In This Episode
This week on Takeline, Jason and Renee discuss what the 76ers should do after Ben Simmons’ abysmal postseason, the recent controversy involving illegal substance enhancers used by MLB pitchers, and debut the first in a multi-part “Owner’s Diary” series from Renee. Plus, Executive Director of the NBA Foundation, Greg Taylor joins to talk about the league’s initiatives in racial and social justice.
Don’t forget to smash the subscribe button at http://youtube.com/takelineshow for exclusive video clips and to watch ALL CAPS NBA. New episodes every Friday!
Renee Montgomery: So I have a couple of questions for you. One: is the Kardashian curse like over? Like I just need to know, like because you love to do the cross culture stuff, you know? Like, is that over yet, like? Because Devin Booker, boy, I’m telling you, he’s making a campaign for ’em.
Jason Concepcion: Conference finals have begun.
Renee Montgomery: Let’s go!!!
Jason Concepcion: Last finest, our last finalists in the eastern conference is set: Hawks-Bucks, becuase the Hawks Hawks defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games. Renee, how do you feel? Tell us all about it.
Renee Montgomery: Let gooooo!!!! OK. Sorry I had to get that out. I feel really good, Jason. It feels great that we record this the day after this happened! Because I just want to remind people, let me take you on a little history lesson. I can remember—because I was there in free agency—you all remember when we signed Bogi? Oh, my gosh. You have to remember. We signed Bogi, we signed Gallo. No one cared! We said Clint Capela has been hurt for a year and a half, but he’s going to be healthy. No one cared! So I want everyone to remember that. I just wanted to make sure that we remember that because I was defending the Hawks’ decisions. People were like: oh yeah but you know you guys need a lot, you haven’t been to the playoffs in years, you’ve got a young group. Listen, I remember all of it. I remember when we traded for Lou Williams. That was a big get. I can just remember how all the pieces: DeAndre Hunter, he had a great start. We still didn’t even get him for the end of this round. But I can just remember all the pieces that people didn’t really think were a big deal. Look at us now. I’m just saying.
[music: Hey now]
Renee Montgomery: That’s how I feel right now! Look on the NBA on TNT, they started to play Knuck if You Buck all the time. But it is starting to be the anthem for Atlanta because no one has believed Atlanta since 2020. No one has believed Georgia since 2020. If you guys can recall, Georgia, we stood tall when it was the Senate race. We stood tall when it was the presidential race. Georgia’s been saying a lot since 2020 and I’ll just leave it: we are in the Eastern conference finals right now! Let’s go!!!! OK, I’m just saying. I had to get that out. Thank you guys for allowing me this space.
Jason Concepcion: I think one of the, for anybody that saw Game 7, really exciting and game in a series full of things to talk about. One of the things that I think was a certain danger sign for Sixers, fans, and the team, was that Trae Young—I think it was like 1 of 9 or 1 of 11 in the first half and the Hawks, it was a two point game either way, the whole time—that was, that was a warning sign that it could get real bad. Because I’ll tell you, it was really interesting to contrast the struggles of Ben Simmons—which are much in the news right now, which we will talk about—and Trae Young’s struggles in that game because with Trae, he could go 1 for 20, and I think the next shots going in, and he certainly thinks the next shot’s going in, and his whole team thinks the next shot’s going in. And if he shoots a 35-footer, I’m like: uh oh, whether it goes in or not, I’m scared, if I’m a Sixers fan. And then contrast that with Ben Simmons to really. Man, what an interesting player he is because I have not seen a player get the yips in that way where they just did not want to shoot, didn’t want the ball in a long time. It was hard to watch at times and really surprising. I mean like—
Renee Montgomery: 100%.
Jason Concepcion: An evolution of the struggles that he’s had, kind of his whole career, but certainly within the postseason, Ben did not take a shot in the last four games in the fourth quarter.
Renee Montgomery: He was 2 for 4in the, like in Game 7, a total of 5 points. But in an all of the fourth quarters for that whole series, a lot of times it was 0 for 0. I think there was two games where he was 0 for 2 in two games, but to your point, like, and to the Trae point, so there’s a lot to unpack there. I saw a clip going around that was from 2017 and Ben Simmons was like, yeah, this Hack A Ben thing is not going to happen any longer. I saw that’s recirculating because in 2017 it was happening a lot in games and they were asking him about it. And now we saw that the Hawks, they utilized it to their benefit a lot of times. You know, you have to make them think about it. Now everybody is thinking about free throws. And then when you go to the other side, Trae didn’t have an amazing game. Like Trae, like he 1 for 9 at a certain point, 1 for 11.
