S1: The following podcast includes explicit language not restricted to words, beginning with F, S, B and Q.
S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor. And this is Hang Up and Listen for the week of April 13th, 2020 on this week’s show, we’re going to talk about ESPN televising Horse Major League Baseball’s plan to restart the season by quarantining everyone in Arizona. And other dispatches from a sports world’s gone insane. We’ll also talk with the athletics Ethan Sherwood Strauss about his new book, The Victory Machine The Making and Unmaking of the Warriors Dynasty and the Hang Up and Listen. Magazine Club will convene to discuss how a psych them. Bill Russell’s 1965 account of how he gets an opponent’s heads. Or will we discuss it? Maybe. Maybe not.
S3: Think about it. Hello from Washington, D.C. Connoisseurs of the hang up intro copy will note. I did not mention the queen up top because I’m going to mention it now. The Queen, the only National Book Critics Circle Award winner written by someone who has a strong opinion about the pass interference. No call in the 2006 LSU Auburn game. It is out in paperback this week. It’s got a new cover, a green one. It’s pretty. I’ve got a few copies to give away. If you want one, stay tuned for after balls and I will tell you what to do. Joining me here in the booth, Stefan FATSIS. He’s the author of Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic. How are you feeling today, Stefan?
S4: Well, I’m not joining you in any booth. We are isolated, Josh.. Let’s be clear. We don’t want to give people the false impression that we are violating norms, the metaphorical bith, the notional beer.
S3: Thank you, Stefan.
S5: I’m admiring your little nook there in particular. You’ve got some acute trauma. On your shelf. What is that? Baseball. That’s like a book, bookends on the left.
S4: Next to my daughter’s baby shoes. Yeah, that’s that’s an autographed ball by the key players from the Northern League who I wrote about in the wild and outside the little mentioned book on this broadcast.
S6: Oh, nice. So when you would go up to players, would you say you’re a key player? You can sign on sweet putts, but you’re not a key player. You’re maybe a key player. Like, how did you navigate that?
S4: Actually, I just let them sign where they wanted to sign and as athletes will do. The guy with the biggest ego took the sweet spot on the ball. He was not one of the best players. He was not a manager. He was not the commissioner of the league. But he signed right in the sweet spot because he knew he was gonna be great.
S6: We’ll reveal in a future podcast. That was Joel Anderson from Palo Alto. Slate staff writer, host of Slow Burn Season 3. devone autographed memorabilia in your home?
S7: No. The last thing that I had autographed was a business card from Jerry Rice and Roger Craig at the Houston Galleria in nineteen ninety one and gave being that there was a business card from 30 years ago, pretty certain that that’s nowhere to be found anymore. It’s really sad, but I had a very good memory of being 13 years old and having enough confidence to go up to my heroes at the ball. So that was wow. A big deal. That’s great.
S4: I only asked for one autograph in the course of my work. This was different was the end of the season. The book was done and I’m holding this one up now, too. I interviewed Pele. Oh, was it sponsoring Citi Bank? I think it was MasterCard. He just had an F word. It wasn’t really impressive. That’s on my desk. Yeah.
S6: Nice. I love the fact that you don’t consider the baseball from your book to be work because the book was done anytime you’re done with an interview. You just asked for an autograph. It doesn’t count.
S8: It wasn’t like an autograph because I like a lot of these guys. There’s another book about them. All right. Fair enough.
S9: So much is up in the air right now, looking ahead to the rest of our sports calendar. Well, we have baseball in the summer, football in the fall, soccer ever. We’ll talk about some of that later in our conversation. But at least we’ve got basketball again. Well, sort of. Basketball. We’ve got basketball like material. Only a month after the NBA shut down following Rudy. Go Bears positive Corona test, the NBA and ESPN teamed up to bring us one of the first live sporting events in our socially dist. world. Sunday night was the debut of the NBA Horse Challenge, which featured four separate matches between a mix of current and retired NBA and WNBA players. Now, other than confirming the obvious financial gulf between top NBA players and their WNBA counterparts, I doubt anyone learned anything we didn’t already know. Professional basketball players possess an insane amount of skill. Were you not entertained, Stefan?
S10: I watched about five minutes of it all. And here’s what I saw. I saw Paul Pierce Miss Lay Up. I saw Paul Pierce missing jump shot. And I saw Paul Pierce’s house, which looked like a really, really expansive Italianate pink stucco, adobe. I’m not sure quencher what it was. And he’s got a nice reflecting pool. And Zach Levine has a batting cage in his backyard. So that’s what I took away from horse.
S6: I was totally charmed by this, actually. I don’t know if people were roasting it on on Twitter or something, but especially the last matchup between Allie Quigley and Chris Paul. Allie Quigley was the breakout star of this event, WNBA three point champ. And they had like a good and fun, entertaining match and they were taking horse in the spirit. It was intended. Chris Paul did dislike like one legged shot where you have to turn around while you do it from the three point line. I think it was a free throw, actually.
S11: But Quigley was knocking shots down from like behind the backboard, from like, you know, the dirt around her cobblestones. And I just appreciated the fact that obviously this isn’t just like charity. ESPN wants something for people to watch. But the Janki Ness and the home made this event I think was fun and cool. And I don’t really understand why you guys would be haters.
S12: I think a time when we all need to come together as a nation and watch enough to be a hater.
S13: I have to say, I didn’t watch enough to be a hater. And I am I am. I am glad to hear that. Allie Quigley and Chris Paul played Horse the right way because Zach Levine and Paul Pierce were not playing horse the right way.
S6: I actually appreciated how Zach Levine did not. You play in the spirit of the game and just he was sick and all of this like athletic stuff so he could beat Paul Pierce because he wanted to win like respect.
S12: Got him out cause him. Yeah. I mean, are you are you really buying the jenkins’?
S7: Because every now and again, I think they sort of you know, you’d see the camera is focused on them for your front facing camera. And then all of a sudden they’d be this pained view of them, you know, or they’re caught somewhere. I don’t I feel like there was a lot more production put into this thing than we think they made it look bad on purpose.
S14: Yeah, absolutely. I love this conspiracy thing.
S7: I think that there’s like all of this supposed to be socially.
S13: This is the second camera, though, Joel. The second camera was like someone’s daughter.
S12: Nobody wins. But sometimes it wouldn’t even be that like sometimes song I. I felt like I could be wrong about this. But it’s not like I’m saying that people get corona of us from five G or something.
S9: I’m just saying it feels like it feels like there was some other production values going on here that we that they tried to make us believe that this is a much more home-made endeavor than it actually was.
S13: This is some deep state stuff, so I’m concerned.
S6: Tamika Catchings had her kid filming with an i-Pad up against the garage. But I think what Joel is suggesting is that maybe Tamika Catchings, his kid, was actually an ESPN cameraman at the i-Pad, was like a fifty thousand dollar camera.
S15: Yeah, I felt the same thing about Paul Pierce, his daughter. Clearly, that was not just an iPhone.
S12: Don’t be surprised when the truth comes out, OK? That’s all I’m saying. But on the whole, it wasn’t a bad idea.
S9: Like, I think that the NBA in the WNBA tried to give us something and it worked, but it just kind of felt like it felt like one of these things where there’s a you have a team meeting, somebody throws out an idea and they’re like, oh, no, now we’ve got to do it because it just oh, not now.
S7: We have to go ahead and do this thing because this competition is only as good as the charisma and the personalities of the people involved. I just remember when Tamika Catchings and Mike Conley were going back and forth and it just reminded me of really bad I live shows that I’ve looked at where people don’t have any chemistry and they don’t know each other very well. And you can’t pick up on a person’s body language or facial expressions. It was just a very awkward, stilted conversation throughout. It wasn’t like that for like Zach and Paul Pierce. Zach Levine, really? Put a lot of his personality into it and you could just see that he was kind of a fun guy. But every now and again you’d be like, oh, these people don’t actually know each other. And it’s really awkward.
S6: It’s like a podcast where the her 7O chemistry, but also it’s it’s hard to have conversations on Xoom because of the lag. And so they would like say something and not be able to respond in time. And so it was just Janki in that way, along with the production quality being bad. Because of this, you know, drawls conspiracy, because they wanted it to be bad, because ESPN obviously wants to broadcast bad images and now they’re not allowed.
S12: I mean, we’re not allowed to have all these other employees there. So they have to pretend. Anyway, maybe this is gonna sound crazy in retrospect already. Now leave it there.
S13: So, Josh, wait, who advanced to the semifinals and who do you like going forward? Is this really as a sporting event and we should have a sports day care?
S6: Oh, Chauncey Billups beat Trey on despite the fact that Trayvon was shooting on a hoop that was at least nine feet tall and where the free throw line was maybe about 10 feet away from them. Chauncey stole one and he was like making three pointers off the backboard with regularity. It was very impressive. And he had a nice court.
S13: But he has an indoor record or an outdoor court.
