The How Nike Changed America Edition

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Speaker 1: The following podcast contains explicit language. Hide your children.

Speaker 1: Hi. I’m Josh Ledeen, Slate’s national editor. And this is Hang Up and Listen for the week of June 21st, 2022. On this week’s show, ESPN Greg Wyshynski will join us to talk about the Stanley Cup finals, where the Tampa Bay Lightning are going for their third title in a row against the Colorado Avalanche as offensive juggernaut will also discuss ESPN’s new documentary Dream on about the 1996 U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team and upon its 50th anniversary, you know, allegedly 50th anniversary. And we’ll get into that. We’ll assess the past, present and future of Nike. I’m in Washington, D.C. and the author of The Queen and the host of the podcast One Year. Also in D.C. is Stefan FATSIS. He is the author of the books Word Freak A Few Seconds of Panic and Wild and Outside. Hello, Stefan.

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Speaker 2: Josh.

Speaker 1: And with us from California, Slate staff writer, host of Seasons three and six of the hit podcast, Slow Burn. It’s Joel Anderson.

Speaker 3: Nigel Yo, what’s up, man?

Speaker 2: I got to say, you guys killed it last week with events on the segment on Hustle. Made me watch it immediately as soon as I was done with the podcast. I fire that up.

Speaker 1: Would you say that you showed any kind of verve or enthusiasm? What’s the word for kind of what you undertook to watch that movie?

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Speaker 2: Oh, tremendous. Alan was a real spirit of life, a little frozen excitement, paroxysm of glee. It was great to I agree with the three of you. That was it was awesome. Yeah.

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Speaker 1: What was it that Vincent said? He was going to watch it six times, but he.

Speaker 2: Said five times. He said five.

Speaker 1: Times. All right.

Speaker 2: So let’s check in and see where he is. At this point, he’s got a week to go.

Speaker 3: Stefan competitive like Kermit Wilkes.

Speaker 1: Going into game three of the Stanley Cup finals, the Tampa Bay Lightning were down to zero in the series and coming off a humiliating seven to nothing game two loss to the Colorado Avalanche. But on Monday night, back in the warm and cozy but also frozen confines of Florida, where they haven’t lost all postseason. The two time defending champs bludgeoned the avalanche six two to an offensive onslaught that led the Avs to pull their goalie and let the hockey commentariat to proclaim as commentary. It’s often do. It’s a series again. Joining us for the first time in a long time, it’s Mr. Hockey commentary at the ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski Greg. It’s a series again.

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Speaker 4: It’s a series again, all of it. In fairness, like usually when we say this, it’s because, you know, there’s been a couple of tight games and a bounce has gone the wrong way or whatever. And in this one it was a seven nothing evisceration in game two. So if you were somebody who believed that the Colorado Avalanche were a steamroller with pulsars, four wheels, I think you could probably be excused for that. But I myself felt that the lightning had a better than good chance to get back into the series. I had seen them in previous rounds on home ice. They had the uncanny ability of not only playing well here, but also adjusting to the problems that they’ve had here against previous opponents. So I was pretty sure that we were going to get a series again, as it were.

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Speaker 2: And get some fortunate goals too, against the Rangers in the previous round, you know, they were losing in game three, I think, and game four was very close. They benefited from some good fortune though. In Game three of this series, there was no good fortune that was required.

Speaker 4: Well, I think in the case of the lightning in the previous few rounds, I think you could adopt the Billy Zane philosophy from Titanic, which is that they make their own luck if we’re talking about who’s been lucky. I mean, the Colorado Avalanche on their way to the Stanley Cup final played a Nashville Predators team that didn’t have their starting goalie and was gutted for it. That’s a sweep play. The St Louis Blues were in a spot of trouble. The Blues lose their starting goalie to injury because now Sam Cowdrey collides with them. They win that series in six and then they play the Edmonton Oilers, who are a team that only has two ways to win. And their names are Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Leon Draisaitl had it high ankle sprain. He was about like 20% of himself and they sweep them. So we’re talking about like who’s got the breaks along the way? I think it’s probably the avalanche more so than the lightning, but I think in both cases they’ve earned their way here.

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Speaker 3: In the write up of last night’s game, Greg, you wrote that a team that looked like it was going to get skated out of the series suddenly was able to match the avalanche as energy. And I always think about that when we talk about, man, a team had to summon some energy to, you know, make a final stand here. So I’m wondering, was Monday night in Tampa, was that a champion’s response? Right. Like, you know, just a a team down to a death, all gutting it out? Or was it truly indicative of a team that has the potential to mount real resistance to what seems like a juggernaut?

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Speaker 4: So you’re asking if it’s a temporary heartbeat or whether there’s a resurrection we’re witnessing? I think it’s a little bit of both. You know, Steven Stamkos, the captain, said after the game that they had to respond, like there was no doubt about it. Like if they don’t respond, they’re obviously not going to be winning the series. If you’re down three, nothing to almost any opponent, no matter if it’s the Colorado Avalanche or not.

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Speaker 4: So from that aspect, I do think that there was a bit of backs against the wall survival mechanism that was going on. But the thing that you heard from the Lightning, even after that Game two debacle in Denver, was we’re confident if we get to our game that we can mitigate some of the things that the avalanche did really well. And the problem in the two games in Denver was that they couldn’t get to their game because the game was over in the first 10 minutes. All right. In both cases, they were down by multiple goals. In the first 10 minutes of these games, it was deficits of their own making. They took really bad penalties at the beginning of both games.

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Speaker 4: So the thought process was, we can be in these games, we can beat these guys if we can build on the things that we’re trying to do early in the game, establish a little bit of concept and they will say it, but most importantly, get a lead after the first period. They’re seven and one now when they lead after the first period. And I think it really the key to that, to beating the avalanche is not to chase them, but to have them chase the game a little bit. And I think for the first time in the series, The Lightning were able to do that and it has everything to do with the way they started the game.

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Speaker 1: So the Avalanche are far from a one man team, but the one name that gets mentioned first when you talk about them is Nathan macKinnon, and he has a couple of assists in the first three games. That’s not something anybody was particularly concerned about after game one and two. I would say. But for folks who aren’t familiar, just like, what is it about him that makes him that kind of boldface name for the avalanche? And also, has there been anything kind of has he been a problem or is he not played up to his potential? Does he need to do something different for the avalanche to win the cup?

Speaker 4: I’ll start with the game play part of it. I mean his line with Gabe Landeskog and found Pushkin and also when they move up Mikko Rantanen the cushions place, which is the line that traditionally macKinnon and Landeskog have played out in the last couple of years. And it’s been one of the most dominant ones in the NHL that when he’s on the ice, they’re out shooting and out, out attempting the lightning by a preposterous margins. So he’s not getting the goal scoring results yet in the series, but it’ll come. And I don’t think that anything that’s gone on is the fault of that line, nor is it the fault of his play on the powerplay and the powerplay in the series The Lightning Getting out, giving up five powerplay goals to the avalanche in three games.

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Speaker 4: And a lot of that is is the work that macKinnon does. What makes him special is twofold. One, he’s an incredibly powerful skater, and he is like a number of guys in this generation, a player who has the ability to create offense at full velocity and get his shot off in a variety of ways. As he’s in full velocity. He’s a tremendously gifted shooter and goal scorer. And he also, much like Alex Ovechkin, is somebody who deals in volume. He’s a shot volume guy. And it’s one of the things that I think separates them from other scorers is just how many shots he takes and how many find their target. He’s also a real nut off the ice in the sense of being one of the single most intense individuals I think I’ve ever seen when it comes to the drive to succeed.

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Speaker 4: Watching a Nathan macKinnon post playoff press conference when the avalanche have fallen short is like watching a Joy Division concert. It’s just like a sullen and like despair filled affair. He’s famous for the high in the scenes, being someone who is a constant driver of of of of of effort from his teammates in practice, he never takes a practice off. He’s infamous for his diet and enforcing his diet on others and shaming teammates for eating sugar. I don’t know if you guys watch the boys on Amazon Prime. There’s a little homelander, I think, in Nathan macKinnon. But but he’s is a tremendously gifted athlete. And and I know if they if they do end up winning the cup, it’ll it’ll be really nice to see him finally be able to exhale.

Speaker 2: This team is one of the most prolific scoring teams in a long time. In an era or a new era of prolific scoring in the NHL. And you would think that that would be. Determinative in a final like this. Like in game two, you throw up seven goals that should be demoralizing. But goaltending is always the equalizer in NHL playoffs, right, Greg? And in this case, the Avalanche have 232 year old dudes who are really kind of backups on other teams versus the Lightning who have the best goaltender on the planet. How much going forward does that factor into the way players think about the games to come and the knowledge that, hey, we’ve got the best goaltender and they don’t?

Speaker 4: I so I think Darcy Kemper is a starter in this league. Like he he came from the Arizona Coyotes. He was a starter there. He he’s you know, the reason he’s on the avalanche was a sort of a desperate play where their starting goaltender last year, Philipp Grubauer, unexpectedly left for the Seattle Kraken. And they were all of a sudden at the end of the goalie carousel that was spending last summer. And so they had to kind of make a desperation move to get Kemper and he for half the season wasn’t very good. And then for like January 1st on, he was kind of the second best goalie in the NHL behind eager to shirk and statistically so they came out of the playoffs pretty confident about him. But everyone I talked to in the goalie analytics community isn’t really in love with him, and I kind of felt that.

