S1: The following podcast contains explicit language. Hide your children.
S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor. This is Hang Up and listen for the week of August. Thirty first twenty twenty on this week’s show, we’re going to discuss the fallout from the NBA’s wildcat strike last week in pro basketball and the entire sports world. We’ll also talk about the death of John Thompson, the legendary Georgetown basketball coach who turned that program into an unapologetically black powerhouse. And finally, the athletics Lindsay Jones will be here to assess what should be done about the Washington football team after yet another report about the franchise’s culture of sexual harassment. But this one implicating owner Dan Snyder.
S1: I’m the author of The Queen, the host of Slow Burn Season four. I’m here in Washington, D.C. Stefan Fatsis is off this week. But joining me, as always, from beautiful Palo Alto Slate staff writer, the host of Slow Burn Three, Mr. Joel Anderson. What’s up, Joel?
S3: Beautiful and smoky Palo Alto, by the way. How are you doing with this book? Well, I mean, we have to close our windows most days and it’s dangerous to go outside and do physical activity. But other than that, it’s fun.
S1: Well, thank you for telling us the truth and not sugarcoating it.
S3: Everything’s great. All right.
S1: Beautiful. Filion this week, one of our favorite guests, New Yorker staff writer, theater critic Vincent Cunningham. Thanks for being here, Vincent. Hey, how is the air quality for you?
S4: Slightly better. Less than wildfire grade. But, you know, I’m doing all right. I went on a jog today. That did not hurt.
S3: Oh, we’ll see. I mean, that’s paradise as far as I’m. As recently as five days ago, it seemed as if the NBA was done for 20 20, the Milwaukee Bucks left the court minutes before Game five of their first round playoff series against the Orlando Magic, triggering a league wide strike. And the twenty four hours after the Bucs walk off the NBA and much of the sports world came to a stop in reports emerged that the Lakers and the Clippers, two of the league’s three title favorites, along with Milwaukee, were ready to leave the bubble for good. As you know, that didn’t happen. President Obama called it the behest of LeBron James, reportedly advised the players to leverage their platform to get some guarantees from the owners before returning to the floor. And now they have returned with owners, promising, among other things, that they’ll work with local officials to turn their arenas into voting locations for the November election. Vinson, you wrote Wednesday in The New Yorker that NBA players seem to recognize that the most powerful thing they could do was not to work and that the most astounding use of their platform was to step off of it. So now that the strike is over. How did it feel to see them step back on their platforms this weekend?
S5: You know, it was a strange kind of mixed thing for me. I mean, first of all, as I wrote in in that piece, I just like watching basketball. And the part of me that likes watching basketball has no ethics. Right. There’s no politics in that part of my life. So I was watching Jamal Murray last night and just grateful that I could do that. Right. So there’s always that. Then there’s the part of me that was raised. One of my mom’s favorite things when I would talk about celebrities and what they did was don’t count somebody else’s money. So there’s a part of me also that says, you know, they decided they wanted to come back. And I can’t tell somebody else to do with what to do with their their money, their prestige, their quote unquote platform, which we word that’s been bandied about a lot recently. So there’s that. But then, yeah, there is a part of me that is slightly disappointed and intrigued by the way things seemed to play out. I just I’m interested in what the way this sort of was very quickly resolved with a lot of promises that don’t seem to have hard benchmarks and things up front. I’m just I’m interested in it. But despite all of those feelings, I think the objective reality is that the NBA players showed us something amazing. They showed us what their power was. By the way, one Kyrie Irving, who we make fun of a lot, said, you know, before they went into the bubble that actually the players don’t need the owners. We could play on our own pointing to some of the things that became apparent. So just by showing that and by bringing certain distinctions to the fore, you know, the difference between these rich owners and the communities in which they do their business, all these kinds of interesting issues and tensions of class and race just by showing some of those things. It was an immensely powerful thing. But they also showed us, I think, some of the difficulties. Right, whether it’s how their union works and who’s really in charge of the players. When we say to the players, who who is that? Is it just LeBron and Chris Paul? Is it a more democratic organism than that? So some of those impediments were also shown as well. It was it was fascinating.
S6: So they could have just come back after missing that couple of days of games and have made their point and said, like, we stopped because we didn’t feel like it was right to play and we showed our power. And now you you paid attention to us then and you’ll be paying attention to us now. And that, I think, would have been enough and a lot of ways. But instead, they chose a slightly different approach, which was to say we came back because we got this particular set of things from ownership, like we got this package, and that was the results of our leaving. And so when that is the declaration that’s made, then you look at the package of things and you’re kind of inclined to think, all right, well, what did they get? Is this enough? And maybe that’s maybe that’s the wrong approach.
S1: But I feel like that’s kind of what they’ve left us with. And when you look at the collection of things, it’s a creation of a social justice coalition among players, coaches and front offices. What you mentioned in the intro is all about transforming arenas owned by teams into polling places and then also just an increased number of public service announcements during playoff games like, look, I’m not I certainly don’t mean to diminish any of that. All that stuff is important. But when you look at it compared to the possibilities that seemed right when the strike was announced, you know, his disappointment that the right word, it just it doesn’t seem like a huge transformational thing that’s happened.
S3: Yeah. Can I can I be honest? So all of this combined with watching Jamal Murray get a. Well, after the postgame postgame interview last night made me uncomfortable and, you know, some of that is maybe because he was so emotional that he couldn’t fully articulate himself in the moment.
S6: And Murray was wearing the Briana Taylor and George Floyd shoes.
S3: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. He had images of George Floyd on tape and she was. Exactly. And I’m just there’s a couple of things. One, I’m just wary of black people repeatedly mining their pain and inner turmoil to make the case for their own humanity and whether they deserve equal protection under the law. Like there’s just something about that that I’ve seen these interviews that are similar to that, like Doc Rivers, you know, a couple of nights before doing the same thing. And it just really made me uncomfortable. But the other thing is that I can’t even think in terms of this as a disappointment or a success or whatever, because it’s such a tremendous indictment of our society that we’re burdening NBA players with being moral authorities on this issue and that we’re asking to do things that we would never ask other people to do like this is this is not a world of their making. And yet people are asking the asking them to be held accountable for solving its problems. Republican congressmen don’t get the questions about the stuff that Jaylen Brown does. And Jaylen Brown, I guess it was on Saturday. I got my first before after his playoff game and they asked him what he thought about the concessions, so to speak, that the players had gotten from the league owners and league officials.
S7: And he said this promises are made year after year. We’ve we’ve hear we’ve heard a lot of these terms in these words before. We heard him in twenty fourteen reform and we started hearing them. Now, you know, a lot of these are just reshaping the same ideas and that nothing is actually taking place.
S3: And I mean, he’s right. But that’s not something that’s confined to the NBA. That is that is a societal problem. Like that is something that you hear a complain about electoral politics every year, especially this year. And the idea that the NBA is supposed to hold people accountable in ways that the electorate hasn’t before just really makes me uncomfortable. And it seems silly to me, but maybe maybe I’m diminishing that so-called platform. I don’t know. Right?
S5: Yeah. There are these people that entertain us, and it does seem strange for them to be tasked with leading the way, especially when it comes to labor itself. Right. There is there’s something that’s always a contradiction when we watch sports. Right. Is that like I mean, as NBA fans, we all know we’ve been through a lockout shortened seasons. Right. Labor has been at the forefront of this. And one of the things I read really interestingly, The Nation’s Dave Zirin wrote a thing about how this was a moment for the rest of the labor movement to finally join this in a kind of unified and sort of in unison join with these players and and make labor itself as a force visible in this movement for social justice that’s been going on for the past few weeks. So I don’t know. The structure of our society means that maybe it is the the players who have to galvanize, you know, move other people towards this next phase of what this movement can be. I mean, this morning it was reported that the New York City teachers are preparing to strike over covid. You know, I think that this in some ways could be a harbinger of labor being a more prominent voice in all of this. But also the interesting thing with that Jaylen Brown thing, the weird thing about placing this sort of political meaning onto the players is that the players themselves, just like, you know, if you want to continue this thing of them being a microcosm of the wider society, the players themselves don’t all agree on what progress means when you read closely a lot of these reports that have come out. Chris Hans’s Yahoo! Report, among them, this sort of tick tock of the two days of the strike, it seems clear to me that there’s at least and it’s more than this, but there is at least a very clear generational shift, a difference, a generational difference among the players might like. It seems that the younger people, Jaylen Brown noted, and plus one reader among them, and maybe the leader of them has a more confrontational idea of what the players stance vis a vis the management and the owners should be. You know, I think LeBron is maybe LeBron generation is maybe the sort of still kind of post Jordan in their idea that the players and the ownership are really in what amounts to a partnership, you know, and they are working together to propagate what the Times, as Mark Steyn calls hashtag this league, you know, we’re all in it together and we’re all kind of pushing this product forward and growing the game, as they often say. Right. And in ways that are, you know, sometimes good, sometimes strange, you know, and the younger players, because because they are post LeBron and have, I think, a deeper sense of their own power. These younger guys, I think they kind of they they are questioning this. And so it becomes easy because the players are largely black and largely young in the larger sense. Right. We’re all talking we’re talking about a bunch of people who are under 40. They’re all young. But within this model, this big, you know, mostly black, mostly young mass, there are other interesting things happening. And they’re. It’s a problem for us to project our political wishes onto these 450 guys. It’s not realistic.
