Episode 386 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast hosted by Jimmy Traina features a conversation with The Ringer’s Ryen Russillo.
The following transcript is an excerpt from The SI Media Podcast. Listen to the full episode on podcast players everywhere or on SI.com.
Jimmy Traina: Do you think how people view Durant, maybe comes down a peg by how poorly he performed and getting swept by the Celtics?
Ryen Russillo: I mean, he was pretty bad in Game 3 by his standards. And Tatum did an unbelievable job and then you start asking yourself some bigger picture questions like, do I go into next year thinking Tatum is better than Durant? Which I didn’t think I was going to say to myself after the series. I also think there’s a big part of me that saw what Durant did last year without Kyrie and not even a half version of Harden – with the hamstring injury, in the playoffs and he still almost got past Milwaukee. So to go this bad … this whole Brooklyn thing, when it started, I was like, I’m a little surprised KD be hitching his wagon to Kyrie. And on top of it, it went way worse. You know what I mean? As bad as I thought it could go if it went sideways, it’s gone way worse. So as the best player out of that group, you’re going to take most of the heat. He likes to engage, which part of me respects him for it, because I’ve always said that I like Durant a lot. Knowing him as a player, cause I feel like I know exactly who he is as a person. And I’d rather have flawed and genuine than scripted and seemingly perfect – Russell Wilson. So I’m always going to defend Kevin Durant. But you know, I think it gets to a point where it’s like, hey, do you really want to just start debating people that have already decided they’re never going to change your mind? Like we do not change our minds about anything in this society. I don’t know how it translates to other parts of the world, but we don’t. We don’t want to go, hey, maybe I was wrong about this. I know I don’t like doing it. I don’t like being wrong about teams and players and stuff, but eventually you have to get over it. So if somebody is telling Durant he sucks and then he can’t stop talking about it with somebody else, it’s like, what do you think you’re going to do? Like, are you trying to change a person’s mind? And I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. So I can understand his frustration, but he put himself in this situation. And I think it’s also confirming how many people actually didn’t like Durant originally, because he left Oklahoma City and he went to a team that won 73 games and probably should have won a title if Draymond [Green] was suspended in the 2016 Finals. So when you add that all up, there’s never any gray with it, where you either love player freedom or you hate it. And I think Durant actually got people that like player freedom to make it a little more gray, saying okay but that one’s ridiculous. So this was another chance to dump on a guy that people are still resentful towards going back for five off seasons now.
Jimmy Traina: What do you make of him responding to Barkley and always responding to trolls on social media? I don’t like it, but I don’t really have a leg to stand on because he’s a great player. It’s not like it affects his play. I just, I don’t know, I think if you make like $ 200 million and you’re the best basketball player in the world, like why are you even checking your phone? But that’s just me.
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Ryen Russillo: Look, I remember reading Game Change, which was the lead up to the John McCain picking Sarah Pailin to be his running-mate. And it was, ‘Hey, this is a real game-changer,’ HBO makes the movie about that. But that book had all sorts of chapters on how everybody that was chasing the nomination of both sides at that point right? So it was the introduction to Obama, it’s the first time through where Hillary was kind of like, wait, this Obama guy thinks he’s cutting the line, which is exactly how it’s treated in the book. And so if you read the follow-up to it, you realize that … cause we used to give [Scott] Van Pelt s — for fighting with people on Twitter all the time. And we started doing a segment on it called “Scott Van Pelt’s Twitter Fights,” and we wouldn’t tell him ahead of time. I would play the role of the troll. And then we would have our producer behind the glass read Van Pelts tweets. And we had this intro and we wouldn’t tell him we were doing it. And I don’t know if there’s anything he’s ever been involved with on the air that he’s hated more than this. Cause he f — ing hated it. But we were trying to do it to be like, dude you’re fighting with a 14-year-old JV corner from Michigan, you were arguing with him about this. And he hates when I do this, but I’m making an analogy here. I remember saying at one point, and certainly I’m not perfect either. I would be like, why would you fight with these guys? Like, who gives a s — dude, who gives a s —? But every now and then you have that moment where you want to say something cause they strike a nerve and some people keep it going and other people kind of get their swipe and then move on, right? So here’s Durant doing it, making 200 plus a million. He’s going to be the first ballot in the Hall of Fame, all these things, he’s got the rings, maybe he needs the rings more on his terms to be validated in his own mind or the other critics, which is a different topic, but we understand that. And so like why would you be doing it? You go back to Game Change and then our most recent president prior to Biden and Trump, they’re obsessed with how they’re being treated on social media. So if the guys running the most important country in the world are getting pissed off because of a segment on a news channel, or don’t like a headline, or a breakout, or tweet, then who are any of us to tell anybody? I personally wouldn’t do it, cause I’ve never gone like, ‘Hey, I’m psyched, this was an awesome use of time. ‘I’ve never said that ever getting into it with anybody on Twitter. And I try to almost never do it. Maybe I will every now and then, but you get the point.
Jimmy Traina: But I think he comes at it from an angle of like, he’s defending himself and it’s like, you don’t have to defend yourself. Like, OK, yeah, people say maybe you didn’t earn the ring the way people expect you to earn a ring. But people know you’re a top, one, two or three player in the league, you got the contract, like you don’t need to defend yourself to random no-names. That’s what’s shocking to me.
Ryen Russillo: The Barkley stuff though … I think TNT really screws with guys heads.
Jimmy Traina: Explain, and this’ll be the headline.
Ryen Russillo: Look, I love the show, Barkley is my favorite athlete ever. And my favorite thing about Barkley is that he was always the same, good, bad, indifferent, whatever, like you just always knew what you were getting with him and he said exactly how he felt. So a guy that became my favorite athlete was in a weird way, kind of inspiring the way I always wanted to be on the air. Like, this is exactly how I feel, this is exactly how I am off the air and I’m the same person. But I’m not nearly as good as Barkley is at anything probably that he’s ever done. So, you know, Anthony Davis, I think he pushed himself and I think he came back because he got sick of being called ‘soft’ essentially on that show over and over and over again. And the show is so popular and the social media team with that group, I mean, The Office mashup that they did with that Nets team, that stuff was absolutely brilliant, brilliant stuff, like really good. People want to execute that stuff, it’s rare that the crew that can keep doing it over and over again. And, you know, Durant has some argument in the Barkley part of this, like, well, you teamed up with Houston at the end and you’re getting on my ass chasing rings and Barkely’s counter to that would be, you did it in your prime to go to the Golden State, I was at the end. Like Barkley was basically done at that point, except for a couple more years. But the platform of that show, and then I think so many players watch it, and then it’s these guys that are ripping them. I think it really messes with the player’s heads so I think that’s why it happens.
Jimmy Traina: Yeah. I had Kenny Smith on the pod last week and we talked about how when the Timberwolves won the play-in and they got mocked by the crew on TNT there for their celebration. Even Ernie Johnson got in on mocking them, he’s usually more neutral than Switzerland. And what I told Kenny is I like that they don’t apologize ever. They could have easily said, “Oh, you know what, we were a little hard on the Timberwolves. Let them celebrate, they haven’t had much success.” Well, they don’t do that. And that is what I think gives the show even more credibility. I know that’s what I love about the show too. Like, don’t apologize for nonsense, don’t apologize when you don’t mean it, you don’t have to apologize. That gives that show even more credibility.
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