S11: Outdoor, outdoor. I think Mike Conley was the only one with an indoor court. And as the ringer pointed out, it’s nice to know what 150m $3 million contract will buy you in terms of a jam. I think they could just play the rest of the NBA season and Mike Connelly’s home gymnasium. It’s really it’s really nicely tricked out.
S16: It’s his house big enough to quarantine the entire league now.
S11: Great question. So it’s gonna be Zach Levine versus Allie Quigley and it’s going to be fast. I’m gonna be interested in that one because well, Zach Levine, do his leg, hit the ball off the backboard and make a layup on the other side, which like maybe five hundred people in the whole world can do. Paul Pierce definitely cannot do that. I would have my doubts that Allie Quigley can do it, but. Well, Zach kind of make make concessions and make it more of a shooting contest rally. Quigley could probably beat him, given that she is the best one of the best shooters in the world. That’d be interesting. Then the other side, you’ve got Chauncey Billups versus Mike Conley, and that should be a good match to Conley.
S7: The thing about Conley is that he’s ambidextrous and he can shoot.
S14: Just he was also cheating. I love that these guys were shooting Sam because he was saying shoot with your. He was saying like, shoot, shoot this with your off hand or your weekend. And he clearly, like his right hand is extremely strong. And so just using that to his advantage.
S7: Well, I mean, that’s just that’s it’s a testament to his skill level. I mean, I guess the thing is that we had to take his word for what his off is at this point.
S6: Yeah. The other thing that I want to see and then perhaps we can move on to UFC, Fight Island or Major League Baseball, whatever the hell we want to call that. One thing I’m interested in looking at and maybe some advice for Allie Quigley. She’s married to her teammate on the Chicago sky. Courtney Vandersloot, a married back backcourt. Perhaps the only one in professional basketball. But she should incorporate Courtney into the game and say, have your significant other make a free throw left handed. I don’t know if these other guys could compete with that.
S10: Stefan, what are the rules? That’s the question.
S6: It’s all about pushing boundaries. We need to be thinking outside the box in this new sports world. Speaking of which, Stefan, you wanted to do an entire special emergency podcast about Major League Baseball’s insane plan to quarantine everyone in Arizona. Your thoughts?
S17: It’s like one of the most insane things I read. Go, go read. Jeff Parsons first story for ESPN last week. Every sentence in that story was insane and every thought that baseball officials are having about how to pull this off.
S10: And you can imagine, like every league has to be doing this right now. They have to be coming up with contingency plans. It’s like every business in America is doing this right now. How do we re-open colleges? What do we do about fast food restaurants? What do we do about Major League Baseball? So you have to come up with these bizarro plans to restart business and get the economy moving again. But this baseball thing was insane.
S17: The depth of steps that would be required to literally create like a biosphere for players, umpires, coaches, managers, front office people, media grounds crews, etc., etc., etc. Television just boggles the mind to think that these leagues are realistically thinking, hey, we can pull this off because we need to or they’re thinking we need to do it for the good of the country is just bizarre to me when the obvious reality is grimey playing baseball in July or August, and she probably shouldn’t be. For everyone’s well-being.
S3: So, Joel, the plan would include all 30 teams playing with no fans and. The Phoenix area, everybody would be sequestered at local hotels and you could only travel to and from the stadium. There would also be rule changes, electronic strikes. And so the player could mean maintain sufficient distance from the catcher. Seven inning double headers. Players sitting in empty stands six feet apart instead of in the dugout. This what could go wrong?
S7: All right. I mean, it sounds insane and bizarre because we’re living in a world that is insane and bizarre, like we’d none of us have ever imagined anything like this. And so the the solutions are going to be progressively crazy the more we think about, you know, I mean, if you’re going to have baseball, if you’re going to have football, basketball, if you’re gonna do anything else, if we’re going to attempt to go and have live sporting events, it’s going to look and sound stupid, like when you when we say it out loud.
S18: You know, like just imagine saying this a year ago. Okay. So what we’re gonna do is we’re going to play games without fans there. And to the extent that we have anybody else. Players are not going to be able sit next to each other. But the reason it sounds crazy is because this is crazy. And it also to me, it indicates that they are going to get this done. Like nothing, maybe not this particular plan, but some iteration of it is going to come through, because I don’t believe that these people who are used to getting their way, who are used to the money, never stopping, are just going to sit idly by and say, oh, we’ll just wait. So the country has opened all the way back up. They’re gonna come up with something that is going to put these players health and lives in danger. And we just have to be ready to deal with that when it happens. We that to call it out and say what what is going on? Like, no, this is unacceptable or whatever. But I think that they’re going they’re going to push this as hard as they can to make something like this happen.
S6: So two things. Number one, Stefan, I think this is a useful exercise in seeing all of this written out, because it does. I don’t know if this was what the intent was, but it kind of perversely demonstrates how difficult and stupid this is by actually just writing it all down, everything that would you would be required to do. But maybe no. This is point number two. This is like when Martin Scorsese, he turned down a cut of casino to the MPAA that had a head exploding. He knew that they were gonna cut that part out and we’d be like, all right, we’ll cut this out and then you get your ratings. Well, he never intended for the exploding had to be in the movie. They fell for the trap. So maybe they’re leaking these totally insane rules. And then when they come up with something that’s slightly less insane, we’ll be like, all right. You know, they’re they’re, you know, gonna not put everyone in a dome and not allow them to see their families for an entire year. This seems more sensible.
S13: Yeah, sure. It’s not seeing your families as one exploding head, but this is like a hundred exploding heads. I mean, none of this seems feasible under any circumstances. Why doesn’t it seem like something dramatically changes in terms of vaccine, in terms of the contact tracing, in terms of testing? And we’re not there yet. And I don’t think we’re gonna be there in June or July either.
S6: And I have a I have a prediction. So Stephanie EPSTEIN said in Sports Illustrated, she quoted a guy, a p_h_d_ in epidemiology from Emory, who said, we will not have sporting events with fans until we have a vaccine. I think that’s incorrect. I predict and I think this is what you are saying. I think that we will have sporting events with fans before we have vaccine, even if that’s a bad idea. I think I think it’s going to hurt.
S7: I think that’s right. Yeah. I don’t think we can help ourselves. You know, I mean, I think that two sorts of people at play here. People that cannot afford and not willing to wait for the money to start rolling in again. And then you also have there’s a whole world of people out there that don’t take this seriously at all. I mean, the people, they just believe, oh, people are overreacting. This is panic. You know, we’re having deaths that there will be roughly approximate to a really bad flu season. There are people out there that are still saying that those are the sorts of people that would be at the LSU Auburn football game in December.
S15: And I think this is a good way to pivot to college football, too, because the pressure when you talk about the financial pressure and the willingness to put some people at risk, and in this scenario, it’s the players and it’s the fans who really love this sport are probably as great in college football or greater than in any other sport, because there’ve been a couple of good pieces looking at the interconnected financial imperatives here that the fact that college football generates so much money that it supports not just other sports at universities, but other activities as well. And, you know, you read these stories and they are very Domesday in their predictions. And I come away with two things. One is that this is kind of a come up ins- for universities, athletic departments that have spent every cent that’s come in to them because they. They don’t want to be accused of profiteering and don’t want to be accused of having so much money that they could pay players, so they’ve been building these hundred million dollar athletic complexes and paying coaches contracts that are valued at, you know, nine figures to get around the fact that, hey, we don’t have any money. We have all these other expenses. So now it has come home to roost in the weirdest way possible and the most unpredictable way possible. And the pressure on universities to find a way at the big programs, to find a way to restart the sport are going to be immense. And who are the most vulnerable athletes in America? They are college football players and college basketball players. Players that have no unions and have no real recourse to push back against the demands of these institutions.
S6: But you make an important point, which is that all of these doomsday stories and to their credit, Essi did mention this. They don’t really reckon with the fact that a lot of the financial ramifications here and the accounting is kind of fake because these programs are spending so much of their revenue on building locker rooms. We’ve talked about that a lot. And universities are not just their athletic departments. We don’t talk about how the sociology department needs to be revenue neutral like. I think there’s an argument to be made that the state of Florida should not be spending a lot of money bailing out like the USCF football program or something. But these are unprecedented times. And if the question is, should we be putting these athletes and students in danger? Or should we just like absorb a loss in revenue for a little while? It’s just not real that if we don’t have football, that necessarily means that we can’t have any women’s sports or any other sports. That’s not the way it works.
S19: That’s the big lie here. I mean, and even the good stories that I read in the last few days fall into this trap by saying that the Olympic sports, the non-revenue sports lose money for the university. They don’t lose money. Their expenditures in the same way that dorms are expenditures and food is an expenditure. And poor and academic programs are expenditures hence barred from today’s Rúnar schools. The framing is is completely off. And that’s part of that’s part of the problem in sort of assessing the economic calculation of what went in and what sports should return and not on on what basis. It would make more sense, frankly, to get rid of the hundred million dollars in revenue from football and just support other sports because they are something that universities want to spend money on.
