S1: The following podcast includes explicit language. Hi, I’m Joel Anderson, Slate staff writer and this is Hang Up and Listen for the week of May 17th. Twenty twenty one on this week’s show, we’re going to talk about the Knicks managing to be relevant and good for the first time in a long time. The start of the WNBA season and the very dark drug fueled cloud following controversial trainer Bob Baffert and Kentucky Derby winner Madina Spirit. Stefan is off this week and the next. But we’re going to make up for it by having guests for every single segment this week delivering on his promise to keep our audience off balance. I’m in Palo Alto, California, and I’m the host of Slow Burn Season three and the upcoming slow burn season six hundred nineteen ninety two L.A. riots in D.C. We’re going from west to east. This time it’s Josh Levine. He’s the author of The Queen and the host of Slow Burn Season for David Duke. Josh, good
S2: morning. Nice to be here with you, Joel. And I’m glad that the West Coast gets to go first for once in life. It’s just nice for you to have a moment in the sun.
S1: We normally don’t mind following the East Coast. This time zone is actually been very good for me, except on days when I have to record this podcast. But other than that, it’s not been bad we should talk about because, you know, I’m going to use this time to just praise you all of the time like I did last week. We talked about your piece that ran in Slate. But let’s talk about your one year podcast because they just announced it at the IAB. I don’t know what those that acronym stands for, but it has something to do. A podcast in new shows. You have a new podcast copy IAB.
S2: It stands for podcasts and Ballston for podcast. Yeah. So you’ve got a new show coming out called One Year. The premise of which is that it’s going to be a look each season, a different year in American history, telling a bunch of different stories that defined that year in different ways. So politics, culture, science, sports, I’m really excited about it. The first year is nineteen seventy seven and a bunch of weird, different stuff that you’re not expecting.
S1: I can’t remember anything that happened in nineteen nineties in nineteen seventy seven. Who won the NBA championship in nineteen seventy seven. Just you know.
S2: All right, so let me kill a little bit of time while I type in nineteen seventy
S2: NBA champion. That’s how we do things.
S1: Oh I thought you would. The expert was
S2: the Portland Trailblazers and Bill. Well Bill obviously. Oh yeah. Obviously a major topic on season one of one year. A great season for the NBA. But now it’s going to be, I think, a really good series and a fun one. And I’m looking forward to people hearing it. And also, I need to congratulate you, Joel, on fulfilling your lifelong dream of being in a relationship with a coworker or your wife. Today is going to be the next year period. And so we’re all so thrilled about it, Sam.
S1: I’m excited about it. We’re going to we have to talk about it with H.R., I think, this week, because when you date a co-worker, you have to let the H.R. department know. You have to declare the intention so you don’t run afoul of any workplace rules. So, yeah, we’re going to have that conversation. But, yeah, now she’s going to be Dear Prudence and she’s going to be great. And maybe we should have her hang up and listen since she doesn’t know thing about sports and throws some stuff.
S2: This time she’s in the family now and more ways than one. So, you know, a natural a natural pairing.
S1: That’s right. Slight family that takes us all in. I’m excited about it.
S2: OK, the seeds for the NBA playoffs and the play and tournament are set and the showcase game is Warriors at Lakers on Wednesday night. The winner is in as the seven seed in the West. The loser might be out. Fun times in the NBA. There’s a lot more for us to talk about. The Jazz and the Sixers locked up the top seeds in the West, in the east, respectively. The nets are number two in the east and with their big three back and healthy, they are the betting favorite to win the title. Joining us now is Vincent Cunningham. He is the theater critic for The New Yorker. He’s got a novel called The Party Year. It’s coming out soon. Vincent, is that title a reference to the year the Knicks made the playoffs for the first time since 2013? A little foreshadowing.
S3: Well, you know what? Now I will write a book with that title about this year parting. Funny enough, I just change the the title of my novel. So that is forthcoming. The party year is now something that I can use
S3: festive year that the New York Knicks have had.
S2: Let’s get into that. We owe you that much, Vincent. I think we sort of dragged you here with the promise of talking about the Knicks that we have to fulfill that promise. Yeah, there’s a number for us in the east. They finished forty one and thirty one. They’re matched up at the Hawks in the first round. A series
S3: very listenable
S2: Julius Randle getting MVP chants RJ Barrett, not a bust, you might be the wrong person to have perspective on this question, but does it matter in any kind of big picture sense for the league and its fans that the Knicks are no longer terrible? And if you want to just start by revealing a little bit before you get to that, I’ll allow it.
S3: First of all, I will reveal this is a great year not only for the New York Knicks, but to your point, for the entire NBA, there’s nothing like Knicks games that matter. The other night, when they played the last game of the season and the fourth seed was on the line, there was nothing there was nothing better than that. Nobody had a better time watching basketball than that.
S2: There’s no important game in an NBA season than the one deciding the fourth seat in the east.
S3: Well, that’s the definition of importance. But, yeah, I think it doesn’t matter for the league because, I mean, it’s been a sports topic. You can just you know, all of us are media consumers. It comes up all the time. No other fourth seed would be attracting this much attention if the hawks were having I mean, they’ve had a good season, but if it was all about the hawks turn around and, you know, it would come up some time on Select Podcast’s, it would not be the national TV, ESPN debate show topic that it is because, you know, the Knicks just have a special important Spike Lee’s never been happier. I’ve never been happier. These are important things for everybody.
S1: Well, OK, so as a Houston Rockets fan, you know, I’m grateful to the Knicks. The Knicks been very important in my life because they helped me to celebrate my first NBA championship. But like, OK, the Knicks are back. Well, they’re in the Knicks are back in the playoffs. Do you think that do you think they’re a good team, though? That’s like I mean, does it does it matter what happens from here on out or is this enough?
S3: It is enough. OK, if they if somehow they lost in the first round, which first of all, I don’t like the consensus that they’re going to lose to the Hawks when the New York Knicks swept the season series. But that’s you know, that’s a topic for another time. Even if they lose in the first round. This is really all and you can tell this is another thing of just the importance of it. You can tell this is the bar that we need, just a competent Knicks team. A competent Knicks team has been just as newsy and important, as fun as this like world striding New York Mets thing in the same city. Three Sure-fire Hall of Famer, New
S2: York Mets, we’re calling them the New York Nets
S3: now, did I say the New York Nets
S1: of the New York Knicks of Brooklyn, New York? I mean, it’s
S3: you know, there they are even closer to me than the Knicks are geographically. But, you know, they just they don’t matter in the same way. But just the sort of competent Knicks team, it just has a certain flavor. So it does not ruin anything if they lose in the first round. But do I think they’re a good team? Yes. Like, if any look at the defensive stat says that they’re one of the best defensive teams in the league. You look at Nerlens Noel, you look at the improved defense of RJ Barret like it’s a real team and there are many reasons for that. But they are really good. And I don’t think anybody like necessarily is like licking their chops at seeing the New York Knicks.
S2: So one of the big questions hanging over these playoffs for me is if we learned anything from the regular season and if the regular season mattered, because on the one hand, because of the planned tournament, we talked about this last week, all this was in some ways the most consequential regular season in recent years. I mean, the Lakers would normally just be, you know, feeling OK about themselves, like, OK, LeBron and Idiot healthy we’re in. But now they have to worry about just getting bounced immediately. And so there was a lot of incentive to try to get out of the planned tournament. And I think good on the NBA for increasing that incentive. On the other hand, you have the seventy two game season where at the end of it you have teams one through ten, I guess now in the playoffs, that word doesn’t seem like it even particularly matters where they are, because home court advantage isn’t as much of a thing this year with the crowds not being what they normally would be. And Venson, you know, we have like the Clippers, like trying to jockey in a sort of hilarious way to get the fourth seat as opposed to that to the three seed. I mean, after, you know, consuming this entire regular season. Now, are we getting ready for the playoffs? We also have just rosters like the Nets are going to be whole for basically the first time all year. Do you feel like what you watched this year? I mean, I guess did that matter? We’re talking about the Knicks matter to the whole regular season matter.