Jason Concepcion: Yep.
Renee Montgomery: He finished the game 5 for 23, not one of his greatest shooting nights. But to that point, skill set matters because if Trae went 1 for 11, what Ben was doing, people would have told him: you better shoot the next one. But—
Jason Concepcion: Yeah, you got it.
Renee Montgomery: You know what I mean? But it’s just a different feel, because of course, Ben Simmons is not a proven shooter. We know Ben Simmons struggles when it comes to beyond the three point line and even at the free throw line. Even take it a step further than that. Look at what Doc Rivers said right after the game.
Jason Concepcion: This was, this was really surprising.
[clip of interview] Doc, you think Ben Simmons can still be a point guard for a championship team like the one you guys want to become.
[clip of interview] Yeah, David, I don’t know that question or the answer to that right now, you know, so I don’t know the answer to that.
Jason Concepcion: So I think the context for maybe some of the people who aren’t super familiar with the career of Doc Rivers, Doc’s been a long time coach. He’s a great human being and he’s had a lot of success as a coach in the league. And I think one of the characteristics of Doc Rivers’s coaching style, is that. Whatever criticism he levels against players behind closed doors, outside of those doors to everyone else, to the media, to both teams, to people asking questions, he will defend his players basically to the death. There was a question someone asked earlier in the postseason. Ben had shot less than 50% from the line in a game and Doc was asked about it and he said: well, we got one point per possession, which is a kind of an advance state, you want to score one point for possession or above to be an efficient offense. But we got one point per possession out of that. So the analytics tell you that’s good. That’s a ridiculous statement. But it was in line with the way Doc Rivers runs his team. He famously said after Kendrick Perkins got injured during his time with the Celtics after their championship: people have yet to beat our starting five. That’s, so to hear this from Doc, I have to say I was shocked.
Renee Montgomery: I was jaw-dropped shocked that it happened right after the game. Like this is the number one team of the Eastern Conference that obviously got knocked out of the semis. But for that to come out of Doc’s mouth, that that says a lot. I mean, Simmons had zero field goal attempts in those thirty four minutes of, like, that’s a lot to come out of a coach’s mouth. So, I mean, I look for Philly to shake it up. I know Philly saying for a long time has been trust the process. And now, you know, a lot of people are questioning, OK, what’s going to go on with Philly? We’ve trusted the process for long enough. Does it need to be re’ad? Like, what are your thoughts? Like, what does, what does Philly need to do at this point?
Jason Concepcion: This feels like the end of of this run with this roster. Certainly those comments by Doc and then Joelle’s pretty pointed comments when he specifically called out the the moment late in the game when Ben basically had it had an open dunk from the right baseline, like and instead he passed it to Timothy Cybele.
Renee Montgomery: And they called a terrible foul! Sorry, I just . . .
Jason Concepcion: That game was full of bad fouls.
Renee Montgomery: God.
Jason Concepcion: Joelle called that out, as a specific moment, and listen, like just in terms of fit, right, Joel Embiid is a dominant, dominant, low-post player, arguably the best player in the league for a lot of the season when he was healthy before the injuries. And Ben Simmons is a non shooting guard who needs to push the pace, right? So Joelle will thrive with shooting around him. By the same token, Ben’s best lineup is probably for shooters around Ben Simmons. So from a basketball standpoint, it looks like a parting of the ways. And also, Philly is a town that because let’s just say they’re hard on their sports and they’re hard on their athletes and that’s kind of their brand. They probably step over the line sometimes, but it feels like they, the patience has just kind of worn out. And then the other thing with shooting, it’s like, you know, I saw a lot of tweets where people were like, you should just take them. Or, you know, the thing is like this is not the work that can be done in the middle of the postseason. In the middle of the season. You got to lay this foundation in the offseason. You got to tear up the house and put a whole new basement down.
Renee Montgomery: And you know what, but Jason, to that point, I think that’s why people are upset, because Ben Simmons isn’t a rookie. You know, he’s not, it’s not his second year. So I think that’s why a lot of people, I haven’t seen somebody get as much slack as Ben Simmons has gotten. But it reminds me of a Blake Griffin where he came in super athletic, we all knew it, but can you shoot? What other skill sets can you bring to the table? And I think people, I just I mean, he’s going to have to figure something out in the off season. Ben Simmons, you have to go to work in the offseason involving shooting. You have to.
