ESPNw writer and ESPN Chicago radio personality Sarah Spain has been in Bristol, Connecticut guest hosting on Numbers Never Lie recently.  It’s always good to see ESPN give these kinds of opportunities to some of their talented folks around the country to visit the mothership and work in front of a national audience.  It also presents quite the entertaining scenario when they jump off the script.

Spain became a populist hero yesterday when she refused to fall for another tiresome, uninspiring, boring debate about the New York Knicks and whether or not they were “kicking themselves” for not getting the 8th seed in the putrid Eastern Conference.

The answer is “well, duhhh,” as would the same answer be for any other team that was actually trying to make the playoffs and not tanking.  It may be one of the more pointless topics I’ve ever seen on ESPN’s daytime programming and that’s really saying something.

But because ESPN is contractually obligated to talk about the New York Knicks, LeBron James, Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel, or the Yankees and Red Sox every 38 seconds on one of their networks, this was the topic at hand.

If you think it’s ridiculous to be talking about a non-playoff team DURING THE PLAYOFFS you aren’t alone.

The show actually uploaded the scene in question, labeling it “Sarah Spain’s MESSAGE to New York Knicks fans” but I kinda wish they would have called it “Sarah Spain’s MESSAGE to ESPN producers”….

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5Sa_TdOZxk

Instead of talking about the Hawks-Pacers series, you know, games that are actually being played, here’s ESPN driving their own narrative once again.  It’s an idea that sounds so absurd that ESPN’s own talent are openly revolting against it on the air.  There are literally 16 other NBA teams ESPN should be talking about instead of the Knicks that are playing real, meaningful basketball at the moment.  Yet here’s ESPN talking about pointless hypotheticals regarding the New York Knicks when nobody outside of Bristol or New York cares.  No-bo-dy.

This is the best example I’ve ever seen to symbolize the Bristol Bubble.

What is the Bristol Bubble?  Bill Simmons described it best in Jim Miller’s Those Guys Have All The Fun.

“I need to figure out a way that I can operate in my own sphere and not deal with Bristol as much.  Nothing against Bristol, but I do worry that it becomes a little cultish after a while.  You go there and there’s ESPN everywhere.  At the cafeteria, there’s Mike & Mike getting a sandwich… It’s really hard to think out of the box when you’re trapped in that box the whole time… that’s one of the reasons PTI succeeds – it’s in Washington, it’s out of the box, they leave it alone.”

Think about it – most of the annoying things about ESPN exist because of the Bristol Bubble.  The Embrace Debate culture?  Bristol.  TebowMania?  Bristol.  Television analysts who make themselves the story?  Bristol.  ESPN Echo Chamber?  Bristol.  Endless conversation about a team that didn’t make the NBA Playoffs during the NBA Playoffs?  Bristol.

It’s a self-fulfilling cycle.  ESPN talks about the things ESPN always talks about because that’s what ESPN talks about.

There’s a real disconnect between the sports world inside and outside Bristol.  LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t a story inside the Bristol Bubble, but Phil Jackson and the Knicks certainly are.  The first place Milwaukee Brewers aren’t a story inside the bubble, but the Sox and the Yanks are.  Penguins-Blue Jackets, Blackhawks-Blues, and Avalanche-Wild aren’t stories inside the bubble.  ESPN’s producers are inevitably trapped like they’re characters in Under the Dome.

That’s why you see the same stories, the same athletes, and the same teams talked about day after day from Mike & Mike to First Take to Numbers Never Lie to SportsCenter.  The people that exist outside the bubble can visit Bristol, take a look at this rundown, offer a deep sigh and roll their eyes.

Many of the best things about ESPN exist outside of that Bristol Bubble.  College GameDay goes on the road every week.  Their on-site coverage of the World Cup and tennis and golf majors are safely away from the cocoon.  PTI is based in Washington, DC.  Grantland is based in Los Angeles.  Even Keith Olbermann’s new show is based in New York City.  And the excellent 30 for 30 documentaries are free of the Bristol Bubble.

Perhaps it’s a bit crazy to draw this much analysis from a three minute clip on an ESPN2 show.  (Ok, it is crazy, but I accept that.)  However, it’s fascinating to analyze the non-Bristol ESPN culture versus the Bristol ESPN culture and a brief moment where the two collided.

If ESPN ever decided to step outside the Bristol Bubble they would see there’s a pretty cool world outside the New York Knicks that’s worth talking about every now and then.

Nevertheless, it’s really hard to think outside the box when you’re trapped in that box.

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.