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Talk Should Be About Rioting, Not Who’s The G.O.A.T.

“Violent disturbances after championships are troubling enough in normal times, but amid a pandemic, Los Angeles looks particularly ugly — which should bother LeBron James.”

Jay Mariotti

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Just so no one is confused, the cops weren’t the aggressors. Not this time. In a year roiled by social injustice and police brutality, authorities in Los Angeles had pleaded for people not to bullrush Staples Center after the Lakers, 2,500 miles away in a joyful Disney World gym, had reclaimed NBA preeminence. “Celebrate responsibly,” tweeted LAPD chief Michel Moore, as the county health officer warned that “we’re still in the middle of a pandemic” and “still seeing a high number of cases.”    

Fan Celebration of Lakers Victory near Staples Center Prompts Police  Response – NBC Palm Springs – News, Weather, Traffic, Breaking News

Didn’t matter. Caution and sensibility were like the barriers blocking nearby freeway exit ramps, ignored and eluded. Though LeBron James had given L.A. a gift, a chance to feel proud and unified after a wicked summer of Black Lives Matter confrontations and relentless COVID-19 surges, the people flocked downtown anyway, more than 2,000. Many wore masks and simply wanted to chant “Kobe! Kobe!” — reveling in the now-epic tale of how James and the Lakers won a championship months after Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, perished in a helicopter crash on a Calabasas hillside. But the rowdy fringe, as always, had other ideas.    

Maskless and witless, the knuckleheads wanted trouble. When they hurled glass bottles, rocks, firecrackers and other objects at police in riot gear, L.A. became what no American city wants to be in 2020: the place that gags on perspective, the nuthouse that doesn’t know how to celebrate sports glory amid a pandemic. There were stores to loot, punches to throw, a bus to set on fire, cars to spin wildly in the streets, anti-police messages to spray, a man’s hand to blow off with a firework. The police responded by firing shots — plastic, hard foam, beanbags — and making 76 arrests, with more ahead after surveillance footage and social media clips are reviewed. Across the viralsphere, videos confirmed the havoc, including a ravaged Starbucks shop where I’ve ordered many a non-fat cinnamon latte.     

So warm, so cool, so desirable and dreamy in normal times, L.A. looked like a hell pit. And to think only a few yards away, in the plaza across from the arena Bryant helped build, thousands of mourners had come last winter to mourn his passing, leaving flowers, notes and remembrances in a scene that touched the world. “What started out as a largely peaceful celebration … turned into confrontational, violent and destructive behavior,” LAPD said in a release.     

When I first saw the damage, I thought of James. He’ll be remembered  in pandemic and sporting lore for sequestering in the NBA Bubble almost 100 days, without his family and sometimes lacking mind and spirit, and conquering challenges as a player and an activist. He led the Lakers in a boycott of a playoff game after the shooting of Jacob Blake. He scorched President Trump at every opportunity. He implored Americans to vote. The conversations could not be basketball-only; they had to center on racial inequality. “Being here has given us strength in numbers,’’ James said as he finally departed Florida for the new home he hadn’t seen, a $36.8-million mansion in Beverly Hills. “That’s a byproduct of us being able to use this platform and talk about everything going on outside the court. All the social injustice, voter suppression, police brutality and so on. Even though we live in a small world within the game of basketball, there are so many different (ways) you can make an impact, make a change, have a vision.”    

Yet in an otherwise flawless experience, James did make a mistake. He should have addressed his new metropolis after the Lakers took a 3-1 lead in the Finals, warned the City of Angels not to be overtaken by devils. Why didn’t he? Is LeBron so single-minded about police brutality that he doesn’t consider the reality of a bottles-and-rocks riot: The officers have no choice at times but to respond and shoot back? As James lauded the league for a science-and-health masterpiece, a Bubble with zero positive tests among NBA players, he and his teammates could have recorded a public service announcement about wearing masks during public celebrations. A pre-game tweet from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti  — “As we cheer our @Lakers’ 17th championship, please remember it’s still not safe to gather in groups” — didn’t exactly resonate.     

Activism isn’t a one-way street, LeBron should know, especially on Chick Hearn Court and Figueroa Street. Leadership must be multi-dimensional.     