Jason Concepcion: Let’s say he remains a poor outside shooter, like outside of the paint, but gets his free throw shooting, I don’t know, into the mid 60s. Is that enough to be a contender? I don’t think that’s enough to get you into the conference finals or certainly an NBA finals as a guard. But can you, can you, can you be a team that moves the needle if you at least shoot 6 like, just below 70 from the free throw?
Renee Montgomery: I don’t know, Jason, because look at how the NBA is trending. Everything is threes and layups. So Ben has the layups down pat, but no one really cares about that midrange right now. Coaches I’m talking about, analytics I’m talking about. So the fact that your guard can’t shoot threes, it puts so much pressure on everyone else on the court because now you have a man, a defender that’s roaming around all just, just clouding up all of the paint, just mucking up the paint, helping off on Joelle Embiid, digging down on Joelle, helping Stunting recovery. So I just, I think that that type of skill set could have been very effective in another era of the NBA. But where the NBA is trending, all they want, they want the post player shooting threes now. I mean they don’t even want those players that can’t make threes at this point.
Jason Concepcion: OK, so Ben has been—.
Renee Montgomery: Poor Ban!
Jason Concepcion: Poor Ben, I feel bad for him. I feel bad for him as I feel as bad as you can feel for a guy who’s in the first year of a max deal, but it’s like, man, that is, it’s, it is a conundrum for sure. And you can see that he felt it like during those games. But I guess the next person, there’s a lot of blame to go around. Next person we got to talk about it is Doc Rivers, some of the lineups the Sixers played—I’m not sure why Dwight Howard, what Dwight Howard does, that’s like good on the basketball court, other than the potential for, like, giving the opposing star an injury that, that keeps him from playing? Like other that? Dwight has turned into a guy who just throws his arms around. Just it just a quick litany of some of the struggles Doctor rivers has had in the playoffs over the course of his career. He, of course, did win a title with the Celtics in 2008, 29 losses with a chance to clinch a playoff series, the most losses by a head coach in NBA history. A 341 win percentage is the worst of all time among coaches with 20+s postseason games, he has now lost nine Game 7s, including four in a row, and he has lost five Game 7s at home—the most in NBA history. That is not good.
Renee Montgomery: Woof.
Jason Concepcion: What amount of blame for this, responsibility I guess I could say, should, should, should Doc, should the coach get for some of this?
Renee Montgomery: You know, I think a lot. I think, you know, a lot falls on the star player, of course, and that’s what you get paid for. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. But I think, too, there’s, coaching plays such a role in sports. I don’t think that people really understand how much coaching means to sports. Here’s an example to show you. Have you seen a player that played for one team and then they get traded and all of a sudden they look like a mega All-Star for another team—
Jason Concepcion: Julius Randle.
Renee Montgomery: Julius Randle. Another team, another coach, another system. So—
Jason Concepcion: Brandon Ingram.
Renee Montgomery: Yeah, exactly like you could list them, a lot of the people that left the Lakers honestly. Jordan Clarkson. I mean—
Jason Concepcion: Jordan Clarkson.
Renee Montgomery: If you have a coach that believes in you, if you have a coach that makes adjustments to fit the style of players, if you have a coach that just gets it and gets his players and what they’re good at and puts them in the best positions to be successful, that instantly changes. And like I love Coach Lloyd Pierce, like I love him as a man, he’s working my foundation. But the way that coach Nate McMillan understands the Atlanta Hawks puts the players in certain positions to where they all look like All-Stars at this point. That’s a talent. That’s, that’s when you see talent in the coaching. So in the same realm with Doc Rivers, he has the talent. We see it. Tobias Harris. I mean, he has Maxey. Look at what Seth Curry has just exploded onto the scene. You got Joelle B. You got Ben Simmons, when you list all those players and then you list who we had and who we had hurt. Look, Bogi was out there playing, but we all could see that Bogi was not Bogi. He’s clearly hurt. He’s not mobile. When you look at who we had out there, and that’s not taking anything away from our guys, Philly was the number one team for a reason. And so, Doc, you have to be able to make adjustments, put those players in the right position to be successful, including a Ben Simmons. You know, when you have a player that has glaring weaknesses, you have to hide them the best you can. We know Trae Young is small. Everyone knows Trae Young is small, Nicks! You guys try to figure out ways to bully him. What did coach Nate McMillan do? He made adjustments and we know Trae is small, but you can’t do nothing with it. You can’t isolate him. You can’t get him on islands. You can’t bully ball him. That’s coaching. That’s Trae Young being a great player, but that’s coaching.
