Jamie Horowitz’s departure from ESPN for The Today Show got me thinking about the Embrace Debate culture and what it has meant to ESPN’s evolution over the last few years. ESPN produces a lot of fantastic sports programming that validates their place as the top brand in sports. Then there’s First Take, which does not do that.
There’s nothing more frustrating about ESPN than the Embrace Debate movement because it brings out the worst in televised sports. Not only does it devolve sports into its lowest common denominator form (let’s argue about things for the sake of arguing), it turns analysts and players into adversaries – see Richard Sherman and lowbrow tactics like “Bosh Spice.” It also transforms the opinions of middle aged men who are paid to yell about sports on TV into the most important thing about sports.
Skip Bayless became the Rush Limbaugh of sports thanks to his crusade against LeBron James and unconditional love for Tim Tebow. But his relationship with Kevin Durant is much more complicated. You see, the Dark Lord has been regarded as Durant’s biggest supporter over the years, but he’s also been very critical of KD when it suits the interests of him and his show. Thankfully, Durant has always seen right through the game being played. If only all sports fans could be so lucky.
The interesting thing about the Embrace Debate movement is that the most entertaining argument is the one currently ongoing between Skip Bayless and himself over Kevin Durant.
Here’s a brief example…
Exhibit A: Kevin Durant isn’t respected by the refs…
— ESPN First Take (@ESPN_FirstTake) June 18, 2012
Exhibit B: Kevin Durant gets too much respect from the refs…
Kevin Durant just said Ginobili tries to "manipulate the refs"? The same refs that protect Durant like he's won six rings?
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) January 23, 2014
But wait, there’s more. Of course there’s more. When your persona is built around having the strongest and most controversial opinion on the block, things are bound to change. Repeatedly.
Kevin Durant, clutch gene:
Kevin Durant: HUGE CLUTCH GENE. Incredible fallaway 3 at buzzer to cancel Vince Carter 3. LeBron can do a lot of things, but not that.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) December 30, 2011
As usual, Kevin Durant, BIG CLUTCH GENE.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 5, 2013
Kevin Durant: big clutch gene. Cancelled 2 missed FTs w/ baseline jumper over Kobe, then THE 3. Just wish he had made his last 3 last night.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 20, 2012
Kevin Durant: Mr. Reliable.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 2, 2014
Kevin Durant, no clutch gene:
"Kevin Durant went Carmelo Anthony last night." – @RealSkipBayless
— ESPN First Take (@ESPN_FirstTake) May 2, 2013
Skip Bayless goes off on Durant “I Believe I Overestimated Kevin Durant over the last 7 years” http://t.co/kdiNbT7Qdh
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) May 18, 2013
Shades of last year: Kevin Durant again comes up so small late vs Memphis he was no more than kd.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) April 25, 2014
Kevin Durant is better than LeBron James…
You can have LeBron. Give me Kevin Durant.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 3, 2012
That clinches it: Kevin Durant is definitely better than LeBron. Durant alone might be too much for the Heat. Tonite, he was just too good.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 13, 2012
Not so fast my friend…
Funny how easily Kevin Durant strokes 3s (5 of 6) when LeBron isn't guarding him in Miami's arena.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) July 13, 2012
Some day @KDTrey5 you'll realize how RIGHT I am about you/LeBron. CAN'T let primary rival be ur best friend, esp. when he's mentally fragile
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) September 11, 2012
— ESPN First Take (@ESPN_FirstTake) September 11, 2012
Tonight, with Westbrook's disruptive return and with LeBron now playing at an even higher level than Durant now, this was a mismatch.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) February 21, 2014
And that doesn’t even include You-Know-Who calling KD a “complimentary star.” But the biggest flip flops are saved for Durant’s relationship with fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook. It’s been the source of much contention and debate over the years, and it plays perfectly into the hands of this charade.
Durant is hurt by being teammates with Russell Westbrook, who is a notorious ballhog and will ruin any chance KD has at winning a title…
Russell Westbrook must be traded for a star point guard, preferably Chris Paul. He and Durant cannot win together vs. top competition.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 26, 2011
Westbrook 21 shots, Durant 19. Westbrook, several out-of-control drives, missed dunk & late killer charge. I'm glad he's OKC "point guard."
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 28, 2012
Thunder signing Westbrook bad news. Wants to be bigger star than Durant. Gunner point guard. He, KD will clash. Hard to win title this way.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) January 19, 2012
Kevin Durant is going to have a hard time figuring out how to play with Westbrook again after KD and Co. were in such a flow without him.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) February 21, 2014
On second thought, Durant actually needs Westbrook to survive…
— ESPN First Take (@ESPN_FirstTake) January 3, 2014
— ESPN First Take (@ESPN_FirstTake) January 8, 2014
If I want a player to lead league in scoring, give me Durant all day. But on 4th quarter mental toughness, give me Westbrook.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) January 22, 2014
Kevin Durant had better hope Russell Westbrook stays 100% healthy throughout the playoffs.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) April 12, 2014
Russell Westbrook has become the raging Batman to Durant's too-nice Robin.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) April 10, 2014
So which is it exactly, I guess we’ll see which way the winds blow this postseason. And we can look forward to Matt Lauer trolling Bieber and Miley in the same way over the coming years.