The Rise of the NBA Podcaster
Skeptical of mainstream media, NBA stars are starting to run their own podcasts to manage their image.
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Donald Trump chooses Twitter to connect directly with his audience. NBA stars prefer podcasts.
Kevin Durant was angry. Again. The Golden State Warriors superstar forward, who, in 2017, was outed for operating “burner” accounts in an effort to combat critics on Twitter, has been unable to shake the “thin-skinned” label he earned from that episode. So, when an appearance on Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum’s podcast diverted into a testy Twitter exchange between the two all-stars, it was in keeping with Durant’s track record that he blamed the media.
“Every time I say something, y’all run with it, and as soon as I say something back, I’m the sensitive one,” Durant told reporters at a USA Basketball practice last month. “I know y’all trying to make me look crazy and discredit me and strip me of my credibility. But I’m going to still keep standing.”
To do that, Durant need look no further than McCollum. As access to professional athletes exponentially increases, thanks to social media, many stars have developed a distrust of traditional media. There’s a sense that the best way of maintaining authenticity — and increasingly earning potential too — is for athletes to tell their own story. And to control their own narrative, a growing number of NBA stars, in particular, are picking podcasts as their weapons.
It started with Philadelphia 76ers guard J.J. Redick in January 2016, when he began podcasting at Yahoo Sports. Redick then took his podcast to LeBron James’ website, Uninterrupted, before moving last year to sports and pop culture website the Ringer and the Ringer Podcast Network.
With podcasts, you get to tell your own story.
Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets forward
But Redick is no longer a one-off basketball star in the world of podcasting. Uninterrupted hosts two podcasts by active NBA players: Dray Day, hosted by Durant’s Golden State teammate Draymond Green, and Road Trippin,’ from the minds of Richard Jefferson (who last played for the Denver Nuggets) and Channing Frye (the Cleveland Cavaliers). Elsewhere, Barstool Sports is home to both Charlotte Hornets forward Frank Kaminsky’s Pros and Joes, and Mickstape, a thrice-weekly basketball podcast that includes among its three hosts Boston Celtics point guard Terry Rozier.
“With podcasts, you get to tell your own story,” says Kaminsky. “So many people [in the media] want to tell it for you, but podcasts give you control.”
For Kaminsky — who launched his podcast this offseason — and Rozier, who signed on with Barstool following his breakout playoff performance last season, Barstool represents a unique partner with a totally unfiltered sports blog and a proven track record of selling merchandise to rabid fans. Still, neither of them has decided if they’ll continue podcasting during the season.
“We’ll have to figure that out when the season comes along,” says Kaminsky. “Right now, this is just a fun side project. No interest in starting a larger media company or anything like that.”
That leap to podcasting during the season is one that Redick has made. He spins yarns with fellow podcasters, and uses his sharp, inquisitive mind to explore questions both on and off the hardwood. In some podcasts, Redick serves frothing-at-the-mouth basketball junkies with a much needed dose of insider information, breaking down the mental hurdles one must climb to perfectly execute in crunch time. But like any gifted host, Redick can also veer into stories about picking his kids up from school in Brooklyn or choosing the five NBA players that he would need to survive on a desert island. For basketball fans and novices, the weekly show provides intriguing insight into the mind of a successful, respected NBA veteran on a quest to prolong the twilight of his career.
One way to do that may be to embrace the media as a future career. That’s what McCollum plans. His show, Pull Up With CJ McCollum, launched in April, and is hosted alongside Yahoo Sports’ Jordan Schultz. It promises listeners an “unmatched look into the NBA and the life of a basketball superstar.” A journalism major at Lehigh University, McCollum has made his plans to pursue a post-NBA career in media well-known, and industry experts already point to him as a future star in sports media. “He’s a pro,” says ESPN analyst and former NBA star Jalen Rose. “He’s already one of the most savvy athletes in the game, because of his deep understanding of the industry.”
That understanding is something Durant could do with. The continued evolution of media platforms presents more opportunities for more athletes than ever before to show their true colors. “That’s what fans want,” says Jeff Eisenband, NBA 2K League analyst. “Unfiltered access and real connection with the characters that we love.” That’s why podcasting is emerging as the latest skill NBA stars are learning to succeed in the world of professional basketball.