All of which seemed lost the next day, when the sports media shied from these violent disturbances to step into a safe and oblivious cocoon. Rather than ask why humans would sabotage the glee and glow of a championship, a familiar debate that grew tiresome years ago was re-posited again: Has James, with championships in each of his three NBA destinations and four total, finally eclipsed Michael Jordan as the Greatest Player of All Time? Well, no, he hasn’t. What has changed? Jordan never quit on a team in the postseason, as James has twice, in Cleveland and Miami. Jordan never lost in the Finals, unlike James, who is 4-6. Jordan made every player around him better throughout his six-title run; not until this year, surrounded by aging and spotty talent beyond superstar Anthony Davis, could James make the same claim. I realize media can be prisoners of the moment, especially when they’re in their 30s and 20s and think they’re guardians of the LeBron James Legacy Society. But must they jump on the angle simply because Lakers coach Frank Vogel, whose reputation is shimmering now after two previous firings, understandably anoints him the G.O.A.T.? And because his teammates, most of whom also have first-time rings because of James, were chanting “Greatest! Greatest!” during the trophy ceremony?     

“He’s the greatest player the basketball universe has ever seen,” Vogel said, “and if you think you know, you don’t know — OK? — until you’re around him every day, you’re coaching him, you’re seeing his mind, you’re seeing his adjustments, seeing the way he leads the group. You think you know. You don’t know.”     

Uh, has Vogel ever been around Jordan? You think you know, Frank, until you don’t know. I assume he watched “The Last Dance,” which conclusively shut down the debate forevermore. In L.A, as the debris is cleaned off the downtown sidewalks, everyone from the purists to the looters realizes the debate isn’t simply Jordan vs. James. What about Kobe, who won three titles with Shaquille O’Neal, ran Shaq’s rump out of town, then won two more titles with a roster that didn’t have an All-NBA sidekick as James has in Davis? It’s doubtful the Lakers, with a roster needing reconstruction, will defend their title as smoothly as they won it. This could be LeBron’s famous final scene, as Augusta National was for Tiger Woods in 2019. One pro-James argument that flies: He’s arguably enjoying the longest timespan within a career prime — the mid-2000s to 2020 — of any sports legend ever. The closest comparison is Tom Brady, who might be fading out at 43 but won a sixth Super Bowl at 41. How long can James go? How long does he want to go?     

When and if the NBA launches its next season, James does have the comfort zone of having endeared himself to L.A. Before the clincher, he had said of his faint acceptance: “The Laker faithful don’t give a damn what you’ve done before. Until you become a Laker, you’ve got to do it with them, as well.” Now that he has won for Kobe, won for beloved owner Jeanie Buss, won for Vogel and embattled basketball boss Rob Pelinka, won for the banners and retired jerseys in the rafters — and won for the people — James’ life will change in southern California. He’s more now, much more, than the rent-a-mercenary who longed to take over Hollywood. “This is a historic franchise,” he said, “and to be a part of this is something that I’ll be able to talk about and my grandkids and kids will be able to talk about; their pawpaw played for the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s like playing for the Yankees and winning or playing for the Cowboys and winning a Super Bowl, or the Patriots.’’     

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Such is the shame of the rioting. The scene was so beautiful at Disney World, everyone oozing the tao of Bryant. His close friend and longtime agent, Pelinka, became the Lakers’ basketball operations executive — and ultimately was attacked as an office backstabber by franchise superhero Magic Johnson. Now look at him. “Kobe’s voice is always in my head, always, every day, every minute,” Pelinka told reporters. “There would be times in the middle of the night, I’d hear his voice: ‘Stay the course. Finish the task.’ To be able to have a friend who changed my life, and helped me understand what greatness was about and sacrifice was about, there’s not many greater gifts. To be able to share this moment right now, knowing that he and Gianna are looking down from heaven, I know he’s proud.”     

In those dysfunctional times, Bryant supported his friend. “When I took the job, I remember he said, ‘Hey, I know what you did for me for 20 years. I’ll give you two, three years, you’ll fix this. You’ll get the Lakers back on top,'” said Pelinka, who then looked skyward and said, “I guess you were right, man. You give me the energy to do it.”

From shouting “1-2-3 Mamba” in huddles to Davis channeling Bryant’s name when he hit a game-winner in the Western Conference finals, this was about Kobe. “I know that he’s looking down on us super proud,’’ Davis said. “Before the tragedy, he would come to the game and just tell us, ‘This is y’all year. Go out and take it.’  He had a lot of confidence in our organization to go out and win it this year. We miss him. And this is definitely for him.”    

Anthony Davis seems to have found his NBA home with Lakers - Los Angeles  Times

 

As he spoke in the Bubble, the L.A. fools already were spoiling a potent moment and tarnishing a mystical story. If this is a shape-shifting year in American life, it’s important to talk about the destructive behavior — why knuckleheads would bring darkness to much-needed community light — rather than conveniently ignore them to tap into sports arguments. As James said about society moving forward, “Where do we go from here? We don’t stop, obviously, when the season ends. Let everyone disperse and go back (home), but I hope that people continue to use their platforms, use their individual social media platforms.’’     

