The media circus around the Damian Lillard saga in the NBA was nearly as frenetic as the actual sweepstakes for the All-NBA guard, and it continued Wednesday when Ryen Russillo put Dan Le Batard in the crosshairs while analyzing the trade for The Ringer.
“The part that I love is that there was this massive, tribal disconnect,” Russillo said of Le Batard, who hosts The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz out of Miami and covered the Heat as a local columnist before that. “The people in Miami couldn’t understand why people outside of Miami didn’t like this.”
For months, Le Batard has parroted Miami’s belief that its acquisition of Lillard was destiny. He event went so far as to create a character, the “Sports Walrus” in which he wears a literal Heat mouthpiece while reporting or opining on the team.
“The disconnect was Miami guy going, ‘why doesn’t everybody else get it? Those idiots,’ Russillo mocked. “And the idiots on the outside were kind of like, so wait you’re right because it benefits the thing you like?”
On Wednesday, Le Batard Show executive producer Mike Ryan Ruiz accused ESPN and The Ringer for using their platforms to keep Lillard out of Miami, his preferred destination.
During a monologue breaking down the trade Wednesday afternoon, Russillo responded. Only instead of retorting directly back to what Ryan said or anything from the Miami staff at Le Batard’s Meadowlark Media in the aftermath of the Lillard trade, Russillo went back further.
Russillo explained that in July, Le Batard showed himself by saying Lillard to Miami was a done deal and that Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, who was claiming otherwise, was “bought and paid for” by the Trail Blazers’ side.
“I’m sorry I have to do it because I didn’t believe it when it happened,” Russillo said. “But Woj came on and said very simply Portland doesn’t like the offers and they’re going to see what happens.”
Of course, what Wojnarowski reported ultimately came to pass, even if details were sparse overall in the media throughout this saga.
“I’m like man, if you’re going to pick a fight, pick a fight with someone who gets **** wrong, not Woj,” Russillo explained. “And here we are weeks, months later, and it wasn’t Miami.”
After Russillo’s episode posted, Ryan took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to keep the war of words going, mockingly praising Russillo for having the “balls” to “finally name check” Le Batard.
Happy @ryenarussillo found the balls to finally name check. Refreshing change of pace.
— Mike Ryan (Ruiz) ?? (@MichaelRyanRuiz) September 28, 2023
Russillo capped off the back-and-forth by claiming to not know who Ryan is. A classic comeback.
Is this Show EP? https://t.co/dKdUOL0LBd
— Russillo (@ryenarussillo) September 28, 2023
In the past, Ryan and Russillo have clashed on-air over their place in the sports podcast rankings and other NBA news items. But now the “beef” is public.
Ultimately this doesn’t make anyone look good. Miami sports fans are known for their victim complex, and even if a host like Russillo has some bias, Lillard was never really in play for Russillo’s home team, the Celtics.
If the accusation is that NBA media wanted to keep Lillard from Miami, then Heat fans can join the party. The league and the reporters who cover it have openly worried about the state of affairs in the NBA when superstars chart their course directly to new teams multiple times a year regardless of their contract status.
Lillard and the Heat just got caught in the crossfire of NBA player empowerment.
Maybe negotiations progress differently if news is reported differently, but it’s hard to imagine media coverage played that sizable a role for Portland’s decision-makers.