During this time when Americans are looking for something positive to watch, to do, to hear, The Last Dance has provided that much needed boost of fun, taking us all back to the 1990s when the Chicago Bulls dominated the NBA. Most of you, I believe, will say you have really enjoyed it. I know I have loved every minute of it.
Then, I thought I would check out ESPN Radio to see if they would be talking about it in order to extend that fun experience. Oh yes, they were talking about it nonstop. But they were focusing on the negative. Host David Kaplan interviewed some of Jordan’s teammates who weren’t so thrilled about the documentary. That seemed fair, getting reaction from other members of the team. Whereas Horace Grant railed against ESPN and Jordan, B.J. Armstrong was more tempered and positive about MJ and the experience. I was surprised Bill Cartwright and Ron Harper got sucked into the negative side of the discussion to some extent. And when Kaplan interviewed legendary broadcaster Bob Costas, he brought a far more positive and level-headed tone to the discussion; far more professional!
“That was a dysfunctional team, a dysfunctional family,” said the now famous Chicago talk show host David Kaplan, who I first met in the late 1980s when he came into the Sun-Times sports department hawking a 5’10” and under basketball league featuring Larry Jordan. “Can you tell me why was this team so dysfunctional?” he asked Costas, who didn’t quite see it that way and listened to Kaplan repeat “dysfunctional’ about 10 more times over the next five minutes.
Kaplan, who actually used to be a pretty nice guy, has now shifted to the negative side of the equation on both ESPN Radio and NBC Sports Chicago. I can speak mostly to his TV gig, because I had watched it for years, but felt compelled to turn it off more than a year ago when I saw Kaplan and the show going negative, like sports talk radio in Chicago. I swore off of sports radio two decades ago during the Bulls’ Glory Days when I listened to Mike North on WSCR Radio go off on critical rants about the Bulls – when they were winning championships! I wanted none of it when it became clear that the cynical and negative dominated most of the sports talk discussion. My son and I joke about it because after listening to one of the first White Sox games of the 2012 season, which they lost when shortstop Alexei Ramirez failed to turn a double-play and the other team scored what turned out to be the winning run of the game. We listened to the post-game show when a very upset fan called in to ask, “Do you think the White Sox can ever turn another double-play again?” I wish he were joking with the question, but he was quite serious as he continued his complaint. My son and I just laughed at the stupidity of it all.
I certainly know there are many radio fans who do love to live in the negative, ripping every athlete, coach, moment, etc. I’m just not one of them. I ran into WBBM Radio sports reporter, George Ofman, about five years ago and asked him that question directly. He told me that research has determined that sports talk radio listeners want to hear the negative. “That’s what draws them in to the listen,” he said. George is a good example. His entire tone is negative. Listen to him once and even if he is reporting the positive side of a story, the tone in his voice is negative. Okay, I’m kidding, you’ll never hear him report the positive side of a story. But I’m sure he is right about sports talk radio fans. If it weren’t true, they would have gone out of business a long time ago.
So basically what I’m saying is that if you are like most Americans living in this crisis situation and want to surround yourself with fun and interesting experiences, positive words and thoughts, watch The Last Dance, but don’t turn on sports talk radio.