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Speaker 1: And we just pause on the phrase goal. The analytics community.

Speaker 5: Will.

Speaker 1: Continue, continue.

Speaker 4: So so let me let me sidebar. You have the analytics community that measures the abilities of skaters and, you know, forwards and defenseman. But those analytics do not account for the skill of goaltenders. And there’s an entire thriving community of, in many cases, X goalies that want to quantify how goaltenders really play. Statistically, goaltenders have been left in the dust when it comes to how you measure their success. I mean, that’s why I like the goalie with the most wins, usually wins the best goalie award. So yeah, there’s a whole community that breaks it down for you and is really smart about it. And they’ll tell you that Kemper has not really been that great. He’s one of these guys kind of living off his reputation.

Speaker 4: To to your point, though, like, yeah, the biggest advantage in the series was Andrei Vasilevskiy, who if he wins this cup, no matter what happens to him statistically in the series, is going to go down as one of the greatest postseason goalies in hockey history versus these two guys on the avalanche. And so what you saw in Game three of the series was while they only managed 16 shots on goal against Tampa, again two because the avalanche just controlled play and possessed the pocket and the lightning only got 29% of the shot attempts in the game. They finally got to their game. They finally put pressure on the guy and he was Swiss cheese. So like, you know, in the two games in which they’ve been able to actually mount an offense against Darcy Kemper, they have scored nine goals. And so they have to be pretty confident about that and also be pretty happy with the way that Vasilevskiy rebounded from giving up seven goals in Game two.

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Speaker 3: Greg, more broadly, I mean, you’re obviously at the arena on game nights, so you’re not watching this on TV, but obviously like the NHL has benefited from this no longer being gone. Whatever, I guess. Was it NBC’s Sports? I don’t know if that was the name, the channel that it was on before and now it’s on, you know, your employer, ESPN. And there’s a belief that this matchup being on TV when it is with these teams, this great avalanche team and like a defending champion, you know, going for its third, going for a three peat is really good for the game. You’re there like it is that it all true like I’m because it’s weird. I lived in Tampa for four years and like, nobody thinks of Tampa as like a major market or anything like that. I don’t know, you know, you know, what sort of fan base, how that translates nationally. But like, is there a sense that this year is like a sort of a breakthrough year for the NHL in the Stanley Cup, having these two teams playing when they are on the channel that they are.

Speaker 4: Well, first of all, put some love on NBC Sports Network. My favorite place for classic car auctions. R.I.P., Remember Forever your legacy.

Speaker 3: I think they have a show with Michelle Beadle and somebody to watch that.

Speaker 4: I was I was I was I was on that show.

Speaker 1: Remember when the games were on versus.

Speaker 4: At all I do remember the real ones know that it was the outdoor life network before it was versus so it was it’s been a blessed that you tend to speak to your point you mentioned these two teams and you mentioned the TV aspect of it. And again, like the the folks at NBC did a really good job. Like they presented the game as best they could. They could only do as much as they were given.

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Speaker 4: One of the great things about working at ESPN is that the minute that the rights come over to our network, there’s just incredible investment in things outside of the game. It’s the point that we have a weekly newsmagazine show. It’s it’s the content on SportsCenter. It’s me. I they gave me a show to do a pre-game show on digital this season that I that I helped create like this all of these other opportunities that come with being on ESPN that I think have really benefited and exposed the game to a wider audience. But you mentioned the two teams, and I think the two networks is a really big thing for me, like no matter what.

Speaker 4: My issues were anybody’s issues were with NBC. The biggest issue was that the NHL had a monolithic rights deal. While every other major sport in United States was on multiple networks, and multiple networks means multiple audiences, where like if you’re watching PTI, you’re going to see an advertisement for the NHL, if you’re watching wrestling or, you know. Rise of Skywalker on TNT or what have you. Then you’re going to see in an NHL commercial and like reaching out to all of these new audiences is such an important thing. And that’s like one of the big aspects of the rights deal that I love.

Speaker 4: As far as the matchup goes. I think the first of all, the Lightning have a really, really, really strong local following and they’ve cultivated it. And the avalanche, having a credible local following that has now done the thing that a fan base, in my opinion, needs to do in order to become really rabid, which is to live and die with your team through playoff failures.

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Speaker 4: The avalanche won the Stanley Cup last in 2001. They struggled to get past the second round for, I think four consecutive seasons. So you have a lot of people that are like, I know this team is good and now we’re finally breaking through. And so being in Denver for those games was incredible. Just to see how the community has popped for this team. And the lightning, the avalanche actually aren’t, in my opinion, the biggest draw, even though they’ve got some star players. Lightning, though, now that we’ve seen them in back to back cup finals and win and have come to know these players, these personalities a little bit more, I think I do think that they’re one of the bigger draws in the NHL insofar as like casual fan interest and especially when you’re dealing with the potential for history and seeing a three peat.

Speaker 1: Just a quick sidebar that I do not expect Greg to respond here, given his employment situation. But some some would note somewhat note that all of the stuff that ESPN has done since they’ve gotten the rights, it’s like, okay, well, it just shows what ESPN was not doing when ESPN did not have the rights. And there’s just like it’s just a huge difference in terms like a fan like me who’s not a regular NHL viewer, just like the amount of NHL stuff that gets served to me when it’s coming through the ESPN firehose versus when it’s not. It’s like a huge it’s a huge, huge difference. Yeah.

Speaker 2: And we talked about this. We talked about this a couple of weeks ago, Josh, with women’s softball. If ESPN chooses to invest money in cameras and personnel, people are going to watch because of the platform.

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Speaker 4: Yeah, well, it’s almost like that’s why the NHL wanted a good ESPN. No.

Speaker 3: No.

Speaker 4: And again, let’s.

Speaker 2: Go back to Jessica. Yeah.

Speaker 4: Go back to ESPN. Right. The Board of governors and the people that own the teams have always been in favor of trying to get back on ESPN. They understand the value to it. And I think and if we’re being honest, like there was a certain amount of loyalty that the NHL had to NBC because NBC took the rights after the lockout in 2005 and the sport was in a very different the league it this way the league was in a very different place. And so for for NBC to get into business with them, then I think that, you know, in particular, Gary Bettman, the commissioner, felt a certain amount of loyalty there. But again, like, I think there’s always been a push within within the the board of governors, within the teams, within the NHL front offices to get back on ESPN because they understand the value of that for exposing the sport to, you know, casual sports fans.

Speaker 1: All right. Before we go, I have a lightning round question, but in fairness, I will also give you an avalanche round question. So lightning round and I demand lightning on this. Why the the the two big stories are, number one why no Canadian team in the cup for a million years. What’s the what’s the $0.02 Wyshynski theory.

Speaker 4: First of all, only on this show would it be a lightning round. And it’s a why question.

Speaker 1: I love it.

Speaker 2: Identify either as very well, Greg.

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Speaker 4: A lot of it, honestly. I’ll give you a theory that I’ve heard multiple times, which is that the pressures of playing in a Canadian market are just significantly higher than playing in an American market. And so you have teams that are brilliantly constructed like the Toronto Maple Leafs. We’ve seen Vancouver make runs. I mean, other teams have made runs. And for whatever reason, they can’t get over the hump. Sometimes that even out of the first round.

Speaker 1: So Canadian teams are soft as the theory.

Speaker 4: Or the Canadian media is like a hell of a lot harder, which I think is also a competing theory.

Speaker 1: All right, avalanche round question. You published a story in April on the goal scoring onslaught in which you shared nine theories. Too many theories. Ten about what, ten theories? No, the 10th theory was actually goalscoring isn’t up that much, but.

Speaker 2: It was number ten.

Speaker 1: Okay, that was number ten. So out of these nine theories, which of these theories do you actually believe versus, you know, the rest? You’re just trying to create content. I mean, come on.

Speaker 4: Oh, there’s this. Listen there. I keep it real. There is absolutely no false notes that I ring in my analysis to try to try to generate clicks, as Twitter tells me. By the way, you can’t generate a click if you don’t include a link in the tweet. That’s an.

Speaker 1: Interesting.

Speaker 4: Thing. Don’t accuse somebody of doing it for the clicks if there’s nothing the click of those theories.

Speaker 4: Well, first of all, I do think that there is a generational shift happening where you have incredibly talented players that are coming into a league that is more welcoming for players of different sizes. I was speaking with Matt Savoie, who is a prospect for the NHL draft next month. And I would say generously, he’s five eight and he’s probably to go in the top 15. Like there are so many because of the style of play is no longer so physical and punishing and you don’t have fighting and goons as much. It’s really opened up the game for a variety of new offensive players, and the philosophy of the league has changed to foster those players and their skills.