Jason Concepcion: And to that end, but one could argue that the Sixers, despite their collapse and the ignominious end their season kind of gave the Bucks a roadmap and they had, had leads in crucial games in this series, 20 point, 20+ point lead in game five before they, they choked it away. Lead in game seven, slightly late and obviously one game six. Is that something you’re concerned about like that, size in, size on the perimeter? Try and try and put a lot of arms in Trae’s vision and just hope that Bogi and Red Velvet.
Renee Montgomery: Come on rumble, Red Velvet, rumble!
Jason Concepcion: Red Velvet, what a come up for my guy into the national consciousness. He’s become a meme overnight.
Renee Montgomery: Yep. You know, for me and this, really, like everyone knows, I am a really big fan of the Hawks. I will just throw that out there in water is wet news. I love the Hawks. OK, and then I can also hey, hey, hey, OK, so just so we understand, but I want people to also understand that I know basketball. And so when I watch basketball, I was telling you this when we played against the Knicks, I’m like, we lost to the Knicks one game. Jason, you can attest this. I came on here in the production meeting. I’m like, I’m so excited right now because basketball me, what I saw happening on that court, I know we won that series. Like we weren’t by far the winners of that series yet. But basketball me looking at the X’s and O’s, the shots that Trae Young misses by sheer, our offensive repertoire. Trae Young still gets a lot of wide open shots. So yes, put the big guys on ’em. Yes beat ’em up. Yes. Try to play this bully ball. Our offense still generates wide open shots. That’s why the biggest thing for me and people see me tweet about it, it’s whether or not we’re on that night. Like when we’re on and then we go on those unreal runs and we like 25-7 runs, that’s when we’re hitting the open shots that we’re getting. I can remember when we lost a game, I think it was game six, we lost it, but we were missing those wide open shots. It was down to that last, even, threw it to a three. We missed the same shot that John Collins had made in another series. I think our biggest worry is if we’re making our missing shots with the Hawks. I don’t care what people do because we’ve seen one hundred different defenses on Trae. We’ve seen even regular season, they were trapping him at half court. National fans don’t see that because they don’t watch us Teams we’re trapping Trae Young at half court in the regular season to try to make anybody but Trae beat ’em. We’ve seen it all. I’m not concerned about that. I’m just concerned: are we making or missing shots that night? I really feel that way, no matter who we’re playing.
Jason Concepcion: Finally, like, can you, listen, you’re a shooter, can you fix, how long does it take to fix a shot? Like, can you completely rebuild the shot? Like there’s some talk, there’s a lot of conjecture that Ben is actually right handed. He, for reasons unknown, learned to shoot with his left hand, but he does most everything in his life with his right hand. How long does it take to fix a shot and what do you have to do?
Renee Montgomery: Well, you know, it’s interesting because we played Ben just now. We’re about to play Giannis Antetokounmpo. I think that there’s a lot of similarities in those two in a sense of those are guys that, you know, for whatever reason, their shots just are not there. I don’t, I think what Ben is rep—I’m one of those people, I’m sorry when it comes to Giannis, Ben, even a Blake Griffin, I believe in repetition. And so when people talk about, we’ve all seen players that may not have the prettiest shot, but it goes in. Right? Like it may not, the four may not be there, but boy, is the accuracy there. That’s repetition. And the reason I say that for the people that don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to basketball, your form is everything. Like Steph Curry has such a pure shot. Klay Thompson, such a pure shot. That means your elbows in. All you got to do is line it up and it should go in. That’s, that’s what we mean by pure and all the form. But people without that still have found a way that even if there’s a hitch in your shot or it’s not lined up, they still make shots. That’s repetition. I feel like all off season, the only thing that Ben needs to be doing, the only thing that Giannis and them, you just have to just focus on shooting. Repetition’s get it. I mean, we saw, LeBron James. I don’t know if people remember this, but LeBron used to have a knock on him that he wasn’t good enough outside three point shooter. Yeah. So what did LeBron doing that off season. Even still now to this day, to this day! People don’t believe that LeBron James can make threes, but we’ve seen it time and time again now, in big moments, he’s knocked down threes.