S7: Yeah, we consider who the sources for most of these stories are their athletic administrators people, their working TV people that have like an incentive to paint that the the financial dynamics in that way. Right. Like they would never say, well, you know, instead of paying our athletic director five hundred thousand dollars a year, maybe we should pay them two hundred thousand or we could cut down some of the, you know, athletic staff and some way maybe we don’t need, you know, for five different, you know, analyst on our football staff. Right. Which costs a lot of money. They wouldn’t say that. They’ll just say, well, we’re not. We’ve got to figure out ways to keep the money rolling in. So I think there’s at but one one thing that I thought of in the middle of all of this, I was if there was ever a time for college athletes to unite and assert their workers rights. This is it, because you’ve seen that there are some coaches there are suggesting Dabo Swinney, Mike Gundy among them, that they would be willing to put these guys health at risk and put them out there. Right. I mean, they wouldn’t say it explicitly, but they’re hinting at it. And these athletes have an opportunity to say. We do have no incentive to do that. We’re the only people that don’t get paid in this equation. We’re the only people whose health would really be at risk in this situation. We’re not doing it. And I would love to see something like that, or at least people who start thinking about that in this direction, because, I mean, these guys, you know, they have no incentive to get out there. They have no reason to put their lives on the line. And the people that are supposed to be looking out for them and their welfare. And these guys that go into these players homes and tell the parents, I’m going to be looking out for your guy when I want to treat him like my son. They would not treat their son like this. And so I would love to see these players rally around this together and say, you know what? Hell, no, we’re not going to play until school’s back in session at least.
S18: I mean, that’s the thing they’re talking about having these guys play football before we even know if we can go back to school, which is gives up the whole game in the first place here.
S3: Ethan stresses first year on the Warriors beat was the year Steve Kerr, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Crew. Harrison Barnes won their first championship. He’s covered the team every year since. First for ESPN, now for the Athletic. His new book, The Victory Machine The Making and Unmaking of the Warriors Dynasty, is about what the subtitle says it’s about. Though there’s a bit more emphasis on the unmaking. The central figure is Kevin Durant, who came to the Warriors in 2016, helped push them to two more titles than decamped for Brooklyn last year after getting hurt and Golden State’s finals loss to Toronto of that injury in Game 5. Ethan writes This was the night of Kevin Durant’s redemption and also the consummation of his foundation bargain. For years, he’d wanted love and recognition from a fan base that wanted Steph to be the hero. On June 10th, twenty nineteen, Kevin Durant was finally their hero. It just so happened to cost him his Achilles tendon. Joining us now, fully tendancies Ethan Sherwood stress. Congrats on the book.
S20: Thank you so much. It’s a hell of a summary. And I also agree, I think there’s more focus on the unmaking because at least from a literary perspective, it seems that’s what draws us when it comes to the NBA and when it comes to the great teams. I mean, you see a lot of excitement for this. Jordan Bulls documentary, The Last Dance. You know, David Halberstam’s famous Breaks of the game is about the Portland Trailblazers after they were successful for whatever reason. And I can throw in Shaq and Kobe as well. That seems to it draws us when we look back. It’s the personalities. And why can’t stay together rather than the great basketball on the rise? Perhaps because that’s an easy to consume product and writing about. It’s like dancing about architecture or whatever metaphor.
S3: I’m in a start, way up in the clouds. You’re kind of already there. Yeah, you kind of. I’m there. I can join you there. And reading the book, it struck me that it’s not about who, what, when, where or even how, not even how even it’s about why. And it’s not about answering why. It’s about asking why and not knowing the answer in life. I think that’s our most common state is asking and not knowing. And and one of the big wise with the Warriors is about proper distribution of credit. Did they win because of Joe Lacob taking over from an owner who never won anything that they won because of staff did they went because Steve cur- brought something new to the team and later, did they win because of Durant or could they have won without him? These are all questions you kind of ponder in the book. So why is it worth asking these questions if it’s impossible to know the answers?
S20: I mean, that’s very existential, I think. I mean, that’s that’s almost Talmudic. Thank you. As far as what is the point, what is the point to when it comes to struggling with these answers and we don’t know them to me. I just like to think about things and be as honest as I can. I think it would be a much easier book to package if it was like some of these sports books of a certain category and not trying to slight them or insult them. But they have a perspective where this is why success happened. This is the blueprint for success. Take this to your board meeting. This is what you can apply at your company. We’ve seen a genre of that. Obviously, Moneyball is a great book beyond all of that, but that’s a lot of the appeal. It’s this, oh man, I can find market inefficiencies. That’s why Billy Beane won. He found a market inefficiency and he found players other people didn’t have. It turns out the truth is a lot more complicated there. And the reasons the A’s won don’t just write down to that. But it’s a better story to package of. You have one answer. Unfortunately, when I looked into the question of how the hell this all happened. I didn’t have one answer. There was a lot of luck involved. There was Steph Curry on this incredibly cheap contract winning two MVP is. And while Joli cub taking over the ownership from Cohan made a tremendous amount of difference. Even there, it was a little abstract as to what the difference is and what it means. And so, yeah, I wish that there were easy answers. I just didn’t find easy answers when I looked into it.
S21: I thought it was interesting even that you chose not to. And I think this buttresses what you’re saying. You chose not to structure this as a sort of conventional sports book. It’s not a chronological narrative written in some distant third person about how this great team came together and how it fell apart. It’s much more organic in in the writing. It’s much more essay istick and the writing and to the point of dumb luck. I mean, what I what I love about the way you do this is that you don’t shy away from these details. But the fact that, you know, the new warriors on her ship attempted to trade Steph Curry and Klay Thompson for Chris Paul in 2011, the fact that that Draymond Green was selected in the second round after they had taken two other players before him, the fact that Steve Kerr wasn’t necessarily the first choice to become the head coach of this team. I mean, a lot of it is total dumb luck, and the more we understand that total dumb luck with some residue of design to sort of quote Branch Rickey behind it is what makes teams successful or not is what really is at play here.
S20: Yeah. And it seems like the arrogance of light years or Joe Lacob with his chest puffed out. It is so strong that if you brought these details to them and to him, their attitude would be, yeah, well, we would have we would have been great even despite this road fork where we took the right path instead of the disastrous path. Yeah. You know, we’d gotten Chris Paul in that tray. We would have built a contender and a titan with Chris Paul at the helm of it. I do think that’s the perspective of it all. And maybe it’s important to have some of that organizational arrogance. But it is amazing when you look back on it how much there just wasn’t there wasn’t a plan in the way that you would think there was a plan. And a lot of it was happenstance and a lot of it was dumb luck. And I think we don’t like that as human beings. We like to ascribe some sort of plan to the whole thing. Injuries are like that, too, and teams have a bunch of injuries. Often that happens because they’re not doing a good job as far as training, as far as knowing when to rest, guys. But we don’t look at that as probabilistic. We say that it’s a freak injury. It’s freak. It’s out of nowhere. Who could have predicted it? We like to ascribe we often ascribe to luck, bad things and some of the good things we ascribe to skiller to vision. It’s some version of the success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan, I suppose.
S22: So the most common way that we connect players personalities to their on-court personas is with these simple narrative of obsessive ness leads to greatness or with Michael Jordan obsessiveness. Slash psychosis leads to greatness. And you saw that with Kobe Bryant as well with Kevin Durant, the kind of obsessive ness that you document and has been talking committed amply by others over the last few years.
S11: It’s a different kind of obsessiveness and one that doesn’t really seem to have a clear connection to why he’s great as a player. Do you think that’s fair?
S20: Not necessarily. I think that obsessiveness does have a connection. I think the insecurity that we see permeate much of his public life has something to do with why he worked so hard to get where he got. And that’s not the complete explanation. But there are elements to his biography, how peripatetic it was and how this is a source of comfort. This grounds him in a way. It’s a place where he has a lot of control. The basketball court. So I do think that there is something to his personality that’s that that has something to do with the greatness. But it also seems like we don’t like seeing all of it, that we like an idea superficially of a story of obsession and how it connects with greatness. We’ll laugh at Michael Jordan having cheated at cards, cheating an old lady at cards. And that’s part of why he’s so competitive. Oh, my God, Mike. But when we actually get a full dose of the Michael Jordan s of Michael Jordan, let’s say, at the Basketball Hall of Fame speech he gave. We get we pull back. We go, huh? That’s a little bit. Whoo! That’s a little too close. We didn’t want to see all of that. And it seems like Kevin Durant is very much that guy for this era. We where we have so much access to athletes and what they’re thinking that we see some of why he’s great personality wise, but it also makes a lot of people recoil or want to withhold the praise because the insecurity is so palpable.
S7: Ethan, obviously, as Kevin Durant is a central character here and your relationship with him is some a piece of this book in the conversation here. Can you talk a little bit about when it became apparent? Because there’s a there’s a guy that says Durant is a different dude. You know, all superstars of fucking crazy. But like Durant is a different dude. Like, when was that most apparent to you? And like your relationship with him, you’re like, oh, this guy’s not like dealing with all the other NBA stars I’ve dealt with.
