The hours of raw footage, gamefilm, interviews cut up and packaged to air during the second full sports-free month was full of incredible plays, music and behind the scenes looks at the Bulls’ dynasty. The story is valuable and inspiring alone, but the wisdom that is captured and offered throughout the ten-episode series is perhaps the most underrated element of the series.
While the lessons from The Last Dance are countless, the most important however being the most intrinsic and genuine:
Do What You Love (And love what you do) – It’s common for many in the sports broadcasting world to say that they enjoy going to work everyday. The opportunity to work in a field that’s an intersection of two competitive, fast-paced industries is incredibly difficult to attain. As outlined in The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman shared a genuine respect and love for the game of basketball. While they found different styles in navigating through the competitive, humbling and challenging career path, the trio was united in sharing genuine passion for their work.
Embracing Change & Ability To Adapt – These skills are demonstrated throughout the series, but most consistently utilized by Phil Jackson. The sports media world is ever changing. In the wake of the global pandemic, many difficult decisions had to be made and changes had to be implemented. The opportunities that arise in the wake of change are oftentimes, the most important. The ability to adapt in times of uncertainty is valuable in broadcasting; the greater the risk the greater the reward. The Last Dance brilliantly highlights the high pressure moments in which Phil Jackson shines bright.
Don’t Let Ego Eclipse Talent & Hardwork – Jerry Krause was seen as one of the ‘villains’ of this series because of his quest for credit and control. The moments where Scottie Pippen’s ego prevails: most notably, the contract negotiations and the Tony Kukoc buzzer beater. The sports media world is familiar with the presence of ego and jealousy. There is a big difference between the healthy presence of these human qualities and the unhealthy overwhelming self-destructiveness. Don’t go searching for validation, applause and acclaim; that way lies madness.
Position Yourself For Success – The Phil Jackson quote that sums it up for all industries: “The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. The ride is a lot more fun that way.”
Legends Never Die – There’s tremendous value in the iconic story told by The Last Dance. The series was undoubtedly eye opening, for some audiences more than others. One of the sports broadcasting legends featured in the series, Linda Cohn provided some analysis as to why The Last Dance was able to resonate with so many.
“The Last Dance does an incredible job of taking us where we never thought we could be. Seeing and hearing the events and behind the scenes conversations of that season. We also get an up close look of Michael Jordan thanks to MJ himself. What was he thinking at the time of each game, moment and of course controversy.”
Cohn points out how the Bulls’ dynasty was being introduced to a portion of the audience, for the first time.
“Plus, the documentary gives the younger audience a chance they never thought they would have. To know Michael Jordan, to see him play and understand what made him tick and why he’s the greatest of all time.”
When discussing the role of nostalgia and whether the series effectively captured the same emotions as when she was covering the iconic championship series in 1998, Cohn said.
“The nostalgia involving me, as well as my talented ESPN SportsCenter colleagues of the past, is an added bonus while watching The Last Dance. It gives the viewer another opportunity to go back in time and really be immersed in the impact Sportscenter had especially with its coverage of Michael Jordan and the Bulls. My kids are getting a kick out of seeing their mom rock those big shoulder pads!”
The sports media plays a pivotal role in determining whether sports stories are the stuff of legends. The amount of coverage devoted to The Last Dance on sports radio will vary across most markets, however with two exceptions: Chicago and Charlotte. The markets that Michael Jordan calls home have both been strategic and deliberate in the selection of The Last Dance content.
Chicago and Charlotte radio markets saw a significant ratings shift in the wake of the docuseries airing. WGN Sports Operations Manager Dave Zaslowsky weighed in on the strategy in navigating the airing of the series.
WGN has been a hallmark of the sports media scene in Chicago for decades, the WGN Sports branded mic shields proudly displayed throughout the doc’s various interviews with iconic Bulls’ players. The contribution of The Last Dance struck a chord across the spectrum in Chicago. Zaslowsky weighed in on the way Chicago sports radio fans and listeners alike received The Last Dance.
“I feel across the board fans/listeners of Chicago sports loved this doc. The run that the 90’s Bulls had has been a long time and was nice to relive that. Also, some things were learned for the first time. Sports talk radio was flooded with calls for days after each episode, granted there are no sports going on, but it still would have dominated sports talk radio.”
When asked which lesson from The Last Dance he felt was the most valuable to the sports media world, Zaslowsky replied:
“I think the lesson for the sports media world is that back in TLD days the media was witnessing something that today’s media will never have the pleasure of covering. There will never be a player, players or a team like the Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s. We are fortunate to have the job we have, don’t let the special moments pass by without enjoying them for a moment.
The Charlotte Hornets’ flagship station, WFNZ saw a significant ratings boost, as well. WFNZ’s ratings are double from last month with the station ranked third in the demographic. Assistant Program Director Mark Seidel shared the process behind covering The Last Dance, given Jordan’s personal and professional investments across his homestate. When asked what WFNZ’s approach was to correctly, respectfully and accurately covering the series.
“I think the series resonated with so many people because A) it’s Michael Jordan and B) it was sports in this sports-free world. Sure, we all knew the final outcome, but a lot of people didn’t know the story of getting to the final outcome.”
The dichotomy of Michael Jordan as a North Carolinian, UNC legend, NBA great and Charlotte Hornets’ owner, seamlessly and organically laid the groundwork to encompass a wide range of topics, Seidel explained.
“So being in the heart of Michael Jordan-land, we had unique opportunities to cover it from a Tar Heel perspective with guests like James Worthy and Roy Williams, as well as from a current MJ perspective, owning The Hornets.”
Nostalgia is key, he said.
“I believe the sports media world learned the true value of nostalgia. People that were old enough to truly remember those Bulls teams were taken back in time to a different era in the NBA. Younger people, including myself, who weren’t lucky enough to truly enjoy and understand what we were watching at the time were given a second chance to relive it. The power of nostalgia is very real.”
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.