S3: Yeah, it’s so strange. I mean, there are teams like and I just what I hope is that this doesn’t become a model for the future where there are teams like the Nets that can coast well enough and that we never even get to see them play as their full roster until the playoffs. If there does seem to be some danger of a model like that taking over to a lesser extent, you saw that with the Lakers, right? Aid and LeBron you barely saw. Every time I watched a Lakers game, it’s like Dennis Schroder and, you know, no thanks. I mean, all respect administrator, but that’s not why I’m watching those games. So, I
S2: mean, that’s just feel like a test case, right? Like, can you assemble all the talent? Never there.
S1: But that’s what makes it basically impossible to replicate. Right, because nobody can do quite with the Nets and the Lakers have done right year to year. Right. Like, you know, I mean, because they could the Nets can still win with two of their three or even one of their three. But nobody else can do that. Right. We just don’t give a shit about watching the Grizzlies. Basically, that’s what we’re saying. We don’t care about the Grizzlies or the Spurs.
S3: We don’t we don’t care about them. But also, I mean, definitely in the NBA, like the top one or two or three or four teams are the ones that we care about. And if those are the ones that are doing this thing because they are outliers in terms of the roster or whatever, then even if it’s a rare thing numerically in terms of the thirty teams, it will have some sort of outsize symbolic importance. I think if that becomes the thing that the best teams do, it’s like not so great. But I do think the season has been good. And maybe I say this from my vantage as a Knicks fan where like all year, especially toward the end of the year, we’re sitting at four. But we were a game away from being at six and six is so close to seven, which would have put us into the play in games. Every game I cared about, every single game, I was like thinking about seeding applications in a way that I haven’t done since I was a kid. You know, I was like, I, I have never looked at the NBA standings so often in that way. And I think that there I think that the play in games has been a great experiment. And I think that, you know, to your point, the Lakers have suffered a little bit like so now they’re in seventh, like there was a little bit of a you the guys in play. And so now you have to win one of these two games coming up. So there’s some justice there and I think some added interest. I’m excited to see how many people watch these games. That’ll matter to
S1: let me ask you this, like you live in Brooklyn, why do you continue to suffer as a Knicks fan? Like you’ve got a team right there right now? You’re in New York. You just called the new New York Knicks. So obviously, you know, they represent your
S2: Warriors fan because you live in the
S1: beina. Yeah, right. You said I’m wearing the gold right now. I’m Rubenesque. I know the listeners can’t see I’m wearing a gold T-shirt today, but, yeah, I mean, in more seriousness, what would it take for the Nets to, like, capture the heart of New York? Because they’ve got New York like stars, New York likes winners. Brooklyn is, you know, an important borough. They’re not that, you know, Queens isn’t or whatever. But, you know, the top five. What are the top five boroughs? That’s right. Yes, right. Yeah. So I don’t know, like, what would it take for people to give a shit about the Mets? They’ve got the better team that got the best stars. That one of the best teams, you know what I mean. Like what what what is the Knicks have such a hold on people, even though they’ve been shitty, they’re owned by a terrible person and they’ve got a cap on how good they’re going to be right now anyway.
S3: Yeah, well, I mean, there’s a couple of things, I think. Demographically, the only way that you’re going to see more Mets fans is in 20 years from now, when the kids now grow up like I know kids who I have friends whose kids are Mets fans because, you know, the place they go to watch games is Barclays’. They’ve got these great guys. And I think that’s the only way you’re not going to convert any. There were a couple of years in there where everybody was so against, especially James Dolan specifically, that people like sort of cast these protest votes of like I’m done with the Knicks, you know. And so, you know, actually the answer is James Dolan. When more of his malfeasance comes to light, maybe people will be like and I cannot you know, it’ll be like a sort of divest movement from the Knicks. But other than that, like the Knicks thing runs so deep that it’s just it’s never going to happen as a matter of conversion. It’ll have to be something that, you know, people are kind of coaxed into.
S1: It’s funny you say that, though, because it was twenty two years ago. I mean, Thomas really flow about like Spike Lee was done with the Knicks, done with James Dolan. He got run up out of Madison Square Garden. And now I see him, you know, got is, you know, Knicks gear on and he’s right back at it. I was like, damn, I mean, what a habit this must be. Well, to come right back like that.
S3: Well, that’s the thing, because, I mean and this is the amazing thing about sports like this is, you know, to broaden it. This is why the whole Super League phenomenon was such a travesty, because, you know, people are able to, in a totally unique way, separate their fandom of a team from the sort of corporate an ownership, all the kinds of things at the top of it. So I did an interview with Spike Lee, like over the past year, and I was like, so, yeah, all this stuff that happened with Dolan, blah, blah, blah. And he was like, I’m not going to let that man change the fact that I bleed orange and blue. Right. Like there was a separation between what Dolan is and what the Knicks are. So even like that that reservoir of goodwill, it’s never going to leave. And like, he is the happiest anybody’s ever seen him right now. Any time you look at Spike Lee, he’s smiling. It’s it’s amazing.
S1: I want to say that I have more integrity than fans because telemetric is ruining my team. And I gave up. I don’t you could ask me who actually. Come on.
S2: It’s so easy for you to say, given the record this year.
S1: No, no, no, no. I’m out, man.
S3: You’re out forever.
S1: And this is this is purely ethical that not because they’re terrible.
S3: I’m sure you’re out forever.
S2: I’m sure.
S2: Maybe. Yeah, probably. Exactly.
S3: Speaking of the nets, though, how has it been to watch your man Harden just like kind of be amazing. And another said, oh,
S1: wow, see this? You knew how to set me off because here’s the thing about James Harden that pisses me off. James Harden is more of a distributor now with the Nets. Right. Like he’s not forced to do the one on one necessity. Yeah, right. But it’s a bit like he was brilliant and an amazing player for years in Houston. Like it and showed up all the time like he played. He didn’t do any of this, you know, late all the time and stuff all the time. Was a great player, was the foundation of a competitive team year after year. Nobody appreciated him. Everybody’s so boring. James Harden, what’s wrong with basketball? He goes to the Nets and all of a sudden everyone’s like, Oh, man, you know, James Harden, maybe a VP candidate. He’s, you know, the
S2: great James Harden is an MVP candidate. People came up with
S1: it came up a little bit, you know, in the middle
S3: of the season. They’re like, if he plays the rest of it, it was a it was a topic. But it’s true. There has been a lot of, you know, who’s good, James Harden.
S1: Right. You know, he’s great. Yeah. He was great the whole time. And like, all of a sudden he had to go to Brooklyn for people to appreciate him. And that kind of frustrates me. And I’m not even mad at James Harden because I understand why he wanted to leave whatever. I’m glad to see him flourishing. I don’t want the nets to win, but I’m glad that people are appreciating him now in a way that they refused to when he was in Houston. Yeah.
S2: All right. In the interest of appreciating things that are not in Brooklyn, just a couple of the things that I’m most looking forward to in the playoffs. The Phoenix Suns, they were one of the more coherent teams during the regular season. Chris Paul, speaking of guys that showed up, Chris Paul is out there. They’ve got a very, very good team. And this is the question that we always are kind of looking at when, you know, like the year the Hawks were just amazing during the regular season. Was this a regular season team or is this going to be a really good playoff team and the like? Chris Paul factor weighs enormously there. As a guy who just very clearly like the variable that changed here is Chris Paul, like he came in and they’re one of the best teams in the league. And back to, like, whether the regular season matters, their reward if the Lakers win this game on Wednesday is that they get to play LeBron, add in the first round. And so I’m really looking forward to that. And then in the east, the bucks and the heat. Again, another test of what? The hell we just watched this year the exact same matchup we had in the bubble last year where the he just embarrassed Giannis and the Bucks. These are like slightly different, more than slightly different rosters. I mean the Bucks have Jrue Holiday now, but the Heat were just kind of like wandering around aimlessly all year. And yet, you know Vincent, I wouldn’t be surprised if you go into this match up and Jimmy Butler just like goes off and the bucks are perplexed again. But I have no idea what’s going to happen. I really want to see what what happens there and the implications. I mean, it’s not like whether Giannis is going to leave at this point, but like I think we really want to see Giannis and the Bucks like do better than they have done in the in the postseason and last year especially.
