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The NBA media panel: A roundtable of voices around the league

Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Sage Steele, "SportsCenter" anchor and host of "NBA Countdown," headlines the NBA media panel.

The NBA has always been a fascinating league to cover for the sports media, given the personalities, length of the season and popular interest in the game. To give readers some insight into the job, I empaneled five respected NBA media voices for a roundtable discussion on the business.

The panel:

Howard Beck, national NBA writer, Bleacher Report

Frank Isola, NBA reporter and columnist, New York Daily News, SiriusXM NBA Radio host.

Michael Lee, Wizards reporter, Washington Post

Sage Steele, host, NBA Countdown on ESPN/ABC

Marc Stein, NBA reporter, ESPN and ESPN.com.

(Editor's note: The panel was asked to go as long or as short as they wanted with their answers. They were free to skip any questions. Some of the answers have been edited for clarity. Part 2 will appear in the Tuesday media Column.)

QUESTIONS

SI.com: How would you define your job?

Beck: Evolving, challenging, fascinating. I spent 22 years in newspapers before joining Bleacher Report last September, and though I'd still classify myself as an NBA beat writer, my responsibilities are much more diverse. I'm still primarily a writer/reporter, but also an opinion columnist, a video pundit, and an occasional TV talking head. I'm enjoying all of it and finding I still have much to learn. I'm working to become a better opinion writer (after years of confining myself to news and features) and a more polished on-air presence. That's the beauty of a job like this — there's so much room to improve. All of that said, the broad outline of my job is the same: I report, observe, analyze and try to provide some insight into some aspect of the NBA, whether it's tanking, the advanced stats revolution, the extraordinary resolve of the Chicago Bulls, the profound significance of Jason Collins or the continuing dysfunction of the New York Knicks.

Isola: Grunt worker. Beat writer, sometimes columnist, wannabe TV guy. I'm guessing that is essentially the job description of every NBA beat writer. Because of Twitter and the Internet, the job has changed a little bit but we're still there every day covering the team, trying to break stories and trying to find human interest stories. That part remains the same. The smart players (veterans) figure out how to use the beat writers to their advantage. The naïve players (rookies to third year guys) are told by certain joyless, humorless employees in the Knicks organization to fear us because we're out to get them. I don't lose much sleep over it.

Lee: On a basic level, my job is chronicling the day-to-day dealings of the Washington Wizards. I have to break news and write game stories, interesting features and trend pieces related to the team for the newspaper. I also have to provide analysis, commentary and expanded breakdowns in blog posts. When I'm not doing that, I have to keep readers engaged and involved by linking to the content and carrying on discussions with readers through social media. Trying to define this job was much easier in the days before we were in the age of 24-hour real-time media — when you could wake up in the morning with the thrill of breaking a story and knowing that people would be chasing you the rest of the day. Now, you might get 15 seconds of glory before someone has repackaged your work on a blog somewhere, while everyone is offering an opinion until it's lost in the news cycle.

Steele: Moderator is the best way I describe my job: Introducing topics, following up with questions/comments, making sure the conversation is balanced between our three analysts, keeping track of the timing of the show via the producers, and contributing ideas of topics and formatting before, during, and after the shows. My personal goal is to help produce the most informative yet conversational show possible.

Stein: My job is to provide the reader/viewer/listener with as much information as possible about the league that they don't already have at their [disposal]. The mantra was succinctly boiled down to me by longtime ESPN sage [producer] Mike McQuade before one of my early (and presumably clumsy) TV appearances in Bristol: "Tell them something they don't know." That is always the goal irrespective of platform or technology.

SI.com: How forthcoming are NBA players?

Beck: It depends on the player, the team, and the subject matter. Too many of the game's top stars have been overcoached by PR managers to the point of being predictable and dull. The best insight usually comes from the role guys and older vets, who are not as media-wary (or weary) and are generally more thoughtful. These guys should all take a cue from Kobe Bryant, who says whatever's on his mind as bluntly as he feels like it. He never worries about what anyone might think, or whether it might be (gasp!) controversial. I'm not saying every player should drop F-bombs and rip someone in every interview. I just think these guys can afford to be a little more candid and thoughtful. It's just basketball.