Do that, please, because there are too many dirty cops in this country. But some of the civilians aren’t so swell, either.

Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ is the host of “Unmuted,’’ a frequent podcast about sports and life (Apple, Spotify, etc.). He is an accomplished columnist, TV commentator and radio host. As a Los Angeles resident, he gravitated by osmosis to movie projects. He appears Wednesdays on The Dino Costa Show, a segment billed as “The Rawest Hour in Sports.’’ Compensation for this column is donated to the Scripps College of Communication General Fund at Ohio University.

BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. He shifted to covering the Cavaliers and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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BSM Writers

Radio Row Is One of The Worst Weeks For Our Listeners

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners.

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From strictly a listener’s perspective, sports radio the week of Super Bowl’s Radio Row is one of the worst weeks.

Before I was a sports radio programmer, I was a sports radio listener. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was listening to sports radio with a programmer’s mindset. And every year, I would spend the entire week listening to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each year, I would wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

And now, as a former sports radio programmer, I will sit this week and listen to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each day, I will wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

Who does it serve? Let’s take an in-depth look at that question.

It serves the NFL. Hundreds of media professionals are stationed at its largest event, talking about it, ensuring it stays at the forefront of the public consciousness and providing millions in value for its sponsors.

It serves NFL players. Both past and present. Dozens of current and former stars will flock to Radio Row to record dozens of interviews. They’ll be paid thousands of dollars to pitch their wares as often as possible while expanding their brands outside the cities in which they currently or formerly played.

It serves the sponsors of NFL players. Radio Row provides a one-stop-shop for sponsors to send their endorsers down a line of interviews to continually get in front of new audiences. Scale, baby!

It serves the hosts, PDs, and executives. You get a working vacation! It’s awesome! I live in the Midwest, and yesterday was one of a handful of days I’ve seen the sun since November. Being in Arizona in early February is phenomenal! Plus, you get to hob knob with celebrities, get your photos taken, go to awesome parties with extravagant hor dourves and open bars, and it’s fantastic. You deserve the little break Radio Row provides; better yet, it’s all on the company dime. You get some bonding with your co-workers, you get to network, and it really is an awesome opportunity.

But you know who isn’t served? Your listeners. At least, the vast majority of them. Because here’s the reality: While it’s really cool that you’re hanging out with other radio folks, and you’ll have a plethora of former and current players swinging by for interviews, your listeners really don’t care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. While there’s a subset of listeners who are living vicariously through you — and that can’t be completely shortchanged, it’s a big deal — the overwhelming majority couldn’t be less invested in your Radio Row interviews.

Think of it from a listener’s viewpoint: Outside of the Bay Area, do you think anyone has thought “Man, I wonder who Kyle Juszczyk thinks is gonna win the Super Bowl?” I’ll tell you that, no, they haven’t thought that, and they don’t particularly care what he thinks. Furthermore, they definitely don’t care that he’s sponsored by Old Spice, which gives him the P-P-P-Power!™

And it would be fine if there was one interview here or there, but there are some shows — both local and national — that will completely fill out their rundowns with interviews with people your listeners don’t especially care about, ask questions that your listeners don’t especially care about, and end the interview by asking who they think wins Sunday, why they think that way, and allow them to pitch their boner pills or whatever else they’re schlepping. Every day. For five straight days. For two, three, four, or even five hours.

It stinks.

Self-serving isn’t bad as long as you recognize it’s self-serving. And that could be potentially the biggest issue. Now and then, you’ll get a host that is sanctimonious and pretends they’re doing the listener a favor by spending a week away from their family in a warm weather destination, rubbing elbows with some of the greatest players — both past and present — in the game. You’re not. You’re spending a week eating all the free food you can find, drinking all the free beer you can find, and taking pictures to post on your Instagram. And that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s something it isn’t. You can talk yourself into its importance, but it’s important to you.

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners. You can turn it into one with thoughtful questions, a unique spin on the traditional interview, or avoiding the same boring questions your subject has been asked 1,000 times during the day, but you’ve gotta go the extra mile to accomplish that. And I hope that’s not something you lose sight of this week.

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BSM Writers

What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?

“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”

Demetri Ravanos

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Social media does not stand still. The platforms that matter today can fall out of favor with the general public in the blink of an eye. Conversely, the right feature or attention from the right people can catapult a site’s importance in the social pecking order.