S3: Yeah I would love that. I mean there’s a couple of things there. The Jrue Holiday thing to me looms incredibly large because that guy can just speaking of like you know who’s good, you can really defend like a perimeter defense was
S2: good aliens to do
S1: this. Yeah. So we’ll be mad about it then Josh. Right.
S3: I want to see if he starts out on on Jimmy Butler and that’s his assignment all the way through the series. Like because since the All-Star break, essentially whenever Jimmy Butler came back and kind of got back into shape, he’s been amazing. Like if you look at what he’s actually done without shooting, I mean, shooting twenty four percent or something like that from three point like not shooting really at all. He just is in control of the games in a similar way actually to how Chris Paul is in Phoenix. It’s like even when he’s not scoring and you can every sort of move he makes is the product of an intention and intelligence. And really, this has strings on the whole thing that’s happening. I think it’s really up to Giannis to kind of show us something different. Has his ability to break through those walls that every team always sets up at the free throw line. Like has that changed it all. But I’m really excited to see that. I think that’s going to be a really fun series. The sons, I think it’s going to be on Devin Booker, man, because to your point, Chris Paul is Chris Paul and Chris Paul is going to do is direct traffic, stay out of it until ten minutes left and then start making a bunch of shots. Right. Like that’s what he does. And it’s the most amazing thing ever. He decides when he wants to ramify and mean something to the game, and he always does. But the rest of those quarters, it’s going to have to be I think Devin Booker is going to have to like have a true coming out party, like if Devin Booker and
S2: Jamal Murray ask.
S3: Exactly. Exactly right. If he’s ever going to be that wing scorer that can power you through those first three quarters. This is kind of it, because I just don’t see a world where Chris Paul is anything other than Chris Paul
S1: or I’m not a ring guy. Right. You know, I think that it’s dumb. Like I feel like, for instance, Tony Romo, you know, gets unfairly denigrated because he didn’t win. But yeah, for a second, Jimmy Butler, you know, because, you know, he had that little thing with Karl Anthony Towns. Yeah. I mean, can you chill out, bro? Like you’ve never like you’ve been better than a sixth seed once in your career. And he carries himself like he’s magic. You don’t mean like he called he called Karl Anthony Towns a loser and I pumped you and all this other stuff and, you know, maybe he did punch him. I don’t know. We weren’t practice that day, but now you do you guys find Jimmy Butler likable because he had a lot of
S2: felt like Jimmy Butler is a lot.
S1: Yeah. I’m just like, yo, bro, like you. You’ve been better than a six feet. You are a career 7c, you know. Yeah. Yeah. And like for you to kind of carry yourself like you’re Dwayne Wade or something is just sort of obnoxious to me. I don’t know, you know. So there’s a piece of me that wants to see the Bucs do well because I think that Giannis is good and the Bucks have like you know their playoff failures have been sort of overblown. They were embarrassing. Right. Like they, but like I think that they’re still a good team and things can happen. Right. But like this Jimmy Butler thing like oh you’re a loser and all this shit like come on bro, you, you know would have, you would have you actually done to talk about yourself in the same breath. I think we’re pretty impressive.
S3: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, he’s he’s amazing. I really do think he’s very good. But I mean we can easily separate these things out. His personality seems kind of miserable. Right. Like, I, I don’t think I want to hang out with Jimmy Butler. He’s funny
S3: And sometimes he can be humorous. In some ways he reminds me of Russell Westbrook and it’s way like sometimes he can like, say something like cutting and funny in a press conference. It makes me think like, you know, God, you know, there’s something there. But neither of those guys I want to like whatever, like have a beer with or something like that.
S1: You don’t want to meet Selena Gomez. You don’t want to go.
S3: Yeah. Whoever. Yeah. You know, but I’m like Westbrook. I see every time very clearly the ways that Butler contributes to winning like I even though he hasn’t been in that situation. To your point about the sort of ring’s culture, whatever, he’s awesome. I really just think he’s I mean right now he’s like whatever. He’s always has seven rebounds, seven assists. It’s just oh it’s the production is so consistent that I have to give him some credit. But I think that, you know, Karl, Anthony Towns probably has a, you know, private investigator just waiting for Jimmy to slip because I can’t imagine anything more than he must be. Jimmy Butler.
S2: All right. Utah and Philly just use this as bulletin board material that we didn’t find you interesting enough to talk about in this playoff playoff preview. So just show us show us that you’re around. Vincent Cunningham writes for The New Yorker and he is a fan of the New York Knicks. Vincent?
S3: Yes, I am. And yes, I am.
S2: Thank you. Coming up next, we’ll talk about the opening weekend of the WNBA season with Chantelle Jennings of the Athletic.
S1: On the opening night of the WNBA, twenty fifth season, fans were treated to a glimpse of the league’s glorious past and its promising future. In Minneapolis, WNBA all time leading scorer Diana Taurasi pulled up in transition after a steal and knocked down a three to give the Phoenix Mercury a one point win in their season opener. And in Brooklyn, last year’s number one pick, Sabrina Yanofsky. You know the tie breaking three pointer before the buzzer to lead the New York Liberty to a ninety to eighty seven victory over the Indiana fever. Today, we bring back our friend Chantelle Jennings, who was the WNBA and women’s college hoops senior writer at The Athletic. Thanks for joining us today, Shantelle.
S4: Thanks for having me.
S1: So let’s start with Sabrina UNESCO, who missed all but four games of our rookie season with an ankle injury and who may someday inherit the league from Taurasi and the other greats that preceded her. What did you see from her this weekend and what does it mean to the league to have her back?
S4: So I think we saw a player who, you know, she’s called this year her rookie season. She’s still looking at it as her rookie season, which I think is pretty fair. She’s been a calm player, a confident player her entire career. But I think there’s just an extra level of comfort, having played a little bit last year and then being able to watch the entire season. She looked great out there in terms of just her comfort level, I would say. But I think she’s this player that is going to draw a lot of attention to the WNBA. She’s a player that in college drew a lot of eyes. And when you think back to sort of first picks and the WNBA draft, there really aren’t people who got as much attention as Sabrina even this year with Charlie sort of following up on her, Charlie Collier, who went to Dallas. You know, Sabrina, Sabrina could be a game changer for the league.
S1: What is it about Sabrina then that gives her the star power? Because I’ve actually sort of been curious as to like what is it about her in particular that makes her a star in this way?
S4: She has gotten a lot of attention. She’s gotten a lot of ink. The decisions about who gets that ink, that’s, you know, probably another conversation for another time to really dive into. But she’s also she’s hit huge shots throughout her entire career. She’s someone that would take any shot pull up. She’s so confident you sort of see these plays where you whenever she shoots it, you think it’s going in. And so I think people enjoy watching that in that way. It’s sort of superhuman, the same way that we see that and Jewell Loyd or Diana Taurasi in the league, you just assume it’s going in areca again to another young star in the league. And I think people enjoy watching that. They seem sort of superhuman in some ways.
S2: She’s got a flair. She’s good at passing. She’s got swag, sort of like Paige Beckers in college. Now, I think people, you know, teammates love playing with her and fans kind of tend to gravitate towards that. You know, and looking at the preview that you guys did at the athletic and other people’s preview is one thing that jumps out is just the league is always so deep just because there aren’t that many teams. But with all the players back that weren’t playing in the bubble, Donnellys Cambage it just seems like this league is overflowing with talent this year.
S4: Oh I mean every year, but especially now. I think this is one of those things that in a typical season there’s one hundred and forty four spots this year with the new CBA there’s fewer because of the new super max deals for players. So a lot of rosters are only going to carry eleven. So it’s one hundred and thirty eight players. The best one hundred and thirty eight players, hundred and thirty nine, depending on rosters in the world. You have international players coming in too, because they want to play in this league. And so,
S2: so more players. We’re getting an opportunity in the bubble because a lot of women were opting out. Right. And so those players are now getting kicked out of the league,
S4: some of them. But then you have other players like Banai Chellaney, who got an opportunity last year in Atlanta. She had kind of been this defensive stopper, literally. I was talking with Atlanta former Atlanta coach Nicky Collin, who now coaches at Baylor last season, and she said going into the year, Binnie’s Chellaney scouting report was like, let her shoot, go under screens. Don’t worry about it. She became the most improved player in the league last year and then signed a huge deal with New York in the off season has been one of the best stars, I would say, of the first weekend of the WNBA this year, playing with Sabrina Enescu in New York. So there were players who got opportunities last year that might not have otherwise. Taye Cooper in Los Angeles is another good example, maybe not the same level of play as Ben Delaney at this point, just in her second year, but signed a deal with Jordan Brand and is one of the faces of Jordan brand in the WNBA now. So you have these players who got opportunities in the bubble, made the most of those opportunities and other players who now are sort of squeezed out of the league because, like you said, people who opted out for social justice reasons or medical issues, they’re coming back into the league now and reclaiming their spots.