S1: So so Brown said anything in that same media availability that because of the reporting, the leaks that came out of that players only meeting, that there’s too much of a tendency to emphasize the differences between players and not enough of a focus on the unity between them. Now, that sounds like something that you would say if you want yourself to emphasize the unity between the players and not the differences. And so not being in that room, I think it’s hard for us to know. But I read this stuff the same way that you did, Vincent, and just focusing in on what seems like a generational divide that is, you know, you can find parallels throughout our society. I mean, it seems like no coincidence that Jaylen Brown was one of the most visible players at protests before the bubble that like he was out there out front, leading on the street before being forced into this environment where the only outlet that he has for activism is like talking to fans on social media or talking to reporters on Zoome. It’s just like so constrained and so, you know, separate from the rest of the world that, you know, his peers are living in. But then I also think about a guy like George Hill, who, by all accounts was the one who started this whole movement by I don’t think he necessarily was intending to do it, but he said before the Bucs magic game, I’m not going to play. And then Sterling Brown heard it. Sterling Brown, who’s a victim of police brutality, his Bucs teammates said, all right, I’m not going to play either. And then Janice ultimately decides I’m not going to play. And then when Janice decides that the whole team doesn’t play the book show up, then we are no longer playing. And then when the whole team doesn’t play it, the whole league doesn’t play. But the fact that it was George Hill, a guy that we all know because he’s been in the league for a long time, he’s not quite a journeyman, but he’s somebody who is not, you know, a star in the league. The fact that I don’t necessarily know what it signifies, but he’s not LeBron James. He’s not even Jaylen Brown. Like, he doesn’t fit kind of neatly into that dichotomy. And yet he was the one who started this. He’s the one who felt like he needed to do what he needed to do.
S3: And he had a voice and it ultimately got amplified when we recorded the so called emergency podcast at the time, like we sort of hinted at the idea or there was hinting at the idea that this wasn’t necessarily an organized labor strike. Right. That it happened organically, that a couple of players said, I don’t want to play, and then everybody had to follow in line in a show of solidarity, which does say something about the the relationship that the players have amongst themselves. Right. That they at least have enough cohesiveness among themselves despite generational class differences, whatever else, like they had enough solidarity to do that. But because it happened so organically in that way and it was a response to what was a very emotional event and Kenosha the night before, I mean, you know that with a Rittenhouse kid he went into went into Kenosha and shot a couple of protesters. So it was a very tense time. And you could totally understand how the players may respond to that and been like, well, what the hell are we doing here? But I think we talk when we’ve talked about labor. I mean, the reality is if the players had walked away, there was going to be some severe financial implications. Right. And that’s sort of the piece of this that we can’t avoid talking about, is that if they had decided, well, we want to stop playing to make a point, they would have been in a much, much weaker bargaining position with their owners and the league officials or whatever. So they had to come back. And some ways and I think that that seemed to have been the through line in all the cases to be playing. You know, Chris Paul and LeBron James reportedly said, hey, look, we’ve got to come back and we’ve got to play. And not everybody was on the same page. They fell in line that first day. But after that, like you could see up, if we don’t do this man, like, do we really want to do this? And so even people that ostensibly have a lot of power or influence or they work in a labor situation where you think they have more power than they actually do, like you can see that I mean, being a worker, I mean, it’s very vulnerable. You know, I mean, like all of us at some point had to show up and go to work if we can. And like, it looked like that’s kind of what happened here.
S6: Can we do a little counterfactual history here? So LeBron brings and Obama and I think I feel like Obama advised them to do what you think Obama would have advised them to do. It’s like go back, get back and play like find a kind of way to move forward here and partner, as you mentioned, and get some concessions.
S8: But get back on your platform. Like what? What if instead of the politician would have been to.
S1: See, or or the bird, it’s just like it’s so like LeBron and Chris Paul to, like, bring in Obama, it’s like is there like a version of this that, like, would have played differently? It’s just funny to think about what might have happened.
S5: Yeah. Not to extend the counterfactual game too much, but I mean, you can think of again, because of the nature of the NBA and because of what we know, what so many of us have spent lots of time complaining about in terms of the owners, you can imagine something that, you know, brought attention to the fact that these owners get money, public funds to build stadiums. Right. And what if someone did quick math on current ownership groups? How much money and public funds have you gotten to build your arenas? And is there a sum that is either equal to that or some serious percentage of that, that you could then reinvest in certain ways? Or do all of the vendors and subcontractors that work with these ownership groups provide health care and a living wage to all their workers? Right. Preposterously, the owners get 50 percent of all the basketball related income that comes into the league. What if there was a percentage of that that had to go toward any number of things? What if this was a league? You know, there’s I’m getting myself upset. There are I mean, often when we talk about urban and conflict, urban with black, that is a total conflation. That means nothing in the NBA. Actually, all the teams are in areas that are affected by gun violence. Right. Like Minnesota, where George Floyd was just killed. Obviously, Milwaukee is 40 miles from Kenosha. You could go on and on. You could you know what if that the players asked the the the owners to be anti-gun. Right. What if this was a way to put forward very serious urban issues? Right. I think that, you know, to your point, a different person might have given them some more ideas of what to ask for and how ardently to ask for it.
S3: Well, you know, what they could have done to they could have just asked the WNBA. I mean, the WNBA already has, you know, a social and racial justice coalition, for instance. Right. Like that’s something they already had built up to in the WNBA. Clearly has a very different relationship with its ownership group that the NBA does. Right. Just looking at the example of the Atlanta dream and how they handle in one of their co-owners. Right. Yeah. So, yeah, I mean, they could have done that as well. But yeah, I think that LeBron and Chris Paul, they see themselves not maybe not Piers, of Obama, but they see themselves, as you know, they’ve roughly got some of the same interests. And so of course that’s the person they call out to right now. But I do want to just say I don’t want to overlook the idea that turning the arenas into voting centers like that’s not an insignificant concession speech. It’s a that’s a big deal. And that’s something that probably would not have happened if they had not pushed for it.
S1: You mentioned the WNBA, Joel, and a big moment for the players, not just on the dream, but throughout the entire league was wearing shirts that said Vote Warnock for Kelly laughters opponent and the upcoming Senate race.
S6: It was a very explicitly putting themselves in the middle of this election. And one thing that NBA players haven’t done so far as I’ve seen, whether it’s through LeBron with, is more than a vote initiative or anyone else is to say, vote Biden or we need to get Trump out of office. Is that surprising? I mean, LeBron called Trump EUBAM on social media. It’s not like that would be like breaking the seal on anything, but it’s just like everything else about this is so explicit about this movement. And to leave that is kind of implicit like vote go to the polls like wink, wink. Does it seem surprising to you or is that just smart?
S5: I don’t know. I mean, if you’re your scintillating conversation with Ethan Sherwood Strauss, is any indication some people might have thought that that would be some version of suicide for the league? Who knows that? That’s just beyond the pale for the NBA. I too much weakness put too much welcomeness, too much whatever. I do think that in the NBA as opposed to the WNBA, there does, even though they have this sort of progressive, multicultural reputation, there is some vestige of not conservatism, but there is a sort of primness to the league as a as a whole, as a pair, as opposed to the players. They’re going to let LeBron say, I’ll say and quotes. They don’t they’re not going to get mad at him if he says you bomb or whatever. But Adam Silver is going to try to tell you why, you know, in his heart he’s voting for Biden, but without ever saying that. Right. As opposed to, you know, they’re going to let Popovich and Curry say that. But part of the sort of jujitsu, I think, that they’ve managed is we can create space. Or people to individual actors within our league to do that, but we are going to maybe that’s the water’s edge for us, so I’m actually not surprised by that.
S6: John Thompson Jr. was a very large man, six foot 10, the tallest coach I can remember ever seeing on the sideline as I became a basketball fan in the 80s. But Thompson was even bigger than his stature. He transformed Georgetown, where he was the head coach from nineteen seventy two to the nineteen ninety eight ninety nine season into a college basketball powerhouse. But more than that, he transformed big time college basketball, making the sport bolder and blacker than it had been before. Thompson’s Hoyas, led by Patrick Ewing when the 1984 National Championship, the first title ever won by a black coach and by a team with an all black roster. He also led the first sports protest that I remember as a kid his walkout in 1989, protesting a proposal known as Proposition forty two, which would have banned freshmen who didn’t meet academic standards from getting on scholarship. There’s a lot to talk about here, including his contentious relationship with the press, which inspired the phrase Hoya paranoia and also his connection with Allen Iverson, who has said repeatedly that Thompson saved his life. Joel, what’s the first thing that comes to mind for you when you think of John Thompson?