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Speaker 4: And then as far as like all the other theories, a lot of them kind of just all add up. I mean, I do think that this season in particular, it’s undeniable that there was a pandemic effects. You had players leaving the lineup and coming back into the lineup because of COVID diagnoses. We had the most goaltenders we ever had play in the league in a single season play this year. So there’s a lot of reasons why the averages are up. But the thing that is the real shocker and we touched on it and that story is that it’s continued in the playoffs. Like, as you mentioned many, many questions ago, the playoffs are famous for goaltending and they’re famous for defense. They’re famous for margins being so close. If you told me that the Lightning won game three of the Stanley Cup final after losing Game two seven and nothing, I would assume it was a21 game with Vasilevskiy making 35 saves or whatever it was 6 to 2. So there’s been a fundamental shift offensively here.

Speaker 1: 22 goals combined through Game three since 1982.

Speaker 4: It’s wild. So there’s definitely something that’s changed here stylistically and fundamentally in this league. And again, like you talk about networks and matchups, all this other stuff. If you’re averaging as many goals per game as the NHL is this season in the playoffs and in the regular season, that’s that’s the sea change. That’s the thing. American audience.

Speaker 2: Which leads to the last question and you have to this has to be a lightning round answer. But are we sort of approaching the platonic ideal of what hockey should be? Are we approaching in the NHL a league with the narrower rinks and the more cluttered play, and the more fighting and hitting compared to Olympics or international hockey? Is this sort of appealing and our fans responding in a way that, you know, the positive toward the more freewheeling, open, centralized, high scoring game.

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Speaker 4: I think that you are reaching the the platonic ideal for the millennial fan and the Gen Z fan. I think you are. Creating a new sport in the eyes of an Internet old like me. And I’ve had to come to grips with that. It’s a different league. I, like most people, will tune in to watch the 3430 ESPN documentary on the Red Wings Avalanche rivalry, which will just be blood on the ice and fights between goalies. That comes out, I think, next weekend. And I will revel in it because that is the league I grew up in. And so I’ve come to grips with the idea that hockey, in my ideal of hockey, which is probably a little bit more intense and violent than the current product might not exist, does exist. Again, the current product as it stands, is probably the best honeypot for attracting new fans versus the old style of of what I grew up with.

Speaker 1: ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski is one of our favorites. So nice to have you back, Greg.

Speaker 4: It’s great to be back. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1: Next, we’ll talk about ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 documentary Dream. On the 1996 U.S. Women’s. I was big basketball teams.

Speaker 3: After finishing with the Bronze at the 1988 Summer Olympics, the U.S. men’s national basketball team responded with a show of force that changed basketball forever. Four years later, the so-called Dream Team of Michael, Magic Larry and eight other NBA legends and Christian Laettner defeated opponents by an average of 44 points enroute to reclaiming the gold medal. At those same games in 1992, the U.S. women’s national basketball team failed to win gold for the second time in four Olympics. The Americans lost in the semifinals to the former Soviet Union, then playing under the banner of the unified team and finished with the bronze. The program’s failures continued in 1994. Here’s a clip from 1994.

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Speaker 5: As the men’s team was winning the gold medal at the First World Championship, NBA players participated in Toronto. The women quietly lost again.

Speaker 6: Brazil. By three, 110, 107.

Speaker 5: I said, Holy, I can’t believe they lost. They lost to Brazil. If 92 is a stunner. 94 was a slap in the face.

Speaker 6: The USA will play Australia for the bronze.

Speaker 5: The only bronze medal I ever have. I have no idea where it is. Yeah, that sucked.

Speaker 3: The voices you heard. There were longtime WNBA commissioner Val Ackerman, ESPN’s Michelle Voepel and basketball legend Lisa Leslie. What happened after 1992 and 1994 is the subject of the latest ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Dream On, which tells the story of how the women’s national team overhauled its program and ultimately laid the foundation for the WNBA. Josh Dream On was released as part of ESPN’s 5050 initiative commemorating the 50th anniversary of the passing of Title nine. Prior to this, there were a number of documentaries and shows dedicated to the 92 Men’s Dream Team, and this was the first that I can remember that focused on the women’s team. How much of that story did you know before watching this? 3430.

Speaker 1: Not much. I mean, kind of flashes of it came back as I was watching the doc. This is a team that barnstormed around the country and the world and ended up after the winning the Olympic gold medal with a or no record. And it was kind of like, Oh, yeah, I remember when that happened. But this team’s importance to the founding of the WNBA, also the able, which kind of goes unmentioned in this documentary, the the other Women’s Pro League and what you described in the introduction, their job, the kind of similar storyline that led to the creation of the men’s dream team, this kind of decline narrative around what’s wrong with America, we’re losing to the rest of the world. We got to change this and the ways in which that played out differently for the women compared to the men.

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Speaker 1: Stefan is really interesting and I also think just the nineties are a very important and fascinating time for women’s sports. There’s the legendary 1999 Women’s World Cup winners for the United States. And there is this emphasis now on the 50th anniversary of Title nine. And we’ve talked about with the Lucy Harris documentary, The Queen of Basketball, the very early pioneers in women’s basketball. But these women in the nineties, kind of along the lines of the women’s soccer players of the nineties, have their own story and are just as important on the trajectory that we’ve seen into the 21st century.

Speaker 2: And I think what’s important about these women, and that’s a really good point you make, Josh, is that this is part of the timeline of the evolution of women’s sports. If the seventies was, you know, the legal foundation for being able to play and the eighties was this sort of experimental period where there wasn’t that much, but you were starting to get more attention.

Speaker 2: The nineties was the sort of the time when marketing and social conscience met their moment. There was more money to go around leagues like the WNBA, like the NBA, led by David Stern and his and Russ Granik, who was the deputy commissioner, and Val Ackerman, who was an official with U.S. women’s basketball at the time. There was this recognition that, hey, maybe we can actually make something of this commercially, financially, that maybe there’s money to do this.

Speaker 2: And it takes these breakout moments like the gold medal in 96 and like the Women’s Soccer World Cup championship in 99, to push the narrative farther forward and get more money into the sport and encourage more girls to play these sports and sort of set the groundwork for the legendary athletes who would follow them in the next couple of decades.

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Speaker 3: Yeah, you know, and it’s interesting. I was thinking of, you know, Rick Welts, for instance, who was, you know, in the NBA and was foundational and building this team and helping to set up the WNBA. And they briefly covered how much or how little money the players or the team actually made.

Speaker 2: 50,000 for the whole year.

Speaker 3: Yeah, 50,000 for the whole year. And he said, well that’s just the money that we had, right. That, that was the money that was available. And I thought to myself, Man, that’s really glib. And it made me sort of resent that they seemed so pat about their role in setting up the league that they were doing some sort of altruism or something.

Speaker 3: But then if I go back to that time and I sort of put myself in that moment, I was like, You know what? They kind of were? I mean, I guess I don’t want to, like, overstate their role in building out women’s basketball, but it cannot be ignored that at the time it wasn’t even really something that, you know, prior to that, people had even taken a real serious winger. Because one of the interesting things, if you go back and you look at like all of these other failed startups like The all-American Redheads, which was the barnstorming team or the women’s basketball league that Nancy Lieberman played in. And I mean, Nancy Lieberman is played in basically every fucking basketball league there is. Right. Or the Liberty Basketball Association was the best broadcast on ESPN and had them playing in bodysuits. It was just, you know, sort of like maybe the precursor to the Lingerie Football League.

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Speaker 1: I mean, those the spandex uniforms, they’re going I couldn’t believe that that had happened in the nineties. Yeah.

Speaker 3: Did you remember that Fraser, that you had.

Speaker 2: The Australian women’s basketball team has worn similar uniforms. I mean it might be cultural, but they have been much after long after that.

Speaker 3: That’s true. I mean, I guess.

Speaker 1: Stefan Stefan, the defender of the liberty.

Speaker 2: I’m not the offense. I’m just pointing out that sexism and, you know, trying to sex of five women athletes knows no borders.

Speaker 3: Right. So even circling back to that, I thought about Rick Welts, you know, sort of taking, you know, making the comment that that was the money that was available. And I was a little resentful of it. But then I was like, you know what? To that point, nobody had ever made a real attempt at selling women, playing basketball like that without gimmicks, just like an appreciation of the game for all these great players and giving them a venue here domestically. And I was like, You know what? They should take a bow for that. Not so much of one. I mean, I don’t think that they should be that happy about everything that they did. And there’s still a lot of ground game here, but it was sort of revolutionary at the time.

Speaker 1: It was. And I think. It’s hard to tell whether it was intentional or inadvertent genius. But that winning streak, I think, was really important in creating interest in the team. Sort of like how interest in women’s college basketball has spiked whenever there’s a dominant UConn team. The fact that they were not just like the men’s dream team, which already had this kind of built up reservoir of fascination and intrigue due to the player’s popularity in the NBA. And they did, I think, some exhibitions and stuff going into the Olympics, but like they just basically showed up, kicked everyone’s asses and and that was that.

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Speaker 1: But to kind of build up the fascination and intrigue, these women, some of whom like Sheryl Swoopes, who had scored scores 47 points in the national title game for Texas Tech in 93 plays briefly overseas and then comes home and it’s like working in a bank. I mean, again, this is the nineties. Yeah. It’s it’s crazy to remember that.

Speaker 2: Right. I mean, Lisa Leslie didn’t want to go overseas. UConn barely had any fans until they won their first national championship. What was it in 95?