Lee: I find them to be very forthcoming. Basketball really embraces individual personality within the construct of a team. NBA players are often encouraged to be outspoken and flamboyant because it leads to more off-court opportunities. I think guaranteed contracts also give them the freedom to express themselves. In the NFL, the players often have to worry about getting cut if they say something that upsets management. In baseball, a lot of guys can only talk baseball. NBA players clam up during some controversies, as expected, but for the most part they're going to say what's on their minds. I've found international players — like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol or Marcin Gortat — to be the most honest and direct. It might be because English isn't their first language and it's probably tougher to filter what they're going to say. NBA players treat a good question like an alley-oop lob. You serve it up nicely and wait for the jam.

Isola: It all depends on when and where you get them. I was with LeBron James for two weeks at the London Olympics right after he won his first NBA title. He was tremendous. Same with Kobe Bryant. He's very intelligent and gives you exactly what you want. J.R. Smith, God bless him, is an open book. Like any relationship, you need to develop trust. It can take a year or two.

Steele: I don't think the NBA is much different from other major pro sports in that it just depends on the player and the timing. I'd say overall NBA players have mastered the art of speaking in clichés, and with 82 regular season games, I get it. I don't blame them. However, that makes it even more refreshing to see a player like Chris Bosh give honest assessments of his team as he did recently during Miami's late-season struggles. Yes, it makes our jobs as journalists easier and more interesting, but most importantly, honest, forthcoming, candid answers from players is great for the fans, especially the millions who follow this game so closely.

Stein: I have to put all my biases on the table here and point out that I've been a full-time NBA writer since February, 1994. But I covered all the major North American team sports before that and have always believed that NBA players provide not only the best combination of accessibility but also true selfness, which means that the media (and thus the public) have a better shot at seeing the full gamut of emotions. I love the back and forth with NBA players and I think Twitter, for the most part, has only enhanced it. Twitter is the first medium I've seen in sports where players, fans, and media can all intersect comfortably. The personalities of the NBA make this league and really make this job [as well].

SI.com: What is the best NBA team to deal with and why?

Beck: The Indiana Pacers are always available, friendly, and refreshingly candid, and (not coincidentally) they have one of the best PR teams in the league. And they haven't changed much, despite all of the added attention and pressure that comes with two straight trips to the conference finals. The Mavericks, Warriors, Wizards Suns, Bucks, Lakers, Spurs and Raptors are also great to work with.

Isola: The smaller the market, the better the players are to deal with it because they're not overwhelmed every day by the media. When the Knicks have veteran players they can be bearable. When Jason Kidd and Kurt Thomas ruled the locker room two years ago, the place had a different vibe. The Knicks also won 54 games that season by the way. The Indiana Pacers are [also] very accommodating.

Lee: Golden State goes out of its way to help the national media do its job. The Warriors provide access with players and make pretty strong pitches to get you to pay attention to their players. Considering the stature of the franchise and the popularity of the players on its roster historically, I'd probably have to say the Lakers really get what this is all about. They embrace the circus and can turn any kind of publicity into a positive.

Steele: (Editors note: Steele omitted answers about covering certain teams/players because she said she does not get much one-on-one time with teams/players.)

Stein: I pride myself on being able to deal with the helpful teams and the unhelpful ones. No need to grade 'em. I'm sure some teams out there have had their fill of me.

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant has never been one to censor himself or refuse to say what's on his mind.

SI.com: What is the toughest team to deal with and why?