S1: Well, let’s actually go back to last summer talking about that Wabble. So-called Wabble, right, because I know that it was likely logistically and psychologically a nightmare for the players that had to sort of endure it. Right. But then it seemed like a sort of helped to showcase and grow the game just that set up, because it seemed like there were more people engaged, just judging by at least social media engagement than before.
S4: Yeah, there were more games broadcast last year nationally. So I think that was part of it. I feel like how the league coming into the year in terms of what they were doing within politics, I think that your eyes maybe if if you’re someone who follows politics, maybe you never follow the WNBA before, but suddenly you know who Neco Gramick is, right. So I think in sort of a broad sense of the word, they’re like a big tent league. And they brought a lot of people in last year. And I think being in one place really did allow for them to organize in a way and bring more fans in.
S2: One thing that I’ve been thinking about is just a big picture thing is that it seems like on the men’s side, the college game and the program are just becoming more divergent, like with, you know, the league kind of taking up some of the top young high school stars. I was just looking at potential all NBA guys and just the number of them who either didn’t play in college or just like played for a small school. It’s like your kids go there, Yonath, Kawhi, LeBron, Paul, George, Damian Lillard, Loukia. If you look at the top WNBA players, there are certainly some exceptions Toronto. But like most of them are the ones that were famous in college and they were great in college. And then we knew in college and with his name, image and likeness stuff coming down the pike. Now it seems like the connection between the women’s game and the WNBA, the pro game and the college game is actually probably going to get even tighter as it loosens between the NBA and college. Does that reading seem accurate to you?
S4: Yeah, I mean, and I think that goes back to just sort of the scarcity of positions in the WNBA, like there are a first round draft picks who are, you know, first round draft picks a month ago who are not on WNBA rosters for the starting weekend. There’s only 12 picks in the first round. And some of those players did not make rosters. And so it it comes back, I think, to a scarcity of positions and often in the women’s college game, because there is less coverage overall, sort of the names that rise to the top and get the most ink a lot of times are the best players. It’s not like there’s this overflowing human interest features on everyone and their mother, as you might see on the men’s side in college, for the women, it really is sort of the airy McDonald’s of the world who rise to the occasion in the NCAA tournament or who sort of bring their program out of obscurity. I think that was part of Sabrina scuzz draws. Well, she helped put Oregon women’s basketball on the map. And I think that’s a story that that people like, you know, taking a team that didn’t win a lot, making them win a lot. Larry McDonald fits into that category at Arizona. So I think it all kind of goes back to that. The league needs to expand if it wants to fit the talent that is coming out of the college ranks and the international talent that wants to play here.
S1: But doesn’t it also make sense then, too? Because in the NBA, most of the draft picks are based on like potential. Right. You’ll get people that averaged five points per game in Syria. Right. Because, you know, you’re looking at them and they’re long and they’ve got a lot of athletic potential. But in college, there’s just no there’s nowhere else for that talent to go. They’ve got to go through four of three or four years and play and build their following because there’s there’s nowhere for them to go, right?
S4: Yeah. I mean, they go overseas. I think that was interesting seeing Page Beckers and Kaitlin Clark this year, too, freshman and the NCAA tournament throughout the season who were sort of, you know, making jaw dropping plays throughout the year. Kaitlyn, Clarkes range is something that I think any WNBA GM is sort of sitting there being like, we have to wait another two to three years for this girl. But I think this idea of first of all, they have to stay in college longer than the guys, but then sort of the way that they develop for these players, for these first round draft picks that didn’t make rosters, they’re going to go overseas. I do think there are some players where you look at them and you think, OK, there’s potential here because of maybe their length, their size, their height. Charlie Collier, who had a double double in her first WNBA game. You know, I’m not saying she’s an exact example of that. I think she’s going to get a lot better. But where we do see that is when in the first round of the WNBA draft this year, there were three international 19 year olds drafted. And so that’s kind of interesting. I had asked James Wade about this. He drafted a nineteen year old point guard from Australia. You know, how do you how do you sort of look at a nineteen year old who’s playing against pros in Australia and then look at sort of the point guards in the US who are. Three years older than this player, but playing against college talent in the US, you get to see them more often and he said you just have to watch a ton of tape and and really try to get a feel for their game.
S2: You’re the number two pick in the draft this year. Was this 19 year old from Finland by way of Egypt is of South Sudanese origin. Irakere and I was just actually looking at her Wikipedia page before we got on the segment. And it’s like one paragraph. And this one seems like she has maybe the most interesting story of anyone in the entire league. So just, you know, maybe for you, Shantelle, other feature writers out there, this seems like a great opportunity. But that makes your point that it is it is slightly more complex than the story that I was laying out, that it’s like all college stars go to the WNBA. Maybe there are obviously multiple pathways here. And her story is a great example of that.
S4: Absolutely. A lot of players might become sort of draft and stasch players. That was Shila Hill who went to the Chicago sky to be Courtney Vandersloot. Backup was one of those players where a few WNBA GM, she said, had asked, you know, are you OK as a draft and stasch? Because again, when it comes down to roster numbers, a 19 year old, are you really going to have her use one roster spot when you’re not? One hundred percent sure it’s going to shake out like you can’t really take gambles on players in the WNBA. You have to be as close to a sure thing as possible. And as a 19 year old athlete who’s never played in the US before, that’s kind of a gamble. And so you’re you’re looking at it and these coaches have to make really tough decisions. But a walk to your point, I think of all the players in the first round draft. She’s not with the wings yet. She’s not in market. I think she could have the longest career out of anyone in this most recent draft class.
S2: Joel, one of the things that you highlighted as we were prepping for this segment was this in season tournament that they’re starting.
S1: Yes. The commissioner this.
S2: Yeah. And that’s like seems really interesting. It’s like kind of a more European style competition. Seems smart for the WNBA to do this. Yeah. What do you make of that idea? I’m curious for your thoughts on it.
S1: I’m always sort of confused because I’m not a person that follows European soccer. Right. So I don’t know how much that stuff makes sense. Whenever I hear about European soccer style constructions in American sports, I’m I’m always like, well, I mean, I guess
S2: protectionist impulses come in. Yeah, well,
S1: yeah, right. Well, I’m just kind of like I don’t know. I mean if you win the Commissioner’s Cup, like. Is it important like I mean, how important is that to a WNBA player, like a WNBA player coming into the league wants to win a championship and not the commissioner’s cup? So it’s just it seems to me kind of hard to make the commissioner’s cup into something important. But still, am I wrong about that? Have you heard players say, oh, I can’t wait up his money?
S4: Yeah, there’s half a million dollars on the line. I think there are some players. Keep in mind that, you know, rookie scale contracts in the WNBA are still, you know, Errico Gun Ball, who is on the previous CBA for the WNBA, is making less than sixty thousand dollars this year. She was
S4: last year. She’s the leading scorer in the WNBA last year. She’s making about fifty nine thousand dollars this year. Obviously, she has marketing deals outside of that. But in terms of her WNBA salary, that’s what she’s making. And so if the wings are to win the commissioner’s cup, every player, I believe, on the winning team gets about thirty thousand dollars on the losing team gets ten thousand dollars. And then I think the MVP makes five thousand. So there’s there’s a significant benefit to winning, I would say.
S1: So what happened in one of the first games of the season? Seattle beat Las Vegas. Ninety seven. Eighty three. On Saturday, Brianna finished with a twenty eight thirteen and it was surprisingly lopsided because everybody thought that Las Vegas was going to be a team that had a lot of potential this year. They made it to the finals. They’re getting back live coverage. They’re getting back Kelsey Plum and like still, Seattle handled their ass in the season opener. But you were one of the people that said that Seattle still was the favorite. So like that that game sort of go according to what you thought was going to happen the rest of the season, or did Las Vegas not quite show up in the way that most people thought that they should have on Saturday?