S3: Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind for me is somebody who grew up in Houston as a University of Houston fan, is that he won his first national championship at the expense of my University of Houston Cougars. So that’s probably one of the very first major sporting events that I can remember, because I was I may have not even been six years old, but I was right around that. And it’s I remember Georgetown winning and I remember my father not being too broken up about it because the head coach of the other team was black, which is sort of the rooting interest in my family a lot of the times. But beyond that, you know, as I came to read more about him and learn more about him, we talk a lot about those starter autobiographies and biographies. And I read one by John Thompson when I was very young. And so one of the things that came out of that is I thought a lot about the value of having like an unafraid, unintimidated black coach and the effect that that might have on their players, because that can give you a lot of strength, especially in a time when you’re particularly vulnerable and sort of reshaping your identity, like when you’re in college. Having that sort of influence is really pivotal. And it’s just quite a gift to have someone not think of you. And I guess the way I say it is that what a gift it must be for someone to not think of you as a problem in need of solving or something broken in need of fixing. And that’s the way I thought John Thompson thought of his players. And actually this morning when we were doing research, I came across him talking about Allen Iverson and, you know, back in the days when people were worrying about him, you know, the people that Iverson kept company with and all this other stuff. And he said, now, why would Allen Iverson not have a posse? They love him. They’re around him. They’re comfortable with him. They include him. He doesn’t have to score 40 points to be included into their world. And like, that’s just a really powerful way of looking at the world. And that’s not often what you hear from coaches or professors or people in positions of authority at a certain point. That’s just the perspective that you just don’t even today you don’t hear it. And it must have sounded especially radical 30 or so years ago when he said it. So, I mean, that’s a lot of stuff. But like, you know, John Thompson was just one of those first guys that I just remember thinking, man, that dude is not afraid. And it must be awesome to learn from somebody like that.
S4: Yeah, my first I’m pretty sure my first time really knowing about him and having this reverence for him, which I think a lot of basketball fans did, was around Allen Iverson, this guy who I mean, it’s easy to forget how much trouble Allen Iverson was in before he got to Georgetown, how much he’d already seen and how, you know, how precarious so many parts of his life already were. And the fact that he always cited this this man, this someone who acted as a, you know, had this sort of father figure thing to him, you know, he was sort of without any of the negative associations. He was somebody out of the sort of world of like the Huxtables or something. This man who carried himself with this sort of forceful dignity. Also, though, he makes me think that there is this kind of bygone era of especially in college basketball. But it was even sort of the case in in professional basketball with people like Phil Jackson, you know, this sort of that there was this sort of graceful patriarchal figure who would be not only a tactician, but also kind of a father figure, kind of this sort of patrician somebody to look after you. And now I think this is kind of out the way players come along now and that there’s much more power and they have their own relationships with, for example, shoe companies and things like that. But he kind of showed that a black man could fit that mold, but that one, that he could fit that mold. But then to that, there would be some costs with the Hoya paranoia and having to adjust that mode to fit somebody like Iverson that there would be. All kinds of different contortions to make that work. So it was, yeah, he sort of filled an archetype, but then at the same time kind of switched it around, kind of remixed it.
S1: I mean, the the support that he came into, he came to Georgetown in 1970 to a school. I mean, it’s almost like comical how far off the like image Georgetown was from. Like, you know, what if you kind of looked at the world of, like, higher education through the lens of sports, which I think probably all of us did grab as kids, like, you know, about these schools because they had good basketball or football teams. And like you look at the image of Georgetown that Thompson cultivated of this like black team, you know, there’s even like Michael Graham, the first player who really, like, shaved his head in the early 80s. Patrick Ewing is just like the kind of coolest, blackest team in all of sports. Like how different that was from the image of Georgetown University. I think, like, I had a friend who told me, like he thought that Georgetown was a historically black college growing up.
S3: Oh, you hear that over and over again today. And it’s the same thing I grew up thinking. Georgetown was like, if not a black college, like it just was overrepresented in terms of black students or whatever. Right.
S1: I mean, can you imagine, like, how forceful of a personality and how impressive it is to take this institution and transform it in the way that he did in such a short period of time? I mean, it wasn’t even a place where they were good at basketball, much, much less a place that had a basketball team that look like it did and played like it did. And to take it and become a national losing to Jordan on the shot in eighty two and then beating Joel’s cougars in eighty four or losing developed over an eighty five, but just becoming this kind of cultural force that transcended the game and really transforming the sport in the way in the way that he did. It’s just such an impressive accomplishment. And then, you know, Joel, when you talked about the ways in which he related to players, I think you can kind of also look at it. And this is a testament to how complex he was. You can spin it. And the total opposite way, the Hoya paranoia thing was about how he wouldn’t let the media talk to the players. And he cultivated this sort of, you know, it’s us against the world sort of mentality, which you can totally understand, given the racism that he and the team faced. And then there’s the story about him confronting the famed D.C. drug lord Rafel Edmond, that you’ll be reading about in all the stories about Thompson this week, and that Edmund was kind of approaching players like Alonzo Mourning and befriending them and Thompson like nobody. And this sounds apocryphal. Everybody says that it’s true, but it has the whiff of legend to it that he was the only one who ever stood up to him and say, you have to said you have to stay away from from my players. And so, Joel, like he wanted you know, he didn’t see these guys as problems and he didn’t see them as things that needed, you know, like they needed to be fixed. And yet he wanted to protect them and keep them, you know, cossetted or whatever, whatever you want to call it.
S3: And I attribute that because if you read John Thompson’s interviews or read his quotes, he actually has like some very interesting views on race and racism, because he talks a lot about how he experienced a lot of racism from black people, which I which I to the main color isn’t right. Because he talked about how he was big and black and people growing up in his neighborhood would make fun of him. And you know that he’s faced a lot of scrutiny amongst his own people. And I think the way that Ralph Wiley wrote about it is that black people that did not know John Thompson well tended to like him more than black people who did, and that white people that knew him well liked him a lot more than white people. They didn’t know him at all. That’s fascinating. Yeah. Which is always sort of fascinating way to think about it. Right. It just as he cut this, like, really unique figure, I would love to know more about the hiring process that George Town went through when they brought in John Thompson, because I believe he was a high school coach before they brought him in. The idea that this predominantly white school would hire a black coach and not just a black coach, a black coach who looked like that a black coach would talk like that, and a black coach who was, hey, man, I’m going to bring in a bunch of black dudes and you guys are just going to have to deal with it. And I mean, and to support him because he faced a lot of criticism for having these all black teams. And that criticism even followed him into picking the nineteen eighty eight Olympic team where they were worried that he wasn’t going to pick enough white players for that team.
S1: Dan Merley was on that team. Was he the only other one? Was he the one everybody else? Look, if you got thunder, dad on the team, you’re covered. That’s all you need to understand.
S3: Let’s get his twenty three on me before we make any assumptions, OK? So that’s what I always think of with John, that he just to your point that they’re not even really coaches like that today anymore. Right. Does that sort of archetype even exist?
S4: I mean, I think the last the last holdover, and it’s only because of his past that on Team USA is Coach K, you know, and even and even there you see all the time, guys just being like, oh yeah, I hate that dude. Like, he didn’t put me on the team. I mean, you know, there’s that that sort of reverential status that would even cover up some of the ways in which people don’t like the person like that’s gone, I think.
S1: Vincent, what do you make of like looking back on it now, the 40 to walk out? And that’s the thing I really remember and maybe not grasping what it was and what he was doing, but it was a very effective form of protest in terms of getting attention and the fact that it wasn’t like he said, I’m not going to go to the game. He actually went to the game. And then as it was about to start, he walked out of the arena making sure that the cameras captured it. But this was a protest against a rule that said essentially, if you don’t meet these academic standards, we’re not going to you can’t get a scholarship, which is he thought was racist and he was not afraid to say it. And he got the rule by the people, followed him, and the rule wasn’t enacted.