Beck: The Knicks. They restrict access more than any other team, monitor every interview, prohibit team officials from speaking to reporters, and generally do everything possible to make our jobs as difficult as possible. It's company policy. Media relations aside, The Garden just has the most oppressive and authoritarian culture in the league. It loosened up a bit during the Donnie Walsh era (I called it glasnost), but the Knicks slid right back into their old ways after Walsh resigned. I'm hopeful that Phil Jackson's arrival will change the environment for the better. (In recent years, the Thunder have also become a bit controlling and overprotective of their players. I hope it's not a trend.)

Isola: Come on, now.

Lee: I haven't had very many negative encounters with this team, but I've heard enough horror stories from the guys who cover the Knicks to know that dealing with them on a daily basis can be a nightmare. They create an unnecessary wall between the media and their players that creates a combative environment. I've had relationships with players before they joined the Knicks and they get guarded once they don the blue and orange. But once they're gone, it's back to normal.

Stein: One of the first lessons I learned from the vets at the Orange County Register when I was a kid: "Don't whine about your working conditions because the readers don't want to hear it." I know how lucky I am. I feel incredibly fortunate after spending well over 50 percent of my high school days arguing about NBA matters with my friends at our lockers that I get to cover this league every day in adulthood. Do I miss how good our seats used to be in various arenas? Of course. But press-row reconfiguration and "tough teams" are the smallest of inconveniences.

SI.com: What player do you really enjoy spending time with and why?

Beck: Kobe, by far. Some of it is familiarity. I started covering the Lakers in 1997, his second season, and was there to see his highest highs and his lowest lows for the next seven years. He could be temperamental — he cussed me out more than once — but I appreciated his passion and his honesty, and he had many more good days than bad when it came to the media. He rarely ducked the beat writers or ducked a tough question. And as I mentioned before, he speaks his mind. I'll take candor over canned quotes any day. That's why I love Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, who are always personable and engaging. Others on that list: Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard, Derek Fisher, Jamal Crawford, Goran Dragic.

Isola: I've always found Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki to both be funny and refreshingly honest. When Nowitzki saw me at the All Star Game, he said, "Frank, you kill the Knicks on Twitter. Take it easy on Dolan for once." Dwyane Wade is a gem as well. Jamal Crawford is very media savvy. He knows everything that is written about him. Carmelo Anthony is a pro. He answers every question, he's never rude and never embarrasses anyone. My only issue is that he takes forever after a game to speak. Treatment, shower, massage, repeat. It's incredibly annoying. But we were in Baltimore (Carmelo's hometown) for a preseason game and Carmelo's mom waited 40 minutes after a game for her son to leave the locker room. Suddenly, I didn't feel so badly. He does this to everyone. Pablo Prigioni is one of a kind. The most sincere pro athlete I've ever met. Selfless, professional, and mature. Plus, he knows Lionel Messi so that right there puts him in a different class.

Lee: From the first time I got to do a one-on-one interview with him in my first full year covering the NBA, I've always enjoyed sitting down with Kobe Bryant. He never served me up with canned answers and always came across as thoughtful. As he's gotten older, Bryant has become like an old grandfather who's got nothing to lose and doesn't care what anybody thinks anymore. I also like talking to Kevin Durant because he might be the least pretentious and accessible superstar. You talk to him sometimes and you don't feel like you're talking to a potential Hall of Famer; he still carries himself like the humble kid from your neighborhood who made it big but didn't forget where he came from.

Stein: I've always been an absolute nostalgia sap, so I find myself getting a bit sentimental about the guys I've had the privilege of covering for a long time who clearly aren't gonna keep doing this forever. Kevin Garnett, for example, has never loved doing interviews, but he's generally been great with me. And a more passionate NBA speaker, when he's in the mood, you simply won't find. So I look forward to the two or three times a year that I get a chance to cross paths with him. In general I really enjoy being around the KGs, Kobes and Tim Duncans as much as I can at this point, because those are the first all-time greats whose careers I can say — in my best Pete Vecsey or Bob Ryan voice — that I covered from start to finish. Jason Kidd and Grant Hill were two more who have just moved on to real life. I suppose I've also been known to have some fondness for those Nash and Nowitzki dudes.

