There’s been a lot of handwringing over the last week about the escalating feuds between talking heads Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith and Kendrick Perkins and the NBA stars whom they’ve been criticizing. The sagas are spurring debates over the merits of “Old Media” vs. “New Media” and propelling many observers to call for a ceasefire.
But in actuality, these grudge-filled exchanges are much easier to diagnose: NBA stars are being way too sensitive.
Skip, Stephen A., and Perk are exposing NBA stars as whiners
For years, Skip Bayless has mocked Russell Westbrook with the “Westbrick” moniker, in reference to the former MVP’s poor shooting percentage. This all reached a fever pitch earlier this year, when Westbrook confronted a fan who derided him with the dismissive nickname. Westbrook’s wife, Nina, said the family was receiving death threats over his poor play, and put the onus on Bayless.
“I’m tired [of] you @RealSkipBayless calling my husband out of his name. It is extremely childish,” she tweeted March 4. “That is my name as well, and many other peoples name. You’re disrespectful, and I’m extremely offended by your behavior. You should apologize.”
Bayless, of course, did nothing of the sort. Last week, when the Lakers drafting Michigan State’s Max Christie in the second round, Bayless pointed out his low 3-point shooting percentage and tweeted he’ll "fit right in with LeBron and Westbrick.” That prompted Westbrook, and his wife, to fire back.
Bayless responded by challenging Westbrook to face him in the TV studio — like a man!
If this all seems like pro wrestling, that’s because it is. Bayless knows his heated back-and-forth with Westbrook is great for his show and brand. He has a vested interest in keeping this going, and Westbrook is giving right into him.
Let’s be real: there’s nothing offensive about Bayless, a sports carnival barker, making fun of Westbrook’s turnovers and poor shooting percentage. That’s about as inbounds as it gets. Westbrook and his wife are being whiny. “Westbrick” is nothing more than a schoolyard taunt.
As we all learned in school, responding to bullies doesn’t stop the teasing. It usually only makes it worse.
But Westbrook and his wife can’t help themselves. As a result, they’re only supplying Bayless with more ammo.
Ditto for Kyrie Irving and his silly retort to Stephen A. Smith. The ESPN pundit has ripped Irving all year for his vaccination status, and more recently, disappearing against the Celtics in the NBA playoffs. When Irving exercised his player option with the Nets Monday, Smith released a video mocking him for being a “peon” like everybody else.
Irving did not take that barb lightly. On Twitter, he said Smith is going to have to “explain himself to people of his generation.”
Unsurprisingly, Smith fired back, with an invitation for Irving to join him on his shows. It’s almost like Smith is using this as a ratings ploy, or something.
Smith and Bayless make $12 million and $5 million annually, respectively. ESPN and FOX pay them to cause controversy and drive interest to their daytime debate shows. Getting into public feuds with two of the biggest stars in the NBA qualifies as a job well done. ESPN and FOX are probably thrilled. This is what they’re paying them to do.
ESPN may be less thrilled with Kendrick Perkins’ increasingly personal feud with Draymond Green. Perkins, like many NBA pundits, criticized Green throughout the postseason for his on-court agitation and largely underwhelming play.
Green fired back on his podcast last Sunday, and resorted to calling Perkins a racial slur. “You going from being an enforcer to c—n. How does that happen?,” Green said. “At least you act like an enforcer. I didn’t really ever take you for one.”
Perkins responded with a two-minute video, which he eventually took down. In it, Perkins ripped Green for disrespecting him, and said he’s “all bark and no bite.”
“You can talk about me as an ESPN analyst, you can talk about my takes, you can talk about everything you wanna do. I don’t give a f–k about that,” Perkins said in his now-deleted diatribe. “What you not gonna do is disrespect me and call me a motherf–— c—n.”
While Perkins disrespected Green’s game — he said he’s afraid to shoot and challenged opponents to hold him accountable — he didn’t say anything about his off-court character. Green, using his own podcast, escalated their feud to those uncomfortable levels.
Athletes have always been sensitive about media people criticizing them. But now, they have the tools to punch back. That’s all well and good. The problem comes when they act like they’re above the pettiness, while only perpetuating it further.
Westbrook, Irving and Green should unplug this summer and enjoy their millions. They all look foolish right now.
Edelman’s revealing “I AM ATHLETE” interview: Julian Edelman gave maybe his most open interview ever on the “I AM ATHLETE” podcast, speaking candidly about his possible NFL return and gripes with Jimmy Garoppolo. That’s bad news for media people who didn’t play pro sports.
It’s apparent Edelman felt comfortable opening up to Brandon Marshall, Adam “Pacman” Jones and former NBA player Nick Young. They’re part of an athletic brotherhood to which none of us are privy.
We’ve seen ex-pro athletes continually get more out of their interview subjects than regular journalists and reporters. JJ Redick, for example, hosted excellent conversations on his podcast this NBA season. Years ago, social media and the advent of outlets like The Players Tribune allowed athletes to bypass the middleman — reporters — and tell their side of the story straight up. Players hosting podcasts, and inviting other players on their shows to dish, are a continuation of that trend.
Of course, Edelman knew he wasn’t going to encounter tough followups on “I AM ATHLETE,” which likely only increased his comfort level. Those who report objectively are being increasingly squeezed out.
Ripping Tanner Houck for being unvaxxed is fair game: The Red Sox lost to the Blue Jays Tuesday after blowing a ninth-inning lead. Tanner Houck wasn’t available to pitch, because he couldn’t make the trip to Canada.
Predictably, he’s been lambasted for his actions, with Dan Shaughnessy calling it the most “richly deserved loss ever.”
The COVID vaccine debate is beyond tired, but sadly, it’s relevant to the Red Sox. If the season ended today, they would play the Blue Jays in Toronto in the playoffs without their closer — as well as the unvaccinated Chris Sale, if he ever returns from the injured list. Houck’s personal decision left his team undermanned in a crucial division contest.
That’s not about politics. That’s about baseball. It is totally fair for sports columnists to criticize baseball players for letting their teammates down.
Aqib Talib to Thursday Nights: Great move by Amazon hiring Aqib Talib for its Thursday Night Football team. He’s a unique voice in a field full of cookie-cutter personalities, and as an added bonus, only recently ended his playing career.
Talib is one of the most underrated NFL analysts in the game. It’s nice to see him receive some well-deserved primetime exposure.