S4: So I think so. My pick is actually Chicago. I think Seattle when I was looking at Vegas’s favorites and not just the Aces, but like, you know, betting, they I was confused about that because there’s a few picks in there where, you know, for the better is out there. I would say put some money on Minnesota and Chicago because some star, you know, put ten or twenty bucks down. You can make some good money there. And I think they’ll overachieve by Vegas standards. Seattle is kind of a wild card, though. I would say of the Vegas favorites, they were probably more cohesive to me. Again, just because I think Breanna Stewart is, you know, at this point the best player in the league all around watching her play. She’s sort of unstoppable at this point. I can’t believe that she tore her Achilles, you know, not too long ago. Last season obviously was her first year back after that. But Seattle, my big question was on defense. They had lost two players in free agency that were key parts of this defense, which was the best in the WNBA last year. And so I sort of wondered how they were going to be able to stop teams, but they were fine. Like, as you make bigger, who is a twenty year old second year player did pretty well on this campus. Who has I don’t know how many inches on her. She held her own, I would say well enough, certainly well enough for the storm to win. Bird is still playing Jordan. Canada played well, Briana Stewart. And so I think they’re a team that at this point, my picks for the finals are Storm and Chicago. With Chicago over the
S2: storm you mentioned, Sue Bird is still playing. Let’s close out the segment with something that Sue Bird said over this past weekend.
S5: The way I always joke about it is 40 is the new 30, although I found out today. Oh, my gosh, guys, this is just terrible. I found out today that our new teammate, Kiki, her mom is my age. We have the same birthday. Like she’s already the same way. I’m forty. It’s she was like, oh, no, she’s a young mom. I’m like, she’s a mom, my teammate. She’s like, she’s excited to meet you. I was like, yeah, she probably wants to, like, hang out and get drinks at the same age.
S1: They’re the same
S2: age. Chantelle bringing the segment full circle started out by talking about Diana Torossian. Sabrina, and we’re just bringing generations together in the WNBA. Hmm.
S4: Yeah, there’s something for everyone, whether your mom or young person. There’s something for everyone in the WNBA. Yeah. Sumberg is such a great interview. She’s so you know, you can hear even just hearing that clip, you can picture what her face looked like. She was saying that putting her hands over her face like, oh, my God, I can’t believe, because obviously, you know, there’s this idea of extending careers. And I think a lot of times people are saying it in a very flattering way, like, oh, my gosh, Huberta is playing really well at forty. Meanwhile, I tripped going up the stairs. I’m like, twist my ankle, right? Like, I can’t even walk straight. But she’s forty at the top of her game. And again, when you think like in the WNBA, you don’t you don’t have anyone on a roster for emotional reasons. You don’t have anyone there because they like you know, there’s only one hundred and thirty eight spots. You can’t use a spot on someone who’s not bringing something to the team at. Forty years old, Suban is doing that better than some people believed, first round NBA draft picks would have brought us here. So it’s really kind of incredible how she’s been able to extend her career in this way and have this WNBA career.
S1: Chantelle also did a great job of talking up your gambling picks. And maybe we’ll get a little draft kings, you know, with money going forward. But we’re going to bring you back later in the season and talk a little bit more WNBA hoops. So thank you so much for joining us this morning, Chantelle.
S4: Thanks for having me.
S1: And in our next segment, we’re going to talk horses and drugs with Joe Drape of The New York Times.
S2: On Saturday in Baltimore, Rombauer pulled away down the stretch to win that one hundred and forty sixth edition of the Preakness Stakes by three and a half lengths. The prerace favorite Medinah spirit could not back up his win at the Kentucky Derby, finishing in third. And it’s possible Madina Spirit won’t be the Derby winner for that much longer. That victory is currently in limbo after the horse failed a post derby drug test, a result that led Kentucky’s Churchill Downs to suspend Medina Spirit’s trainer, Bob Baffert, from entering other horses at the track. We’re joined now by Joe Drape, who’s been covering all this for The New York Times. Joe, thanks so much for being with us.
S6: Always a pleasure being with you guys.
S2: You wrote over the weekend that thoroughbred racing insiders were rooting for anyone but Madinah Spirit. Why is that?
S6: It’s just a dark cloud over horse racing right now. Madina Spirit flunked a drug test after the Derby. They’re waiting for the split sample, which will come back in the coming weeks. And that shows the first floor. There’s no central agency or really any rules to get that drug test tested properly. It’s going to come back ninety nine point nine percent positive. Again, Churchills already said they’re going to disqualify him and make mandoline, the runner up, the winner. And yet they want two legs of the Triple Crown disqualified because, avoidably, Preakness would have had to do the same. And they also just kind of wanted the horse off the trail so New York wouldn’t have to deal with this in three weeks for the Belmont Stakes.
S1: OK, so there is no central authority to so and why allow the horse to race in the first place? You know what I mean? Like, if it if it if if it’s going to be this much of a problem and everybody’s sort of rooting against it and understands that, that that second test is probably going to come back positive as well, then why compete anyway?
S6: Well, the Stronach group who owns Pimlico had to make that choice and due process was out there. Bamford’s lawyers said they would go for a temporary restraining order if they banned them from the track. Churchill It was more a symbolic thing. He didn’t really run any horses there. It was just saying good riddance to you. And New York is just praying that something will come down on that second sample and then you can take action without being legally.
S2: So tell us about the drug that Madina Spirit tested positive for. What is that? And is there reason to believe that it would confer some sort of performance advantage?
S6: The drug is called Bédard method, though. It’s a corticoid steroids. You know, it’s a cortisone shot. And it is you know, I don’t know if you guys play tennis or golf or have had tennis elbow and you need to get a shot, you feel better. That rule is in place not only on performance, but to keep the horse safe. A horse that is overly painkillers is going to run through an injury and make it more serious. So, you know, you really what kind of drives me crazy about this, guys, is they talk well, there wasn’t much in it. It was a medication. Well, you know, the rules are the rules. And he knew that he racked up thirty medication violations over the course of his career, five in the last year. Once you have to start explaining picograms, you’ve already lost. OK, so, you know, the rule is the rule and that’s why it should have been upheld.
S1: So, you know, I’ve as a person who admittedly does not follow horse racing that closely, I’ve heard of Bob Baffert, Bob Baffert, as you know, probably the name when it comes to American horse racing. And he wasn’t Pimlico on Saturday and apparently stayed in California. Does he have more of a problem with cheating allegations of the average trainer? I guess that’s what I’m trying to get a sense of. Obviously, he’s one of the biggest winners. Right, and the biggest names. But is his problem with cheating like disproportionate to his influence in horse racing?
S6: Great question. And the perception is he’s Lance Armstrong. Even in horse racing. He is the most decorated trainer of modern times. That was his seven derby. He’s had two triple crowns in the last five years and that’s after we waited thirty seven years to get going in there. You know, the gamblers say you get horses of a lifetime, three or four of them every time, every year. So there has just been a lot of smoke out there. And, you know, that’s why nobody was surprised if it would have been a guy like Bill or somebody who wins but just has gone down the road following the rules. This wouldn’t be a big outpouring. But, you know, there’s been talk about it in the last five, five medications in the last year or. Really sort of the big triggers for everybody and then, you know, I uncovered in twenty nineteen justify who he did win the Triple Crown was. He flunked a drug test before he even went to the Kentucky Derby. And the California regulators out there kind of made it go away and they didn’t do anything openly. They had a secret meeting and dismissed it for months after the Triple Crown, four months after that horse had already sold for 60 million dollars. And it never would have come out unless I found it. So there’s sort of a sense in the industry that he’s too big to fail Teflon. Bob, you can’t take down your most recognizable personality,
S2: but it seems like that is changing. I mean, you’ve in your reporting, had quotes from people that are high profile in the sport being very publicly and tight. BAFFERT And does it seem to you like with this latest incident, that powerful people within the sport are ready to be rid of him? Is this a kind of inflection point?