SI.com: What is the most frustrating part of your job?

Beck: It depends on the day and the assignment. Some days, it's the travel. Some days, it's trying to get to the root of some story you're pursuing — some elusive fact or an elusive source. Some days, my biggest frustration is me. I want every story and every sentence to sing, and that's just not a very realistic goal. (Really, my frustration is that I'm not Frank Deford.) There's also the fact that the job itself has simply become tougher over the last 15 years. Player access has diminished with teams curtailing interviews, overmanaging their players and shutting us out of practices. There's also just too much media covering the league now. Locker rooms have become so crowded (with reporters, not players) that it makes it nearly impossible to ever get a one-on-one interview, or even a casual chat. That used to be commonplace.

Lee: The most frustrating part of the job is that it has become so much more demanding than when I first started. I remember my first year covering the Atlanta Hawks in 2002. I'd have to write a game story and a notebook or a feature and a notebook, and I thought I was working hard. Now you have to essentially dedicate your entire day to providing content for the Internet, turning around and producing for the newspaper and getting back to writing more stuff for the internet. That doesn't even include the social media obligations. The constant cycle makes it tough to really find the proper life balance, especially if you have a family and want to have some semblance of a life. There also used to be a time when you'd get information, check it, double check it and then run with it after getting confirmation. Now, it's get one source, get it out and watch everybody scramble. The rush to be first in the Internet age has made it tougher to be thoughtful and precise. It also makes it harder to provide context at times.

Isola: First, let me say that 98 percent of the employees — staff, security, ushers, waiters, players, coaches — at Madison Square Garden are wonderful to deal with. However, Marv Albert recently said that no one at MSG is happy. He's not exaggerating. It can be a joyless place run by humorless individuals. The Knicks try to make life miserable for the media in every way possible. The culture they've created in the locker room is one of fear, paranoia, and distrust. It's not the [only] reason why the Knicks have been a joke of a franchise for nearly 15 years but it is a reason. The Knicks are committed to keeping the media from the players for fear that the two sides will form a professional working relationship. Imagine that. Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Latrell Sprewell were much more accessible and friendly. And they actually had accomplished something, unlike most of the current players. But the organization creates a hostile environment and will only deal with those in the media who are willing to trade in their objectivity for access. Also, the club distributes too many credentials on game nights. Most "media" types are using it as access to the game and to turn the locker room into a cocktail party before and after games. You want to talk to the players, get your ass up to Westchester and cover practice.

Steele: Time! What I would do to have more time to let the guys just go ... and address more topics! The length of our shows increases once we hit the conference finals — we have a full hour when we are on ESPN — but otherwise it's 30 minutes on ABC and for the vast majority of the regular season. That breaks down to a maximum of 18 minutes after the commercial breaks. Not a lot of time for three knowledgeable, opinionated analysts to give their takes.

Stein: That my beloved Qwerty keyboard on my beloved handheld device continues to be attached to a buggy operating system that is eventually gonna force me to switch to the iPhone full-time. I write so many stories on the run on my handheld. C'mon, techies. Please rescue the stubborn dwellers on Planet Keyboard. We are a dwindling but kind community. This is more jealousy than frustration, but it's rather humbling to work on a radio broadcast with Mike Tirico or Kevin Calabro for three hours at a time and hear how smooth they are, how powerful their voices are and how inventive they are with descriptive vocab during live action. (Can I also say, even though I haven't worked for a newspaper since 2002, how bummed I am as a huge newspaper fan in general that year after year of technological advances don't ever seem to make deadlines any better for poor beat writers?)

Photo: Danny Moloshok/AP

Donald Sterling's racist comments sparked outrage league-wide, leading to his ownership expulsion.

SI.com: How much pressure do you feel on a daily basis?

