• Jay Christian

Fear of a Black Podcast

TrueHoop’s Black Opinions Matter podcast has reshaped the sports podcast format in their image...and it’s doing it for the culture.

Golden Du-rag: [gol’den doo-rag] noun, slang.

  1. A kerchief or scarf worn on the head to protect the hairdo, especially after kinky hair has been straightened.

  2. The highest award given by the Black Opinions Matter Monday podcast in recognition of significant athletic, artistic, or cultural advances.

The Monday edition of ESPN’s TrueHoop podcast series, known as “Black Opinions Matter Mondays” (“#BOMM”), is rapidly becoming the sharpest, funniest and, without question, the blackest podcast in the TrueHoop family, and it is succeeding. It refuses to be boxed into one of the traditional types of sports shows. It is not a program defined by hot takes, nor does it look to “embrace debate”. It is not trying so hard to be that irreverent pod that prides itself in not talking about sports. The #BOMM podcast has a more nuanced existence. It is both all of these things and none of these things at the same time.

If you are looking for a NBA mock draft or salary cap analysis, then you have landed on the wrong podcast. If you are tuning in to hear the latest warmed over hot take on the sports news of the day, then the #BOMM podcast is not for you. In fact, the truest indicator in determining whether you will enjoy the #BOMM podcast depends on where you get your haircut.

The #BOMM podcast is a barbershop on a Saturday; not Supercuts but the neighborhood shop where you used to have to spend an entire day to get a cut. The kind of barbershop where, when you walk in, you must ask how many people are ahead of you and decide if you could afford to spend hours waiting for a fade or have to come back next week and try again. It is never clear where a conversation begins or ends in this kind of barbershop, it’s just always going. There is hardly a consensus on anything and the only right answer is yours. And deciding who had a better shoe between Ken Griffey, Jr. and Deion Sanders is a matter of utmost important. This is the most analogous comparison -to what you will find when you tune in to the #BOMM podcast. It is the quintessential black barbershop broadcasted to the masses.

But it is more than just a place where black men come together to bullshit each other on a weekly basis. The pod touches on pop culture, politics, social issues and yes, even basketball. It does so freely and without inhibition on a platform provided by one of the world’s most recognizable brands. There are literally hundreds of podcasts that are just as black as the #BOMM pod, but few, if any, are afforded a stage as large as ESPN. Conversely, ESPN produces all types of programming, but there is nothing quite like the #BOMM podcast in its stable of content. This is the unique space the #BOMM podcasts occupies in sports media. It is authentically black and distributed by the company that created Mickey Mouse. This revolution will not only be televised, but it will also have corporate sponsorship. The collection of revolutionaries leading the charge is an eclectic band of contributors, each bringing his own style to the show.

Amin Elhassan is the pod’s ringleader and creator. As a former NBA front office employee for the Phoenix Suns, Elhassan has his NBA insider bona fides stamped. He currently co-hosts The Jump on ESPN with Rachel Nichols and Tracy McGrady. On television, Elhassan is the resident front office insider but on the #BOMM pod he plays the role of facilitator and distributor, making sure everyone on the pod gets going.

Big Wos is the People’s Champ, dishing out hot takes on behalf of the common man. Hailing from New York, Big Wos dutifully plays the role of unimpressed city slicker and dismisses any cultural phenomena that does not originate from one the Five Boroughs. One of his favorite targets is West Coast hip-hop. Tupac is overrated; Kendrick Lamar is a’ight. His musical hot takes have sparked more than a few exchanges on Twitter between him and West Coast #BOMM fans which, Wos being Wos, enjoys.

Mariano Bivins writes for Def Pen and is a #BOMM contributor. In what has now become #BOMM lore, Bivins was initially invited to the pod based on a single tweet. Captioning a photo of New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony caught in the background appearing to admire a posing Rihanna, Bivins tweeted the now infamous, “Melo off the Henny & a few pulls of sour, ready to jeopardize it all”. That tweet caught Elhassan’s eye and the rest, as they say, is history.

And then there’s Black Tray, a versatile contributor that performs a few different roles on the show. Black Tray is a former collegiate basketball standout and California native. On the #BOMM pod, he does a little bit of everything: comedic relief, West Coast ambassador, investigative reporter. But perhaps Black Tray’s biggest contribution to the pod is the “shoutouts”, which happened organically. In his early podcast appearances, Black Tray would often tag everyone’s comments with a shoutout followed by a pop culture reference. So, for instance, a typical Black Tray shoutout would go something like this:

Elhassan: Did you guys see the turtleneck Durant had on last night?

Black Tray: Shoutout to Carl Thomas.

