In the time it took you to click the link to read this, someone in basketball’s “new media” lodged a complaint about something.
Those of us who have spent way too much time on Al Gore’s internet will remember the Great Newspaper-Blog Wars of the 2000s. I was there, running a college sports blog that would often butt heads with the newspaper and local media who followed the same school. These were the days of Bob Costas calling out the “pathetic get-a-life loser” who “sets up a blog from their mother’s basement” and Buzz Bissinger raging in the face of Deadspin’s Will Leitch (Also, can we talk about quaint it is now to know there was once an HBO roundtable about the sports bloggers scourge?).
Pretty quickly, as tends to happen with these things, cooler heads prevailed, lines began to blur, capitalism did what capitalism does, and now newspapers, local sports media, and blogs are essentially the pigs and humans at the end of “Animal Farm,” indecipherable from another.
I’m reminded of all this as I watch this whole “new media” thing that’s happening between current and former NBA players and the “embrace debate” culture of modern sports media. There are some similarities, of course, but I can’t help but feel as though it’s a bizarro version of that battle. It’s an inverse version of Newspapers vs. Blogs where the new kids on the block are the aggressors, screaming into the void in order to prove their worth.
And yes, folks like JJ Redick, Draymond Green, CJ McCollum, Richard Jefferson, and Kevin Durant (I guess?) all provide unique points of view that are welcome in the discussion. But their full-on assault on Stephen A. Smith and his ilk seems, at times, misplaced, if the goal is to prove that the “old media” is bad and they, the “new media” are good.
There’s an opportunity for them and other athletes to be interesting figures in the sports media landscape. But their seemingly singular focus on complaining about the way the media works is, already, unbearably boring.
And we all know that while there are many crimes in the media world, there is nothing worse or more off-putting than being boring.
Things started off well enough. While J.J. Redick certainly isn’t the first former athlete to ply his trade in the sports media world after retiring, he instantly became a fascinating addition to the First Take host rotation. From where we sit, he actually made it a show worth tuning in for, if only to watch him bring some common sense to the studio. His appearance alongside CJ McCollum a few weeks back was lauded around the NBA and “new media” world for the way they shut down Stephen A., not an easy task.
Meanwhile, Smith wasn’t just getting shelled from the First Take studio. Draymond Green and Kevin Durant spent weeks sparring with the ESPN host, calling him out for his style and pushing back on his criticisms.
That’s all well and good, making for interesting content and fascinating interactions. But somewhere along the way, you have to start branching out. If you’re more interesting and a better alternative for sports fans, then go be it. Instead, the “new media” seems to have rallied around this notion that their mission is to upend the sterling reputation and unwavering belief of people like Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless.
Except, and excuse me if I’m working myself into a shoot here, no one thinks that way. Sports fans know how the sausage is made. We all know that if you appear on First Take, you do so at the pleasure of Stephen A. If Smith talks shit about you, it’s because he wants you to talk shit back.
You aren’t beating him at his own game, you’re playing the game he’s allowed you to play.
ESPN and Fox Sports viewers don’t tune in because they think Smith, Bayless, Shannon Sharpe, and those like them are bastions of truth. They tune in because they want to hear what crazy nonsense they say next. They tune in to hear Smith go apoplectic. They tune in to find out what outdated notion Chris Russo is peddling today. They tune in to watch adults argue about unimportant things because it distracts them from the hellscape that is our world.
These guys are not arch-enemy material, they’re villains of the week. And by choosing to focus your energy entirely on them, you reveal yourself to be completely out of the loop as well.
Now, anytime you read about the “new media,” they’re either complaining, whining, or attacking media members who everyone already agrees isn’t worth the time and energy of people with way too much time or money to be doing this.
Green keeps making it seem like his podcast has tons of critics. Redick is taking a page out of Chris Russo’s book and becoming an old man who yells at clouds. Durant’s skin is thinner than Kyrie Irving’s COVID antibody count. Patrick Beverly, who made it clear he’s anti-media while doing what was essentially a media tryout, tried to undermine the debate show format but only ended up making it worse.
(Also, as an aside, I don’t think you’re allowed to be a host on First Take and rail against aggregation sites. First Take’s entire success and reason for existing is the aggregation news cycle. It literally exists to provide the very content that makes that process possible and eats its own tail from time to time).
WORKED INTO A SHOOT
Like so many things in recent memory, this whole drama reminds me of a pro wrestling angle. If Stephen A. Smith is Vince McMahon, the basketball “new media” is positioning itself like D-Generation X or the NWO, a wild card stable that upends the status quo and breathes freshness into a stale product. But every great wrestling stable eventually flames out, either because its members go on to bigger and better things or because the angle runs dry and what once felt fresh now seems boring. Whereas once the sound of their entrance music made the crowd pop, now it makes them roll their eyes.
Usually, that process takes years and involves various permutations, reboots, and angles. Somehow, the “new media” feels like it burned through that in a couple of months. Now, when I see there’s a new quote from Draymond Green, my eyes glaze over. I went from wondering how JJ Redick was shutting down someone’s complaints to wondering what he’s complaining about now. When I see an NBA player show up on a debate show acting like they don’t want to be there, I know better. You don’t just get out of bed and fall onto the First Take set. You can act above it all you like but we all know what you’re doing.
And, again, in keeping with the pro wrestling metaphor, it’s entirely possible that they’re all in on the angle. That Green, Redick, and Smith are about to announce a 30-city tour in which they argue about nonsense and call each other out and play their roles perfectly. And if that’s the case, I wouldn’t even be surprised.
If anything, I’d prefer that to the dance they’re all doing right now, pretending to despise one another while talking about each other nonstop like a bunch of middle school crushes. Just kiss already.
Look, it’s not as though Green & Co. aren’t succeeding. The Draymond Green Show is among the top sports podcasts for the moment and he certainly knows how to supply a hot take and stand behind it. Same for Redick, who is finding success in TV and podcasting thanks to his modern viewpoint on the game. When they actually focus on giving people informed opinions and actual analysis, their value shines through.
History always repeats itself and, as the Great Newspaper-Blog Wars taught us, all of this ends with the “new media” and the machine they’re raging against merging. More of them will drink the “embrace debate” juice, their feuds will filter into partnerships (and already have), and anyone who thinks they’re revolutionizing the media will be subsumed into it like so many people before them.
Everyone involved in this whole drama is taking themselves way too seriously and presuming that there’s way more at stake than there actually is. And the sooner everyone stops complaining, the more enjoyable everything will be, for them and for their audience.