By Eddie Gonzalez
On February 1, 2016, then-Los Angeles Clippers guard JJ Redick broke new ground.
He started a podcast.
With the backing of Adrian Wojnarowski’s The Vertical on Yahoo Sports, JJ was given a platform on a burgeoning medium and took full advantage. The sharpshooter kicked the pod off by boasting that he was “the first current NBA player with his own podcast,” and sat down with a former teammate, Jared Dudley. The duo spoke candidly about a myriad of topics, including a recent, much-publicized fight between Blake Griffin and a Clippers equipment manager. The audience was treated to something they’d likely never been privy to: an honest and open conversation between two NBA players about anything and everything.
Right then and there, if JJ’s boast is to be believed, NBA players were given a new business realm to discover as podcasters. Suddenly they had another platform to expand their ever-growing and increasingly valuable public personalities, and the dwindling necessity for the old-school media template was even further diminished. Now, with social media available for quick bursts of expression and stream-of-consciousness musings, podcasting was available for longer, more expansive talks.
And hoopers haven’t looked back since.
Over four years later, the podcasting industry is booming. Thanks in part to low overhead and an ever-expanding audience, podcasting is expected to become a billion-dollar market this year, according to Deloitte. As content powerhouses Apple, Spotify and Amazon aggressively look to expand their reach within the podcasting world, it’s expected the medium will continue to grow for years to come. Sports podcasts are being prioritized as a part of that growth.
Redick has seen how lucrative podcasting can be first-hand, as the new home to his pod, The Ringer, was recently acquired by Spotify for nearly $200 million, largely due to the company’s vast podcasting library. Similarly, Barstool Sports agreed to a sale this year that valued the company at $450 million, as casino company Penn National agreed to purchase 50% of the company in a series of sales over the next three years.
It’s within that growing market that hoopers are thriving, becoming a force both creatively and in popularity. Redick was followed by Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson’s Road Trippin’ podcast, which, as members of the Cleveland Cavaliers, touted appearances by superstars Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Other players took the dive, Vince Carter and Kent Bazemore gave the Road Trippin’ format a try with Winging It, on The Ringer’s podcasting network. Even after Bazemore was traded, Carter kept the show moving without his former teammate.
Now, current and former players of all ilks are taking stabs at podcasting. C.J. McCollum was chided by Kevin Durant into viral infamy on one episode of his show. Josh Hart used his podcast to criticize his former team, and Lonzo Ball used the platform to denounce his relationship with his father’s business, Big Baller Brand. Draymond Green, DJ Augustin, Austin Rivers and more balance hoop life with podcasting. Shaquille O’Neal, Gilbert Arenas, Candace Parker and even Dr. J, Julius Irving have brought their buoyant personalities to the microphone.
The Players' Tribune, a platform built on providing athletes the space to give first-hand accounts of their life’s experiences has struck gold with the always-entertaining Knuckleheads podcast with former teammates Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles. Similarly, current NBA podcasting kings Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes have partnered with Showtime to turn their show, All The Smoke, into raw, uncensored and yes, smoke-filled weekly conversations with the game’s biggest stars.
Baron Davis is wearing two hats in the podcasting world, as both a podcast personality and an investor thanks to a partnership with fledging network Blue Wire. Within the partnership, Davis has launched his own podcasting company, Slic, and will serve as both a brand ambassador and a host of various shows. Blue Wire has built up a diverse set of NBA podcasts before Davis’ arrival, and even recently partnered with WNBA superstar Sue Bird for her podcast with her partner, soccer legend Megan Rapinoe.
As the money and opportunities continue flowing, it’s easy to see why hoopers are afforded such opportunities. Like all things, social media continues to push the world of podcasting to greater heights with its reach and practically promotional capabilities. NBA players have flourished there in ways their NFL and MLB counterparts have yet to grasp, giving them a built-in audience that now only is invested into their established personalities, but has shown the willingness to support their endeavors off the court.
The visibility of NBA players makes their personalities more known to potential listeners as well. There were seven NBA players in the top 50 of ESPN’s World Fame 100 list last year, with only Tom Brady representing the NFL and no Major League Baseball stars. Whether it’s because they don’t wear helmets when we see them on TV, or because of the fashion trends they set or even the A-Listers they date, it’s undeniable that NBA players are simply the most popular athletes in America, even as soccer stars reign worldwide.
With that popularity, they have a familiarity that gives them a leg up in podcasting, both on the mic and at the negotiation table. Barnes and Jackson were mostly journeymen throughout both of their 14-year NBA careers, but it might have been that nomadic experience in the league that has helped propel them to the top of the industry in less than nine months. Thanks to their status as respected locker room presences and their stints on 15 different teams, their Rolodex has afforded them guests that the rest of the industry simply can’t call upon. The late Kobe Bryant came on the show to wax poetic about Michael Jordan long before The Last Dance made it onto ESPN airwaves. Kevin Garnett stopped by to discuss his illustrious hall of fame career. Draymond Green and Kevin Durant discussed both sides of their clashes in Golden State. Barnes and Jackson even had the reach to be granted sit-downs with iconic rappers Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg for candid conversations that “normal” members of the media simply wouldn’t have been able to draw out of them.
In the end, that’s what hoopers offer most to the podcasting industry: a familiarity and comfort level to their guests that more often than not generates an authenticity and fly-on-the-wall feel you simply won’t be able to get anywhere else. In March, Edison Research reported that over one-third of Americans age 12 and older consume podcasts monthly, an audience of over 100 million. That nine-figure collective is coming to understand that if they want real conversations in the NBA world, the best place to turn is to the players themselves, and both the audience and the players are being rewarded for the revelation, each and every week.