S4: Yeah, it’s amazing. We’ve been talking about this in terms of the NBA, the way that protest politics and the inevitable fact of, like visibility in sports come together and marry one another, like the way you just narrated that shows the savvy. And we’ve talked about all the ways that he stands out. Right. Six, 10 black men always you know, everybody knows him. And so we also mentioned that he won a couple of championships with the Celtics. He wanted to read. Yeah, yeah. So, you know, he’s got all this history and in his case, where is it all on his body and knows that if he goes to the place and then makes a move, not only does it draw attention, but it serves as a metaphor for like a certain kind of indispensability. Right. And that that, I think is speaks directly to the issue. Like you need these young kids and him taking himself away becomes then like a way to, I think, show what could happen on the collegiate level and even at the professional levels if if there were more of that kind of refusal. So it’s this interesting interplay between sort of. Yes. Presence and using platform, but also saying, you know what, if I’m not there? And it’s interesting, right? Like, yes, Georgetown is this majority white sort of conservative seeming Catholic University. But there is a slight difference, right? Because even if you think about the Fab Five or whatever, you don’t think about, you know, the the black communities of Ann Arbor. Right. But in Georgetown, there is that middle slice that is the university that’s largely white. But you’re in D.C. and that that matters to that. You’re in this historically black city, even if it’s not a black identified institution. You know, when I lived in D.C., this was after Thompson had already retired. But I went to watch them play a couple of times and it was like, you know, these are the Greg Monroe years. This is not the young Georgetown, but some of that grandeur and some of that identification between the players and the place, if not necessarily the institution, some of that, you know, that plus the sort of faded glory of the Big East to like. It’s still kind of clung to it. It felt like something. And to be a coach and somehow still be the main attraction and then understand that power, I think that’s that’s really important. But, you know, after that, those issues like that were not at all resolved after 1989. You know, if you read one of my favorite basketball books, Darsey Friends, The Last Shot, it’s all about guys just trying to get their seven hundred on the SATs so that they can be eligible to be eligible to play college ball. So all of the sort of unfairnesses of that have still managed to pretend. But that was a big move, Joel.
S1: He was a believer in college as a transformational opportunity for the players he was bringing into the the program and talked about the opportunity to use basketball and not just have basketball be the end goal and to get an education. And I think we’re all pretty cynical about college sports and about the NCAA. So do you feel like he was upholding this institution in a way that it maybe shouldn’t have been upheld? Or was he kind of looking at it from a vantage that was appropriate for his era and was saying like maybe this? Obviously, as we just talked about, he saw the flaws and the NCAA and attacked Tactix when he thought appropriate, but thought, yeah, there is still a way that you can use the system for your.
S3: You know, I mean, I think I’m definitely torn on that, right? He won his national championship in nineteen eighty four, which is like sort of the year, this dividing line when college sports sort of fundamentally changes because, you know, the TV money starts rolling in and it sort of fundamentally alters the relationship that athletes have with their universities. And the universities have their conferences and the conferences and with the NCAA. Right. But to your point. So while I do believe that players should be paid for their labor, I would never dismiss the case being made that college is a transformative opportunity. And the reason I say that is because I played college football with guys who I know that would not have been able to get into college without the opportunity. And as a result, have, you know, moved on and have fairly middle class lives. Like I’ve I saw them grow just within those few years and then get placed in professional opportunities that might not have existed because they probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to school or they may have not been able to get in otherwise. Right. So I would never deny that John Thompson is right, that it is a transformative opportunity. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t owe people what they’re owed you. I mean, I don’t mean that. I mean, you can’t pay people because those athletes are also giving those universities opportunities as well. It’s a transaction. And so I think, you know, John Thompson talked often about wanting to be rich. You know, he said, I want to be remembered as a teacher and I want to be rich. And which I think is that is that is my goal to I don’t care about being a teacher. I would like to be rich someday. I think that you can balance both of you can hold both of those ideas in your head. Right. That college is important. And it’s a it’s a development. It’s an opportunity to develop as a person and as an athlete and that also that people should be paid for putting their bodies on the line and going through it because it’s a fundamentally different experience as a college athlete then, as opposed to just being a college student. So I wish I’m sure there’s probably more literature out there on what John Thompson thinks about players being paid. I don’t know. I haven’t seen him weigh in on the most recent fight over this stuff. I bet that’s out there. And I’m probably just behind, but I don’t. You all think I mean, I would imagine. Well, I don’t. You know what? I don’t want to guess with John Thompson what to say about that. Now, to be honest, because I just I it could go anywhere, right? Like no one who he is.
S4: Yeah. I can imagine him being not only just sort of attached to the idea of just education as a pathway, which is uncontroversial as far as I’m concerned, but also to the more problematic thing of student athlete. You know, I think he did have an idea of that coming together and being a designated area, which so I don’t know. Interestingly, I didn’t know until recently that he had been you know, he was on the board of Nike. So he was this person that and all of the ways that that play is in college athletics, you know, so he was somebody who definitely straddled a lot of these things. You know, the the university, the individual athlete, the athletic gear sponsor that sort of stood in the middle of all the contradictions of sport, sort of maybe uniquely in that sort of intersection.
S1: So partial answer for you, Joel, is that I found a radio interview that he did in twenty nineteen and talking about whether college athletes should be paid. And kind of disappointingly, he just got kind of a lot of people do got caught up in the details of it like, all right, you’re saying that college athletes should be paid well, how should we implement it. What are the title nine implications. What you pay the last guy on the bench as much as and it’s like that’s not really kind of the fundamental important thing here. But he was somebody who, I guess, you know, had a practical experience on the job and was concerned about the practical implications of what this what this would have done for, you know, in his era and in this area.
S3: Interesting. Makes sense. Here. Also, just be said that John Thompson was a great basketball coach. He lost two championship games by a total of three points and was a gracious a very gracious loser in those occasions. But had he won those two games, we might be talking about him in the same way that we talk about Coach K, Dean Smith, whatever, like he’s still a legend, but I always feel like you get it. We talk so much about his activism and his teaching and not so much about what he did on the court, but like he was a great coach to just people just don’t remember it as much at this point now.
S1: So we can adjudicate the 1988 Olympics at another time. We’ll focus on we’ll focus on college success. Totally. Right. And maybe he just wanted there to be a dream team and 92. So that’s why that’s why he led the US to a bronze medal.
S3: Hey, Russia was using pros by.
S6: And this week’s bonus segment for Slate plus members, we’re going to talk about the uncaught basketball side of the NBA playoffs. Luca Donchak is out. The Lakers have moved on. And Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell, they’re going back and forth and one of the most epic shootouts in postseason history. If you want to hear our conversation about all that and you will want to, you have to be a slate plus member. It’s just thirty five dollars for the first year. You can sign up at Slate Dotcom and hang up plus. Last week, The Washington Post published the latest in a series of pieces on the toxic male dominated workplace culture of the Washington football team for that story. The Post collected accounts of twenty five women who said they’d been sexually harassed while working for the team. This following a previous article that included 17 such accounts. What’s new this time is that owner Daniel Slater was directly implicated with one woman, a former cheerleader, saying that Snyder approached her, the two thousand four charity event, and suggested she join his close friend in a hotel room so they could get to know each other better. Then there is the lead account in the story about how the teams, then lead broadcaster Larry Michael, allegedly commissioned a video of outtakes from the team’s 2008 cheerleader swimsuit calendar video asking for a collection of, quote, the good parts. That is moments when the women’s nipples were inadvertently exposed. Michael said the video was to be made for Snyder, and the Post has a copy of the video and a similar one made in 2010. Both Snyder and Michael denied having any knowledge of the videos after the Post piece came out. Joining us now is Lindsey Jones. She’s a senior writer for The Athletic covering the NFL. Last week, she wrote a piece headlined The NFL Never Had Its Meta Reckoning. Let Washington be where it starts. Lindsey, thank you for joining us.
S1: Thank you so much for having me. You’ve been covering the NFL for a long time. How much of what The Post reported about Washington is a reflection of that organization’s culture and how much of it is a reflection of the culture of the NFL as a whole?
S9: Well, when the first post story came out in late July, there was not a lot of surprise from women who work in and around professional sports about the things that were in that story, about the sort of toxic work environment for women who worked there. That story also included the accounts of two female reporters who had covered the team who were sexually harassed by team officials. None of that was surprising. I think what we found through this Washington Post reporting and subsequent reporting is that the environment and the culture within the Washington football team is especially toxic. But it’s hardly unique in that women who work across this industry, whether they work in the business office and football, are cheerleaders, are reporters who cover the team, who work in team media. They all have similar experiences to this. I think what we’ve seen in Washington might be on the on the extreme side, especially what has happened for a very long time with that cheerleading program there. But I don’t think you’re going to find a lot of women who were shocked to hear these sort of allegations.
S3: Lindsey, what are the odds that the team’s workplace investigation of itself will actually produce a final report that’s credible? Right, because they’re essentially Dan Snyder hired somebody that’s going to then hire, you know, that’s going to investigate themselves. And it doesn’t seem like the way the investigation should be working.