Jason Concepcion: Injuries have been a storyline of this last two seasons. You know, we can debate the effect the compacted schedule had on it, but I have to say, I think a lot of us thought the Nets would win. But they had two of the greatest players that have ever played on the court. Kevin Durant showed why he is just one of the most electric scorers, maybe the best scorer in NBA history in Game five. But, man, he was completely depleted at the end of games seven. Like, I have not seen someone that tired in a long time. He air balled his last three. He was, like when they were stoppages in play land, he just looked like he needed to take a nap, man. Shout to him for trying. But, and but congrats to the Bucks. It’s been a lot of adversity. You mentioned the shooting was for Giannis, but at least, man I can’t wait for this series because I think the thing is, a lot of, a lot of the criticism of Coach Budenholzer was like, are they going to put Giannis on somebody? They’re going to use him on defense, like what is going to happen there? I’m fascinated to see if they have Giannis guard Trae or be part of the same like block out the sun over Trae.
Renee Montgomery: I pray they do. That would be from your mouth to the coach’s ears. Like I that would be amazing because I think that one of Giannis’s main strengths is his length, his athletic ability. He’s meeting people at the rim the same way Lopez is, you know what I mean? So I think, great, put them out there at the three point line to chase around Trae. You want to see somebody tired? Great. That would be great. Like like I said, like, I would love to see that. But, you know, we got to give props when props is due. The difference between a Giannis and a Ben Simmons is, Giannis had forty points and thirteen rebounds and closed out a series against a team that you know, and I know they had injuries but all we heard, we didn’t hear anything about any of those teams in the East. I want people to understand that too. It was can the Nets compete with the West teams. And I’m talking about earlier in the season. There was no conversation for anyone else. It was, oh my gosh, the Nets got Kyrie, they got James Harden, they got Kevin Durant. Who are they going to have to be able to compete against in the West. So to Giannis’s defense he does have a glaring fault when it comes to shooting but he still finds a way to get it done. Forty points and thirteen rebounds, and we have to shout out Khris Middleton. Like. I know that we talk a lot about Giannis and everyone else but Khris Middleton’s 23 in 10, and the time that he gets his buckets, they are very timely buckets for them.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah he is really, really good. I have to ask about Giannis’s, the amount of time he takes to shoot a free through.
Renee Montgomery: Oh gosh.
Jason Concepcion: So the NBA cracked down on the Nets because they were putting a shot clock up on the Jumbotron.
Renee Montgomery: I can’t, I love it here in sports I would just like to say [laughs] and the fans were counting.
Jason Concepcion: But if that’s the rule, they should be allowed to put the clock on the Jumbotron. They should be allowed to do it. Like it’s just, it’s just an indication of time, and he does take a long time. Men, what is what, what is the response in, going to be in Atlanta when, when Giannis goes to that line and he goes through his routine which amounts to he, he basically takes two, like ghost free throws, like gets into his stance, and then he without the ball shoots one, and then he kind of shakes his shoulders and he shoots another one, and then he gets the ball, then he takes a deep breath and then finally he shoots it, and usually that’s about 11 1/2—
Renee Montgomery: So Jason, you studied this at this point, I assuming.
Jason Concepcion: You just see it so much at this point. Like I, I mean, do you think—
Renee Montgomery: I can tell you what we’re not going to do. Well, I don’t know. But after watching the Nets count, he was making more of them. The announcer even highlighted it. The more—
Jason Concepcion: He did make more of them.
Renee Montgomery: Yeah, the more the fans counted how long it was taking, it was like he liked it and he started making more than normally makes. So if Atlanta fans are listening, please, let’s not count. Let’s let him do his normal routine, shoot his normal percentage without us doing that. Because, I mean, it does seem like an extremely long amount of time. Like I will say that, he gets himself all the way together at the free throw line.
Jason Concepcion: He really does. He gets the whole thing. And, you know, it’s a good point. I think that, I think they’re counting, it just took his mind off it somehow. I’m not sure because like, you know, as we saw with Ben, you can get in your head in basketball. It is a confident sport. And when your confidence goes, there’s no foundation to build anything on.
