I love podcasts more than almost anyone on Earth (don’t worry: we have a couple cool ones launching soon here at TheLead). I’ve been on them so long that all of the “Aren’t Podcasts Great? You Should Really Try Them!” stories I’ve seen lately genuinely annoy me. I knew podcasts were great ten years ago, motherfucker!
My love of podcasts also extends to recommending them to other people. I wrote about the seven podcasts all sports fans should be listening to back in November, and I stand by my recommendations, but sometimes the idea of subscribing to an entire podcast is a little daunting. You would rather sample the wares first, or just pick and choose the best material, which is where this list comes in. Whichever podcasts you end up subscribing to, if you care at all about sports – or life – you won’t regret listening to these stand-alone episodes.
One Bonus Must-Listen (Non-Sports) Episode
The Tim Ferriss Show – Kara Swisher
Kara Swisher is a badass journalist who lords over Silicon Valley, and Ferriss is one of the few podcast hosts who truly stand out above the fray. Even if you don’t think this is up your alley, I urge you to give it a listen if you care at all about journalism, media, tech, or business.
10. The Vertical Podcast w/ JJ Redick – Adonal Foyle
Redick put his podcast hosting duties on hold during the 2016-17 season, but during the 2015-16 season he interviewed ex-teammate Adonal Foyle about his new life as a financial counselor to athletes. Instead of being dry and boring, it’s a transparent, illuminating discussion about the behind-the-scenes details of why so many athletes go broke and the actual financial pressures on professional athletes. They also give some practical advice to young athletes about how not to frigging go broke. Two words: private banking.
9. Revisionist History – “The Big Man Can’t Shoot”
Revisionist History is bestselling author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast in which he goes back and reinvestigates old stories and questions conventional wisdom. This episode deals with why NBA centers who can’t shoot free throws don’t switch to the underhand method. This is an issue that we here at TheLead – led by our Founder, Tim Livingston – have been on since way before this podcast even existed. Hell, Tim has been on it since before he even founded TheLead. One listen of this episode and you will understand why.
8. Real Talk w/ Jason Whitlock – Maverick Carter
I’ve gone back and forth on Jason Whitlock over the course of his career. Currently I’m down on him, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t done excellent work. This interview from back during his second stint at ESPN is one of the best I’ve ever heard with LeBron’s right hand man. Whitlock’s fearless style and comfort discussing race allow him to quickly move the interview to an open and honest level that I’ve heard multiple other interviewers of Carter try and fail to reach. If you didn’t know he was LeBron’s guy, you would think you were listening to the young founder of a startup media company. And you’d be right (Carter helped LeBron found Uninterrupted). Hey, Phil Jackson: if you’re reading, maybe you should start with this one…
7. Fresh Air – Joe Buck
Fresh Air with Terry Gross (although Dave Davies guest hosts here) is like the longest-running interview show in the history of radio or something insane like that. Buck came in with an honest, expansive mood, on a tour for a book in which he revealed that he almost lost his voice permanently because of a botched hair transplant surgery (not his first). The result was a flowing, revealing portrait of Buck that will have his biggest critics at least momentarily reconsidering their conviction that Buck is a corny-as-fuck, partisan poseur.
6. The Lowe Post – Lee Jenkins
Nothing fancy: just one great basketball writer (Zach Lowe of ESPN) interviewing another (Jenkins, from Sports Illustrated) about his best recent pieces. Both of these guys understand the micro and the macro of the the NBA better than basically anyone alive, making it a very high-level deal. One of the smarter discussions you will ever hear about the sport. It gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling to listen to (yes, I’m that guy).
5. Bob Ryan’s Boston Podcast – Bob Cousy
Are you sick of Boston yet? Well you should be. Trust me: I’m from Boston and I’m super annoying. So is everyone I know. At least when it comes to sports.
HOWEVER, if you’re into basketball, or sports in general, this conversation is pure auditory sports porn. Which isn’t surprising, considering it’s one of the best basketball writers of all time interviewing one of the best players of all time, who just happens to be his friend of over 50 years. Normally interviews with much older people don’t work as well because the audio medium requires a quick back and forth, but the 88-year-old Cousy is 1,000% cogent and his years as a coach and commentator have made him a good interview who can tell stories for days. When the episode ended, I badly wanted it to keep going: always a good sign.
4. SI Media Podcast w/ Richard Deitsch – Jay Bilas
3.SI Media Podcast w/ Richard Deitsch – Bomani Jones
Deitsch is as keen an observer as there is regarding the media, and here he’s going deep with two of the smartest people ever to grace the airwaves of the Bristol Behemoth. Bilas and Jones both understand sports – and life – far better than the average professional sports opinion giver. They will make you want to use your brain more. This allows these interviews to quickly get to that “three dimensional chess” level that you could interview Mike Greenberg for 50 hours and never reach.
2. The Tony Kornheiser Show – “Wait…Who won?”
If you aren’t listening to this show every day, you’re honestly missing out in a big way, and the post-election episode exhibits so many of the qualities that make it so great. On what is nominally a sports show, a group of smart, funny adults had a mature, insightful conversation about the preceding evening’s shocking events, without getting overly political in either direction. It was commentary, not op-ed, and that’s what made it unique. It’s a smart, funny show for smart people and it’s often at its best when the conversation steers away from sports.
1. The Bill Simmons Podcast – Kevin Durant
This one has two things going for it: Simmons is a podcast pioneer and his own podcast has been the backbone of “Simmons Inc” for years now (rightfully so: it’s fucking good). And, most importantly, it is the most open I’ve ever heard Kevin Durant. I’m not sure how much that had to do with the fact that they recorded it after a long dinner. They don’t sound inebriated, but a glass or two of wine can do a lot to relax a person. Or maybe the lengthy dinner convo just made KD comfortable. Either way, it was real, honest, and great.
Side note: I grew up and into adulthood listening to every word Simmons said and reading every word he wrote. Huge fan. Then he went to the Ringer and I came out to LA and began giving sports opinions for money. I began to pull away; stopped consuming his content. Recently, though, I decided all my reasons for being down on Simmons were born out of jealousy and competitiveness. I put all that aside and started listening to him again just before this podcast aired. He remains excellent, and continues to put me in a good mood.