I love podcasts and 2017 offered an absurd amount of quality choices. The medium features so much talent and creativity right now—and the sports space is one of the most exciting places for audio. Below are my picks for sports podcasts of the year, which are entirely subjective to my tastes. The great news is this list could honestly include probably 100 podcasts—and shout-out to The Starters for their continued success from podcast to NBA TV show. (Away from sports, the three best pods I listened to in 2017 were: The Daily (from the New York Times), Missing Richard Simmons and WNYC’sOn The Media.)
THE TOP PICK: Something To Wrestle with Bruce Prichard
The pro wrestling space has a number of great podcasts but this pod is at the top. Hosted by Bruce Prichard (a longtime wrestling producer and personality, most notably as Brother Love in the then-WWF) and Alabama mortgage broker/podcaster Conrad Thompson takes a singular episode or person from wrestling’s past (such as The Montreal Screw Job or The Rock’s beginnings in 1996 and 1997) and examines it over the course of multiple hours. Thompson is a mortgage broker by trade but he approaches his research on each topic with a historian’s zeal. Prichard was WWE Chairman Vince McMahon’s right hand man for many years and was in the middle of so many behind-the-scenes episodes of the pro wrestling business. He’s a natural storyteller and though he clearly has his biases and POVs, his recall for things that happened two or three decades ago is exceptional. The show had great episodes all year including a 4-hour and 10-minute podcast on Randy (Macho Man) Savage in September but the pod of the year for me came in March when Something To Wrestle With profiled Roddy Piper, one of the most charismatic pro wrestling stars and a crossover figure into popular culture. Prichard was particularly close with Piper at the end of his life (Piper died in 2015) and the last 20 minutes of the show — with Prichard breaking down multiple times—was remarkably honest audio.
HONORABLE MENTION: Pardon My Take
Last year’s top pick continues to entertain millions with Bilal Powell-like grit. Barstool Sports staffer Dan Katz and PFT Commenter (his real identity remains intentionally hidden) co-host an authentic and hilarious NFL-centric pod featuring non-traditional interviews with professional athletes and sports journalists. Over the past 12 months, this podcast has grown to the point where major sports figures are featured on it weekly (e.g. Geno Auriemma, Danica Patrick, Max Scherzer etc.), which has created some hilarious moments. Katz and PFT Commenter were also part of one of sports media’s most notable stories of the year: ESPN entered a partnership with Pardon My Take and Barstool Sports to create an over-the-air television show…and then pulled the show after one episode.
HONORABLE MENTION: ESPN 30 for 30 podcasts
Full marks to ESPN for investing in longform audio storytelling. The 2017 debut of 30 for 30 Podcasts—a series mostly narrated by Jody Avirgan—is audio storytelling at the highest level. I absolutely loved two episodes in Season One: “The Trials of Dan and Dave” (on the 1992 Reebok campaign of decathletes Dan O’Brien Dave Johnson) and “A Queen of Sorts” (on poker star Phil Ivey and "Kelly" Cheung Yin Sun trying to beat famous casino houses with an elaborate baccarat scheme.)
HONORABLE MENTION: The Bill Simmons Podcast: (The episodes with Kevin Durant)
Simmons and Durant have done multiple podcasts and have a great on-air rapport. The appearances revealed a side of Durant we don’t often see.
HONORABLE MENTION:Around The Rim with LaChina Robinson
Robinson’s dedication to women’s basketball was chronicled by Vice Sports last year as she covers both the college game and the WNBA for various networks. Her weekly Around The Rim podcast features the game’s biggest players, who rarely get the opportunity to go long in this kind of mainstream media format.