S10: Yeah. So this is something that was kind of controversial and a little bit surprising. The fact that the NFL allowed Daniel Snyder to hire an attorney to conduct this own investigation. And this investigation began right after the post first story came out. And that first story did not directly implicate Dan Snyder in any of these allegations. So that would be at the time. That was the explanation for why this was not an independent investigation that was commissioned by the NFL. Rather, it was one that Washington was able to call on its own. The attorney who is running that investigation, a woman named Beth Wilkinson, who is a very high powered D.C. attorney and former federal prosecutor. And she came recommended by the league office from Roger Goodell and his staff. And she will report her findings to Roger Goodell and her and his staff. And so if if there are people within the Washington organization who are not complying, she will report that to Goodell. And Goodell will use whatever comes out of this report to potentially levy discipline against whoever within the Washington organization. I still do think it’s a mistake that Goodell and the NFL league office did not make this a truly independent investigation. They called it an investigation in a statement that they released last week. But that’s not true. I think you could call it an outside investigation. But the fact that Beth Wilkinson was hired by Dan Snyder and is being paid presumably by Dan Snyder doesn’t make it an independent investigation.
S5: Have you heard anything, Lindsey, about other NFL teams, either overtly or more quietly trying to kind of look into their histories, into their closets, so to speak, and and and make sure that nothing like this has happened or is happening? Is there sort of a or other people sort of taking stock at this moment? Are they just sort of glad that they’re not the Washington team whose name is an expletive that we can’t even say like they’re the totem for all things bad in the in the league? Maybe. I mean, is this just another scapegoat moment that sticks to them or others? Kind of trying to see what what’s going on in their own houses.
S9: Yeah, I mean, I think there probably is a little bit of that. There’s nothing out there publicly at this point where no teams have officially begun investigations of those sorts of things. But that was one of the things that I wanted to do address last week when I was writing a column about this, because, you know, owners are very, very reticent to get involved with their peers business. They don’t get involved in their, you know, their financial business. They certainly stay out of their personal business and the way that they run their individual franchises. But this is hardly the only place where women are marginalized in the workplace, where women are faced sexual harassment in the workplace, especially within sports. So these owners would be wise to examine what sort of culture is going on in the buildings and what the what the environment is like for the women that work for them, whether that’s how their cheerleaders are treated, how many women work in the business office, who has seats at the table, whose voices are actually being heard. And and when there are allegations because we know I mean, the women who work in and around the NFL and especially media, we know a lot of the incidents that happen to other reporters. We know that teams know about these things. And a lot of times we feel like they’re not taken seriously. And it’s probably time that across the NFL, these sort of allegations are taken seriously and addressed because while, like I mentioned, Washington, I think is is especially heinous and they’re kind of the example around the NFL for the worst run franchise in the NFL, these sort of things are happening. And you don’t want to be the next one, right? You don’t want to be the next team that has this sort of this sort of scandal to hit. And it could happen probably everywhere. All thirty two teams across the NFL.
S8: So I think it would be better for the franchise, for the league and for America if Snyder was forced to sell the team, if he if he sold the team of his own volition, which is not going to happen, but or if he was forced to sell the team. Lenzi, in your column, you said you weren’t expecting Snyder to sell and you weren’t expecting other NFL owners to try to force him to do so. Did you think I mean, this is an opinion piece that you think about calling on the league to force him out, calling on owners to try to force him out? And is there a risk in saying we don’t expect this to happen and kind of giving them cover to do the easy thing, which is to just let this guy continue to skate and be the one of the worst, if not the worst owners in professional sports?
S10: Yeah, absolutely. And it was it was something I thought about. And when I wrote that column last week, I just gotten off a very long conference call plan and call with fellow reporters and editors from around our company about what’s going to happen in Washington. And I think part of it, like you said, I have covered the NFL for a long time. This is my 14th year or my 13th excuse me, covering the NFL.
S9: And I have a lot of skepticism and just kind of a lot of cynicism about the way the league works and what it takes to actually force progress and for some sort of change. And owners are the last ones to hold themselves accountable, to hold each other accountable and to actually take a giant step like that. And we saw massive a massive change within the Washington football team this year when Dan Snyder finally agreed to to drop the team name and change the team name. But he didn’t do it out of the goodness of his heart. He didn’t do it because all of a sudden this light bulb went off where he thought, aha, this team name is racist. What everybody has been saying for all these years is true. He did it because his business partners forced him to. It was FedEx. It was Nike. There was tremendous financial pressure. And that ultimately is what forces change. And that’s what ultimately would force Dan Snyder to ultimately sell this team, as if the other owners realized that Washington has become an albatross, that they’re not making as much money as they should be. And unfortunately for all of the losing that Washington has done on the field and for all of the embarrassment that that organization has brought off of the field, they still are one of the highest valued NFL franchises in the league and they’re still bringing in a lot of money, despite how many empty seats they always have at FedEx Field, despite how many people don’t want to wear their merchandise anymore. So while they continue to make a lot of money, it’s hard to see the other owners stepping up and forcing forcing the sale. And then it also kind of comes back to the previous question. I think Vincent asked about what are the other owners saying and are they looking within their other organizations? Is that if they step up and they say you have to sell because of this or we’re going to force you to sell because of this, there are every single other owners opening themselves up to all of the skeletons that are in their closets.
S10: And you can you better believe that there’s some very powerful owners around the NFL who are probably terrified of what they would find if all of their history of what it’s like for women working in their organizations and for their own personal dealings with women were to come out in the open.
S3: Well, speaking of. The system you mentioned in your column that you remain skeptical of, of Daniel Snyder’s motivations behind all of his major moves in twenty twenty one of those was hiring the NFL’s first black president, Jason Wright. And I have a couple of questions off of that one. As somebody who’s covered the league. Do you have a sense for how dysfunctional the Washington team is compared to everybody else? Because, I mean, that’s the thing that sort of occurs to me, that the first black team president in history has to clean up this this mess. Right. And he’s not a very good position to succeed. And just generally would do you know of Jason and his preparedness for this position, I suppose?
S9: Yeah. So Jason Wright is extremely impressive when he was hired, I guess now it was about two weeks ago when Washington made that announcement that he’d be the team president kind of started scrambling to find out who is who is Jason Wright.
S10: Some of us remember covering him as a player. Remember, we’ve had all these scouting reports of kind of what sort of running back he was. But really what you heard when you talk to people who knew him as a player and knew him kind of in those formative formative years, even dating back to when he was a college student at Northwestern. And then through his career, which, you know, he was not a star player by any means.
S9: I mean, he was a kind of like a running back fullback slash special teams player. Know, he was the third down back, which is very it’s not a glamorous position because he was doing just a lot of blocking in the running game. He was not getting very many carries, but in every locker room that he stepped into, he immediately became a leader. He immediately became one of the most respected voices in those locker rooms because he had this massive curiosity and interest in issues beyond just X’s and O’s and what happened on the football field. And, you know, I spoke to him, I guess, right after he was hired and you asked her about his experience as a player, how that led to hit to his interest in maybe going into a front office. And he said he never really when he was playing, he didn’t envision himself becoming a team president or general manager or any of those sorts of things. But the time that he spent serving as an NFLPA rep really showed him how much he didn’t know as a player about the business side of football and what’s going on at the ownership level, what’s going on in all of these business negotiations. And that really just solidified him to himself, his decision that he wanted to go, that he was going to be done playing and that he was going to go to business school and he wanted to go kind of start this new career for himself working in business. And he obviously did. He went got his MBA. He worked for McKinsey and Company as a consultant. And then in that work, he did he he really made a name for himself in the diversity and diversity and inclusion space and anti-racism training and stuff that the NFL very clearly needs right now. So there is no questioning Jason Wright’s qualifications right now. And I we’ve already seen I he’s I don’t know if he’s been even technically on the job for two weeks. I think Monday may have been his a week ago. Monday might have been his first starting day. We’re already seeing his impact in terms of the meetings that he’s held. He was a driving voice when Washington was the first team to cancel a scrimmage last week following the NBA players decision not to play. And he’s been a really big part of all of that. He’s going to be very highly involved in this investigation into the workplace culture and to the sexual harassment claims. So, yeah, I think he is the right guy at the right time. I am skeptical and I remain skeptical about Daniel Snyder’s motivations for all of the moves that he’s made. But at least now, maybe for the first time in a very long time, maybe maybe for the duration of Daniel Snyder’s ownership, which dates back to nineteen ninety nine, he actually has the right people advising him. You know, Jason Wright is going to be that voice and Ron Rivera is absolutely the right guy to try to fix this mess of a franchise. But you’re exactly right that he’s walking into a really difficult situation and I hope that he is going to be given a lot of runway to really change that culture there. And, you know, if this is a team that they might be bad this year, you know, they have a lot of uncertainty at the quarterback position. Their roster top to bottom. Isn’t that great? They’ll be back. I mean, Ron Rivera is going through cancer treatments right now. I mean, there’s there’s a lot that is there stacked up against. So, you know, I hope that these guys, Ron Rivera and Jason Wright, have a long time to really build this team and rebuild this team into something that the NFL can be proud of, because it’s been a really long time since anybody in the NFL has been proud of anything that Washington has done from a media angle.