Beck: That's a difficult thing to quantify, but I'd say there's quite a bit of pressure on all of us in the current media environment. The marketplace is crowded and intensely competitive. There are so many excellent reporters and writers covering the NBA right now. Readers have a lot of choices, so it's important to give them something original and thoughtful — a smart take, a unique observation or anecdote, something they won't find anywhere else.

Isola: Pressure used to be waking up in the morning and seeing a breaking story you didn't have, or worse yet seeing it on the back page of another newspaper. Those days are mostly over since breaking a story is done on Twitter and within minutes you can recover to a certain degree. Before the web and social media you had to wait 24 hours to play catch up. It works both ways — a good story you break doesn't have a long shelf life. Oh, well. But if you're on a beat in a big market and you don't feel pressure you're probably not doing a good job. Pressure keeps you on your toes. But I also believe that because of the internet and 24-hours sports, a lot of non-stories are turned into big stories. It's all a little silly.

Lee: I don't know if pressure is the word I'd use to describe what I feel on a daily basis. For the most part, I just feel a responsibility to do my best and to get it right. I understand that a lot of people look to me to provide a measured perspective without overreacting or sensationalizing the mundane. Of course, there are pressures to meet deadlines — especially the extremely tight newspaper deadlines after games — and to not get beat. But they don't consume me. Actually, there is a huge adrenaline rush that comes from submitting a quality story in a limited amount of time. I travel a lot, so I sometimes watch businessmen scan the Washington Post sports section. It feels good to see them start reading one of my stories and following the jump to the inside. That's a minor victory. I take it as a challenge to put out a story that will get that same reaction every day. Sometimes I come up short but thankfully I get the opportunity to come back and try again tomorrow.

Steele: I feel a ton of pressure! Some of it comes from peers/bosses, but the majority of it is self-inflicted, as it has been for my entire 18-and-a-half years in broadcasting. The opportunity to host this show came about quickly and unexpectedly last fall, just a few weeks before the start of the season. There hadn't been a host in years and with the losses of Magic Johnson and Michael Wilbon, I knew there would be a lot of eyes on the show as a whole, as well as high expectations. The NBA is a major priority at ESPN/ABC, especially considering the NBA champs are crowned on our air and the broadcast rights deal is expiring soon. So needless to say, I am fully aware of the importance of this show to our network and to the league. I am easily my own worst critic and feel that I have a long way to go to achieve my goals in this role, but I have learned so much in my rookie season and am thrilled to be a part of it.

Stein: My personality is such is that I heap tons on myself whether it's real or imagined. Just the way I'm built. Just the way I was raised. I come from a family of Eastern European perfectionists and an engineer father specifically who could draw a better triangle freehand in his heyday than I can to this day with a ruler. So always doing more — always trying to doing better — is the only way the voices in my head know how to say it. And let's face it: We are talking about a very competitive industry and league that is extremely newsy. So it's unavoidable.

SI.com: How would you classify the NBA media's coverage of Donald Sterling over the past three weeks and why do you classify it as such?

Beck: [Declined to answer.]

Isola: There certainly was a mob mentality behind it. Clearly, the gentleman is a crazy old fool who has a bizarre lifestyle and odd beliefs. What's funny about the reaction in the media and among NBA players is that everyone seemed more outraged by Sterling's comments to his mistress than they were about the housing discrimination lawsuits from 10 years ago. Doc Rivers got out of his deal in Boston to work for Sterling, an owner he once played for. Chris Paul re-signed with the Clippers. Donald Sterling didn't just become a racially insensitive owner when TMZ released those tapes.

But race is an uncomfortable subject, especially for white reporters who cover a league dominated with black players. And it works both ways. Some black reporters will try to use their ethnicity as an advantage to befriend players. The Spanish media is that way with the Spanish players and so on and so on. Everyone is looking to gain an edge. But in the case of Sterling, everyone was looking to distance themselves after ignoring the story for years.