S23: Oh, man. Well, I heard obviously that is a different dude going into it. I’d even talk to him a little bit about being a different dude, but I think it’s just how he. Okay. I think one moment was he was complaining about. He was complaining about what some random Twitter person was saying, Adam. And I don’t know who the random Twitter person was. He initially made it sound like it was somebody with some clout or with some following. But it turned out to be, I don’t know. Thunder Fan 6 1 9 2. Right. It was just some random.
S20: And Chris Heinz, reporter at Yahoo! Who says the caity were all in the locker room?
S24: Man, you’re sensitive and and durang goes, Yeah, I am sensitive. What’s wrong with that?
S25: And it was just something you don’t typically hear in the locker room. It was a very different dude thing to say and we didn’t have anything to say back to him. You know, in a way, it’s very that aspect is very healthy, that he knows that he has a certain emotional range and isn’t ashamed of it. But it’s not something you commonly see in the NBA.
S7: And it’s fair to say this stuff, better stuff really got under his skin, right? Yeah, it’s that stuff. Better stuff for people that don’t know. There is a contingent of Warriors fans. andI of saying was that they have talked about, you know, I think it started off, you know, as sort of mocking LeBron fans maybe. But then it seemed like it was weaponized in some ways. But some other people that were not Andy and Sam, that stuff was more central to the Warriors success than Cady’s. Is that a. Yeah. Yeah. Rendering of it. Yeah. So yeah. So that really got under his skin, correct?
S23: Yeah. Or he would just complain to media that we were trying to rile up Steph’s fans in opposition to him and he was acutely aware of one guy’s reputation versus the other guy’s reputation.
S26: And in a way that I don’t think Steph was and it bothered him.
S25: But you always wonder, you know, we can blame Andy Lieu of sales force, major Twitter fan on Major Warriors, Twitter fan for Kati’s exit. But you always wonder if you just would’ve been something, right? It would’ve been that or would’ve been something else. The bottom line is he was feeling a deep ennui, that whatever praise was coming his way. It seemed like the void was unfilmable and we almost might be asking the wrong questions. If we are blaming Andy Lue for or myself, maybe, I don’t know, fit for Kevin’s exit. I think the the reasons were a little bit deeper than that and maybe more particular to the era that we’re living in.
S27: Well, I think that was articulated really well. When you describe how Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA at the M.I.T. Sloan conference last year, talked about how it struck him that so many players are truly unhappy and appear so isolated to him and he might as well have been talking about Kevin Durant. I mean, you write very clearly about Durant’s insecurities, his sensitivity. You write at one point he wanted to be fatted and was highly sensitive to the praise or criticism his teammates received. He would knock down teammates publicly. And players sort of figured Durant out, right, that you needed to stroke his ego and apologize to him. And when you got into this very public fight with him, I guess him fighting with you over something that you wrote, you were pulled aside into into the players lounge, which is no go territory for reporters, typically on Andre Iguodala on a couple other people wanted you to go apologize because that’s what worked for them, because because they needed KDE to be great on the basketball court. And you didn’t apologize, obviously, because you didn’t need him to not be an asshole to you. That was just part of your job.
S23: Yeah. I think Andre, paraphrasing from my own book, said something to the effect of, you know, you’re married. I’m married. Sometimes you just gotta apologize to some shit that we didn’t even do. It’s the way of the world. You gotta go. You got to do that. But I think it was also a fundamental misunderstanding from the perspective of players, players.
S20: You know, they grow up and they’re often the star of their a utm. What have you. They are always in demand. People always need them. They have to become cynical at a very young age and know who the frauds are, trying to manipulate them and extract value from them. So they have this perspective of you need us, you need us. And Kevin Durant’s one of the greatest basketball players ever. So obviously you need him. And it doesn’t totally work like that, not for everybody. You know, Kevin was somebody where it was nice to have a good rapport with him. I enjoyed having it when I had it. He always had very interesting things to say about the league off record. But it wasn’t a situation I felt where I needed to placate him and get back in his good graces or whatever it is I do was ended. It just didn’t seem that way.
S26: But from the player perspective, obviously it’s that way. And that’s why I had Andre and DeMarcus Cousins saying I had to I had to make peace.
S22: One of the most interesting aspects of all this is the off court competitiveness between players, especially superstars, for the ardor of Madison Avenue or for the respect of fans. And you write about how one of the big affects when Durant goes to Golden State is that Steph isn’t the lone superstar and that hurts Under Armour. Because Steph isn’t, you know, scoring as much, he’s not the finals MVP. And then you have Durant as a Nike athlete. But he’ll never be LeBron for Nike or for fans no matter what he does. How much do you think for Durant? All of that stuff was weighing on him versus anything that had to do with on-court. Just this idea of trying to be marketable. Trying to be loved as somebody who was not just a basketball player.
S25: I mean, I think it’s huge. And if you’re competitive, as these guys are and you have the kind of career where you’re right there. I mean, if you remember, Kevin Durant was saying years ago, I’m tired of being second. That gap between first and second is massive. It’s massive. You know, you’re either the face of the league or you aren’t. Obviously, there’s a strategy of maybe five guys who are marketable and are famous and could conceivably be household names. But if you’re the face of the league, it means you’re probably the face of Nike, which means you’re probably one of the, I don’t know, three most famous sports athletes that’s redundant. But the three most famous athletes in the world and in turn are up for a second, as you.
S11: Right. Durant destroyed LeBron in that first finals was clearly better. And then after that, he still wasn’t more popular than LeBron. He still wasn’t the most popular player on his team. He still wasn’t the number one guy at Nike. And that must have been devastating is the right word. But it’s like you’ve got to feel some way about that.
S26: Yeah, it’s some it’s understandable. I guess you can see it from his perspective because. Yeah, he’s doing the LeBron playbook. OK. LeBron gets his super team together. Everybody’s angry at him down in Miami. You know, we’d never seen a team like that with Wade and Bosh and LeBron.
S25: But then they win the championship at Kevin Durant’s expense in a finals where Kevin Durant plays brilliantly. And nobody cares that Kevin Durant played brilliantly in that finals. It’s just they lost five in five games to LeBron in the Heat and all hail the king. LeBron, the best player. He’s redeemed himself. That was the arc that Kevin Durant witnessed. And so I think he figured, OK, well, I get my super team together. We win the championship in dominant fashion. I win finals MVP. Obviously, now I’m the top guy and LeBron isn’t. And it just didn’t work that way. The rules didn’t work that way. I think we understand why. I think that there’s a slight difference between joining a team that’s won 73 games and, you know, just putting together your own super team. But those differences seemed, you know, relatively minor probably to him. And it didn’t make a lot of sense. And frankly, I think the reason for why we reacted that way has something to do with how badly we know he needs it. I think that’s part of this whole this whole thing where we’re just less likely to confer praise and adulation on somebody who seems so deeply in need of it.
S7: I have a kind of a question here to talk about basketball for a second, because I heard on your podcast, Ethan, that Myles Brown said something along the lines that the Warriors are under appreciated dynasty along the lines of the bad boy Pistons. And you didn’t really follow. I didn’t hear you follow up on it. And I just kind of curious to know if you agreed with that, because it seems like there was. I don’t know that the Warriors won, but it just they they never got full credit for that run throughout the league.
S26: Yeah, I probably left that one linger for miles because it’s an interesting idea just because I don’t know if I would compare the two. These have such different identities with the bad boy pistons. They had this identity and this cultural resonance, but they weren’t thought of as dominant in that way are hyper talented.
S20: So it felt a little apples to oranges. And there’s also this aspect of I don’t know what history will regard the Warriors as we’re still a little close to it.
S25: And maybe in the future we’ll go, oh my God, that 2017 team was the greatest team of all time. Right. It just seems in the immediate aftermath, we’re not as appreciative. And that might have more to do with the era that we’re in than anything else. And I keep hammering home the zakk guys in the technology, but it does seem as though we are in an era currently where we would rather laugh and jeer at somebody for screwing up than we would want to praise and hold up somebody for greatness. We want to watch the guy slip and fall. I mean, you look at what was the trope out of the 2016 finals. You know, from one perspective, the Cavs and LeBron make this incredible comeback from down 3 1 and Kyrie Irving hits maybe the biggest shot of all time and they win a championship for Cleveland for the first time in four decades. And what are we talking about? The aftermath of that? It’s at the Warriors blew a 3 1 lead 3 1 3 1. Let’s make fun of the Warriors. That seems to be the era that we’re in. I don’t know if we’re more cynical. I don’t know. We just have too much capacity to communicate with each other on Twitter or what have you. But it just seems as though we celebrated success a little more innocently in the not too distant past as opposed to right now.
S28: The book is The Victory. In the making and Unmaking of the Warriors dynasty, truly interesting, smart few like Ethan stress you like the book. If you don’t like Ethan Strauss, you also might like the book. It’s possible. Congrats, Ethan. Thanks for coming on. Thanks for having me.