S4: I mean, one of the sort of characteristics of the relationship between the NFL and the media, partially because of its enormous TV rights deals with certain media entities, has been, let’s say, a lack of transparency, let’s say a struggle with transparency and whether the key issues, whether it was with all the drama surrounding cacophonic, there was a sort of a built in kind of thing. You won’t you won’t get to know around the NFL, is there any reason to believe that this will be different? So, for example, you know, there’ll be a report produced and it goes to Roger Goodell. Will that be open to you? Will that be something that the media will be able to look at in a serious way with millions of miles of redactions? How confident are you that we will even know the real story with this once it’s all said and done?
S9: Yeah, I mean, that’s going to it’s a really good question. And that’s one of my questions about the way that this investigation is running, the fact that it was one that was, you know, commissioned by Daniel Snyder. If this had been an independent and messa NFL investigation, you know, they do typically release those entire reports. We saw the the the original Mueller report when Bob Mueller did the big investigation into I believe it was the Ray Rice situation. You know, we saw all the documents that went along with deflate gate. I mean, way too many documents probably to deflate gate. Yeah. High levels and all of those sorts of things. So hopefully they will turn all over the overall of that. And, you know, that’s our job, right. As reporters now is to stay on them to to keep telling these stories. And I think what’s been so impressive about what The Washington Post has done over the last six weeks, although this is not a six week thing, I mean, clearly this is something that they’ve been reporting for a very long time, is it’s really journalism one on one. Right, is that the story doesn’t end with the first story. And they had about 15 or so women in the first story. That number is now over 50. And you know that there are more. And so you just keep digging and you keep getting these stories and you keep trying to hold these these people accountable. And there was new Sally Jenkins, the the rock star columnist from The Washington Post, who has just been on top of I mean, she’s so good.
S10: She had another column on Monday morning about kind of the next steps forward and this and the lawyers of the women who made these claims against the Washington football team and against Daniel Snyder. Their lawyer is now meeting with Washington and the league investigators. So, you know, it’s going to continue to move forward. And that’s my job. It’s my job to to hold them accountable here and not let this get kind of swept under the rug, not let this take a back seat, because it’s an issue that involves women. I think typically that happens a lot in the NFL where, you know, I guess my cynicism, again, like, will they care? Because I think a lot of times we we see that when it comes to issues involving women in any professional sports, that they don’t they just don’t care as much about as they would about some other issues. So we just have to keep on them. We have to demand to see that result, that report and all of the findings that come out of it.
S1: Lindsay, you you wrote very well and movingly in your column about the connection between the women who worked for the Washington football team and women who covered the sport and how you can relate to some of the experiences that are described in the piece. I mean, we sort of and this is on me, I guess. I mean, we went very quickly past the, you know, the start of that post piece, which is that it’s not just that there were is that video of the quote, good parts of that video. It’s the fact that the video existed in the first place. It’s that there is a cheerleader swimsuit calendar video made by the team. And so even if there wasn’t this, like, horrifying, intrusive video made, it’s still like this is the water that we’re all swimming in in this league. So can you just speak a little bit to kind of the ways in which you relate to what was described in the piece and then like, what are some of the coping mechanisms that women, you know, you and your your colleagues, you know, take on to to work in this environment?
S10: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s why we related so much. And I personally related to the very thing the first Washington Post story that came out in late July, which did include the accounts from two female reporters, including one of my colleagues here at the Athletic, who’s a beat writer, who covers Washington, who is harassed by one of the personnel executives who have since been fired. I think it’s because, you know, working in sports, any sort of area of sports. But obviously my lens is very narrow on sports media. You know, it is a very male dominated space. And the norms that exist in sports media departments, though, they’re not what exists in normal workplaces. You know, I’ve told a lot of my stories and just like what my job is like from every aspect of my job, the hours I work, the travel, the work environments, all these sorts of things to my friends who are lawyers and doctors and teachers and stuff. And just a lot of that stuff, it just it’s it’s so different. The worlds are so different. But there is this expectation or this understanding that sports is fun. It’s a dream job. You you should do anything to want to work here. And so you internalize like, OK, this is the cost of working in this space. I just have to deal with the the late night and. Solicited text messages from players or from assistant coaches or, you know, when you’re at the NFL, combine the senior bowl, which a lot of men who work in the NFL, they treat those events like they’re at a bachelor party. And it’s really disgusting a lot of times. And it’s people get very, very drunk. And, you know, there’s just some that our male colleagues just don’t think about. But there are things that really intrinsically affect our ability to to do our job in the way that we connect with sources, the way that we develop sources, the way that we can then go back to these people that we need to be sources for our stories. So, yeah, you just you just kind of internalize it and you share it with your female peers. I mean, I don’t know how many different group text I have with other female reporters, women who work for teams in various roles where we just we vent, we commiserate. We warn each other about problematic men, both within the media industry and then within teams. If I know that there’s an assistant coach who consistently acts inappropriately with women both within the franchise, that he works for the reporters and he goes to another team, you better believe that I’m going to call the women who cover that team and tell them to look out for this guy and to be careful around him and that that kind of stuff happens all the time. And we just we just do that stuff because we want to kind of exist in the space. We want to keep our jobs. We want to keep doing our jobs well. And we absolutely don’t want to be part of the story. And that’s why it was so incredible to me that the two with two female reporters came forward, because that’s our inclination, right? As journalists, you never want to be the story. And that’s my nightmare scenarios that I’ll show up on one of these on the blogs, you know, the old Deadspin or something like that. That’s a nightmare scenario. So that’s why we don’t say anything and we kind of just keep keep internalizing it. And I’m kind of sick of it now. And I’m like, I’m older, I’m married, I’m a mom. I kind of feel like I’m a teen mom for the other female reporters now who cover the NFL. And I’m just sick of it. And I want everybody to be exposed now. And I’m still scared sometimes to tell my own my own stuff. But if it’s going to help other women feel comfortable coming forward and holding these men to account, then let’s do it.
S1: Lindsey, thank you so much for sharing that and for the work that you do. Lindsey Jones, senior writer for The Athletic. Her piece is headlined The NFL Never Had Its Meta Reckoning But Washington be where it starts. We’ll link to it on our show page. Lindsey, thank you.
S11: Thank you so much for having me.
S8: Now it is time for after balls and we didn’t get a chance to talk about it in our John Thompson segment, but I was looking up the history of Georgetown, putting can take a bath on the basketball jersey, which is the big deal and testament to that. You know, everything we were talking about before of like how John Thompson transformed this predominantly white institution, at least on the basketball court. And in this article that I found, which is in a publication called Sports Fan Journal, the writer just towards the end has a list of Georgetown players. So I thought we could just kind of like let the lesser known Georgetown players of the Thompson scenario just kind of wash over us for a minute. Othell Harrington, Jermaine Junkyard Dog Williams, Jehadi White Fichter Page.
S6: This is this is kind of our era of Georgetown, I guess. Jol, you have other other Georgetown players that just pop into your head when you think Georgetown basketball.
S3: Well, I’m I’m the oldest person on the podcast. So like David David Windgate. Reggie Williams. What about Michael Jackson? I do remember Michael Jackson. I do remember Michael Jackson. I think that Victor Page, though, was sort of the the dividing line between the great Georgetown days of yore and sort of the decline towards the end. And I mean, have you all read about Victor Page? Do you guys know have. Yeah. Yeah, I haven’t actually. Just we don’t get to get into it here, but I want to catch up one of them. It’s not didn’t go so great after.
S1: So do you want to be doing David Wingates still Victor pages.
S3: Let’s do a David Windgate. Yeah.
S6: David Windgate. We’re thinking of you. John Thompson. Rest in peace. Joel, what’s your David Winget?