S6: It’s too it’s too early to say the dam is broke, but they’re starting to get little cracks in it. And probably more important than the big people talking out on them is they passed a federal bill last year called the Health Integrity and Safety Act. And it will be a board under the FTC. And you saw the people who test our Olympians and who caught Lance Armstrong take over that part of it there. So finally, you will have a centralized agency with meaningful penalties and top level testing. And, you know, that at least gives some mirage of fair play and level playing field. And that’s what they’re worried about, is that, you know, they’ve lost credibility if five weeks a year in the spring, everybody watches the Triple Crown, but the two million players who bet 365 days a year, that’s what keeps them alive. And those guys and women are saying, hey, why am I going to bet a horse that Baffert puts in or against them? Because it’s playing field level. So, you know, that seems to be that’s to me is the inflection point is they at least realize that they have to make sure they restore some credibility with rules and regulations, law and order, basically.
S1: Well, wait a minute. Is there not an assumption because, you know, I’m an Olympic track fan like that is probably one of my favorite sports. And I just sort of assume that the elite on that stuff, there’s not that assumption amongst horse racing. You know, I just kind of feel like the incentives are too great to not indulge in that. Right.
S6: Well, and you’re right, Joe. I mean, that’s always been the perception long before the Olympics. And Ben Johnson, you know, horse racing was was the place where all the shenanigans and skullduggery in Jakarta and, you know, Damon Runyon guys and dolls, mob fixin’s, I mean, that’s where it all was. So, yeah, you kind of factor that into your handicapping. When you have trainers winning in a really high level that raises eyebrows. You get to say, well, am I going to leave them off my ticket? But, you know, we’ve kind of gone to the hyper other ultra uber side of that. So, yes, there is. And I think that’s unfortunate and it’s unfortunate for track somebody who’s got to start somewhere.
S2: The thing that I found I don’t know if telling is the right word, but it was definitely a move by Baffert was to invoke the phrase cancel culture and saying that Churchill Downs, his statement was a knee jerk cancel culture kind of reaction. He also said initially that there’s no way that the horse could have possibly had this medication. Then he came out and said, oh, actually it did. But I don’t know why or just his kind of succession of public statements, the level of defensiveness, the use of this kind of like of these kind of buzzwords and trying to make himself a martyr is an indication to me as someone who is coming to this, you know, obviously a little more fresh than you are of somebody who is not interested in changing, is trying to, like, win the the press conference. And I can understand just from reading those quotes why people in the sport would be so aggravated with him and just want to be done with him.
S6: You’re absolutely right. And it was remarkable to see the five stages of grief played out, played out during the news cycle. I mean, he went from Sunday. No way. No how. Never treated a. The anger I feel wronged to Monday on Fox News, of all places, saying cancel culture and you know, they’re out to get me. He hinted that the establishment didn’t like him. He won too much. And then Tuesday’s like, oh, yeah, I did it. And it comes up with this explanation that is also being scrutinized. He said he used an ointment that you and I used on our cats and dogs when they have bad ears each year on a on a kind rash, much like that. If that’s the case, they call veterinarian confidential, you know, the biggest trainer with the highest price horses, million dollar horses with veterinarians who are experts and who know the rules. Now, what they’ve really put that on the horse for 30 days, according to him, right up to the Kentucky Derby. Plus, it could be you could produce he didn’t come to Baltimore because everybody had to ask and was going to continue to ask who subscribed to worry? Where is the paperwork? It’s supposed to be a seven day protocol. And, you know, he’s not being forthcoming about that. So, yeah, it’s it’s been a frustrating thing. Going back to your inflection point, he’s not doing in itself any favors. That’s why I think people are starting to come out, say, you know, this isn’t about you. You know, I’ve heard a lot of people tell me that, hey, in one of those either day one or day three, if you ever would have said, I’m sorry, I’m responsible for this and I’m sorry and I’ll take my punishment, then, you know, everything would have been better for everyone.
S1: You know, some would ask you this question is as a reporter, right? Because you cover horse racing like you know a lot about it and we’re having you on here to talk about this. Right. It probably is akin to like if you are a hockey beat writer and somebody has you want after a big fight. Right. So how frustrating is it as somebody that cares about sport covers it, that this ends up being the focus? And I’m sure that, like people around the sport are just like, oh, my God, like, can we just not talk about how awesome the race was? You know, who who won the Preakness instead of Bob Baffert and cheating? Because it seems like that’s like cast this really big shadow over the sport.
S6: I’ve written three books about horse racing. This I’m like the world’s tallest leprechaun. It’s like this is all by accident. I never got into this to write horse racing. But, you know, for the last twenty years I’ve been pointing these things out in print. And, you know, they’ve taken them down to congressional hearings and laid out my reporting. People knew this was coming. I mean, I’ve got reams of congressional testimony from the nineteen eighties where they were talking about this stuff. So in a lot of ways, I mean, I can’t lie. And this was a great week as far as you know, it’s fun. It’s a fun story. It moves to the front page. You know, it reflects a lot of the stuff that I have been reporting about over the decades. So it’s too bad that’s the way horse racing has to really penetrate the national consciousness. And when you have every late night comic. Talking about it, you have the president sending out statements about it, you know, you have penetrated deep in the culture’s consciousness. So, you know, it’s an unfortunate way to do it. But maybe that’s the shame and embarrassment they’re going to need to really get down to business.
S2: Whenever I hear commentators read accounts that attribute some level of consciousness or self to to a racehorse, I always kind of roll my eyes a little bit like the the weight on Madinah Spirit was too heavy or like he loves to perform in front of a crowd or whatever. Where do you fall on that question of like does the horse know that it’s a subject of controversy? Does the horse know that it’s that it’s like and that’s the thing with the like the comedians are like to make it part of. It’s like the horses are injecting themselves or something like that. It’s like the horses know what what the hell is going on?
S6: You know, the horses are sentient beings and the remarkable athletes horse racing in danger not only from their self-inflicted wounds, but animal rights. People don’t want to see this continue. They you know, I grew up with the circus. There’s no circus anymore. And they’ve really caught me either of those things. The horse didn’t know anything. He’s a herd animal. That’s why they go when they go into the backstretch, they like to stay in a pack together. That’s how you train a horse to forget his natural instincts, to stay with the crowd and go faster than somebody next to him. So American Pharoah was a Triple Crown winner. I wrote a book about him, not about him, but just the whole circus. And he was a different horse. I mean, he was like a barn cat. They’d let him come out with hundreds of people around there without on shake and let them wander around the group to group. And it was it was really extraordinary. So, yeah, they do have some personality. But I assure you, I know of horses. A horse is a horse, of course,
S2: a great reporter who covers all this stuff for The New York Times and was on the front page this week. Thanks to
S6: you guys.
S2: And now it is time for after balls, we’re going to talk about the Basketball Hall of Fame and our bonus segment. But before we get to that, I want to honor one of the twenty twenty one inductees which just got announced. It’s the twenty, twenty one class and there will be an induction ceremony later on. You might know her. Yolanda Griffith, she was the WNBA MVP. She was the WNBA champ at the Sacramento Monarchs. But her path to the Hall of Fame, the professional glory, is just truly amazing. She turned down a scholarship to go to the University of Iowa after giving birth to her daughter while in high school. She then went to Palm Beach Junior College, then Florida Atlantic, which was a Division two school. At that point in the early 90s when she was in school, she made money by working for a repo company. Then she went pro in Germany, then joined the fledgling American Basketball League and played for the Long Beach Stingray’s. That team folded and she went to the Abels Chicago Condor’s. Then the whole ABL folded, just the whole league. And she went to the WNBA. She got drafted by the Sacramento Monarchs. Then that brings us back to where we started, WNBA MVP, WNBA champ. But Joel is going to be an amazing induction speech. You know, people are like, oh, I had a rough journey from being a five star recruit to
S1: everyone, but people doubted me.
S2: She she really had a journey. And so I’m looking forward to hearing her talk about it. Joel, what is your Yolanda Griffith?