S29: In 1965, Bill Russell did an as told to confessional with Sports Illustrated titled The Psych and My Other Tricks. It starts with Russell saying he isn’t going to look up the definition of psychology in the dictionary. I mean, dictionaries are nice and all that. But did old Daniel Webster ever have to stand there at the top of the key and define five sweating monsters rushing down at him?
S30: I nearly stopped reading there because Noah Webster is the dictionary guy. Daniel Webster was the congressman and secretary of state under Presidents Harrison, Tyler and Fillmore, and they were not related.
S16: But I persevered and I’m glad to have done so and glad that we’ve made this the first election in the hang up and listen. Quarantine Magazine Club. It was suggested to us on Twitter by former S.I. writer Chris Ballard, who was let go in the recent purges by the vultures who now own the magazine. Chris told me he read it a few years ago while combing through the Sports Illustrated archives. The candor of the confidence slash shit talking. The depth of psychological ploys. Chris said, I knew about Russell, but I didn’t know this side of him and found it fascinating. It’s like a mix of Tim Duncan savvy and Kevin Garnett crazy. Chris said he had wanted to recreate the piece with Draymond Green, but alas, that never happened. Josh, we should probably start with some context when this was published at the start of the 1965 66 season and Russell is 31 years old. He’s entering his 10th year in the league. The Celltex have won seven straight titles. He’s so good and so established and so confident that he must have thought, fuck it. I can tell the league my secrets and it won’t matter anyway. There’s nothing they can do to stop me.
S31: Yeah, this is interesting to read in the context of Ethan’s stresses book because the Warriors are a dynasty that fell apart.
S32: The Celltex are a dynasty that stayed together. It was a very, very eight times very different league. Fewer teams on the Celltex had a huge amount of star power and cohesiveness. There were not issues to deal with as far as, you know, salaries and salary cap ramifications. It was easier to have a dynasty than but it was not easy to have a dynasty.
S33: And a thing that you mentioned, Stefan, is a thing that stood out to me as that Russell called out his contemporaries and his rivals by name. He spoke about specific strategies that he employed against Nate Thurmon. I like, you know, Google new term. And it’s like, OK, yeah. Thurmond was still playing at this time when, you know, Russell was talking about the ways that the Celltex defended him. That to me was striking, Joel. And I don’t know if that was particular to Russell or if it was just more of a commentary on the league at the time, because these are tidbits that you’re only going to get. You know, in a book like Ethan’s, it’s random when something is over or years later.
S7: Yeah. I think for the most part that Bill Russell, what he told us was generally a lot of nonsense in terms of like actually psyching out players because so if Bill Russell is going up to a guy who’s not even getting the ball, how is that psyching him out? And if Wilt Chamberlain ignores it and says that’s not gonna work on me. Oh, man, it just goes to work. How effective is it? What we’re hearing Bill Russell basically tell tell people is not him psyching out people. He’s telling people how great he is, he says. I can make people go do things that they don’t want to do. Of course you can. You’re Bill Russell. Do you need to psych out Johnny cur-, you know? You know, generic NBA forward in the 60s. But the thing that I thought about, because generally this sort of stuff, I’m psyching out players doing mental tricks on people, you know, trying to get in their head. Like usually you hear a great player say that and they’re doing it and they’re overlooking the fact that they’re great and they’re able to impose their will on games no matter what they say or no matter what they, you know, whatever sort of middle games they’re playing. But this is what I thought about in the context of this era, like when it was even law that in many places black people were not regarded as equals. Russell is asserting that he had some sort of mental advantage over his opponents, like a much wider NBA then than it is today. So I get why he was doing it. You saying, you know what? I’m not just an athletic beast. I’m a dude that uses my mind when I’m out there. And so in that context, it makes more sense.
S30: It also is fascinating in the context of fans aren’t really aware of trash talking in 1965. And Russell is giving what for the time had to be some really remarkable and candid insight in to the way athletes played and what they went through. You know, 1965, George Plimpton done a few inside books where he tried to become a player on some teams to get inside locker rooms and expose what the game was really like. But the notion of this sort of confessional by a superstar that includes. Things like really denigrating your opposition. That’s to be pretty striking at the time. I mean, the only players in this piece that Russell praises are Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor. We’re like three of the greatest players in the history of basketball. Everyone else to him was a nobody. And it does very directly go back to what you just said, Joel. There’s there was a profile written of Russell in Sports Illustrated in 1963, two years earlier by Gilbert Rogan that I’m going to talk about in my after ball. And that really lays the foundation for Russell asserting his power as a black man in American sports in the early 1960s that he is unafraid and will take no bullshit from anybody.
S33: A really important piece of context here is about the journalistic world that this was operating in. And I think we need to note, since we’re talking about an old school Sports Illustrated piece, that MAVEN, the company that’s running Sports Illustrated now, has destroyed a great journalistic institution and they deserve to be shamed and called out. And what they’re doing is awful. You mentioned Chris Ballard. You know, Grant, while also getting like we could go on and on and maybe we will in the future segment about what’s going on at ESSI. But the context here in the mid-sixties is this was a time when magazine writers, a guy from Sports Illustrated, Bob Autum, did this as told to like it was a big deal to get written about by Sports Illustrated and to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated to power dynamic is totally different. If this existed now, it would be in the Players Tribune. Russell was at the top of the game. He had led the Celltex to all these titles in a row. And it wasn’t just that he was doing this because he was in a particular place in his career. And Joel’s really great point about what this meant for him to be doing this. Those were all factors. But it was also you know, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It was like that NBA preview issue, like Adam had done a similar thing with Wilt, like a few months earlier. Like Essi could get the players of that day, the greatest players of that day to reveal this stuff because they wanted to be in Sports Illustrated.
S30: And as I also realized, Joel, that what was happening with black athletes was important and should be written about from the perspective of a black athlete like Bill Russell. Even in this piece, it’s sort of hinted at in the as told to Russell tells us anecdote about his high school coach, telling his all black team to not get baited into fighting. If you get mad and start a fight, it isn’t just a fight, it’s a riot and you’ll be the ones who are blamed. Russell also has the freedom to attack John Wooden, not by name, but he goes after John Wooden. This is in the mid 1960s when UCLA was basically not losing basketball games. And that is a fantastic anecdote that he, you know, Russell just basically unmasks wooden and the sort of old culture of a for a Terrian leadership. He tells the story about how they’re at this holiday tournament at Madison Square Garden in 1955. And the UCLA team walks into the cafeteria. And under Wooden’s rules, they’re not allowed to talk during a meal. And Russell, San Francisco team walks in and they’re having a great time in their talk and like it’s a big birthday party, Russell writes. And then Russell says the game that followed wasn’t much. The meal was one of America’s great moments in sports, asserting that power over this icon of the game was really a tremendous thing. I thought, yeah.
S7: And I think history sort of flattened these three dimensional people over time into a caricature, because now you look at Bill Russell and he’s the statesman of the game very, you know, quiet, humble champion from another era. And if you look back at not only what he was saying, but there is an editor’s note in a later issue of Sports Illustrated about this, where the writer talks about, I had no idea if I was going to be able to get Bill Russell because maybe he’s work. You know, he’s working at one of his restaurants. Maybe he’s tending to his house. He talks about him in the way that you would think of an NBA superstar, which is something that like would not have occurred to me in 1965, that Bill Russell was this very famous person who would not necessarily, you know, there was that there were other things going on besides him just being a champion, that he that he was considered sort of out sort of the norm, that there wasn’t this, you know, John wooden desk approach to the game, that Bill Russell had his own approach. That was a little bit different, we wouldn’t know that today. You know, that’s not something that we have to read a story like this. To know that about him. And I just I even like hearing Bill Russell say that, you know, I mean, like his. Oh, I didn’t know Bill Russell talked like that. I do knew that Bill Russell said that.
S34: I wanted to get back to what you said, Joel, about a lot of the specifics in here about how he psychs out players maybe being in the realm of meth or self-mythologizing. There’s one particular moment in here that I thought was just a really great anecdote. He says, The year before I came into the NBA, Neil Johnston was third in the league in scoring. And I was worried about him from the start. I wasn’t worried about his shooting. Neil had a low trajectory, soft little hook, and I figured I could block nine out of 10 of them. But this created a new problem for me. If I did block them, Neil would surely change his style against me and come up with something I probably couldn’t handle as easily. So I took the psychological route. I would let him alone just enough to keep him puzzled. BLOCK just enough so that he wouldn’t get riled and try something new. I would keep a little mental box score and make sure the score came out in our favor or try anyway. That’s a great story. Joel, I’m curious if you think that it’s true, but what it reminded me of. And I asked Ben Lindbergh about this is this idea of baseball players setting up pitchers. It’s something that Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays did. Ben told me are were reputed to do. And the idea is you look really bad on a pitch on purpose to get the pitcher to, like, groove you at breaking ball like you just put it you cyc the guy out or deek by pretending that you’re worse at a skill than you really are. And Ben was saying, I don’t know if this is actually true or if it actually makes sense, but it’s something that’s talked about. And so I’m curious again. Do you think that this is true, what Russell is talking about with Neil Johnston? And also just as fans, I think we just like it makes these athletes seem even more extraordinary than we know that they are.