S3: My David Windgate is Cliff Robinson. So in one of the saddest and most despairing weeks in recent memory, it’s understandable if you missed hearing about the death of former NBA player Cliff Robinson. Robinson died early Saturday after what his family said was a year long fight with lymphoma. He was only fifty three. Robinson became known as Uncle Cliff later in his eighteen year NBA career, which came to an end in 2007 with the New Jersey Nets. It’d be hard to call Robinson a star, though he did have a lot of success in the league. He was the sixth man of the year in nineteen ninety three and NBA all star a year later and became a model for the sort of players we now know today is stretch fours. Those players are prized today for the versatility in ways that they weren’t then, if only because we didn’t have the math and analysis for it. For his career, Robinson shot thirty six percent from three point range and guarded every one of the floor from the perimeter to the paint. He was so good at defense, in fact, that he was twice named to the NBA’s all defensive second team in two thousand and two thousand to an admirable career. I’d say Robinson was so much a part of the NBA landscape I grew up with that it seemed as if he was always there joining the likes of nineteen nineties and guys like Kendall Gill, Cedric Ceballos, Anthony Pila and Elden Campbell Robinson was never going to be Jordan or Dream or even his Blazers teammate Clyde Drexler. But eighteen years in the league, man, that’s as much of a feat is becoming an NBA all star. Consider only twenty players in league history have ever played nineteen or more years. But Robinson wasn’t always a fit like all of us, Uncle Cliff. He was once young and when he was young he had the fortune. Or is it the misfortune of playing on some very good but snakebit in Portland Trail Blazer teams here? I’m thinking particularly of the nineteen ninety ninety one blazers. Let me give you the starting lineup for that team Drexler shooting guard Terry Porter, point guard Jerome Kersey. It’s small forward. Buck Williams at Power Forward, Kevin Duckworth at center. The only one of those guys to never make an all star team was Kersey, who started over Robinson. The season before the Blazers lost to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA finals, so it seemed like this would be their year. That’s the way the NBA was supposed to work back then. A succession of agonizing failure. Before the break through, the Lakers had to go through the Celtics. The Pistons had to go through the Celtics and then the Lakers, and now it was the Blazers turn. The Blazers lived up to expectations early, winning their first eleven games. They took three of five from the Lakers, then their division rival. They split two games with the Pistons, they split two with the Celtics, and notably they swept the young upstart Chicago Bulls led by Michael Jordan. The Blazers went on to win an NBA leading sixty three games that year, and they were the title favorites entering the playoffs. Portland beat Seattle and Utah in the first two rounds, setting up a Western Conference finals match up against Magic Johnson in the fading Lakers. This is supposed to be the moment where the Blazers finally defeated their longtime nemesis, who’d beaten them in the last three playoff matchups. But as it turned out, the series was actually the last hurrah of those old Showtime Lakers. And it came at the expense of Cliff Robinson. Facing elimination in Game six in L.A., the Blazers trailed virtually all game before making a late run to make things tight. With less than a minute to go, the Lakers had the ball in a one point lead, Magic was backing down Buck Williams on the left wing and then Magic with a ball left side double team Magic Ball batted away Robertson, Porter, Porter, Jerome Kern.
S12: Cedar Rapids today dropped the ball on one break. They had a chance to take the lead.
S3: In case you missed what happened there, Robinson managed to deflect Magic’s pass. Terry Porter scooped it up on the break and he gave it up to Kersey. Kersey saw Robinson streaking in and through the pass that Robinson bobbled out of bounds. It was agonizing to watch. So I can only imagine how Robinson felt that pretty much did it. The Lakers won the series, but then got blown out by Jordan and the Bulls in the finals. That was MJ’s first championship. And if you followed the NBA, you know, nobody else had a chance for the next few seasons, including Portland, who lost to the Bulls and six the next year. Just like that, the Blazers title window was over, but that ninety ninety one team was Portland’s best. And maybe they could have beaten Jordan that year before he really got rolling. Only twelve teams in NBA history have won so many games in not advanced to the NBA finals. It was a historic disappointment. But the death of Cliff Robinson reminded me that that Portland team has also had a disproportionate share of heartbreak away from the court. Two years later, Drazen Petrovic, who was traded to New Jersey a few months before that playoff run, died in a car accident in Germany. He was only twenty eight in 2008, the year after Robinson retired, Kevin Duckworth died of heart failure. He was forty four and twenty fifteen. Jerome Kersey died of a pulmonary embolism. He was fifty two. In Saturday. It was Uncle Cliffie in many ways. Cliff Robinson in the Portland Trail Blazers are the foot soldiers who make the NBA what it is. The championship story arcs of Michael imageshack mean nothing. If there’s no worthy foil, somebody has to make them work hard for it. So those uncaught celebrations in Champagne Locker Room showers feel truly cathartic. You just hope Portland realizes what it had. And Uncle Cliffie, in that team, there’s no shame in losing, let alone to those guys.
S13: That was great and Vincent, you tweeted the other day about Cliff Robinson, what what are your memories of him yet to offer analysis, much less astute than Joelle’s?
S4: I just will always remember not only that Blazer’s team, but Cliff Robinson specifically, because they taught me early on an alternate way of loving sports than just wins and losses. So I can actually remember the first time I ever watched basketball on my own. My parents were not big. They were casual fans. They always were kind of up on things that they liked. Michael Jordan. They liked, you know, they they liked basketball, but it was not a big thing in my home. And I remember as a kid going into living room by myself and turning on a basketball game for the first time we lived in Chicago. At this time, we’d move there because my dad, a musician, had gotten a job there and I turned on basketball and it was a Bulls home game and it was against who I later learned were the Blazers. I didn’t know anything except they had these cool black away jerseys, which are still to me. I belong in the annals of black jersey, red white stripe across the bottom, big graphic font across the lowercase to all lowercase the blazers. Yeah. Yeah. Right. Yeah, yeah. That was. Yeah. So they had that. Yes. Amazing. Just a cool jersey and it was the classic first time watching on your own experience. I quickly learned just by watching this guy, Clyde Drexler, he has to be the best guy on their team just the way. And but there was this other guy, Cliff Robinson, who I noticed immediately because he had a headband and it was this a little flourish that actually harmonized really well with his game. As you mentioned, he was he could shoot, he could go in for a dunk. But all with this sort of live grace, really tall, really slim, and just had all the style in the world as a basketball player, a stylist, both in dress with the headband and on the court. I later learned during the 92 finals. So, you know, I’m still I’m not even ten years old. I learned that Cliff Robinson was my dad’s favorite player. Wow. And I and I had no clue why he would be his favorite. He wasn’t the best on his team or among the two teams. He just kinda liked his style, the musician like him, the headband thing, and a person who had devoted his life to the style of a kind through music, just like the cut of this guy’s jib. And that’s and, you know, for for many years after that, that’s how I’ve tried to enjoy basketball. Yes. The greatest feats. Yes, the most intense moments. But just also, like in the way somebody does something right. And Cliff Robinson was just cool. You know, he had he you never really saw him get too worked up in either direction. He was cool. And that’s it for me. This is an archetype on a basketball team. There’s just cool guy on on the Houston Rockets of today, like PJ Tucker to me is just cool. He wears cool sneakers before the games and during the games. He too will go ahead and don a headband. If if called to the occasion, you could you could do this in many other ways. So here’s to the cool guy. Here’s to Cliff Robinson.
S13: Astrocyte, that was great, too. And I really like Cliff Robinson. I think there’s like a secret society of Cliff Robinson fans. And maybe it’s because he wasn’t the best guy on the team. It’s the fun. It’s the really cool combination of not being the best guy, but also being a guy who could do everything on the court. And like, that’s kind of what you want your if you have a realistic view of your own athletic ability, you’re like, I’m not going to be the star, but I would like to be able to do everything at every level of the game. The Rasheed Wallace corollary. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And the thing that was most surprising to me in reading the rundown of his accomplishments, including your rundown of his accomplishments, is that he made all defense team because I, I would have never just in my memory, I would’ve been like, OK, he probably won six man of the year. He’s a good shooter. All that. I had no recollection of him being a good defensive player. I would have thought he would have been a kind of all offense, no defense guy, but that’s just another testament to his his versatility.
S3: Yeah. Yeah. Well, he learned he came up under Jim Calhoun, man. Like, I don’t think you can get on the floor unless you play defense for Jim Calhoun.
S14: All right. Cliff Robinson, we remember you. That is our show for today. Our producer is Melissa Kaplan. To listen to Pasha’s and subscribe or just reach out, go to sleep, dotcom slash, hang up. You can email us and hang up at Slate Dotcom. Vincent Cunningham, thank you so much. It’s great having you. Thank you. Oh, it’s good to be here for Vince and for Joel Anderson. I’m Josh Levine, remembers Aliabadi, and thanks for listening.
S13: Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members, basketball is back over the weekend after the strike of last week. And on Sunday night, Jamal Murray picked up right where he left off another fifty point game. I think it’s fifty, forty two and fifty now and three consecutive games for the Guard for the Denver Nuggets. Donovan Mitchell had forty four and they’re kind of back and forth. Duel in that series between Utah and Denver has been the best on court part of the NBA bubble so far for me. Benson, you want to go first? What have you seen from from Murray and Mitchell on that series?
