewski’s nearby nemesis at North Carolina. “He made everybody bring their A-game for years and years and years. He’s just been phenomenal in everything he’s done.”

Yet he has won only one title, in 2015, since having to adjust his beliefs to the one-and-done crowd the past decade. He has produced 28 NBA lottery picks and 41 first-rounders, but his biggest rival became the one-and-done hustler, Kentucky’s John Calipari. Later, with obvious Duke influences, Villanova and Jay Wright became a state-of-the-art program, followed by Virginia and Tony Bennett and Gonzaga and Mark Few. Last season, when Scott Drew was leading Baylor (Baylor?) to the championship, Duke fell victim to coronavirus issues — Coach K had to quarantine after a family member tested positive — and crashed to 13-11, missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995.

As someone who has covered him forever and wrote about him frequently in his native Chicago — where he still hasn’t been honored with a street or park, but did serve as grand marshal for Polish Constitution Day — I wish Krzyzewski had left Duke for the NBA after his third title in 2001. He said no to overtures from the Celtics and 76ers, but his real mistake came in 2005, when he rejected the Lakers and the chance to coach Kobe Bryant. Phil Jackson was rehired and won two more championships, but having watched Coach K’s three-gold-medal work with NBA superstars in resurrecting the U.S. Olympic team, I’m thinking he would have won title rings, as well.

He carries no regrets. “I’ve been fortunate,” he said last year in a radio interview. “If you’re a successful coach or businessperson, you’re going to have opportunities. When professional opportunities occurred … I love Duke, in addition to college basketball. I love working at a university environment. You’re surrounded by great people, not just in sports. … In 2005, when I didn’t accept the (Lakers’) offer, a few months later, Jerry Colangelo offered me the opportunity to coach the national team as the first national team (permanent) coach. I was able to do that for 11 years. I got my NBA fix, so to speak. I’m really happy I got that.”

His detractors have been loud in a predominantly Black sport, including ESPN analyst and former Michigan Fab Fiver Jalen Rose, who remarked in a documentary, “I hated Duke and I hated everything Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.” Hill rushed to Krzyzewski’s defense, calling the comments “sad and somewhat pathetic.” Coach K reminded Rose that Duke did recruit his Michigan teammate, Chris Webber, but that he passed on Rose because he already had Hill. “Obviously, it was a poor choice of words and very insulting to everyone at Duke but especially, not just our African-American players, but any African-American students,” Krzyzewski told ESPN Radio. “When you judge within a race, you start judging, like you put categories as to who you are. I think that’s just the wrong thing to do.”

Grant Hill reflects on Mike Krzyzewski's influence on, off the court -  Sports Illustrated
Courtesy: SI

Whenever and wherever his final buzzer sounds next year — and, naturally, he’ll enter his farewell season with a top recruiting class — he’ll immediately be missed. “He’ll still be important in college athletics. He’ll still be important to college basketball,” Williams said. We only hope that his appointed Duke successor, Jon Scheyer, has the strength and stamina to deal with a massive, historic burden. Maybe the best tribute to Mike Krzyzewski is that it took me years to type his name without staring at the keyboard, tapping letter after crooked letter.

At some point, the name just wrote 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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