S1: Yeah, Yolanda Griffith. So if you’re not from Texas, you probably haven’t heard much of anything about Sam Houston State University. It’s a decently sized public university about 90 miles north of downtown Houston in a city called Huntsville. Sam Houston State might not even be the most famous state institution in Huntsville. That designation probably belongs to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which also includes the state’s very active, unfortunately, death row chamber. But Sam, Houston State probably deserves your attention, at least some of it. After its football team won the school’s first ever FCS national championship game on Sunday, the Bearcats joined the ranks of twenty two schools to win a title in the FCS or with us old folks used to call Division one AA. And here’s how they did it. We’re going to play a clip. Let’s plucked out of Fort Smith back to throw fires over the middle.
S7: It’s a touchdown, but they. And Sam Houston has the lead with 16 seconds left. They work the
S1: edges of the defense all game long. Sooner or later, aslant some income group is going to present itself. They what you heard there was Bearcats quarterback Eric Schmidt connecting with the receiver on 3rd and go from the 10 yard line with 20 seconds left in the game. That touchdown, an extra point provided the game’s final margin, a twenty four twenty one victory for Sam Houston state. That win was a catharsis for the Bearcats, who’ve never quite been able to stand up to the real heavyweights of FCS in recent years. In fact, Josh Sam Houston State’s previous four postseason losses. So that means their final games of the season in the playoffs were by an average of forty six points. OK, so so this year was very different for the Bearcats and obviously for all of the FCS, which had a unprecedented spring season after the pandemic shortened year the previous year. We all know about that. Right. Head coach Casey Keyla told Texas football that he reinvented his program after a fifty five to thirteen ass kicking at North Dakota State in twenty seventeen. And it’s not like the Bearcats then were total failures. Sam Houston State had posted the nation’s top offense from twenty fifteen to twenty seventeen. Quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe became only the second back to back winner the Walter Payton Award as the best player in FCS and the Bearcats, believe or not, with a second winningest program with the twenty teams in football behind the aforementioned North Dakota state. So they were good but not good enough. And so, you know, Keelan said that he started recruiting bigger transfers to play on the line. So he’s got guys from like Texas Tech. You tip. I mean, what’s big in FCS probably isn’t an FBS, but it works in the FCS. The other thing that they did that is really interesting that I did not know there was a common among FCS programs Casey Keyla asked for and was granted two full time strength and conditioning coaches. I just assumed that all FCS programs had those, but apparently they don’t and that gave them the boost that they needed. And I’m sure it was more complicated than that. Sam Houston state has been really good for a long while and probably was going to break through eventually, especially with North Dakota State not being quite as strong as it used to be. In fact, the Bearcats went ahead and finally exercised those particular demons in a twenty four twenty win over in DSU in the second round and in the semifinal, Sam Houston State made it even harder on itself. They fell behind twenty four to three at halftime before rallying for thirty eight to thirty five win over James Madison, setting up that title game matchup against South Dakota State. So with that went on Sunday, Sam Houston becomes the first Texas school to claim FCS or Division one AA championship. What should be surprising is, I mean, there’s a bunch of Texas schools and the FCS or they used to be they used to be what we used to call southwest Texas State, North Texas State, which is now north Texas. Stephen F. Austin. There’s been a lot of great programs in Texas and this is the first one to win. But to that point, Josh, the FCS champions are an unruly lot. So I just want to ask you a question. You’re a college football fan. Can you guess the four schools that have won three or more FCS titles? You probably get the first one. This should be easy
S2: putting putting me on the spot. So North Dakota State is Youngstown State one of them?
S1: Yes. Yes. Oh, man, you’re really good here.
S2: OK, and how many more are there?
S1: There’s just two more. OK, and they’re both. I’ll give you a hint. They’re both in FBS now.
S2: OK, can you give me the States is one of them Florida school.
S1: One of them is a Georgia school and one of them is a North Carolina school.
S2: OK, Georgia Southern.
S1: Yep. There you go.
S2: And state
S1: band. OK, there you go man. That was, that was that was the heart of the thought. Oh no.
S2: I mean you cheated you you kindly allowed me to cheat with giving those the state. But that was the thing I was going to say is like the reason the Texas maybe hasn’t won one of these titles before is that a lot of the schools that you mentioned moved up to have business. And so the schools that could have potentially won it are no longer eligible, right?
S1: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. You know, a couple of other FBS schools that have one that maybe people don’t know that if one that are now FBS, but that one FCS championships, we’ve got Marshall, Marshall, one, two. Yeah, UMass. I did not know that UMass was ever good at football, let alone at the FPS level. Western Kentucky, which is now also an FBI school. This one you may have some familiarity with and its name has changed and it’s from your home state. Can you guess which one that one is?
S2: They now go by Louisiana AK ul AK yucel, a close,
S1: close, close, the old northeast Louisiana, which is now universal, Louisiana, Monroe. OK, you know, and I’m going to say this, this is actually kind of surprised me. And I don’t know why I did, but here’s the only other former FBI school that won a fixed championship, and you’ll probably be surprised at this. Or maybe one I don’t know. Boise State, Boise State, one division one championship back in the 70s. So know.
S2: So maybe we’ll be surprised 50 years from now to know that FBS or whatever they call it, power. Sam Houston state with states, you know, NFC East champion.
S1: They got that. They got the car. They you know, and I just we close it out. I actually went to a Sam Houston state game in nineteen ninety four, the only time they were ever on national championship. And I went there with my father to watch them play Steve McNair and Alcorn State. And that was like just a fascinating game. Like you could hear you like I’ll never forget the the sensation of hearing Steve McNair’s passes whistle in the wind from the stands like he was he was unreal. Now, they lost that game. They got to ask, but it wasn’t because of Steve McNair.
S2: But you sound like Buck O’Neil talking about like hearing Hank Aaron. Yeah, Bob Gibson. Sorry, Josh Gibson at the bar.
S1: As long as I live, there will never be a quarterback better than Alcorn State. Steve McNair. But anyway, I thought about that because today is my father’s birthday. He turned seventy four today and we went to that game. And it’s just one of the most vivid memories I have in like my teenage years. And I’m so glad I got to do it with him. So, Sam Houston, State, congratulations and thanks for the memories and well, that’s our show for the day. Our producer this week was Margaret Kelly. Margaret, thank you as always, to listen to past shows, unsubscribe or just reach out, go to sleep, Dotcom, hang up and you can email us at Hangup at Slate, Dotcom. And don’t forget to subscribe to the show. Interactive reviews on Apple podcast. Please leave a five star review. If you don’t, I’m just going to assume you hate us and we’re going to be sworn enemies from here on out. So for Josh Venson, Shantelle Jenning’s, Joe Drape, I’m Joel Anderson remembers Elmo, Betty. And thanks for listening.
S2: Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members, back with us is professional Knicks fan Vincent Cunningham. Hello, Vincent. Thank you. We had a Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony over the weekend, a star studded class, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and notably Kobe Bryant, among others. I got to confess and Joel Jonez this. I thought Michael Jordan was going to be like giving a speech. Yeah. To induct Kobe Bryant. And so I was like, oh, we should really talk about this. Then it turns out Michael Jordan went on stage and stood next to Vanessa Bryant while she gave her lovely speech. But isn’t it a little weird that they have these people, quote unquote, induct players and all they do is just go stand there or sit there? In the case of is it I just I felt a little misled. So I’m just going to say that we were cheated.
S1: We would cheat a little bit. Right. I think that’s fair to say. I was gearing up for another Michael Jordan at the Kobe Memorial Moment, you know what I mean? Like, that’s what I thought was going to happen. And he just stood there. He was he was as important to the Kobe adduction as he was to Kim Mochis and Dixon. I thought,
S3: yeah, I like the thing where somebody in a normal situation, I like the thing where somebody just kind of like introduces the person. They’re there. It’s kind of like a way to have a little acknowledgements section before you start thinking other people, somebody it’s really I like the symbolism of it. But under this situation, Vanessa Bryant was amazing. And I don’t know how she keeps doing this, but I could have seen them sort of change that convention in some way, that there was a smaller speech by MJ, but a speech and then she gets up. It was it’s just such a it’s all been so bizarre. And it really what struck me is that it just really is still so new in the history of the NBA for something like this to happen, like Bill Russell still alive, you know what I mean? Like the continuity is still so present in the NBA that just dealing with this kind of loss is not really hasn’t been I mean, I can think about when bias you can think about, but really it hasn’t been part of the sort of ceremonial life of the NBA. So it just all
S2: the kind of break that this was where a guy would have a huge, full, long career and then die like right after this extremely unusual is extremely unusual. And yet I had that feeling, too, like you would think that you would get used to it now. And I’m not I never was a Kobe fan, but it just still feels weird that he’s dead. It feels really weird.