S4: It’s incredible. You know, I’ve just loved seeing those guys go back and forth. I I guess I’m sort of more of a partisan of the Nuggets just simply because I like Nikola Jokic and so for thinking of him as the central figure on the on the Nuggets and then all of a sudden having Murray just you know, he’s always been kind of a he’s a good scorer and sort of but more on the street side to me I thought his destiny was always to be like the third best guy on that Nuggets team. Once they get another sort of bona fide star and then Murray have a few great games. So to see this has just been a revelation. And I have to say that it’s been satisfying seeing him do it, do it against Donovan Mitchell, who I also like. But I also have often had a little grudge against him because I also like Ben Simmons. And so that little that Rookie of the year, I think you’re the only one is still holding on to that.
S3: Yeah, I’ve forgotten about the rookie pizza. Yeah. Yeah.
S4: I had to remember why I didn’t like him. I don’t like why do I feel this way. It’s just like a grudge. So, so relatively ancient that you have to sort of dig. But those guys are, they’re awesome. And I will say that this also has a little bit to do with one of the sort of just quirks of life in the bubble, which is that defense, let’s face it, is an all time low. And some of these box scores are incredible. And there’s there’s there’s some intensity, but there’s some there’s a lot of layups. But these guys are incredible.
S3: Well, that’s what I’m going to say. I mean, so, like, obviously, I love basketball played at this level with their scoring and it looks balletic. And, you know, they’re just out there going back and forth motto, you know, all that kind of junk. But let’s just I mean, Jamal Murray averaged eighteen and a half points a game this year, you know, like I like. Yeah, I don’t know. This says nearly as much about his ascendance as a player as it does about the terrible defense that is going on right now. Like, I don’t I don’t whoever emerges from this playoff series. And I think the winner has to play the Clippers in the next round. I do not envision that there will be going off like that. Or maybe I don’t, you know, maybe they will just be one guy because, I mean, Luca got busy against the Clippers, too. But I don’t I don’t know that anybody thought or thinks that Jamal Murray or Donovan Mitchell or and Loukas class now right here descending you here.
S13: Murray has been known for being inconsistent like he’s not a guy. You mentioned the scoring average. He’s not a guy who’s going to put up eighteen, eighteen, 18, eighteen, eighteen. He’s going to be a guy who puts up like a zero and thirty six. But he had he saved them, as Mike Malone said. The Nuggets coach said after the game on Sunday night, he saved them in the playoffs last year against the Spurs. He had some incredible performances. So this is not something that he’s never done before. He’s just not done it back to back to back like he’s done well.
S3: He’s ever done it against a team. That’s better that that’s better than the one that he’s on. By the way, if we’re going to find out, we’ll find out next. Sure.
S13: Sure. But after the game on Sunday, I kept watching and inside the NBA came on and Charles Barkley, the first thing he said was just like just relentlessly negative about how bad the defense was. And I I appreciate the fact that he’s a guy and they’re generally guys who are willing to like, come on after this, like entertainment product. Look, they’re not spokespeople for that. I’ll be like, that sucked. That was terrible. Like they should have trapped in the whole game. How could you let them do that? But like, after watching that display, I was, like, mad at Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, like, stuck stuck up for my point of view, which is like these were contested shots. It wasn’t like sure he might have been going one on one, but it’s not like he was wide open and seventeen for twenty four from the field, nine for twelve from three. Watching what Murray did in the fourth quarter. I will not stand for you guys anything about how this was just bad defense. It was incredible to watch him make those deep nobody else could do after one after one. It was amazing. Yeah. Getting better in sports tend to watch a guy who’s like on a hitter from three like that. And just like I’m like yelling in my house, oh, that’s aggressive.
S3: But I mean is Jamal Murray score forty plus.
S13: Three straight games, good and real, come on late, stop, honestly, I don’t care about whether he he’s really this good or whether the defense was bad, I just enjoyed watching that. And why are you trying to take my advice from me?
S3: Why don’t you what? I can’t wait for you to talk this way this lovingly about my boy James Harden, who’s been putting it. Oh, God, yeah. What about I mean, say, look what happens. It’s so hard.
S4: You know, it was it was truly amazing. And another thing about like a cork of the bubble, which I think is kind of good. Devin Booker said this when that team was on a big role, he said that the bubble is perfect for people who just love to hoop because interesting people that aren’t playing well don’t actually like basketball. Well, no, no, but there’s a certain kind of play. Yeah, Paul. George. Well, we could we could ask a lot of questions about Paul, but the issue of consistency is precisely what Booker said I thought was really interesting. Right. Like in the biggest arenas where guys play really well because of the way the the audience is farther back from the hoop. And the way that the lighting happens is that it’s kind of just looks dark out there. And so the depth perception issue that happens in smaller arenas like OKC are actually taken out. And that like if you just love to fucking shoot this. Oh, sorry, I don’t know. You curse it. If you just love to shoot and like, you know that there is a rhythm that you can get into and sort of just thinking about that thing about like consistency right now, perhaps the sort of controlled environment just gets us to see the I guess you would call it like the hydroponic version of Jamal Murray.
S1: You know, just say that’s really interesting because they’re in the same environment over and over again, which can lead to like a lot of negative consequences from like mental health standpoint. And we it I mean, to make light of Paul George, because we talked about next week, he’s been going through a lot. But thinking about that in terms of a controlled environment and the kind of rhythm that you can get into, that’s really interesting. And also, like the other thing I think about is that I don’t think any of us would put Donovan Mitchell or Jamal Murray, particularly Jamal Murray Joel and like our top ten of, like, best players in the NBA, just like the baseline level of skill. That is amazing. An NBA player has now like, oh, yeah, Joel. I mean, in in order to quote unquote play good defense, the level that you have to be at to stop a guy like this, like compared to the level of defense like twenty years ago, it’s like insane. Like, you can’t you can’t stop somebody like this unless you are like going one hundred, you know, a thousand miles per hour, one hundred percent of the time.
S3: The NBA is so good now that they play off tall people on the floor. You know what I mean? Like, I mean you can, you can be in as Kanter a very skilled big who can score from anywhere on the floor. But because defending players is so hard now they can’t keep him on the floor and like that’s what I think of when I think of this. Like the rockets would just like to screw it, like instead of trying to like play with Clint Capela let’s just go in and rotate on everything and have a bunch of six, seven, six, eight guys instead of having one seven footer. Right. So like to me that’s like just shows you how, how fast the game has changed for people. And I was even thinking about man who’s the, the, the who is the Clippers. Big man Zubac Zubowski. Yeah. Because you get so I’m OK. Well Montrezl Harrell Harrell for the. Yeah. At any rate, I mean I just you know, it just seems like the Lakers are the only team that’s like playing sort of against type where they’ve got like a couple of seven footers and even they are just like a different sort of beast like people that you did not see in the NBA twenty, twenty five years ago, like the big plodding big man. Don’t forget Boban. OK, Papa. That’s right, man. Well, after that, I guess he is he is a throwback, actually, I think of it. But I mean, that explains why the Mavericks were who, despite having the best off in some league history where a seventh seed and got right out of the playoffs after they celebrated a championship of time, you know, tie the series up in two to it.
S4: And they celebrated the championship and got rid of the playoff.
S1: Can we I thought, Vincent, you tweeted about how you’re going to miss Luka. Maybe we can end this episode of Hang Up and Listen with Vincent Cunningham. Vincent Cunningham says goodbye to Luka DOGIT.
S4: It’s just it’s so hard to say goodbye. I, I, I celebrated my personal championship in the living room just a few feet from me, watching that shot by Luca downshifts. It’s just it’s awesome all the things that he does. He is an example of what we were just talking about, the sort of unbelievable skill level that is now baked into the NBA. This is one thing I don’t always like Jeff Van Gundy on the broadcast, but he was really smart about this during the game. And we. The Mavericks were eliminated. There were so many drives where there was one where Luca went straight into the paint and sort of right at the block, he runs into Kawhi Leonard and just in the midair, like kind of the thing that James Harden does, as a matter of course, just slow down on the step. And then does this like jagged Eurostep across the paint, like in the opposite direction, but still sort of almost toward the basket and just totally and just puts up the sensitive side for us. But you guys, you’re missing it with the Eurostep. Yeah. For nobody’s benefit. But it was gorgeous. It was beautiful. And it’s unique to him in the way he’s always able to do what he wants to do in every situation, it seems. But it’s also an indication of just how wonderful the game has become, not only technically, but in it’s sort of growing internationalism, which when you think about the fact that, you know, five of the 15 people we could call the bestor from places that are not America, just a wonderful you know, and luckily we’re still left with Murray and Mitchell and the intrigue of the Lakers and the Clippers. There’s much more story to tell. But Lukáš, we’ll see you next time. Good luck. Have a nice summer.
S3: If you like, Luka, you can watch James Harden do it better and more efficiently in the next round of the playoffs.
S1: Oh, God. I was going to give you an invitation to talk shit about Dallas, but you didn’t need that invitation.
S3: Yeah, I could just go. I go right to it.
S1: So that’s your go to move. Thank you. Slate plus members will be back with more Dallas slander next week.