Speaker 1: Yeah, so. So the point is that, you know, not only did these women need to come together to actually, like, get some run and play some games, but like there was a kind of like, enigma, mystery around like what is even what does it even look like for a team of the best women’s players in the country to actually play together, go around, but unify and like, what does that even look like?

Speaker 1: And once they started putting up these scorelines and putting up this winning streak and not only, I think paved the way for the WNBA by showing as they went around the country that they could draw crowds, but did. Draw interest in them as the Olympics came. Because like the thing about the Olympics for women athletes, Stefan is it’s like a rare showcase where these women’s sports are in some ways on.

Speaker 1: You know, there’s parity there just because all we care about is gold medals. So if women win gold medals like that, women’s sports are great. But there’s a huge amount of competition. There’s just like everything is on at all times. And so. And women’s basketball has often gotten short shrift on television. And so having that built up intrigue and interest, both because they had lost before, but also just because they had spent a year traveling the world, I think was hugely important.

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Speaker 2: It was. And as a marketing proposition, it was really smart. The Olympics were in Atlanta, so they were going to be in the United States. There was this void in terms of opportunities for some of the women. You had to go overseas and they were getting paid well. And it’s not dissimilar from today where women.

Speaker 1: That are going, they were getting paid by USA.

Speaker 2: Basketball, that they were getting paid $50,000 by USA Basketball, but they were turning down salaries of 100,000 or more to play overseas. So they did have to make the sacrifice.

Speaker 2: And what I appreciated about this film is is directed by Kristen Lapis, whose dad, Steve Lapis, was a college basketball coach former was that it didn’t try to turn this into sort of a sepia toned title nine movie that this is told as a serious story with with conflict and upset and dissatisfaction among the players. This is not a feel good documentary. Richard Deitsch as a review on the in the athletic about the documentary and he tells a story about how Kristen Lapis wrote a has a post-it that she had on her desk that said, don’t make this film soft. And what I meant by that note, she says, is more often than not, when people tell women’s sports stories, they’re kind of flowery and rah rah and girl power.

Speaker 2: I wanted to make sure that people really understood that this wasn’t a clean, happy story. There were complications, there was tension, there was conflict. And that really starts to come out. And I think in the second episode, Joel, where you see the the dissatisfaction among some players with the coach, Tara VanDerveer, who left Stanford, where she was an established if young women’s basketball coach to take over this team for the full year. And particularly and I didn’t remember any of this if I knew it ever. But Rebecca Lobo was treated as this untalented outsider who didn’t belong on this team, who was there because she was white and she was from UConn and she was perceived as the sort of palatable face of women’s basketball.

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Speaker 3: Yeah. No. And they also I mean, they even touched on the anti-gay sense out there, you know, that had hindered the opportunity to see some of the players before and even their marketing opportunities. And I was really impressed that they dove into that. But about the Tara VanDerveer thing, I actually thought about that a little bit. And you know, obviously it was a different time, the nineties in the way that we thought of coaches and how they dealt with players thing like things were that that behavior, that treatment of players was a little bit more acceptable in that moment.

Speaker 3: Right. But it also reminded me of. How so many how so often there’s room for exploitation in these national programs, right. That you know, you’ve got these exploitation of athletes. They’ve got low pay, terrible weather conditions, not many other options. And then they’re subject to like a tyrant or somebody that can abuse them pretty much in any way they see fit. We’ve seen that in gymnastics. We’ve seen that now in some in swimming, so many other sports. And I’m glad it didn’t happen here. Didn’t appear to. That hasn’t come up. I haven’t seen the third episode yet, so maybe that maybe I’m missing something.

Speaker 3: But, you know, I think I would have liked a little bit more introspection from Tara VanDerveer, the head coach here, about how she treated those players because she sort of was just like, well, I probably shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t have treated Rebecca Lobo like that. But you could just see where there’s an opportunity here, where if it plays in the wrong hands that these players could have gone through so much worse than they already did, because it did not it did not have to be that way. Like, obviously, you can build a good team, a great team, a program that is, you know, going to be the best in the world without treating the players in quite the way they were treated in the build up to the 96.

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Speaker 2: Olympics, there’s a level of acquiescence among the players toward marketing them, in dressing them up in feminine clothes and trying to make them into something that they weren’t. You can see the discomfort in a lot of the footage, and we should mention that this film got made because there was 500 hours of footage that the NBA had shot behind the scenes that was barely used. That is the foundation for this entire documentary. So we see these athletes talking about how uncomfortable they were dressing up for photo shoots or rolling their eyes about, you know, not having to hide their sexual identity at the time. You can see that discomfort among the players about how they were packaged and how they were, how they basically had no choice. And they talk about that retrospectively.

Speaker 1: I think was Robin Roberts, the long time broadcaster, who said something that felt like a sentiment that was shared by at least some of the players that was like when you’re. When you think that you are involved in something that’s an important step or a breakthrough, then you’re willing to make those sacrifices or you at least understand that you have to make those sacrifices. And she says, like, that’s why I kind of understand and respect the choice that players made to kind of go along with this stuff.

Speaker 1: But that leads to, as you said, Joel opportunities for abuse and kind of screwed up power dynamics. And that is one of the things that’s so interesting about the position that these women are end of being so dominant. So I guess popular and marketable and yet having so little kind of power, economic power, they do.

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Speaker 1: Say at various points that, you know, VanDerveer was talking about replacing some of the women, particularly Rebecca Lobo, after they had been on the team for ten months, just like kicking them off before the Olympics. And the players said, if you know Teresa Edwards, who is kind of the leader of that, that team said if one of us had been kicked off, we all would have walked. Well, it never came to that. So we don’t know if if they would have done it. But I think they did feel a kind of collective power. And there’s this question of like with Tara VanDerveer being a kind of evil genius and getting them all to hate her so that they would bond together, or was she just being a deck? And it seemed like she was just being a deck.

Speaker 3: And I mean, it’s pretty clear, right? Because Rebecca Lobo, like even today, still harbors, it seems like a lot of animosity for Tara VanDerveer. Right. Like she a who does that? Yeah. I mean, she’s, you know, the way about the way that she was treated.

Speaker 2: Right. And Geno Auriemma is interviewed here and clearly is throwing shade at Tara VanDerveer, too.

Speaker 1: And actually a good analog here is Bobby Knight in the 1984 Olympics. And it’s like that was a period when it was still amateur men’s players, quote unquote, amateur players, no NBA players. And so he kind of exercised. He did his Bobby Knight thing and was abusive and players hated it and they won the gold medal. And the question is.

Speaker 3: He cut Charles Barkley from the 84 Olympics because he didn’t like him, basically. So, yeah. You know.

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Speaker 1: A story that’s told, which I’m 100% sure is true, is that like he just did it to show that he was Bobby Knight and he ran he ran the show. And the question is always like, do you need to do that stuff? Sort of like Michael Jordan in The Last Dance still? Do you need to do that stuff to win or do you win? And also you did that stuff and it seems like this team was clearly good enough that a coach who actually cared about her player’s emotional well-being would have gotten the same result.

Speaker 1: Sorry, one last thing. Seven, 500 hours of never before seen footage. Two thoughts on that. Number one, what is the deal with documentaries where there’s like 500 hours of unseen footage and they just never use it?

Speaker 2: Like, what’s the.

Speaker 1: Point of this? These camera crews around with people for 500 hours? And just like when I say nobody has seen this footage the last 25 years, that’s absolutely true. Well, what was their plan if you’re just like throwing money down the drain, the other. And then the last point, the last point and then I’ll shut up is I was actually a little bit disappointed that they didn’t have more footage that showed the conflict. And all the Tara Vander Veer footage they had was just like saying, like, run it again. Like she didn’t seem like crazy and tyrannical in the footage, nor were that nor was there much from the time about players kind of complaining. And you would think that if they had all access in 500 hours, there would have you would have been able to see that conflict a little bit more in the archive rather than just hearing players talk about it retrospectively. Maybe that’s naive.

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Speaker 2: Maybe like that’s maybe that maybe the women didn’t feel empowered to do that. Maybe they were afraid to even, you know, even that they were so on guard when the cameras around them, maybe they weren’t.

Speaker 1: Sure that’s true. Yeah, mean that’s true.

Speaker 2: And as to the first part about the footage, it kind of belies the, you know, going back to the, you know, well, $50,000, we didn’t have that much money. Well, you had enough money to send a camera crew to follow them around for a year. Maybe we could have spent that on the players themselves. Well, I found really interesting, Joel also was just how, you know, again, hindsight, looking back at how these things evolve, you know, how Nike is growing in those five years leading up to those Olympics, how Nike is decides to, you know, that Swoopes and swoosh kind of sound alike. So we’re going to give Sheryl Swoopes a contract after that NCAA final how fans start going to UConn games.

Speaker 2: And the the cynic in me says that well the NBA purely did this as a way to test the waters and it really wasn’t about empowering the women and making sure that this team is good enough to win the gold medal, because they probably could have done that with a three month training camp or a two month training camp. But it really was about using them and putting them in coach and putting them up in shitty hotel rooms as a way to kick the tires. On whether there was enough interest and whether they were that good that there might be a market to create a league and attract fans after the Olympics.

