This NBA Podcast Gets You Inside the Friend Zone - OZY | A Modern Media Company
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because Scalabrine’s pals bring a whole new depth to insider basketball chat.

By Matt Foley

Zach Spalding has never lived in Boston, but as a longtime Kevin Garnett fan, the Chicago native watched almost every game of the Celtics’ 2007–08 season. Yes, back before such team-hopping was in vogue. Led by the original “Big Three” of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, Boston won the NBA title that year, but there was another Celtic whom Spalding couldn’t seem to shake. 

“The White Mamba, man,” he explains, reverently referring to former Nets, Celtics and Bulls power forward Brian Scalabrine. “He played so hard, and the crowd went nuts every time he checked in. Then when he came to Chicago to finish his career, I just kept following him.” 

These days, Spalding keeps tabs on his favorite career journeyman via Scal and Pals, an NBA-focused digital sports show airing Monday through Friday on Radio.com’s Sports Digital Network. The show launched in September, with fans able to watch live from 11 am to 1 pm, or catch a podcast version later in the day. In addition to Scalabrine, former ESPN producer Steve Ceruti serves as co-host; as the name suggests, a slew of Scalabrine’s NBA friends are featured regularly. 

Driving a show with someone as beloved as [Scalabrine] is great because everyone wants to come on.

Producer Steve Ceruti

“I heard B.J. Armstrong on the show talking about ‘Giannis [Antetokounmpo] is about to go on a run of dominance like [Michael Jordan],’” says Spalding. “I’m gonna need Scal to shut that down next time.”

The concept of athletes talking shop is hardly unique. Countless shows, from Kanell & Bell (CBS Sports) to Winging It with Vince Carter (The Ringer) to Road Trippin’ (Uninterrupted), offer stories and analysis from current or former pros. But what makes Scal and Pals stand out is the developing kinship of one of the NBA’s most well-liked and comically gifted alums and a media rising star who cut his teeth producing shows for radio superstars like Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo.

“Driving a show with someone as beloved as [Scalabrine] is great because everyone wants to come on,” says Ceruti. “He brings that insider point of view, but to have a good show you also have to represent the fans, so I try to bring that outsider perspective.”

While Scalabrine is a freewheeling character capable of ranting on anything, Ceruti meticulously prepares for each show, spending “an unhealthy amount of time on Twitter and Reddit looking for topics and inspiration” to develop the segments people want to hear. “We’re excited to start bringing on even more current players and coaches that can really make a splash,” Ceruti says.

Case in point: Armstrong’s appearance that Spalding mentioned. Normally closed off from the media, the three-time NBA champion turned NBA agent is a power player offering a perspective not often heard by fans. In his brief segment, Armstrong dished his (arguably) blasphemous Antetokounmpo-approaching-Jordan take, why the ’90s Bulls players didn’t care a lick about Phil Jackson’s Triangle Offense and why he thinks the analytics movement has ruined aspects of the game. Other “pals” on the program include names like Caron Butler, Ric Bucher, Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough and Scalabrine’s Boston teammate Kendrick Perkins. “Perk is our guy,” says Ceruti. “He always seems to say something that catches on or gets people riled up.”

What the duo initially suspected was a heavy Boston fanbase has grown into a broader, more diverse audience looking for insight across the wide-open NBA. In fact, one of the show’s most surprisingly popular segments is the “Fultz Pulse.” Part comedy, part passion, it’s avid Orlando Magic fan Ceruti’s fervent update on the career of the NBA’s greatest enigma, former No. 1 draft pick Markelle Fultz.

When Fultz emerges to take the throne from reigning back-to-back NBA MVP Luka Doncic in 2022, you’ll know where to turn. 

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