S1: You know, it’s I haven’t really I think I don’t know how to articulate this, but I kind of felt the memorial service last year was just sort of that was a good footnote for me in terms of everything else. Like, I didn’t even I didn’t even sort of process the Hall of Fame speech, even though Vanessa did a great job. Right. But I kind of felt like the tribute to Kobe in his life and his career was the memorial service at Staples Center. And then, like, I’ve just kind of like, OK, whatever else is just sort of superfluous. Like, it doesn’t matter to me as much, because that was just such a national outpouring of grief and a celebration of his life and career in a way that I don’t know that the Hall of Fame really captured for me. But that’s not even necessarily right, because it’s about so many other people. And it’s about, like you were saying, the connection to the older generations and the celebration of the game more than anything else. So the Kobe thing didn’t quite hit me as much this weekend as it did when it was fresh, which I mean, obviously makes sense, right?
S2: Yeah, yeah. The thing that I was also thinking about and forgive me if this just seems like a kind of dumb question, but it’s just clearly so meaningful to all of these people to make it to the Hall of Fame. And it doesn’t matter what the sport is. But, you know, you think it’s obvious. It’s like the highest honor you can get. But I was wondering if you guys feel like part of the reason for that is that there is this sort of cultural expectation, I think, in any sport. But I’ve definitely noticed this in the NBA, that, like during your career, you’re not really allowed to celebrate and like be proud of anything other than championships. Like, we would think that it was maybe a little bit. I mean, I guess the Kevin Durant like MVP speech or the Yoni’s MVP speech was maybe complicates things a little bit. But I just do feel like there is this expectation around, like stolidly marching through your career, trying to like cumulated team glory and like not allowing yourself to, like, appreciate anything that you’ve done. And then it just all kind of comes pouring out right in this moment. Does that ring?
S3: Totally, and it’s so well put because, you know, I was thinking about this with respect to someone we mentioned before, Russell Westbrook, who I have had every emotion about. But there was a moment recently he had this back and forth with Stephen A. Smith. I don’t know if he saw, but like Steven was saying, Westbrook, great this and that. But I don’t care about those triple doubles until he wins a championship because like, I can’t, you know, whatever, you know, I don’t care about that. We’ve all seen that he can do that, so he doesn’t impress me with that. And as he just now passed Oscar Robinson’s record for triple doubles, I felt that tension right. It’s like people celebrating it saying how amazing it was, but also people kind of reserving that praise because of this sort of austerity that you mentioned. It’s like it’s the championship or nothing. And even I who you know, when I look at the way he gets some of those triple doubles, I’m like, oh, OK, whatever. But I’ve always been an advocate for, like, the thing that matters to me most about the NBA style, like, I like the way people do stuff. And you can’t say I’ve watched Russell Westbrook with a certain kind of like devastated off for years and years like it. It’s never not been that. And so I should be stopping to celebrate him. The other day, by the way, I was watching the last night’s game of the season and the crowd stopped and cheered in the middle of the game because Kyrie Irving had gotten entered the fifty forty nine club. Fifty percent from the field. Forty percent from three. Ninety percent from the free throw line. And that was actually kind of there was like a graphic for it up on the Jumbotron. And I was, it stopped me in my tracks because I was like, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody do that. And it was like it was nice. It was like, here’s something that you can celebrate separate from the great accolade that’s like impressive. And we should stop and say, this guy’s awesome at basketball. I think that’s right. I think that’s right. And so what you get is like a bunch of people that’s like crying snot at their Hall of Fame induction because the first time they’ve been able to crack a smile.
S2: Well, Joel, it’s also an opportunity and we’ll see those more in the next class with guys like Chris Bosh and Chris Webber, I think in particular to give guys the props and their props and like an unreserved, unqualified way that they didn’t get during their career.
S1: Well, that’s actually what I was going to say to build off your points, because, you know, Steven Azz approach has always been sort of dumb to me because I remember greatness a lot more than great teams. You know what I’m thinking about basketball. I think about a player and how great they were rather than wow, the ball movement on the, you know, ninety seven bulls. That was incredible. You know, like I don’t think about that. Right. I think about like greatness and so like that’s why and this is going to sound weird, but you brought it up Josh, the class that they just announced with Webber Bosh, Ben Wallace, whatever, that resonates a little bit more to me, like that class seems a little bit more meaningful to me than the Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett Kobe class. And I know that doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, but like those guys represent to me, like I don’t I don’t know how I’m trying to explain it, but like, they’re individual. Great. You could not deny their greatness shown through in spite of the team context. Right. Like they were.
S2: It makes total sense to me. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. And I like I appreciated them in a way and I wanted to see them appreciate it. And that’s why that’s why I mentioned Tony Romo in the earlier segment, because I want people’s greatness appreciated on its own terms. And like when you reduce it to rings and how many games they won, so many things are beyond your control. And only one team can win in any given year. But your greatness is what matters at the end of the day.
S2: And yet and yet I seem to recall just a few minutes ago you talking about Jimmy Butler in the Ring Raisi context.
S1: I like Jimmy Butler, but like I just like when you start calling people Losar and carrying yourself like you’re Michael Jordan, then I just I’m like, why don’t you just
S2: go with him? It’s like, what’s it like
S1: with, you know, maybe what it is, is that, you know, a guy who’s from the Houston area but doesn’t claim Houston like she’s in on it. I just find that to be a little strange. Nobody claims Tomball, Texas, Jimmy Butler. So just chill out anyway. Go ahead.
S2: Just know that that’s really that that struck me to Joel exactly what you said and like reading the responses from Chris Bosh and Chris Webber, getting like guys that were both slandered for different reasons. Yeah. During their careers and just this feeling that like you’re validated and that nobody can say anything about you. Now, that must feel nice.
S1: Yeah. Love you. Go on the TNT show and which Shaq will be like, well, I got rooms buddy. Lets you do that kind of shit, right. Yeah.
S2: Maybe it feels nice for a moment, maybe it doesn’t feel nice for the you know,
S3: but the also the other great utility of that is. Like just enshrining somebody so that somebody might be able to, like, go back and see, because it’s very much like basketball is such a you had to see it. You know, my daughter loves basketball and I know that just because she’s on Instagram or whatever, but she’s seen a million Kobe Bryant plays wasn’t really alive for most of his greatest seasons or whatever, wasn’t alive for the three peat. But I’m sure she has seen many of those plays. But now, like as someone she probably will care about the Hall of Fame, I can be like go like look up some Chris Webber stuff. Like nobody that big was doing those things, like the passing the the way he sometimes took the ball all the way up the court like he was just cool. And you just have to look at it. And now there’s like a signpost to say, go look at that. Go go check out how terrifying Ben Wallace was. That’s important.
S1: Have you ever been to the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts before? Have not. Never. I’ve been there. Well, first of all, Springfield is not a vacation type place, I guess is maybe the best way to put it. I would just like to argue that maybe they should move the Hall of Fame someplace else because so people could see it for one, because I think it’s actually sort of cool, but underwhelming because you see all of these great careers and you get to learn about all these players. But it’s in a it’s like it’s underwhelming to get shares a space with like a subway. That’s a subway right in the not not like a train subway stuck in a Subway sandwich shop with. So it’s not, you know, the greatest place. But I think that’s like the sort of place that people would really benefit from going to because you can learn so much about the game. But unfortunately, it’s in Springfield, Massachusetts. No offense, Springfield.
S3: I have a basketball mecca in mind. That would be a great fit.
S2: I was going to say the same thing. I’m glad I’m glad I came from Utah. It’s just about time that people, you know, were acclimated to good basketball
S2: in Manhattan. Venson, so fun to have you on. Thank you for being with us.
S3: I love being on. It’s always good.
S2: And Slate plus members, thank you. Always will be back with more for you next week. And thank you.
S1: Glad to be here as ever.