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Speaker 3: Yeah, it’s interesting because that time in my life is like a real jumble and so I could not keep up with, Oh, Sheryl Swoopes had won a national championship. They started up the dream team, you know, Don. Staley and Rebecca Lobo appear on the Martin Show in 1996. And I’m like, When? Down the steps. All this stuff is sort of happening organically around the same time, and Nike is the center of it. And in fact, it’s funny you brought up Nike because in the next segment, Nike turns 50 and we’re going to talk about it.

Speaker 1: And this week’s bonus segment for Slate Plus members. We’re going to wrap up the finals a little bit, the Warriors one, and we’re going to talk about Steph Curry’s legacy, or at least talk about people talking about Steph Curry’s legacy and why legacy talk is so rampant. If you want to hear that you need to be a Slate Plus member, you can bonus segments on this and other slate shows. You also get ad free shows and a bunch of other stuff. It’s a good deal. You should try it. You’ll like it. Slate.com slash hang up plus at Slate.com. So I should hang up plus.

Speaker 2: Nike has begun celebrating its 50th anniversary. According to the company, on May 1st, 1972, the Japanese shoe brand Onitsuka Tiger, ended its distribution contract with blue ribbon sports, which had been founded by Phil Knight and Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman. But Nike also marked its golden anniversary in 2014 because blue ribbon sports was started in 1964. And since the name Nike and the Swoosh came into existence in 1971, the company celebrated a half century last year, too.

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Speaker 2: All of which seems like predictable behavior for a brand that, since signing Michael Jordan in 1986, has dictated the terms of its commerce. Flooding the world with its iconography, its athletes and its slogans. Telling us not only what to wear on courts and fields and off, but also how to think and act. As New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman wrote in a long essay last week.

Speaker 2: Nike has become part of the root system that underlies the culture and not just sneaker culture. I’ve always tended to consider Nike and its history first for its aggressive take over of the basketball business, pro college and youth, and how the company carefully built and sustained an image as a renegade even when it wasn’t one anymore. Joel How central was Nike to you growing up? You and Josh came of age with the brand. You were little kids when those Mars Blackmon and Michael Jordan commercials debuted. I had nothing that cool in the 1970s.

Speaker 3: Yeah. So one odd thing about me as a kid, or maybe it wasn’t an that I wasn’t necessarily a huge Michael Jordan or Chicago Bulls fan. And now I might recommend listening to The Last Last Dance, a special episode of Big Up and Listen that we did about Michael Jordan. But no, I was not all that moved by Michael Jordan. In fact, I might say I was more of a fan of Spike Lee than Michael Jordan in my teenage years. And some of that is because, you know, maybe this is a generation ago I was a Houston Rockets fan first and then a Western Conference fan. Like that’s something I feel like old people. Do you root for the teams in your conference or whatever? But I could appreciate Michael’s greatness and I understood that he was a phenom and emblematic of cool.

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Speaker 3: But in your notes that used to prepare for the segment, Stefan, you pointed out a 1992 interview with Phil Knight in the Harvard Business Review, and he said something that Nike’s biggest breakthrough was not about shoes is that they came to the realization that they weren’t just selling sneakers. And then a light came on in my in my head, because I remember that when I really became obsessed with Nike is when they signed these sponsorship deals with the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina in the early nineties. And I was all about that shift. So like that that syncs up with like the Fab Five, that syncs up with, you know, some of the cooler Michigan teams. Like, you know, Michigan was Michigan used to be kids. That used to be a really cool football program, sorry. BMO, But, you know, they used to be like nationally competitive in a way that they aren’t necessarily now. And I just loved all that stuff and I could not get enough of wearing things that had checks on them and uniforms and jackets and wristbands and all that other shit.

Speaker 3: So that’s kind of how I came to be like the Nike head, and it really was a marker of status as a kid. Even more so, I would say, than like wearing Jordans, just having like the freshest Nike fad or t shirt or whatever and piece of apparel that’s high was at least for me and my friends when I was coming up in the early nineties. But Josh, was that was that true, a state over for you in New Orleans?

Speaker 1: Well, first of all, Bmo’s Ben Mathis, lately, our resident Michigan fan here at Slate, for people that didn’t catch that reference. Number two, I guess the thing that came to my mind and hearing your introduction, Stefan, is that. And I came of age when Nike was kind of already Nike like all this, like blue ribbon sports stuff and the like. Steve Prefontaine Running Shoe Company. Nike was just like, not really in my consciousness. I did have this sort of, like, relationship with.

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Speaker 1: Air Jordans, I guess because my dad had like the first pair of Jordans and they were like in the garage, kind of like flaking off. You didn’t really preserve their value. The like red and black stuff was like flaking out of it. But I thought that was really cool and really it was the Jordan stuff for me. Joel As opposed to the the Michigan and Carolina stuff like I in like a very kind of like normal, like young kid obsessed with sports sort of way. I was like Mars Blackmon, Michael Jordan basketball. He can jump high. It’s got to be the shoes dunk contest.

Speaker 1: Like, all of that was very cool. And I, I don’t know fell prey is a little bit more like makes it sound more nefarious than it is. But like, all that marketing stuff worked on me. I’m no different than, like, billions of other people who. Who consumed all of that stuff. But it is interesting stuff to think back to a period when Nike wasn’t Nike yet and when Nike was kind of becoming Nike. And so yeah. What was it like for you like to a like not be in that world and be to just kind of like watch it happen as a more sentient adult?

Speaker 2: Yeah, I mean, it didn’t exist for me. Junior high school, high school. It really wasn’t until I was in college that I was even sort of aware of Nike as an entity, as a force, which dovetailed with Michael Jordan’s arrival. You know, Jordan and I think this is interesting reading some of the stories about not just this anniversary, but the emergence of Nike as a marketing behemoth were how the Spike Lee Marrs Blackmon Michael Jordan ads helped Jordan as much as they helped Nike, that they were a part of Michael Jordan’s coming out as a multimedia superstar, that you know Michael Jordan and win an NBA championship for six years. Right. I mean, the Mars first Mars Blackmon ad was 1986, which was a couple of years into his career. I mean, maybe we should listen to the first one to sort of jog our memories about what these were.

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Speaker 5: Do you know who the Best Planet game is? Me, Mars Blackmon. And I’m way above the rim. Demonstrate some serious hangtime very serious. Do you know how I get up my game? Do you know? Do you know? Do you know? That’s right. Air Jordan. Air Jordan. Air Jordan. Make that money. Money? Why you want to do that and why? Let me come up. I got to make a call.

Speaker 3: Yeah, man, that just brings back, like, just a lot of fun memories of youth. Like, the discovery of Spike and Michael Jordan is sort of the same time.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

Speaker 2: Which came first for you, do you think, Joel, had you seen She’s Got to have it or was Mars Blackmon introduced to you by the Nike commercials?

Speaker 3: I should say that, yeah. My parents were very permissive and the things I was allowed to watch as a kid, there wasn’t much of there weren’t many restrictions on me. So I did see she’s got to have it when I was a little kid. And so some of those things kind of, you know, I could see the cross-references between the Mars Blackmon in the Nike ad and then, you know, the character he played and she’s got to have it. So yeah, I mean, I think that’s how it came to me first. I mean, I knew who Michael Jordan was, but he wasn’t quite the sensation that he would become. I mean, in the late eighties, like they didn’t air basketball on TV like that all the time. Right? Like it wasn’t as national of a broadcast as it was. And then, you know, the Bulls didn’t become nationally relevant until like the late eighties, early nineties.

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Speaker 3: But I’m thinking back to what you said that you know, Josh, about how, you know, Nike was always there, right? Like growing up. But maybe, maybe I’m a couple of years older than you, but I think that actually is a little bit different because I think when I think back to the mid eighties, I came up with my Adidas by, you know, Run-D.M.C. in 1986, you know, the converse, you know, the Chuck Taylors. Like those were really popular shoes when I was in elementary school, like wearing Chuck Taylors and all the different colors or whatever, even roofs that had zippers. I think Walter Payton, you know, sponsored those and they were like a little tennis shoe that had a zipper on them. You could put coins in the. And that seemed really cool.

Speaker 1: What about L.A. gear and British Knights?

Speaker 3: L.A. gear? British knights, yeah. Look, those really had the elegant headlight lights on them. There was the Reebok with the pumping up joints, you know, the deep brown indoor. So there was a moment when Nike was sort of in the crowd and then all of a sudden it emerged. And obviously Michael Jordan played a huge role in that. But I really do think that like getting into the apparel and getting into the branding and then the just, you know, the, the just do it. And we have talked about the Dream Team, and I think that had a lot to do with it too. Just like a lot of the branding around that. And that team helped Nike to sort of burst from the pack and then sort of take over from there. Because after that, after the early nineties, it was never another question.

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Speaker 1: Wasn’t the story there that that was Reebok and Jordan covered up the Reebok logo? It wasn’t like he wasn’t involved with the Dream Team.

Speaker 3: Yeah, but I feel like the reason that was the story was because Nike was encroaching on Reebok’s territory. You know what I mean? Like, at least in my memory of it, like, I don’t think anybody’s right.