Lee: Up until recently, there really hadn't been much done to break down how Sterling became such a bigot. Sterling has been rightfully painted as a man with a history of discriminating against minorities, but the discussion has mostly been on the surface as is often the case when it comes to matters of race. When an easy villain emerges, everybody trounces, looks at the bad guy, and then laughs and judges the individual until he or she goes away embarrassed and with a battered ego. But why does a new villain always seem to step forward? Because there is never only one bad guy. Is someone like Sterling even capable of reform? Does he believe he needs it? Does getting rid of him eliminate racism? These are rhetorical questions, of course. Sterling isn't the only person out there with the opinions he shared but he makes for a good scapegoat. He proved that you can get by being prejudiced when the target is poor black folks, but he got in trouble when he attacked his workforce and an established mogul in Magic Johnson. What's really been lacking with the Sterling coverage is depth. But the more this story continues to add extra layers I think we're finally starting to catch up.

Steele: Appropriate. When the story broke, I was in Los Angeles with the Countdown crew and the first thing we said to each other was, "Get used to it" because this story isn't going away anytime soon. Nor should it. This is truly one of the biggest "black eyes" the league — any pro sports league — has ever seen. I do think that some of the comments by Mavs owner Mark Cuban (specifically his early comments about how pushing Sterling out is a "slippery slope") have been very insightful and thought provoking. It is quite easy to jump on the "get-rid-of-Sterling" bandwagon. I wasted no time jumping on myself.

But I feel Cuban is correct in that the league has to be careful with how it handles certain issues because of the danger of setting precedents. However, so far so good by Adam Silver and the rest of the league. I hope Mark Cuban keeps being Mark Cuban, [that is]speaking the truth about topics that are uncomfortable, yet so important to discuss openly (i.e. prejudices). That is the only way we will evolve as a more tolerant, accepting society. Also, kudos to [ESPN colleague] Bomani Jones who has so eloquently reminded us that he (and others) tried to bring the Sterling issue to the forefront years ago. It's sad that it took V. Stiviano to get the ball rolling and the rest of the mainstream media on board. Better late than never.

Stein: Justifiably suffocating. He should have been suspended for conduct detrimental to humanity long ago, but it wasn't until TMZ obtained the tapes — and then the new lows unveiled in the Anderson Cooper sitdown — that everyone could hear it with their own ears. You could read equally disturbing views from Sterling if you took the time rewind through old court transcripts, but reading them and hearing them obviously makes the comments land in a completely different manner.

SI.com: What is the biggest misconception of your job?

Beck: Wow, where to begin? There are so many. No, we don't fly with the teams (they fly private and the media flies commercial). I'm not friends with the players. I don't get free tickets. I have a media pass, but I'm there to work, not to be entertained. I'm a fan of the game, but I'm not a fan of any team or player. I have no emotional investment in the games I cover. Zero. I root for great stories, but not outcomes. During my newspaper days, I also rooted for quick games and blowouts, in either direction, because it meant I could write my story before the final buzzer. Then again, some of the best pieces I've written were about games decided in the final seconds. Great drama makes for better stories. But deadline game writing is as stressful a task as there is in this business. It's controlled panic.

Which brings me to the biggest misconception: that the job is somehow easy, or a joy ride because, "Hey, it's sports!" I don't think most fans understand the rigors of the job: the crazy deadlines, the competitive pressure, the heavy travel, the nights and weekends and holidays away from family (and the nights and weekends and holidays interrupted by breaking news). I'm not listing those factors to complain about them, it's just part of the gig. But it's a part of the gig that fans don't see. All that said, it beats the hell out of sitting in an office cubicle all day. And when it comes to brutal travel schedules, we have it easy compared to our friends covering Major League Baseball. Those folks are nuts.