S7: Yeah, I mean, I guess it’s plausible. But then you have to think about Neil Johnston as a person who was good enough to be the third leading scorer in the NBA, that maybe he didn’t approach the game, that maybe maybe he thought that he was doing something against Bill Russell might work. But Bill Russell was just so much better than him that it didn’t make a difference. You know, I mean, I remember watching vividly a video of Ed Reed saying that he played this one particular route all year long against Pete. This is one particular route, one way. So that when Peyton Manning looked at it on tape, he would think Ed Reed played it like this. And in the one game that he played against Peyton Manning, he played this route differently and gets an interception. And I was just like, yeah, man, a great player probably can do something like that because they’re great. I don’t know if it’s merely that they’ve set they’re setting people up through faking them out. It is more just a testament to their greatness overall. They can make plays that you wouldn’t think that they would be able to make because they’re great, not because they’re psyching. Got another great player. But I don’t know. I don’t doubt Bill Russell did it. I don’t know that it happened in quite the way that he says it did. Does that make sense?
S35: I don’t know that of all the anecdotes in this piece that felt really plausible to me that Russell was so much better and we really can’t state enough how much better Russell was than everybody, almost everybody in the league at that time. He was a transcendental player defensively. I mean, he never averaged more than, I think, 18 or 19 points a game. And they didn’t record blocks as a statistic yet. It would be another decade or so before blocks were a stat. I think it was like mid 70s.
S14: Maybe Russell told stat keepers not to record blocks. Just showed Neil Johnston, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t you know how many shots he was blocking?
S35: But with a player like Russell, they do have the ability to decide when and where to do certain things. Where another player would be. I blocked a shot. Oh, my God. Russell could pick and choose. And the paragraph before the Neil Johnston paragraph. Josh, you said he’s got his own little game called BLOCK that shot. I can block only from eight to 10 percent of the shots taken against me, even if I’m lucky. The secret is knowing which 8 or 10 percent I’m gonna go after.
S29: To have that, you know, I think that just emphasized how Russell’s ability was so great that while all this chaos was happening on the court around him, he was the athlete with such supreme self-confidence to understand his athletic abilities to the point that he could make these decisions on what to do and what not to do in order to help his performance down the road and help the team’s performance.
S31: So one thing that we know that Russell wasn’t being honest about is saying that he didn’t want to be a coach, which he says very clearly and directly, what do I have to gain from being a coach? I’ve got everything to lose. He became the player coach of the Celltex in 66. The next year, after this was written, the Celltex dynasty got broken. They lost that year to the Sixers in the Eastern Conference finals. Then they won two more championships with Russell as player coach than. He retired. Joel, it’s obviously hugely important that this is part of Russell’s story, that he became the coach and that he was able I think you can see from this piece that he has a lot to teach his fellow players and his teammates, and it’s completely unsurprising that he was able to be successful as a coach.
S7: We psyched us out. He said he did want to be a coach and ended up becoming a coach. Yeah. So, yeah, I mean, absolutely. And he had that’s the thing was that he obviously he was in possession of a great basketball mind and that he could do things on the court or think things ahead ahead of his peers. And, you know, maybe we maybe he didn’t get enough credit for that. But I would say that it is sort of the template for the ball, the great boss of athletes that came after this idea that they have like this mental disability that, you know, played chess pieces in their head ahead of the game. I don’t know. Like, I didn’t know that that started with Bill Russell. But the obnoxiousness of the great Boston sports athlete comes through. And here he’s just like, well, I can just move these chess pieces around. I can make people do what he said something in the piece that he’d like, make somebody do something that they don’t want to do. Yeah, well. Oh, no shit. Okay. Well. I would love it. I would have loved to have done that in sports. But it’s just not that simple.
S31: Stefan, we should have folks email us at Hang-Up at Slate.com if they have thoughts themselves after reading the piece. And also we’re not going to give another assignment just yet because we don’t have one. But just would like you’re from folks. Would they enjoy this if they’d like us to do other magazine reading segments in the quarantine? But I think this was great. I really enjoyed looking back on this, reading about Russell specifically, but also just like kind of being transported to another time and place, guys.
S9: He said, no, pussycat, please.
S14: But the language just marinating in the language here.
S21: The piece is titled The Psych and My Other Tricks. It was written by Bill Russell as told to Bob Autumn of Sports Illustrated in 1965. We’ll post a link on the show page if you have other suggestions for magazine stories that we might want to read. We’re collecting them. You can e-mail us at hang up at Slate dot com or find Joshes Twitter thread with other suggestions.
S5: Now it is time for after balls and that, as told to with Bill Russell was done by Bob Arum.
S31: And I think we should make more of a point of the fact that this was a piece that was written and constructed by a sportswriter that, you know, this was as pieces of the players Tribune are even now, they’re different. Those are written by someone as as well. And Adam was a very good and well-respected sportswriter. A major reason why this story is reads as well and is as good as it is, is because of the style that it’s written in, in the way that that narrative is laid out. And Adam deserves obviously credit for that.
S36: He died of cancer at age 61 in nineteen eighty six. In addition to being a sports writer, he wrote science fiction books. He wrote a novel called. All Right, Everybody Off the Planet, which was about aliens sending a spy to Earth. He wrote a book that was adapted into the comedy Stroker Ace, starring Burt Reynolds.
S31: Anybody who writes a book that gets adapted into a Burt Reynolds movie obviously doing something right. Stefan, what is your Bob item?
S16: In our conversation about the site? I mentioned 1963 Sports Illustrated profile of Russell. And it’s a classic in its own right. Two, it was titled We Are Grown Men Playing a Child’s Game. It is an artful portrait of Russell as a black athlete with bigger things on his mind than another ring, namely his role in America. Here’s the lead. Bill Russell, The Dark Gainsley and Responsible Man who is center and co-captain of the Boston Celtics, the perennial champions of the National Basketball Association, is without question one of the most remarkable athletes of our time. Yet he regards his life up to now as a waste. I don’t consider anything I have done, he has said, as contributing to society.
S37: I consider playing professional basketball as marking time, the most shallow thing in the world.
S16: The writer of this piece was Gilbert Rogan, who was 33 and had just had his first piece of short fiction published in The New Yorker, which he would do on the side for years, while also rising to become managing editor of Outside the Russell Profile was mentioned in Rogan’s obituary in The New York Times in twenty seventeen. And it really does feel exceptional for its time.
S29: The date on the magazine is November 18, 1963, four days before JFK was assassinated. But more to the point, it was less than three months after MLK as I Have a Dream speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
S37: And six months after Bull Connor turned fire hoses on non-violent marchers in Birmingham, Alabama.
S29: Rogan’s story is a hallmark of the wide angled sportswriting, intellect and progressivism for which Sports Illustrated came to be known in the 1960s.
S38: Being black was still the most identifiable detail about Russell Dark gamely and responsible in that order. But Rogan accepts with respect and without judgment, Russell as a thoughtful iconoclast. After the lead, Rogen notes that Russell is not sullying basketball in any meaningful sense, but rather that the imposition of being a Negro at this moment in history is an obligation that cannot be met on the floor of the Boston Garden, where and how he can fulfill it. Russell does not yet know. Rogan describes Russell as at intervals, an angry, dissatisfied and aloof man of uncommon principle and is no less remarkable as a person than he is as an athlete. The quotes from Russell are expansive and what emerges? I don’t know if it was for the first time is Russell, then 29, as a man who had suffered no fools, angry for a damn good reason. Rogan gives Russell the space to be himself. It is not easy for a white man to understand or totally accept the vision of a black man. Skin is the hardest boundary, Rogan writes. The point is this Bill Russell or any other black man like him does not want the white man’s sympathy or indeed his friendship. What he wants is recognition and acceptance of himself as an individual, a black individual who can meet the world on equal terms and fair unequally according to his merit. One right. We never had in this country, Russell says in the piece. We never had the right to be a failure or an individual. Why, if one black man fails, should all black men fail? That’s what the struggle is about. Whether it’s through love, as with Martin Luther King or through pride as with the NAACP or through hate. As with Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. Russell and this is 1963, remember? Had no fucks to give. I would have loved to go to Birmingham, he says in the piece. But I’m not passive. Sometimes I think I have tendencies to violence. I’ve been mad enough to fight three times in my life and each time I wanted to kill the man. You know, the athletes I admire. Williams, Jackie Robinson and Sonny Liston. Those are honest people in the sense of representing themselves, some Negro athletes don’t show me much. I’m disappointed in them. They are politicians in the sense of saying the right things all the time. It’s interesting that Russell doesn’t name just black athletes. He names ones who tolerated no bullshit, but like Robinson and Muhammad Ali. Russell understood that he was obligated to be clear about race. He wouldn’t have had the ability to say as much as he did if he weren’t as good as he was. But he said more than a lot of stars who followed him in comparatively more accepting times. There’s a paragraph in the story that I really loved. Rogan asks Russell about his scraggly beard, which was actually a goatee, and how it was a telling indication of the man because few professional athletes had facial hair. Russell says that maybe it’s just my own little revolution. He talks about how he shaved it off when he joined the Celltex to conform, but because he chose to. If I had valued their opinion, I would have asked them, he says of the team. I wear it now to let people know I am an individual. I do think for myself, and I’m very opinionated. Contrary to popular belief, I’m a living, thinking, breathing human being.