Speaker 2: And I think I think we forget because it’s refracted through history. Now, just how much of an outsider Nike was in the official suites of leagues and international federations? I did a story from the World Cup in 1998 about how Nike was trying to break into international soccer. And they had literally the you know, they couldn’t do anything within a perimeter around Paris. So they had set up this sort of underground like soccer, you know, Nike display place where kids could go kick a ball and get some free swag and whatnot. And, you know, that was the brand.

Speaker 2: And what I think is interesting, like the outsider part and what I think is interesting about how Nike has evolved, it’s like you mentioned all those other those other brands, Josh and Joel from your childhoods, and none of them had any impact. And in the ephemeral world of sports brands and commercial fashion, Nike success really is kind of remarkable. You know, I think in that piece in The New York Times, Vanessa Friedman says that Nike stands alone with Apple in the pantheon of American brands that have taken over the world in the last 50 years.

Speaker 1: Yeah, I thought the Apple comparison was really interesting. She also had this really good point about how Nike and I’m quoting here, can toggle from Nedra Houston, the skateboarder to Forrest Gump, Mia Hamm to Lost in Translation, Kobe Bryant to the Breakfast Club, Naomi Osaka to Back to the Future. And then also mentions Serena Williams at the Met Gala, Colin Kaepernick after he took a knee during the national anthem. And.

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Speaker 1: The thing about Nike that makes its corporate success, I think such achievement, I guess, is that so much of it is about marketing. Is that what you distinguish between Nike and Under Armour and Reebok and Adidas and A6 and the other brands that we mentioned?

Speaker 1: I mean, people who are more kind of connoisseurs of of fashion and in function than I am might have a brand preference, but it’s nowhere near the distinction of like an Apple product versus like when the first iPod came out and how the other standalone music players are just trash or like the difference between iPhone and Android. Like there’s legitimate I mean, people have disagreements, but there’s like legitimate differences between those products or between a mac and a a PC. It’s not all aesthetics, although a lot of Apple fandom is around aesthetics. But with Nike, it seems like it’s. I don’t I don’t want to say all, but it’s mostly aesthetics. It’s mostly aesthetics and brand image and sloganeering, which.

Speaker 2: Has allowed it to like get into the technology part, like the vaporfly running shoe and, you know, other things that they now have the money to invest in, which obviously they invest billions of dollars in the technology of their equipment.

Speaker 3: Right. It really does say something. And I think a lot of this stems from basketball culture. Right. That a lot of Nike’s dominance, even though it was founded by like runners, like people that did track that basketball culture, has a lot to do with it in its staying power, because in the late nineties and early 2000s, there probably wasn’t a more an athlete that resonated more with like street culture than maybe Allen Iverson. Right? And he was with Reebok and they had these cool ads like him and a rapper named Jadakiss and, you know, all this like hip hop infused stuff. And Adidas later did it with Tracy McGrady and others, and it still didn’t really seem to make much of a dent.

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Speaker 3: And in fact, I just remember by 96, like we’re talking about a relatively short amount of time that Nike takes it all over. But by 96, I went to TCU and we were sponsored a football team by Reebok, and it was already sort of like a marker that, Oh, you’re not big time. Like if you if you are big time school, you get the Nike check on your uniform, not the Reebok shit. And like, I don’t know how like, I mean, obviously it has to be a branding and it has to been like this affiliation with this idea of cool or whatever because I mean product for product. I mean, I really have not noticed that big of a difference. Like maybe there are people out there that could speak to that. But I just didn’t I just didn’t see that. But they just, you know, totally dominated the market. And it doesn’t make to me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. But for the fact that marketing. Right.

Speaker 1: I mean, the best example from the past 5 to 10 years of like how this works and does it work, was the Ball Family Big Baller brand trying to create a brand? I mean, it’s funny about like, yeah, is it that ridiculous? Is it that more, much more ridiculous than like Nike being like a running shoe company and then like becoming the like coolest product in America like that. A family of, like, great basketball players would create a product and people like it doesn’t seem absurd to think that that might succeed.

Speaker 1: But like in practice, it was ridiculous. And it was mocked and seen as like a trash product and like the most kind of thirsty and uncool thing that basically has ever existed. And it just shows what a kind of difficult task it was. And maybe it’s just become more difficult because Nike is now this behemoth that nobody can challenge.

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Speaker 3: But I guess sort of the proof of that, right, that Under Armour tried to like encroach upon their territory and seem that they were going to like have this moment where they were going to take over. And all of a sudden, I mean, that that kind of went away. That threat seems to have receded already. Right.

Speaker 2: And it’s you know, it’s worth pointing out to that Nike had reached this pinnacle. You know, this is a $44 billion company.

Speaker 2: Now, despite going through what for other companies, maybe smaller companies, maybe less nimble companies in terms of marketing and media could have been fatal sweatshop scandals in the 1990s. The more recently treatment, it’s poor treatment of female athletes under contract. I mean, there have been scandals, corporate type scandals that have that have hit Nike, but they’ve been pretty Teflon because of the ingrained power of this brand.

Speaker 1: Yeah, that’s a great point. And it is really an interesting hypothetical to think about what would have happened at both Nike and Jordan if they hadn’t found each other. One thing I was thinking about as we were prepping for this segment, Magic Bird, where I associated with with Converse, right? That had there was a campaign and whatever. And it didn’t seem to do much to change the arc of their lives or careers or the arc of Converse. But I was wondering if Dr. Jay had come around at the moment when in the eighties, when like that kind of marketing and basketball and all this stuff were were converging. Like, if that had been Dr. Jay instead of Jordan, would we all be talking about docs or JS or whatever, whatever the hypothetical name of the shoe would be? What do you think, Jock?

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Speaker 3: Yeah, I mean, because I mean.

Speaker 1: Like it has to be somebody like that, athletic and transcendent and like who had done things.

Speaker 2: That different.

Speaker 3: Right? I can’t compare the two because obviously, you know, Jordan comes later. But yeah, man, Dr. Jay was so cool. I got. By the time I was a little kid. Like it was understood by an older generation of fan that Dr. J was that dude. But I came to him as he was sort of older and a little more ground bound. So yeah, I mean, obviously a lot of this is timing. I would I do wonder if Dr. Jay could have been that guy, because it’s not like, again, we you know, you listen to that commercial with Mars Blackmon, they didn’t even give Michael Jordan lines and a lot of these early advertisements because he was just sort of, you know, what he was? He was a country and he was a country boy. He had an accent. Like he still had to kind of grow into like this picture of cool. So it’s not like he had like this ingrained charisma. He was just a great player who had this flair for playing. But Dr. Jay was not that dude like Dr. Jay was, you know, like, legitimately a cool motherfucker, you know what I mean?

Speaker 2: So maybe he would have and I can and I can bring it bringing back to our childhoods. Dr. Jay was all that when I was, you know, a preteen and sort of elementary middle school, most impressionable in terms of sports and marketing. But there wasn’t the way to tap into that. Nobody had figured it out yet. So I do think, you know, it could have been Dr. Jay if someone had the presence and the money and the power and the the the the commercial production skills in the eight in the seventies to have turned him into what Michael Jordan would become. Because the parallel, I think, in terms of their appeal, because of their ability, because of their verticality, because of the things they could do with the basketball on the way to the hoop. Those were the same for kids who are watching Dr. Jay in the seventies and then watching Michael Jordan, you know, ten or 12 years later.

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Speaker 3: You know, I guess Nike really should thank Delores Jordan because, you know, the story there is that Michael Jordan really wanted to sign with Adidas and did not want to sign with Nike. But he went to his mother. His mother said, no, you promise to take that meeting with Nike, go ahead and do it. And I guess from their history was made, but I think, you know, they kind of closed off on this. I mean, I think that it’s clear that Jordan benefited a lot more from Nike. Was I don’t know. Is that fair? I shouldn’t say it like that. I don’t know. You guys are looking at me suspiciously as I said that as well. I don’t think this was allowed attack.

Speaker 2: I think it was completely symbiotic and it catapulted the two of them. And what are we now, 35 years plus since the first Spike Lee Michael Jordan Mars Blackmon Nike Commercial And what did Nike choose to promote its 50th anniversary? A four and a half minute video produced by Spike Lee starring Mars Blackmon, and a two and a half minute version that you can also watch if you don’t have time.

Speaker 3: Well, let’s just admit that Michael Jordan should not have won that dunk contest over Dominique Wilkins. It was. Okay.

Speaker 1: Great, great place to end the segment.

Speaker 1: Now it is time for After Balls. Sponsored as always by Bennett’s previous, endorsed by Kenny Sellers, he says it was okay back to dream on the women’s basketball documentary. A lot of players that I didn’t really know much about before this documentary and the one that I wanted to highlight here was Carla McGhee, who went to Tennessee Inside Player, a really good rebounder for this team and a lot of the players on her own team on that 1996 team didn’t know the severity of a car accident she’d had while in Tennessee.

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Speaker 1: They actually had footage from Knoxville television. It looked extremely bad. She had a hole in her forehead I think they described. Broke every bone in her face. Had to relearn how to walk, to run, to play. Basketball was back as a starter at Tennessee within a year and then made this team as kind of an unheralded player.

Speaker 1: She is now a coach. She’s at the University of Nevada. And. As with so many of these players, and I’m sure you guys would agree, incredibly engaging she was maybe one of the my my favorite talking had in the doc just like a really fun.