Isola: That we travel on the team charter plane, hang out with the players, and have access to free tickets. Believe it or not, the Knicks don't allot four tickets per game to the media. Check that. Based on some of the coverage, some reporters are getting tickets to Knicks games or MSG concerts. And they know who they are. For me personally, the biggest misconception is that the Daily News has an axe to grind with the Garden and James Dolan. I wrote a column praising Dolan for guaranteeing a win over Atlanta earlier this season. When the Knicks beat the Hawks, the back page read "Jimmy The Greek." How exactly does that jive with having an axe to grind? We don't dictate the coverage, the Knicks do. And for 14 years Dolan has had seven coaches, seven general managers, one playoff series win, and loads of dysfunction. Those are facts. If you're in the media and not pointing that out and holding the owner accountable, chances are you're one of those guys attending Eagles concert at the Garden free of charge.

Lee: A lot of people don't realize that this really is a job. Yes, I get to watch games and have fun but it's not all fun and games. Some people assume that since I'm around the players and coaches every day that I'm a part of the team, buddy-buddy with the guys, or emotionally invested in whether they win or lose. As any journalist will tell you, I'm after the best story. If the team wins, that's usually a better story because the players are in a better mood and more talkative. But I've learned that the best situation is usually when you cover either a really bad team or a really good team. Average can be boring. Also, when you cover the NBA, you have to deal with back-to-back games and that means a lot of 6 a.m. flights to get to the next city. Some nights, I don't sleep. I cover the game, write a blog post or two, pack and go straight to the airport. I sleep on the plane and try to make do with that nap. So, yeah, it's not always the most glamorous gig.

Steele: I think the biggest misconception is the same as host of NBA Countdown as it is hosting SportsCenter: Hosts just read what's on the teleprompter. That, of course, couldn't be further from the truth. I take notes on index cards and prefer to ad-lib the majority of what I say on Countdown. And, similar to SportsCenter, 95 percent of what is said by the host/anchor, we write ourselves.

Stein: That the idiot who does ESPN's weekly "NBA Power Rankings" every Monday hates your team. He does not! I know for a fact he hasn't had a real rooting interest in the NBA since the demise of the Buffalo Braves in 1978 and is grateful, in all third-person seriousness, that people get so worked up about the rankings. That includes a handful of loyal readers who also happen to be players and coaches, for which I am eternally thankful.

SI.com: Other than your own paper/website/broadcast outlet, what is the first NBA content you look at each day?

Beck: Honestly, I don't go directly to websites anymore. I wake up and start scrolling Twitter. That's my primary news feed. If a story is linked there, I read it (or tab it for later, or save it to Pocket).

Isola: I'm up early so I'll watch the highlights on NBA TV and ESPN. I'll check Twitter and if I see something that interests me I'll click on the link. I do a radio show every morning on SiriusXM NBA Radio Channel 217 — thanks for the plug — so I check out all the major websites plus the New York newspapers. It's a habit. I also enjoy Deadspin, but I'll never admit it.

Lee: I usually go to ESPN, mostly out of habit, because it's a one-stop shop for analysis and news. And, hey, it's the Godzilla of the industry; you really can't ignore the roars and flames.

Steele: I think its crucial to read/watch other outlets besides my own. I like several writers but always seem to check in with Yahoo Sports insider Adrian Wojnarowski first. Plain and simple, he's really, really, really good at his job.

Stein: I will be stunned if the answer isn't unanimously HoopsHype. I would submit that the overwhelming majority of NBA execs, coaches, team officials and journalists, as well as many, many players, start there every morning because 'HH' aggregates all the news in such a handy format. Twitter is another obvious candidate, but 'HH' when you wake up will catch you up fastest.

Photo: Seth Wenig/AP

ESPN President John Skipper responded to PBS Frontline Producer Michael Kirk's comments alleging that ESPN "abandoned" them.

THE NOISE REPORT

SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week:

1. Award shows are rarely the forum for media-on-media criticism, but at the Peabody Awards last Monday, Michael Kirk, a producer for PBS Frontline's award-winning documentary League of Denial, unloaded on ESPN for pulling out of its collaboration at the behest of the NFL. "ESPN abandoned us," Kirk told the audience. (You can read the rest of the story from Broadcasting & Cable here.)

