The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You spend all day arguing with people on TV. I couldn’t help but notice your book cover photo, where you have a huge pout. Do you consider yourself an angry person?
No, anyone who knows me knows better than that. In fact, my family and friends laugh all the time. They say people have no idea how hysterical I am. … I’m far from angry.
A show was canceled in 2007, and ESPN didn’t renew your contract in 2009. Do you think you might not have a future in this business?
I was unemployed, so, yeah. To grow up poor, to wonder if you had enough food on your plate, clothes on your back, heat in your house – to wonder about those things and then graduate from that point to making over a million dollars a year as an adult, and then go from there to not making any Nothing at all… is incredibly scary. … It was so embarrassing. … And it was also very scary because I didn’t know if I would ever be able to get back what I had before.
There are people who believe that the proliferation of sports debate shows is bad for the sports media. Why are debate shows good for the sports media ecosystem?
Debate shows are good because you are presented with different points of view, and on the whole, more and more people agree with one side or the other. Also, most sports experts are not true experts. Because of my years as a good writer and then a participant in the NBA, I tell you at least 60 percent of the time, [people] They call me to give me the goods, or they want to come over, or they want to make sure this story gets on the national airwaves. … [Debate TV] By the way, by politics. This is what makes me laugh when people complain. Sorry, there were political debate shows long before sports debate shows.
It’s clear from the book how much you enjoyed working with Skip Bayless. Why was he the best discussion partner I’ve ever had?
I didn’t have to show up for a morning meeting with Skip Bayless. … We could literally just go and say “start the show,” knowing we’d disagree because it was instinctively counterintuitive. I knew I had never thought anything like him and he had thought nothing like me. This made our jobs very easy. Because with a debate you expect back and forth and butting heads. It was not necessary to manufacture it. … I never had to wonder what level of passion, level of energy, level of knowledge it would bring. I knew she was coming. And I knew I had to be ready to fight back.
Much of the book revolves around your journey back from losing your first ESPN show in 2007. Do you now consider yourself the most important non-executive at ESPN?
I am constantly told that I am by the bosses. They tell me religious because of the ratings and the revenue I make… I don’t get it like, Wow, look what I did. I take it as pressure.
A few years ago, you had a meeting with an ESPN executive named Laura Gentile, who raised concerns about a segment in which you compared LeBron James’ wife to Steph Curry’s wife and how they should behave. How important is that conversation to how you think about the show?
If we’re sitting here as men having the conversation, and the conversation is about women, and then a woman confronts you about how hard it is to hear men talk about what women should be like, you have to step back and say, “That makes sense.” Laura was absolutely right in pointing out how she found something offensive in that these men were sitting here talking, but there were no women taking part in the conversation.
You write at one point that branding comes above all else, referring to ESPN, which I drew for the criticism I received over the perception that you were being somewhat sympathetic in a recent segment about the Ultimate Fighting Championship. President Dana White, after a videotape showed him slapping his wife. Does the UFC’s work with ESPN affect what I said?
I don’t care. I’m tired of people with this degree. You know, the fact of the matter is that he’s a married man. I spoke out against laying his hands on a woman like I would any other person. …you work at the Washington Post. Are you really going to sit here with a straight face and tell me you’re free to go out there and say what you want to say about a colleague within the walls of the Washington Post? Because I know cases when people lost their jobs, because they spoke against each other within those walls where you work. I know what lines to cross and often what not to cross. … No one has ever come down from the company and told me what to say or what not to say or whatever the case may be, but in my opinion, I am well aware of the fact that you should speak more carefully about the people he works with.
Second chances and first take notes
Gallery / 13 a. 288 pages $28.99
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