Speaker 3: Shoe so fun.

Speaker 1: Personality.

Speaker 3: Yeah. I briefly thought, by the way, that she was JaVale McGee’s mom because I know the development his mom played.

Speaker 1: Pam McGee.

Speaker 3: Pam McGee. Yeah, not so anyway, but still enthused to hear from her nonetheless.

Speaker 1: Had a long career playing internationally, played in the ABL for the Atlanta Glory, played in the WNBA for the Orlando Miracle. So has been a kind of a lot of these key moments in women’s basketball history. So Carla McGhee we honor you today, Stefan. What is your Carla McGhee?

Speaker 2: With a few seconds left in Game six of the NBA Finals, Steph Curry walked to the baseline and embraced his father. Dell It was a big, long squeeze that didn’t end until the final horn when an emotional Steph knelt on the court and cried really sweet father son moment, Dell seemed incredibly happy. Here’s Steph talking to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the game.

Speaker 5: Looks like you shared a special moment with your dad. What was he saying to you? He just proud of me. He played six years in the league and you get to share all these experiences together. So he’s just proud of me. Congratulations to Steph. You’re a champion again.

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Speaker 2: Dell was proud. Of course he was proud. What parent doesn’t want their child to surpass them? But I also wondered, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute, whether every time Steph Curry wins a title or an award, there isn’t just a little voice inside Dell Curry his head saying Goddamn son, that should have or could have been me. Dell Curry had a great career. As Steph said, Dell played 16 seasons in the league. Like Steph, he was a first round pick. Like Steph, he could bomb sinking more than 40% of his three point attempts 1245. In all, Dell made 84% of his three. Dell made 84% of his free throws and averaged 12 points a game. He was the NBA’s sixth man of the year in 1994 when he retired in 2002, he was the Hornets all time leading scorer.

Speaker 2: But the Sun obviously has eclipsed the father in every way. Steph was taking eighth in the draft too. Dell’s 15th. Steph has made 43% of his threes and NBA record 3117 and counting. Steph has made 91% of his free throws and averaged twice as many points per game as his dad. Dell Sixth Man is the only award listed on his basketball reference page. Steph got 11. Eight time All-Star eight time all NBA, two time MVP, two time scoring champ, four rings, 75th anniversary team, etc., etc..

Speaker 2: In 2015, after Steph won his first title, the NBA produced a two and a half minute video titled Stefan Dell Curry Share Special NBA Bond on Father’s Day. Violins, Twinkly Piano, The Works. Here’s Steph answering a question about one of the many things he’s enjoyed that his father didn’t.

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Speaker 5: Steph, your dad never won a championship. Can you just talk about how special that is to share this with him? I can’t be more proud of of him as a father and a role model example for me through this whole journey. So I’m hoping made him proud.

Speaker 2: So touching. But if 25 years ago when nine year old Steph was jacking up two handed heaves on NBA practice courts with his father, if the ghost of NBA future had told Dell, his boy would win two MVP and four rings with Dell of replied, You know what? How about you give me one of each and the kid going to have the rest was Bobby Bonds amazing player. Five 3030 seasons. Second player to hit 300 homers and steal 300 bags ever even a tiny bit like some if I had what you had the money, the travel ball, the training, a big leaguers, free expertise. They’d be buffing my bust in Cooperstown, and at least one of us wouldn’t have screwed up and made it in.

Speaker 2: What about Archie Manning, Josh? 13 NFL seasons threw for almost 24,000 yards, one of the first dual threat cubes. Would he have prospectively swapped a couple of Peyton’s five MVP’s or one of Eli’s two Super Bowls to flip his 35 and 101 record with the Saints? Sacrificed, say, 10,000 of Payton’s 71,940 passing yards to have played in one playoff game.

Speaker 2: I can now report what it feels like to have your kid be better than you at the thing you love and do pretty well. I’ve occasionally mentioned on here that my daughter plays Scrabble too well. Chloe’s 19, now almost 20, and last month she went to Montreal for a tournament. Her first without me went nine and five against strong players and officially passed me in rating by 1.16 76 to 1675. I knew it was coming. For the last two years, Chloe’s been putting in the work, studying daily, learning tens of thousands of words, playing and analyzing scores of games and beating me on the regular, committed, passionate, determined. And it doesn’t hurt to have a sub 20 brain that can absorb and recall all those letters strings. The one point ratings edge was a fun and fitting milestone. It didn’t last long.

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Speaker 2: Two weekends ago, we went to New Mexico for a big tournament two days, 18 games, a killer field, including two former North American champs who I wrote about in Word Freak and two other players in the top five in the rankings right now, seeded 15th out of 24, Chloe beat those four dudes and a bunch of other high experts, won nine in a row and was in first place with a 12 and four record with two games left.

Speaker 2: It was insane. She lost the last two and finished fifth, but her rating climbed a ridiculous 124 points to an even 1800 solidly expert and higher than my rating has ever been. She’s the highest rated woman under 40 in North America and I’m confident will be the highest rated woman period pretty soon. As for me, I went nine and nine and gained two rating points. And while Scrabble is fluky and ratings go up and down and my career isn’t over, let’s be real. She’s Steph. And I’m Dell. After Steph broke the all time threes record in December and.

Speaker 5: Just told me how proud I am, how much I love him, I know he worked hard and had no idea anything like that would happen, but it shows you that hard work pays off. And he’s not done. I mean, he’s not going to rest alone as long as he still wants to win more titles. Oh, very happy for him and shows you that, you know, as long as you work hard, you can help.

Speaker 2: Me to Dell. I’m proud. Very proud. Very, very proud. Couldn’t be prouder. Basking in her glory. Can’t wait to see what’s next. Anything can happen. But what if I’d started competing when I was nine or had been able to train from the jump with software and websites, or had a parent and coach like me? Unlike Dell in basketball, I can still chase my kid in Scrabble. I can study more, play more, try harder. But I’m 59. My brain is getting softer. My ambition has long waned. My shortcomings as a player are well-documented by me and aren’t likely to change materially. And now, like Dell’s, they’re magnified by my kids success. So all I can really hope for now is that Chloe will fulfill her role as the humble and generous child who knows she’s far superior to, but remains grateful for and respectful of her dad like staff. After he won his first MVP award in 2015.

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Speaker 5: Perhaps you’re the example of what a true professional is on and off the court and to be able to follow in your footsteps. You know, it means a lot to me. Really proud of what you were able to do in your career and. I don’t take that for granted at all.

Speaker 2: Choking back tears, dramatic pause to compose himself. Voice Cracking the scripts right there for you, Chloe, when you win your first national championship.

Speaker 3: Wow. That really made me also think. Think more highly of stuff. I would cut of my throat a little bit. Him getting caught up with Steph.

Speaker 2: Which Steph did it make you feel more, more highly of?

Speaker 3: Well, I mean, this is what I would say about you stuff in here. It’s not laying the foundation enough, you know what I mean?

Speaker 5: Like you laid the foundation.

Speaker 3: If she’s better than you are and ever were going to be, then like, isn’t that isn’t. Don’t you just take enough pride? And you know what? It wouldn’t have happened without me because I laid the foundation for you. I introduced you to this game. Is that not enough?

Speaker 2: That’s enough. I still wish I was better. Hmm.

Speaker 1: Well, you were definitely smart in having one kid. That’s better than you. As opposed to having two kids.

Speaker 3: You could have had a Steph Curry.

Speaker 1: Yeah.

Speaker 3: Yeah.

Speaker 2: You’re assuming that Steph is better than Dell was. I mean, maybe if I had a second kid, they never would have come close to me.

Speaker 1: And that’s my question. The thing that you left out here is you’re just really laying it on thick about how the kids have all these advantages over the parent. What about like the Pete Rose Jr or Marcus Jordan types who have to spend their lives chasing their parents glory and never come close to reaching its maturation?

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Speaker 2: Those are the icons that they’re chasing. You know, you’re chasing Dell Curry. Again, all due respect, great career. 16 years lasted a long time. Shot the shit out of the ball, but you’re not chasing, you know, the the greatest of all time. And I think that’s a different kind of pressure.

Speaker 1: Yeah, well, you did Khloe a favor there, too, by not being that, you know, not the greatest Scrabble player ever.

Speaker 3: I tried, you know, much better. You didn’t have to have a Jared Peyton or a, you know, a Bronny James. You know, like, it’s it’s okay.

Speaker 1: Well, I already put it already consigning bronny to.

Speaker 3: School has got to be real about what’s going to happen this.

Speaker 1: Summer. We really like to focus on making fun of Stefan. It’s sort of the highlight of what we do here, but that is really amazing what Chloe accomplished there. So congratulations. Not that much to you, but mostly to her detriment. Yeah.

Speaker 2: Most of you know what? All to her. I was just, as Joel said, the facilitator. She’s done all the work. And I really am sorry for what she’s done and. And how much more she can still do.

Speaker 3: That’s amazing, man. Congrats to you, Stephanie. I’m going to I’m going to go the extra mile here and say, hey, man, you got something to do with it. Congrats to you as well.

Speaker 2: So I appreciate that, Joel.

