By Lucas Shaw
Jun 26, 2022, 9:00 AM
The morning after the Golden State Warriors lost the opening game of the 2022 NBA Finals, Draymond Green sat down at his apartment in downtown San Francisco to tape an episode of his podcast. Many athletes might have wanted to put such a forgettable night behind them. The Golden State Warriors had blown a lead at home and wasted 34 points by their star player Stephen Curry. But Green, one of the most outspoken players in the league, had hundreds of thousands of fans waiting to hear his thoughts.
Over the next 30 minutes, Green praised Curry’s play, criticized his own performance and questioned how their team had allowed the Boston Celtics to score so many points.
“I failed him because I didn’t play well,” Green said. “When he comes out guns blazing, I have to make sure I do my part.”
As the series progressed, Green’s real-time commentary from inside the locker room turned his podcast into the single biggest media story of the NBA finals. Along the way, Celtics’ coaches listened to Green’s podcast for insight into the Warriors’ tactics. TV analysts referenced it during broadcasts. Former players blamed it for Green’s poor play at times, and after the Warriors won the finals in six games, Green’s teammates joined the show.
All told, Green’s rapid bouts of self-assessment offered basketball fans something new — unprecedented access to the thoughts of a key player as he battled his way through a championship series.
“As I got deeper into the playoffs, everyone is waiting to hear what Dray has to say on the podcast,” Green said in an interview with Bloomberg this past week. “They started to look for my analysis after games.”
Since debuting last November, the show’s audience has ballooned. The morning after the Warriors won the title, the show ranked as the 11th most popular podcast on Apple according to Chartable, its highest ranking to date. For several months this year, it has been one of the 100 most popular podcasts in the world. A video of Green’s episode on the heels of game six has since racked up more than a million views on YouTube.
Green has always enjoyed talking into a microphone but in the past often grew frustrated trying to condense his thoughts into brief clips for TV. A podcast, on the other hand, allows him to speak at length and share his knowledge of the sport.
His first stab at podcasting wasn’t so successful. In 2017, he co-hosted a show called “Dray Day” alongside Bay Area sports journalist Marcus Thompson II. But Green didn’t commit himself to the project. They would upload an episode and then not tape again for a couple weeks or more. After three months, the feed went dark.
Green told his representatives that he remained interested in doing a show if the right opportunity came along. Meanwhile, he was proving himself as a particularly adept commentator during regular appearances on TNT, which airs weekly games and the award-winning studio show “Inside the NBA.”
“Audiences crave immediate reaction.”
Executives at The Volume, a podcast network founded by sports broadcasting giant Colin Cowherd, approached Green last year and offered to make whatever show he wanted to do. “So many people have an opinion, and the minute it’s wrong they go hide. Or they are terrified by the reaction,” Cowherd said. “He leans into it.”
What Green wanted to do was an in-season show, accompanied by a co-host. Others, like JJ Redick, a former NBA player turned podcaster, and CJ McCollum, a current NBA player-podcaster, were making good use of the co-host format. Initially, Green delayed his podcast’s debut while searching for someone to join him on the air. But as the season picked up, Green and his producer, Jackson Safon, decided to start taping on their own. Within a few episodes, they’d decided Green was doing just fine as a solo act.
Still, it took a few months to find the right rhythm. They started by posting once a week, and early episodes combined Green’s commentary on recent games and league developments with long-form interviews. Guests included current and former players such as Gary Payton, Joel Embiid and Bradley Beal.
By February, episodes were generating about 500,000 downloads a month, Green said. That’s good for a new show, but not in the upper echelon of podcasts. The Volume offered Green data on its performance and counseled him on when to post new episodes.
“He’s very coachable, and he wants to be pushed,” Cowherd said. “You don’t get a lot of that from people with a net worth of more than $100 million.”
As the season progressed, Green grew more comfortable. He swore less and adopted a more personal, diaristic approach. During the opening rounds of the playoffs, he started taping reflections on games the morning after he played. During the finals, he would tape an episode in his hotel room the night after the game. The episodes got shorter, more focused and more in the moment, redefining what an athlete can do while still playing an integral role on a team.
“Audiences crave immediate reaction,” said Logan Swaim, the head of programming at The Volume. “If you can get it from the athlete themselves, that’s lightning in a bottle.”
Now that the season is over, Green will have to adjust the format again. He will likely revert to doing more interviews. Green views his podcast as a safe space for fellow athletes. That doesn’t mean they will be free from criticism. Green has no filter when it comes to his play or that of his opponents. But he is hosting them as a peer and typically lends a sympathetic ear. As one of the leading competitors in the NBA—and a former defensive player of the year—Green has been able to book guests that most podcasts can’t.
While Green didn’t ask the Warriors for permission to do the show, he has prevailed upon many of his teammates to appear on it, including Curry and Andre Iguodala.
The podcast is just one part of what Green hopes is a budding media empire. He previously starred in an Amazon documentary called “The Sessions,” in which he talks to self-help guru Deepak Chopra and wellness expert Devi Brown. Earlier this year, he signed on as a regular contributor to “Inside the NBA.” Sports media experts have speculated Green could one day replace Charles Barkley in the studio. Though, for his part, Green said he isn’t retiring from basketball anytime soon.
Green is one of many professional athletes building media businesses, including Curry, LeBron James and Peyton Manning. Their success has led to some concern among journalists about the future of independent sports media. While the podcast hasn’t stopped Green from showing up at post-game press conference or speaking with the media, it has inspired podcast networks to think if there are athletes from other sports that could replicate his success. Both Cowherd and Stephen A. Smith, one of the biggest stars at ESPN, have acknowledged that Green brings something to the table they may not.
“I’ve never been afraid of these athletes replacing me,” Cowherd said. “I want to be in business with them.”
To contact the author of this story:
Lucas Shaw in Los Angeles at email@example.com
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