S7: It’s interesting because a decade later, you know, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lew Alcindor, current Kareem Abdul-Jabbar comes out later. He always has sort of taken up the mantle of the activist basketball player. And as wonder, I never I don’t know if anybody’s ever asked him about this or he’s ever discussed it about how much of a role Bill Russell played in formulating sort of his, you know, his public persona and how he handled issues of racism and being a black man in a professional athlete in America. Man, that would have been great. I don’t know. I don’t even think I’ve ever seen them talk like, you know, in the same screen, the same space that that piece brought all that up. It made me think of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for whatever reason. It was great.
S30: It also made me realize that it was really like Jim Brown and Kareem a little later, who got a lot of the credit for being these outspoken athletes at the front of the civil rights movement, at the front of politics in the mid to late 60s. And Russell here in 1963 is saying all this stuff is fascinating to me.
S7: Absolutely. This makes me want to read this. Bill Russell, have a biography and autobiography, because there is I want to read it now.
S37: Josh, what’s your Bob Autumn?
S39: So at a slate’s virtual happy hour a little while ago, our colleague Dan Quest’s introduced a game to all of us, which is that you guess a celebrity based on 10 clues. The clues start out hard and they get easier. There’s no Googling, obviously, and you only get one guess. If you guess wrong, you lose. It’s a fun game to do if you’re on one of these many interminable zoo meetings that have all been thrust into our lives now. And it’s fun to do with a lot of people, but we’re gonna do it on a podcast and see how it goes. To give credit here, Dan told me that he got the idea for this from a guy named Bill McManaman who does a trivia fundraiser. The Dan goes with a Catholic church in D.C. and Bill McManaman is also doing free online trivia through the pandemic on Facebook Leive. So if you want to check that out, it’s called NCM Entertainment’s Family Trivia Night will link to it in our show notes. And so here’s what we’re going to do. Joel and Stefan, when you know the answer on Slack, just send me a direct message. Don’t put it in our shared channel because we don’t want Stefan to know Joel’s answer and vice versa. But just as soon as you know it and you want to lock in your answer to send me a direct message. And for all of you folks out there, email me. First name Dot, last name at Slate.com. You know my name. Well, your answers are. And when you figured out what the answers were on what. What clue you got it on.
S36: And I’ll send a couple folks who send in an email, a paperback copy of the Queen autographed.
S39: So don’t email in your answers. If you don’t want a book, I don’t want to hear from you.
S12: I want something else because, Ari, I have both a hard copy and paperback version of your book, so I’m gonna need something else. All right.
S34: All right. We’ll talk. We’ll talk off-line. I’ll be. Send me an email with your with your answers and we’ll do something. All right. Joel, Stefan, you guys ready?
S41: Clue number one, and I’m going to do two of this. Clue number one. He was born in Newark, New Jersey. Clue number two, he is on the board of directors of Papa John’s. Number three, in real life, he earned a doctorate from Berry University in his first major film role, he played a character who got a 5/20 on the S.A.T.’s after spelling his own name incorrectly. We have a correct answer from Dhol Anderson. Number four, in the video game featuring his likeness, his character goes to another dimension to rescue a boy from an evil mummy. The magazine Nintendo Power ranked it the third worst game of all time. Clue number five. He once helped out his favorite rap group by reciting a classic Bugs Bunny line. The song that featured that sample made the top 40.
S42: We have a an incorrect answer lockdown from Stefan FATSIS. So Stefan Lizza’s, I’m going to give you the rest of the clears and we can’t reveal the correct answer because we want people out an audience to know it. But all you. It might help you to know that Joel Godet and Stefan Dinette number six, he told Larry David that his favorite Seinfeld episode is the contest number seven.
S41: When his future college coach met him for the first time, that coach asked, what rank are you, soldier? He responded, No rank. I’m 13 years old. Number eight, the year he was born, nineteen seventy two. His first name appeared in zero stories in major newspapers thanks to his popularity in the early nineties. That name would become one of the 200 most popular for American boys. Number nine, he dunked so hard that he broke the entire backboard apparatus in two separate NBA games in the same season. Stefan got it by this point. And number ten, the last clue in his speech at Kobe Bryant’s memorial, he said even when folks thought we were on bad terms, when the cameras were turned off, he and I would throw a wink at each other and say, let’s go whip some ass. All right. That’s your first celeb, Stefan. It’s a brand new ballgame here. We’re going to do a second one.
S6: I’m coming back. Time for a comeback. All right, you guys ready? New.
S43: Number one, a sports columnist once described him as a source of perpetual wonderment. Much like a force of nature, so extraordinary. We stand and even as we say, there is no way that could happen. He then compared this person to two other inexplicable phenomena a rainbow and Dolly Parton, a rainbow and Dolly Parton. Number two, Martina Navratilova played a major role in the most important moment of this person’s sports career.
S44: Number three, in college, he ran a 4, 3, 40 yard dash, a 4, 3, 40 yard dash.
S21: Number four, faster than Joel.
S45: It isn’t. This is a rate of 4 4 9. This is not Joel Anderson. That’s the one that’s about the ones on the board. Martina Navratilova, number four in an Ebony magazine profile. He said that he listened to rap music before games because it gets the adrenaline flowing, but that he actually preferred mellow music, jazz like Grover Washington’s and Ronnie Laws’s.
S43: And I listened to Peabo Bryson a lot. Peabo Bryson. I forgot to just selectively repeat random stuff from my first round of Qu’est Peabo Bryson. All right. Clue number five. He got his nickname because he was a bald baby.
S40: Balde clue number six.
S42: We have no guesses, and from either Jola Stefan, clue number six, the first national newspaper story written about him said he’d grown five inches since last basketball season and it’s made him into a star. Clue number 7 averaged a career high, 16 points per game in the nineteen ninety one nineteen ninety two NBA season with the Sacramento Kings.
S45: Clue number eight. Still no guesses. His sophomore year in college. We have an incorrect gas from Stefan over to from Stefan today. Number 8 1 4, 3. His sophomore year in college, he had approximately 40 dunks and two gold 10s.
S43: His coach said, I’ve already told one of the Globetrotters about him.
S46: Clue number nine. Stefan got it. After getting it wrong the first time.
S42: So this doesn’t kind of unofficial tell made that first. Yes. Unofficial. I’m regretting that first. Clue number nine. Since he played in the NBA, there have been only two guys in the league shorter than him.
S40: I’m giving Dole a second because he’s typing wrong answer from Joel.
S45: Our final clue, number 10. He beat his teammate Dominique Wilkins in the 1986 slam dunk contest. Some people some people believe ours for you. Some people believe that Dominique was robbed, but he really wasn’t.
S43: All right. Those are our pick 10s.
S42: I don’t know. Dan, Dan Kois told me there’s no name for this. How do you guys like this format?
S18: Like it, man. I can’t believe well, I can’t talk about it. I’m very frustrated.
S42: Well, we’ll talk about this. We’ll talk about us off the air, but maybe we’ll do other ones in the future. Maybe we can. Solus at some from listeners.
S39: Maybe we can get one from from jail or from from Stefan.
S42: And yeah, there it is. I will. I will say it’s really fun to do in a live setting with a bunch of people on his end.
S47: It’s a it’s a good game. I endorse it. That is our show for today. Our producer is Melissa Kaplan. Listen to pashas and subscribe or just reach out to Slate.com, slash Hang-Up. You can e-mail us at Hang-Up at slate.com. You’re still here. You perhaps want even more. Hang up and listen. And our bonus segment this week, we talked with Ethan Strauss about his book, The Victory Machine.
S48: I think the spotlight shined pretty bright to the point of being painful for staff and having been around it just as, I don’t know, some sort of satellite in his world. It was a lot to hear that conversation.
S47: Slate Plus, it’s just $35 for the first year. You can sign up at Slate.com slushing a plus for Joel Anderson and Stefan FATSIS. I’m Josh Levine. Remembers Olmo Baity.
S40: And thanks for listening.
S28: Now it is time for the bonus segment for Slate Plus members. Back with us to talk more about his book, The Victory Machine. It is Ethan Strauss. Welcome back, Ethan. Thanks for having me back. All right. For the members, I’m going to reveal my favorite moment. And the book was Katie talking to a television in the locker room, saying that more spade should not be referred to as mo buckets because he never averaged 20 points in a season. Loved just to see him, Murray Speights make an appearance because I find him delightful. But no moment in the book was perhaps more real repertory of of Duran’s Palinesque, because it’s not just directed like you can see kind of even if you don’t agree with it, you can see just being an asshole back to someone who’s an asshole to you on Twitter. It’s like, fuck them. Like, what do they deserve from you to say that about Marie Spates? Come on, man. That’s murry’s.