Speaker 1: That is our show for today. Our producer is Kevin Bender to us Natasha. And subscribe or just reach out to slate.com slash hang up and you can email us and hang up at Slate.com, then subscribe to the show and then review us on Apple Podcasts for Joel Anderson and Stefan Fatsis. I’m Josh Levin remembers I’m a baby and thanks for listening.

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Speaker 1: Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate Plus members and we’ll be the last podcast on Earth to tell you that the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship. Remember that? It was like five days ago, really start Thursday. And Joel, a lot of the conversation after that series kind of extends from the conversation we had last week after Steph’s game, for which I think it was you who said or it was said on the on the podcast that we’ll remember that game forever. And so that leads to. He won four championships. Legacy talk is in the top ten of the book and kind of very quickly, the actual particulars of the series get forgotten in service of this much larger conversation about the basketball universe. So just curious how you’ve taken all of that stuff in the last, I guess, a little less than a week since the finals ended?

Speaker 3: No, sure. It’s really interesting because the game after that game, he played a terrible game. Like he didn’t even score 20 points. It was sort of carried by a supporting cast.

Speaker 1: To make.

Speaker 3: A35 victory, yet didn’t make it three for the first.

Speaker 2: Time. And what, 200 and something games.

Speaker 3: Yeah. And so, yeah, I’ve just listened to a lot of this legacy talk and even stuff. It sort of indulged it a little bit by doing what else are they going to say now or what are they going to say now from the championship parade that happened in town yesterday?

Speaker 1: And I guess he checked off the finals MVP thing, which was the one thing missing from his proverbial resume.

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Speaker 3: The one thing missing from his proverbial resume. And you know what is interesting to me and I just I can throw this back at you all, but I always have sort of been like one series. One game doesn’t tell us a lot about a player. Like whatever I thought about Steph Curry was sort of fixed before he came into this finals. It didn’t matter if you played poorly, played extremely well, like he was always going to be, you know, one of the best players I’ve ever seen. But it’s been interesting to me that, you know, I’ve watched a lot of FS one and listen to a lot of podcast or whatever in the wake of this. And there’s been this top ten talk and they’re like all of a sudden Steph Curry has moved into the top ten and you know, he’s surpassed Larry Bird or Kobe Bryant or whoever. And this is what I have to say about that. Isn’t that stupid? Because we.

Speaker 1: Saw.

Speaker 3: Steph Curry and Kevin Durant on the same damn team. It’s somewhere near their peak a few years ago and we all knew that Kevin Durant was a better basketball player than Steph Curry, which is not of it, which is not an insult to Steph Curry. Like Steph Curry, still one of the greatest shooter ever, one of the best players we’ve ever seen to suit up in a basketball game. But all of a sudden he wins a championship in a year against like what? I mean, this Boston Celtics look like let’s not pretend this is what they did. They beat the 86 Boston Celtics, right? They beat a Boston Celtics team. They can’t even dribble really well. And all of a sudden I’m supposed to believe because Steph Curry in the Warriors defeated that team, that he’s a better basketball player than Kevin Durant, which we know not to be true because we just saw it. They want the same team in his teammate, one finals MVP. And I just want that to be sort of outrageous. Like, it just I don’t know why it bothers me so much that we don’t have to do.

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Speaker 2: They’re very, very bothered. You also started your your your soliloquy there by saying this is all stupid, trying to decide if he’s in the top ten or not. And yeah. Yeah.

Speaker 3: Well, I just I mean, like, whether or not he’s in the top ten, top 20 or whatever, we know he’s not better than Kevin Durant. We saw it, right. Am I right? Am I wrong to be frustrated by this by this talk?

Speaker 1: You’re not wrong. I think that the thing that Steph has going for him is that he made that team. Right. The whole team is kind of created around him and became a juggernaut because of him, both because of what he can do tangibly and the kind of effect that he has on his teammates. And we just have never seen that, I don’t think, from a guy of his stature of height and weight.

Speaker 1: Right. Yeah. And so there’s something just monumentally impressive about it. And the fact that he was able to do what he did at 30 for a single game doesn’t change anything about our perception of him. But when you’re talking about all time greatness, longevity matters. And that’s another thing that small guards don’t age well.

Speaker 1: And so the ways in which he transcends. The game we can now like add multiple categories like he transcends but someone of his size can do. He transcends how anyone of any size should be able to shoot. And he distorts the game in a way that, like we traditionally associate with somebody like Shaq or Yanis, like there’s a way in which he’s more impressive than Katie. Like, his ability to do what he does is maybe more impressive. And maybe Stefan. What it is, is that there’s nothing more transcendent or magical or transporting than watching him do what he does. And so maybe that is what gets inside everybody’s heads. There’s I mean, there’s always recency.

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Speaker 2: Bias, the aesthetics of it. And I think the aesthetics play a big part. I mean, it’s like watching, you know, a whale which is graceful and cool to see cut through the ocean versus watching a pack of minnows in a foot of water at the edge of the beach, darting and, you know, and impossible to catch.

Speaker 1: He’s like a menace.

Speaker 2: So I don’t do I mean that’s going to pack. I think that yeah. So I think that that’s part of it. And I think the other part that has helped to your point, Joel, is that I think Steph has been diminished a little bit because of having to play or having played with Durant for those years. Remember, he did this before Katie was on the Warriors. He did it while Katie was on the Warriors, and now he’s done it after KD was on the Warriors. And I think that the doing it without somebody like Cody in a year where, you know, Klay Thompson wasn’t 100% the entire time, during which Draymond Green was as erratic as he can be. And in a year when it required younger players to be nurtured and supported and rise up and get better, that’s pretty overall impressive.

Speaker 3: Yeah, I agree. I just don’t think there has to be this sort of historical revisionism. Right. Like we saw Steph led the league in scoring a couple of years ago, you know, somewhere near his offensive apex. And they lost in the play in game to Memphis right now his supporting cast gets healthier. Draymond’s back, Klay Thompson’s there Andrew Wiggins has another year in the system and a little bit better. And the one thing that I would add and I’m not I promise I’m not trying to use this as an opportunity to denigrate Steph because I do think that he’s great.

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Speaker 1: Thank you so much for promising that you’re right.

Speaker 3: That’s very important to us because, you know, I live in the Bay Area and these Warriors fans are extremely sensitive about this sort of stuff. But this is what I would say for any of the players that you could consider to be among the greats, like the top ten, Mount Rushmore, whatever the hell you want to do. Has there ever been a player? Is bad on defensive stuff is among that group. And if we agree that defense is half of the game, it really is literally half of the game. Like we’re not playing offense, you’re playing on defense and the other team uses you as an opportunity to find a weakness in its offensive attack. Can you truly say that that player is like what? I mean, obviously he’s one of the greats, but is he one of those greats? Is he Jordan, whatever? All that other stuff. I know I sound like Mad Dog or somebody like that right now. Don’t sound like Skip Bayless, but we’re.

Speaker 1: Giving the members an opportunity to see what this show would be like as a sports radio show. I think that’s outrageous.

Speaker 3: It’s just.

Speaker 2: How do you.

Speaker 1: Sleep? How do you sleep at night with that?

Speaker 3: To me, playing the role of Shannon Sharpe to go. But, you know, I just I just I just am I just I’m just very frustrated by the narrative around it. And I think that like, I guess the bottom line here is that there’s an opportunity to just appreciate this stuff in the moment and just say that he’s good. We don’t have to compare anybody to anybody and just say stuff is great on his own. He doesn’t have to be better than Kobe. He doesn’t be better than Akeem or Tim Duncan. He is excellence in and of itself. But then it always has to go beyond this.

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Speaker 1: Yeah. Why aren’t people focusing on the more kind of like present converse, the more present and healthy conversations like Jason Tatum is trash. Like that’s that’s really what he needs to be focusing on is stuff healthy.

Speaker 3: Healthy 100 turnovers.

Speaker 1: Sports takes like that. Zach Lowe I thought made a good point on the defense thing, which you’re right obviously it all but the reason that Steph has gotten honeyed. Is because he is not because he is the worst defender on a team full of unbelievably good defenders. It’s not like he’s being hunted. It’s not like they’re picking and choosing between like, should we go after.

Speaker 2: Him.

Speaker 1: Or should we go after, like, Peyton Pritchard? Or should we go like there’s not really anybody else on that team.

Speaker 3: That hasn’t done that well to me. I mean, like Go, we know Draymond and Klay Thompson are like Akeem Olajuwon. Great on defense or Tim Duncan great on defense because they’re not. I mean.

Speaker 1: You’re saying Draymond Green is at an all time great on defense.

Speaker 3: I mean, I think he is. But I mean, do you think he’s as good as Akeem Olajuwon are? Tim Duncan on defense, like do you think I mean, like he’s clearly.

Speaker 1: Good or sorry that we don’t I’m sorry that we don’t disagree with each other. All I’m saying is that Steph isn’t bad on defense. He’s just not as good as the other players on his team. Which means and you’re right, he’s not a like a plus plus defender like you would hope at a top ten or top five all time. Great. He would be.

Speaker 2: All right. Let’s go to the phones now.

Speaker 1: All right. Enough, enough with us.

Speaker 3: And after I drag this down in the gym room radio. Sorry about that, I.