How does a radio company determine what matters? Are all formats received similarly on social media or is sports radio such a unique animal that brands have to be much more deliberate in how resources are allocated? To answer these questions, I turned to some experts. 

Tom Izzo doesn’t exclude any platform when he is plotting WFAN’s social strategy. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may each attract a different type of sports fan, but they all matter in building and serving the larger audience.

“There is sports radio audience on every social media platform, you just have to talk to them differently depending where you are,” he told me. “The language and audience on Twitter is different than the language and audience on Facebook, but there is audience everywhere.”

Audience is everywhere. That’s what is at the heart of the conundrum. How do you best utilize your assets in a landscape that isn’t just constantly changing? It’s also constantly growing!

Lori Lewis has overseen social media strategy at an executive level for Cumulus, Westwood One, Jacobs Media and iHeart among others. Now she coaches companies on creating great content with her own company, Lori Lewis Media

She told me that the key for not just sports stations, but for any brand, is understanding what their audience prioritizes. That doesn’t mean it should be the brand’s only focus though.

“Obviously, for sports radio, it’s Twitter. But don’t sleep on short-form vertical video,” she said in an email. “When done right, you’ll see success (meaning converting views into new fans) with YouTube Shorts and/or Instagram Reels as well as playback videos on Facebook (those are visual replays from the audio show).”

Converting views into new fans was taken to a bit of an extreme in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone launched Zone TV in 2021. Will Boling took the lead in creating the product. He says that launching a proprietary video stream was never about moving away from other social platforms. It was about giving listeners more access to better content in more places.

“Our video platform affects a lot of our social strategy,” he said. “On Twitter, we don’t want to just be seen as a radio station, but as a media company. Our Twitter stream allows us to react to breaking news while also sharing our broadcast at the same time. And with Twitch’s video producer, we can create featured clips from shows whenever we want. That allows us to push video out of featured guests, funny callers and anything in between to promote our podcasts from each show too.”

Video matters so much more than ever before. It does not matter who you talk to or what platform it is you are talking about. The answer always comes back to using video to attract more eyeballs.

TikTok, our most controversial social video platform, is trying to figure out what its reach could be without the visuals. Last month the company announced that it would experiment with its version of podcasts – a mode on the app that would allow users to experience TikTok content as audio-only entertainment.

I asked all three of my experts what their initial impression of the story is. Only Izzo expressed reservations.

“Probably no need for us to be first anywhere if there isn’t any particular benefit to doing that,” he said. “We’ll watch and see what happens and if it turns out that people like consuming podcasts on TikTok we will certainly address that.”

That doesn’t mean WFAN hosts and bosses won’t keep a keen eye on the feature. I would anticipate that there may be some experimental posts that either don’t receive much of a push or perhaps never see the light of day at all.

Boling is adamant that any use of TikTok is a wise one for stations. He says anything set up with an algorithm that rewards creators for posting content the audience connects with is an asset that cannot be ignored.

“We use social media to push listeners to our YouTube channel because it’s an algorithm based platform. If we get someone to click on our page once, then our channel will get recommended to them the next time they get on YouTube. TikTok helps radio companies accomplish that and own every space in the digital market right now.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s Lori Lewis that approaches the feature in the most scientific way. Do TikTok podcasts represent a sort of new frontier for audio brands? Sure, but just like Grogu and the Mandalorian, you have to go there and poke around before you can figure out how it will work best for you.

“If TikTok expands to audio, how might you complement the mothership (The FM/AM stick) and build on the trust you’ve earned from your show? What’s a unique way to tap into new features? As social media evolves, so should our approach.”

What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any? Since the onset of the pandemic, so much listening has shifted from terrestrial signals to digital streams. We have totally rethought what we are. Why should it stop with how our audience consumes our content? 

I asked Lewis if we are too narrow in thinking about how social media can serve us. Are we so focused on what is that we have not considered what could be? Can a brand have one identity on air and use social media to create something that does not mirror it, but instead compliments it?

“Depends on why you’re using social media,” she answered. “If you’re leveraging social media for increased awareness and building trust to drive more engagement during your show, it might not make sense to be different on social than on-air. But, if you’re a vanilla brand limited to creativity on-air, why not? Throw yourself out there. Show your real, relatable self (assuming it’s legal and appropriate, ha-ha). Relatability wins every time.”

Do we have to be deliberate in sports radio with how we allocate our social media resources? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there is a single correct answer. 

Strategy matters on air. It’s no different on social media. But in order to figure out the best strategy, you have to be open-minded and eager to play around with new offerings to determine what works.

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