What once started as Black Tray’s calling card is now a signature feature of the podcast, and has evolved into a game where each pod participant tries to outdo the other for the most obscure shoutout pop culture reference.

Holding it all together is super producer Jade Hoye who keeps the #BOMM train running on time. Hoye edits the podcast, ensuring both that the best content makes it to the audience and that the FCC doesn’t come knocking with a hefty fine. Jade also participates in the pod, either dropping a well-timed joke or willingly playing the role of “white guy” foil to the rest of the group.

The result of this concentration of talent is a show that covers a lot of territory over its duration. The pod may begin with basketball. It may end with basketball. Or, as was the case with the Get Out movie review episode, it may not cover basketball at all. Elhassan and team certainly know their hoops, but are at their best when discussions develop organically.

Last week’s pod was a perfect example of the show’s chemistry. After the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs, the #BOMM pod had plenty to discuss. Additionally, columnist and author Marcus Thompson was on as a featured guest to discuss his new book, Golden: The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry, so there was no shortage of hoops talk available. The crew initially discussed reports that players from other teams do not like Curry. Then Elhassan postulated to the group that part of the resentment towards Curry revolved around his complexion, i.e. cuz he light skinned.

Let’s pause here for second. The fact that the #BOMM pod could explore such a theory without the slightest bit of reprimand or backlash is a coalescence of all the characteristics that make the pod unique and a good listen. The theory that Curry’s complexion affects how other players view him is pretty much accepted as fact, or at the very least a factor in the equation, to all the patrons in the hypothetical barbershops discussed earlier. The #BOMM pod gave voice to what so many in the community think and is the only pod in the TrueHoop stable that could discuss such a topic without having hundreds of think pieces written about it. In fact, the April 11, 2017 TrueHoop podcast consisting of a panel of all-white contributors briefly referenced that same complexion issue before jokingly conceding that such a subject would be better suited for the guys on the Monday podcast.

Anyway, Curry’s light-skinnededness gave way to a discussion about which black movies he has seen; specifically, whether or not Steph has seen Friday and New Jack City respectively. That led to a “spirited” discussion of the cinematic merits of New Jack City; a discussion that morphed into full barbershop mode. Elhassan became increasingly incredulous with his pod mates’ apparent lack of respect for New Jack City and threatened not to talk to anyone else on the pod. The rest of the pod mocked Elhassan for his apparent allegiance to a good, but not great movie. There was yelling. Black Tray pulled out a phone and contacted Curry directly to settle the issue once and for all. This went on for 45 minutes. After receiving confirmation of Curry’s cinematic viewing habits (yes to Friday, no to New Jack City), the pod moved on to the opening weekend of the playoffs, having managed to create content without relying on the available basketball storylines.

The #BOMM pod often invites a variety of guests to participate on the show and the list ranges from other ESPN talent to former NBA players to academics and everything in between. The roster of guests reads like people who you would tell your friends was in the chair next to you getting a haircut. And the #BOMM podcast’s interactions with its guests operates under that premise. Take the recent show visit of former NBA point guard Chris Childs as an example.

Any other show would likely want Childs on to discuss his toughest opponent, best place to eat on the road, favorite coach, etc. But the #BOMM pod cared about one thing and one thing only as it relates to Childs: the Kobe two-piece (if that reference is lost on you, a) Google it and b) why are you on basketball website?). To the #BOMM crew, all those questions about NBA life can be asked later, but not before the story of the two-piece, which is exactly the question Childs would get if he walked into any barbershop in America. This is another way the #BOMM pod succeeds, by taking a different approach to the interview model and introducing its audience to many cultural contributors. Speaking of cultural contributions, let’s talk durags. Specifically, Golden Durags.

As the pod evolved and the need to recognize contributions to the culture increased, an award signifying such excellence was needed. Enter the Golden Durag – the highest honor the #BOMM pod can bestow upon an individual. The Golden Durag is not flippantly given and the list of recipients is quite small. It is such a popular fixture of the pod that Golden Durag t-shirts were created for sale to the masses. Talks of producing actual Golden Durags are in the works.

It’s too early to say what the future holds for the #BOMM podcast. The show enjoys a strong following that continues to grow. All the regular contributors are involved in other ventures and are gaining more visibility because of the show’s success. The playbook says that the #BOMM podcast will continue to be successful until it turns into the stuffy corporate show that it routinely mocks. The original cast of characters will move on, and social media will long for the old days when the pod was actually good.

But this outcome doesn’t seem likely. Nothing about the podcast follows the conventional rules of sports media, and its rise to stardom should be no different. But no matter where the pod’s successes take them, the contributors are committed to doing the show on their terms. For them, the pod, no matter bad or worse, comes first. Shoutouts to Naughty by Nature.

#NBA #JayChristian