Hours after the NBA announced his eight-game suspension for “conduct detrimental to the league” (specifically, as stated in Wednesday’s press release, “holding a firearm in an intoxicated state” while livestreaming from a Denver strip club), Grizzlies All-Star Ja Morant sat down for an exclusive interview with ESPN, with a portion of that appearance shown on NBA Countdown.
Conducted by Jalen Rose (who recently went viral for his insightful commentary on Ja’s off-court struggles, equating it to his own experiences as a newly wealthy 20-something navigating his sudden rise to fame), the interview was largely viewed as a letdown with Morant’s responses coming off as scripted and formulaic, saying the bare minimum to get back in the league’s good graces. Former Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard expressed similar disappointment, lamenting the minimum standards that pass for journalism in today’s watered-down media landscape, prioritizing celebrity and spectacle over quality.
“What little I saw made me wince,” said Le Batard, who left ESPN to start Meadowlark Media with fellow Bristol alum John Skipper in 2021. “It left me unsatisfied.”
While Le Batard did acknowledge the limitations of network television and its various time constraints, editing feature-length interviews down to easily digestible soundbites, the popular podcast host still thinks ESPN dropped the ball, squandering an opportunity to capture real vulnerability and introspection from one of the NBA’s biggest stars.
“What I saw was soft and didn’t seem to serve anybody except ESPN,” said Le Batard. “This seems to be a lot of people around the economy of basketball and Ja Morant orchestrating an interview so Ja Morant can move onto the next stage of his branding.”
Though Rose, throughout his career in sports media, has proven more than capable in articulating his opinions on basketball, it’s debatable whether he was the right person for this particular assignment, letting Morant off the hook with soft-ball questions and few follow-ups. After already issuing a formal apology and leaving the team to undergo counseling in Florida, Le Batard wonders if Morant needed to go on ESPN at all, risking further damage to his reputation by giving a hollow interview that felt like it was being read off a teleprompter.
“I do think there are dangers sometimes in having the athletes do the journalism, even though the athletes are the access point on how you get Ja Morant to sit down and so you take the dilution of a softer interview,” said Le Batard of a boilerplate interview that came off as overly rehearsed, hitting a slew of “talking points” in rapid succession without delivering anything of real substance. “An exclusive interview with Ja Morant, who hasn’t talked to anybody after his controversy, is going to get eyeballs, so it doesn’t matter how good it actually is. All you need, if you’re the media partner, is please get me the famous guy to sit down.”
Le Batard would later cite Pat McAfee’s recent interview with Aaron Rodgers, which, at its peak, drew over a half-million viewers to YouTube, all of them hanging on the quarterback’s every word as he announced his departure from Green Bay. One of the reasons Rodgers felt comfortable enough to share his bombshell news with McAfee is that he’s a former player, avoiding the probing, uncomfortable questions that a hard-hitting journalist would ask.
“Does anybody in the audience, in sports fandom, or even, at this point, in sports media companies, care in a real and legitimate way whether the interview is done well or not?” asked Le Batard. “It’s just access, right? The whole point of it is, ‘We got Ja.’ And that’s it. Nothing after that matters.”
That’s not to say Morant was spinning us a yarn or hasn’t learned his lesson after weeks of bad press. Still, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Morant was used as a prop, employed as a needed ratings-driver for ESPN in its never-ending quest for content.
LISTEN NOW on the Audacy App
Sign Up and Follow Audacy Sports
Facebook | Twitter | Instagram