S49: Well, it’s revealing in that he also is convinced that Marie Spates is getting a level of credit and love that he has been was withheld from him, which I mean, I don’t think anybody as much as we enjoy most Spates Elda, anybody would ever see it that way. So, yeah, you know what a cult hero is, Katie? I mean, he was there was just something to the charisma of Spates and the way he would beam such a wonderful smile whenever he was on one of those runs that I mean, come on, it melts hearts.
S25: You can’t can’t fault a guy for having that kind of on-court charisma. And by the way, the Warriors probably win the championship in that game seven if he gets those minutes over Festus Zeoli. You can’t fault the fans for loving most spates.
S7: I actually have a question about because we haven’t talked to a person that’s missing in this conversation that we’ve had so far, Steph. And there’s a portion of the book where we say that it was mentioned that Steph took a sacrifice and status when Durant came and the Warriors executive says, did you ever consider maybe he wanted that? Can you elaborate a little bit on that? A little bit, because that’s a really fascinating moment there.
S26: I think the spotlight shined pretty bright to the point of being painful for staff and having been around it just as, I don’t know, some sort of satellite in his world. It was a lot just the amount of energy constantly around him, the people trying to rush up to get autographs. John, literally, literally, when we were at UCSD jumping out of the bushes, it was I think it was just a little bit. It was a little bit much. It was something that he had worked his entire life to attain. But once he had it and had a level of celebrity that is uncommon in the NBA, I don’t think it was the most comfortable of situations. And unlike with some of these guys, I don’t think it was ever expected. I don’t think Steph ever thought that I would be the guy like that. He always thought he would be an NBA star, but I don’t think he thought he would have it like that. So I think there was an appeal to taking the edge off. And I think there are tradeoffs to their tradeoffs. Part of him probably loved that ego wise, but he didn’t love all that came with it.
S25: And so there is an appeal to having it maybe at a 30 percent reduction. His business partners did not feel that way.
S26: However, Under Armour, I mean, they have other issues systematically as a as a company. But it seems like Steph making that choice really killed them. I mean, there’s a before and after for that company that has to do with Steph accepting Katie under the Golden State Warriors.
S50: But two or two years later, three years later, if you were to get Steph to talk candidly about that decision now, do you think he would still say, you know what, their outcome, take some of the pressure off me? Or do you think that the last year of this had too much of a negative impact not only on his business relationship, but on the way this unfolded and declined?
S26: Steph is a very positive attitude kind of guy. I don’t think he would express regret on it. And I talked to I talked to his family after the last one.
S20: Dell and Sidell and all of them were hanging out outside the locker room.
S26: And their perspective is he just wants to rack up rings. Just he just wants to rack up rings. And maybe he’s not thinking about it that much at the moment. But history will eventually validate that. And he will be have been a part of winning. And that ultimately will be the legacy. And all the other stuff is all the other stuff now. I mean, nobody’s completely that way. There’s got to be an element of ego there. But I do think he tries to foreground that aspect. And in so far as he feels, these other maybe more selfish impulses suppress that, because there is this broader perspective that this is this is all good for everybody. And I think Klay Thompson also has a similar perspective on it.
S50: But doesn’t it feel a little bit like with Durant? It became it broke up something that felt so natural and something that fans particularly loved because of the natural way that it came together. And then it stopped being about, wow, look at this innovative team that Steve Curr and other coaches have helped to to turn into something different and revolutionary. And it became this this the soap opera about Kevin Brown.
S24: It did it did it, didn’t it?
S26: But the thing is, it didn’t initially become that the first season was a good season and a happy season. It eventually turned into something more sour. But I do think their perspective, because they don’t want to feel badly about a decision they made, is going to be that flags fly forever, banners hanging forever, whatever the phrase is.
S20: And so it was ultimately worth it. And that team would have had something to work out for itself. Had it come back in the way that it was, there would’ve been recriminations. You know, how did they feel about Harrison Barnes after the complete flameout in that finals?
S26: They would have had other issues to deal with and they would have had to beat Kevin Durant at whatever team he was at. So they might have had substantially less success. They might deserve the status of having just a bad boys type arc, but maybe with one fewer championship. So I think that they don’t regret it. They have the perspective to not regret it. But my God, were they ready for it to end what it ended?
S51: I have a comment and then a question. One of my other favorite tidbits here was the candor with which David Griffin, now with the Pelicans fan with the Cavs, admitted to being emotionally devastated by Durant signing with the Warriors a concession of defeat. They essentially conceded that they couldn’t beat these warriors, which I found remarkable coming off them, just beating the warriors there.
S28: All right. Well, we lost we lost this one there. Know they’re better than us now. There’s nothing we can do about it. I found that totally fascinating.
S51: My question was around the fans, because one thing that you write in the book, which feels it has a different valence now because of the pandemic, is that you write that even the fans are often thanked the public team events and retirement ceremonies. Their existence is mostly just tolerated at this point. The paying customers are just so rarely part of conversations within the league, away from the microphones. That’s certainly not true. Now fans are at the center of conversations within the league. When you heard LeBron, for instance, talk about I wouldn’t play without fans there. Did you did that strike you as as genuine? And we didn’t know what we had until it was gone. Or did you feel like that’s just what you are supposed to say?
S26: It might have been both. It might have been both. All I can say is that it’s just not talked about. I mean, these I think the people within the NBA coaches and g.m.’s as well. They lose track of how this is a business. And that’s and that’s show business. Now we’re seeing that with the pandemic. The older guy you got to put on a show. How are you gonna put on a show? They’re so into the game of winning and climbing up the ladder that they just don’t they don’t see that aspect of it. And that’s probably how you can have a situation where the San Antonio Spurs are gaming the system as they were and doing the strategic rest. I mean, that is completely flouting the idea that this is any kind of a show. It’s all about winning. And we want them to want it to be all about winning. But they just they are very cordoned off from the world of the fan and from what people get out of this. And I think maybe increasingly so as I keep hammering home the social media, the social media just gets everybody so atomized that they’re even less connected to the world outside of themselves.
S7: You know, I want to actually, as a Houston Rockets fan, I kind of wanna ask you a question. So in a comment and then a question or maybe a question in a comment. Way, way. So I take your point about how we’re in a climate where we’re more inclined to mock somebody that makes an attempt at something different. Right. And so that brings me to the rockets where the rockets like went for it. They said, well, we’re not afraid of the warriors. We’re going to go after them. And, you know, they said that is their North Star. And they failed and lost. But I’ve always had this theory that because the rockets took a swing at the Warriors and the way that they did, they showed that maybe the Warriors weren’t necessarily unbeatable. And it it it bolstered the hopes of other franchises that we know what, maybe we can make a run at it like it gave them the Raptors, the incentive to try something different. Did you? Is that something that you would agree with in general?
S23: Yeah, I think they’re victims of creeping determinism, the process by which we pretend as though we knew the outcome before the outcome happened. When we look at it retrospectively, most. People, if you pulled them at halftime of that Game 7 in Houston in was a twenty eighteen. Would have thought the Rockets are going to topple this Warriors dynasty. The Warriors are coming unglued. They’re down by double digits. They looked like they weren’t even competing. Katie wasn’t even rebounding in the Warriors, like totally out of sorts. And then they missed 27 threes in a row and the rest is history. But that’s not how we view it for whatever reason. Well, again, we’ll mock them for twenty seven mysteries in a row and then not even talk about how they came so close. And they did take that swing. And they are they should be commended for it.
S25: But it’s a small sample size world at the very top. Right. Steph Curry, if he had made a few more shots, if he had a different outcome at the end of Game 7, 2016 would probably be regarded as a top ten player.
S26: But he didn’t. So he won’t. And that’s it’s that simple. And is that fair? Probably not. But at the very top of the top, these divisions will be decided by a small sample size.
S25: And frankly, it can’t be any other way because that’s the whole draw to it for the aforementioned fans. We have our hearts in our throat when we’re watching these games because we know at some level that the loser is going to get absolutely pilloried. And if we care about that loser, then that’s going to make us feel bad. You know, the idea that there’s going to be some massive unfairness to whichever team loses between two deserving teams is part of what gets the juices going. So, yeah, it’s not fair, but it seems like we need some of that in fairness for the drama to exist.
S34: If you need more most Bates anecdotes in your life, the book is The Victory Machine.
S12: Some good Klay Thompson anecdotes in there too. Oh, man, we should have talked about. I just thought it was so quiet that the idea that somebody had a marijuana possession charge would be a reason to not take it. This is ridiculous.
S6: I had not known that. Remember that clay anecdotes bigger dollar talking about his marriage. It’s all in here. Ethan, thank you for coming on the show.
S20: Thanks for having me, guys. It’s a lot of fun.
S51: And Slate Plus members, thank you for your membership. We’re back with more next week.