During a media day in Bristol for the opening of its new $175 million digital center featuring company executives and an armada of public relations specialists, ESPN President John Skipper responded to Kirk's comments:

"I don't know why you would waste your moment of glory whining. I'm not sure what purpose is served by that," Skipper told Sports Business Daily. "I didn't appreciate it. They wouldn't have been able to do it without us. We fulfilled everything we suggested we would do. We took our name off of it because we didn't control it. I don't love that episode ... I'm sorry they feel abandoned. We had the [Steve and Mark] Fainaru brothers [who authored the book League Of Denial] on our air to talk about the book and the series."

2. The website World Soccer Talk — a popular hub for world soccer fans in the U.S. — has been the most prominent critic of Fox Sports' decision to make Gus Johnson its lead international soccer announcer. Christopher Harris, the site's editor, did not hold back when reviewing the work of Johnson and analyst Eric Wynalda calling Real Madrid's win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final.

Harris' piece followed a number of articles last week on Johnson — including mine — that quoted Fox Sports management on the Johnson experiment.

3. ESPN tennis broadcaster Chris Evert, who was famously engaged to Jimmy Connors when both were in their 20s and top tennis players, had an interesting take on the breakup of golfer Rory McIlroy and tennis player Caroline Wozniacki. "I was married in my 20s to my tennis," Evert said. "That was the only way I could put all my emotions and energies into that goal. I was in awe that it worked as long as it did. I can't believe it. They must be just different kind of people. I understand 100 percent you're married to your career. You're using your emotions. You're using the mental capacity that you have. You're putting everything into it. That's what it takes to be the best."

3a. Here's the television schedule for French Open coverage.

4. Sports pieces of note:

•This J.A. Adande piece on the intersection of racism, prejudice and Mark Cuban is excellent.

The MMQB's Tim Layden on the history of artificial turf in the NFL.

The L.A. Times on the litigation history of Donald and Shelly Sterling.

•Highest recommendation for this Lee Jenkins profile of Adam Silver.

•ESPN's Kevin Van Valkenburg on the strange case of NFL prospect Adam Muema.

Non sports pieces of note:

•Buzzfeed's Steve Kendell, who lost his sister on 9/11, on visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

The Washington Post's Eli Saslow on an American woman struggling to prepare for life without her husband. Highly recommended.

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates with a brilliant opus on race in America.

•A New York Times profile of The San Quentin News, the state of California's only inmate-produced newspaper and one of the few in the world.

•Really liked this Anna Holmes piece on what it's like for a 20-something in the media.

Faking cultural literacy.

•The most common age in America is now 22.

•Fans of The Americans: This New York piece on the show (Editor's note: it has spoilers) by Matt Zoller Seitz is really terrific.

•Here's how the New York Post covered the wedding of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

5. Fox Sports 1's coverage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star race on May 17 averaged 3,482,000 viewers, the second-most watched program in the network's history (the Sprint Unlimited race on February 15 averaged 3.53 million). The post-race edition of Fox Sports Live that followed set a new audience record with 2,584,000 viewers, passing the previous mark of 2,272,000 recorded on Feb. 20, 2014.

5a. Awful Announcing says Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann might have a reunion on SportsCenter.

5b. Love these ESPN World Cup posters.

5c. NBC's coverage of the Preakness Stakes averaged 9.6 million viewers, down from 9.7 million in '13 but up from 8.1 million viewers in 2012. The top markets: 1. Baltimore; 2. Louisville; 3. Fort Myers; 4. Cincinnati; 5. Buffalo. NBC's coverage of the Belmont Stakes on June 7 begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. It switches to NBC at 4:30 p.m.

5d. Viewers crushed ABC for its decision to go to a split screen in the final, tight laps of the Indianapolis 500 to show the wife of race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and girlfriend of Helio Castroneves.

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