I'm a podcast enthusiast.
I listen primarily to ITunesU college lecture series, comedy, science and history stuff, but my sports queue - while strong at the top - lacks a deep bench.
This may be because most popular sports pod offerings are just repurposed verbal diarrhea from national radio shows. I want to beat Skip Bayless to unconsciousness with a morning star, not have him in my ear buds.
Here are the best I've found:
Discovered it recently and I'm all in. Hosted by former professional basketball journeyman-turned-writer Paul Shirley and comic writer Justin Halpern (of Shit My Dad Says fame), this is the preeminent basketball podcast for smart guys with a sense of humor.
Shirley has an engineering degree from Iowa State (you may remember him on the Cyclone Fizer/Tinsley teams as the white tweener big) and is significantly more thoughtful, reflective and conflicted than the typical athlete.
He offers his hoops takes through the prism of a judgmental elitist indie music snob logician with a moribund wit. Imagine Jack Black in High Fidelity with 20 extra IQ points, stretched out to 6-9, equipped with borderline NBA ability, and forcibly parachuted into a locker room of selfish egomaniacs, sociopaths and half-literates that he can neither relate to nor bend to his will. The tortured dissonance that ensues is bittersweet and frequently hilarious. He's uncomfortably honest and his observations about most athletes and coaches square precisely with my lower level experiences playing high school sports and in the boxing gym.
Halpern is the catalyst for peeling back the layers of Shirley's musings, has good basketball opinions of his own, a self-deprecating sense of humor and is equally revealing about Hollywood's underbelly. He has a gift for crude analogy and his pitches to "fix" various sports are often ingenious.
Thoughtful, irreverent voices in the wilderness. Pray that they don't get more popular and begin to self-consciously edit their opinions. Currently, you can expect at least three players, executives, pop culture figures or coaches to be described as "a real piece of shit" per episode.
UFC heavyweight and former Colorado football player Brendan "Big Brown" Schaub and actor-comedian Bryan "The Kid" Callen co-host a weekly MMA program.
The honest jock paired with comic dynamic is similar to The Short Corner, though the personalities are markedly different: Callen has an endless capacity to talk nonsense on a range of subjects mostly centered around celebrating and lampooning masculine archetypes - namely, his desire to be in Delta Force, wield a sword and engage in falconry (there are Callen haters out there - most appear to be unaware that he's in on the joke) and Schaub is a good-natured meat-head with an easy laugh who sports pink shorts while peacocking about in Venice hipster coffee shops when he's not grappling human monsters.
Some of the reveals from the show are interesting:
Schaub's frank admission of the pre-fight dread all MMA fighters must work through - some very high level UFC champions have to be talked out of the locker room on fight night - and still go on to win, anyway.
The more primal insight that in a room of high profile pro athletes from a range of sports, the athletes and celebrities aren't crowded around Tom Brady and Lebron James. The less heralded MMA fighters are the center of attention.
Every stranger feels obligated to tell Schaub his best fight stories, under the false assumption that a professional cage fighter will be 1). impressed or 2). remotely gives a crap.
The show also embraces silly...
They're both obsessed with the show Naked and Afraid. While quizzing each other about which single item they'd equip themselves with to battle the unforgiving wilderness, Callen offers the sensible choice of a fire starter or machete.
Schaub's single tool choice is a bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce.
Callen "sings in" every show in his best throaty power ballad, his impromptu lyrics typically focused on Big Brown's broad shoulders, round apple bottom and inadequate milk dud penis. He then accuses the dark-featured Schaub of being Apache-Samoan, quizzes Brendan on how many Callens he could beat up if they all attacked at once (Schaub thinks 5-6, depending on circumstances) and then they're off running...
Smart nonsense at its best.
The Meat and Potatoes
The next tranche lacks the chemistry and fearlessness of my top choices, but they're reliable fare nonetheless.
A venerable, popular podcast. Bill Simmons always rises to the occasion as an interviewer when the guest is worthwhile, but I find myself deleting a quarter of his shows, particularly when he goes too parochial Boston or talks pop culture.
"Boston local is best local! Let's call my friend Sully and pick his brain about a subject he doesn't know anything about!"
No. I'm good.
His takes on film and television can be perplexing. Simmons has the pop culture sensibilities of a 15 year old girl, loves reality shows and believes that the Coen Brothers are overrated. Ah. If only Miller's Crossing or The Big Lebowski were as good as Girls.
Fortunately, he has a healthy sense of humor about himself, exhibits natural curiosity, wants to advance the sports dialogue, gets good guests and doesn't deserve the reflexive internet hate he gets. Listening to the show is like reading his Book of Basketball - the overall work gives you a greater appreciation for the subject and you're glad it's out there, but there are occasional snippets of opinion so terrible and discordant that you're left wondering if they're some sort of elaborate gas lighting to test your sanity.
Bill Barnwell and Robert Mays are Grantland staff writers. Barnwell writes prolifically and well about the NFL from an analytics perspective and speaks like every black comedian does when imitating a white person.
The affable, informed Mays likes to pleasure himself to obscure interior OL play. "Oh, God, it's a foooooold block!" He knows the name and alma mater of every 3rd OT in the NFL and values run-stopping 3-4 DEs more than oxygen.
I take a drink every time I hear Barnwell refer to a player as "a useful piece" and usually end up shit-hammered by minute 10.
I dig Rose. He's insightful, self-aware and seemingly networked into every athlete on the planet. You can hear him squirming to sledgehammer the ESPN PC wall from time-to-time (Black Guy City NBA Power Rankings for Free Agent Signings got close) but he retreats when he remembers he's getting checks for this. I respect the attempt.
It's co-hosted by Simmons pal Dave Jacoby. Jacoby, a solid set-up man, passionate and knowledgeable about the NBA, has a regrettable tendency to affect a distinctly urban patois in the presence of Rose, otherwise inevident in his BS Report guest spots.
Remember the white cop on Sanford and Son when he'd try to talk to Rollo and Lamont?
We all have that friend.
It's harmless and at least he knows who EPMD is.