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Luka Needs Help? Hey, Just Call Zion And Form a Superteam

The NBA’s upward-mobility portal could have a new round of frustrated stars in due time, from Lillard to Doncic to Williamson, which isn’t healthy for a league with two superteams contending for a 2021 title

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Psst, I have an idea. It’s evolutionary, revolutionary and extraordinary, and absolutely no one has thought of it before. Why not have Luka Doncic, who is frustrated and needs help, contact Damian Lillard, who is frustrated and needs help, and maybe they can Face Time with Zion Williamson, who is frustrated and needs help, and plant the collective seeds for — trumpets, bells, sirens, rappers — an eventual NBA SUPERTEAM?

My sarcasm is about to fade to resignation. What once was a trend — frustrated superstars forming their own powerhouses, beyond traditional league control and formatting — now becomes an imagination brainstorm every time an elite player loses before he’d prefer. As the Dallas Mavericks were blowing the final two games of their opening-round playoff series, Doncic was seen barking at coach Rick Carlisle, “Told you not to call a timeout when you don’t need it!” And as the Trail Blazers failed to support Lillard, whose Game 5 masterpiece was aptly described by Kevin Durant as “a spriritual experience,” a showman who clearly is tiring of small-market life launched a power play against team management.

NBA: Luka Doncic admits 'I'm not in my best shape'
Courtesy: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“I don’t know what a shakeup looks like or what changes will be made or could be made, but obviously, as is, it wasn’t good enough,” said Lillard, who demanded that Jason Kidd or Chauncey Billups be named coach when Terry Stotts was fired, with Kidd needing two nanoseconds to say no.

Instantly, the usual suspects phoned the Blazers, who almost certainly will be trading Lillard. Miami is front and center on the list, and with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo rested after a short offseason last fall, Lillard’s addition would anchor the Heat as a potential superteam. We are a few seasons away, of course, from any free-agency alignment between Luka, Dame, Zion and anyone else who enters the get-me-out-of-here portal. But trades are more than doable — Lillard has four years remaining on a $196 million supermax extension — and you know what’s about to happen on NBA Twitter and throughout the most gossipy, social-media-driven league in sports.

Speculation! Manipulation! Fabrication! 

The narrative, especially in Doncic’s case, becomes how he leverages his future and where he ultimately goes. Because like Lillard and Williamson, who can’t maximize their legacies in Portland and New Orleans, he plays in a city that isn’t attractive to monster free agents. In producing some of the most  staggering numbers ever in a playoff series — such as scoring or assisting on 77 points, most by a player in a Game 7 — Doncic also exposed Kristaps ($158 million) Porzingis and the Dallas supporting cast as lame. He’s just 22 and only three years into his NBA journey, yet he knows the story of Michael Jordan, who toiled for seven years until enough pieces were assembled around him to win championships. For now, Doncic is making no demands.

“I think that’s a question you should ask the guys that make this team, right?” he said Sunday. “I’m just a player here, you know”

But when asked if he could take solace in his numbers — he finished the series with 250 points, 72 assists and 55 rebounds, while nursing a cervical strain in the final three games — he said he “hates” losing and hasn’t achieved anything in his view. “Nothing yet. Been to playoffs twice, lost both times,” Doncic said. “You get paid to win. We didn’t do it.” For the better part of a decade, Lillard had been similarly patient and respectful of management. Finally, he snapped, knowing his glory clock is starting to tick.

Thus, with recent history and patterns as a compass, the gradual search is on for destinations that serve championship aspirations. And they’re aware of the most golden paths to date: LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and won two championships with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh … Durant took his backpacks to Golden State and won two titles with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green … and James took his show-biz dreams from Cleveland, where he finally won a title for his people, to Hollywood, where he won a title with Anthony Davis. Superteam Fever was only starting.

Today, the favorites to meet in the NBA Finals next month are two contrived groupings formed by agents and egos, not drafts or in-house development. The Brooklyn Nets, the collaborative destination of Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, are Eastern Conference favorites despite Harden’s hamstring issues. And the Los Angeles Clippers, the chosen terminus of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, finally shed a longstanding franchise curse to do the unthinkable: remain a championship contender in L.A. after the beloved Lakers have fallen in a postseason. Neither the Nets nor Clippers are the entrenched heirloom teams in their cities, yet based in New York and L.A., they provided upwardly mobile stars a landing place in a major market.

“Games aren’t won with one or two players,” Leonard protested after ousting Doncic and the Mavs. “You need a whole 16 or 17.”

Funny how no one says that on the first of July, when free-agent madness grips the hoops universe, and the stars inherit most of the money.

None of which is healthy for the league. Leonard hoisting a trophy in Kobe Bryant’s town is almost blasphemous. Same goes for Durant, who came to Gotham as a business mercenary, not unlike any Wall Street raider. Chances are, one of their superteams will host the parade. It’s hard to imagine the Nets rolling across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s harder to imagine a Clippers’ caravan on Figueroa Street, where the Lakers still haven’t had the chance to celebrate their Bubble triumph, especially when you can pay face value — or less — at Staples Center to watch their upcoming series against top-seeded Utah.

But such is the modern NBA. Leonard won in San Antonio, wanted out, won in Toronto, wanted out, and finds himself in his native southern California, where he would have wanted out had the Clippers been eliminated. Durant couldn’t win in Oklahoma City, wanted out, won in Golden State, wanted out, and will opt out again if the Brooklyn experiment fizzles.

Kawhi Leonard: The superstar forward's 5 most impressive NBA records
Courtesy: ClutchPoints

Here I hoped Giannis Antetokounmpo would start a movement when he stayed in a small market, Milwaukee, and signed his $228 million supermax extension with the Bucks. I’m afraid it was an aberration. Hell, some even wonder if Curry, with unrestricted free agency looming after next season, would flee the Warriors for a better shot at championships in his twilight. Are we 100-percent certain he’ll re-up? “There’s no reason to think why that won’t happen,” coach Steve Kerr said.

But that’s what they said about LeBron … and Durant … and Leonard … and all the rest. Besides, you can’t spell a Lakers Future without L-U-K-A.

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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