Renee Montgomery: So, Jason, dare I ask, what are your predictions for this round, the Bucks versus the Hawks? I mean, no one really saw this as the Eastern Conference final matchup, but here we are.
Jason Concepcion: I’m going to put it. Hawks in seven.
Renee Montgomery: Oh, OK, OK, so we’re going the whole distance.
Jason Concepcion: I think we’re going to go the whole distance because [music breaks in] here we go. I, I just think both these teams have shown for all their strengths, have shown an ability to fumble the bag in crucial—there’s still a lot of learning here and a lot of growing, the hawks are—shouts to them for growing and growing into themselves at exactly the right time, but they’re still figuring it out, still figuring it out like the killer instinct. And I think the same could be said of the Bucks. I think it’s going to be a long series and I’m kind of hoping for a long series. I think that would be really fun.
Renee Montgomery: I’m glad you said that because, like, I’m so here for all game sevens that don’t involve the hawks! I knew it the night—
Jason Concepcion: What was that like?
Renee Montgomery: It’s terrible. Like I’m telling you, it’s like and then people are tweeting me, am I worried? It’s game seven anything can happen? Of course I’m worried. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe. But you just, it’s so fun. Like I never experienced. I’ve been in plenty of, we have game fives in the WNBA. I’ve been in multiple game fives in the WNBA. Cool, calm and collected. That’s great. I get to control my own destiny. I’m confident in that. When you have to sit by and watch what happens in a game where you’re emotionally invested, I don’t want to game seven. OK, I know you said Hawks. I’d much rather Hawks in six, please. And thank you. And you mentioned something: fumbling the bag. The Suns take game one of the Western Conference Finals, Chris Paul did not play. Did the Clippers fumble that game and fumble that bag?
Jason Concepcion: No. First of all, I would reject the premise because this is the first and this is actually a shocking stat, but it’s their first conference finals in franchise history. They’ve had some really good players.
Renee Montgomery: I have to interject. They have multiple players. Like that’s you know, like I, let’s not take that route. Well, you have a multi champion that’s leading your team. I just will say that.
Jason Concepcion: So I actually think fantastic achievement for them. I’m really happy for Paul George, like shutting up the critics. Like, never forget that he was playing on the road in Utah and the crowd was chanting, overrated him. Now, did Reggie Jackson, did, did man, did various other players step up and and save him a little bit? Yes. But he had good games and he played, he played wonderfully on both sides of the ball. I think listen, game, you lose game one on the road. That’s not a big deal. I mean, it’s a big deal. It’s the playoffs. But you expect that. OK, so now you adjust and you come back out and you see what you have. But I don’t think it’s a fumble the bag situation, certainly. And it’s still, it’s still a great achievement for a Clippers franchise in their first conference finals. And it’s honestly a lot of pressure off of them too, the fact that, you know, they they’ve had a tumultuous postseason themselves in inviting the Mavericks to be there, for their their first round opponent. And then very nearly choking that away, going through having to deal with Kawhi’s injury. Which I don’t know, do you do you see it as a good or bad sign that we don’t really know the exact nature of Kawhi’s injury yet?
Renee Montgomery: I see it as a good sign, because if it was something that was going to keep him out, let’s say, the rest of the year, I feel like they would have just came out and said, you know, we won’t have him or we won’t. I mean, I don’t know. It’s interesting because with all of this, Chris Paul is still day to day due to the COID protocol. You know, I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Is that mean? Like, you know, I don’t know what to take this, but I just know, like, from a player’s perspective, when you’re in the Western Conference finals and you have one of the best players on another team, Chris Paul, as we know, he considered the best leader in the NBA, like one of the best leaders to ever play. He’s been the closer for them a lot of times. Devin Booker has been doing his thing all throughout. He had forty, thirteen and eleven in that first game. If you’re missing somebody like a Chris Paul, the athlete preparing me is like, oh, we got to go steal this game. Like, let’s go. We need to, we’re the, we’re not the home court team anyway. So you got, you already know, you got to steal a game off rip, because you’re not the higher seed. So when I’m preparing for these type of situations, you’re always looking at all right, we got to go steal one. This was the one. It’s game one. They’re missing Chris Paul, who has all the experience. Like we know again, you talked about it from the Clippers side. Hello, Suns. They haven’t really been in this position in recent history either. So I’m thinking from the Clippers perspective absolutely. That’s the one. That’s the one you steal where their leader is out with COVID protocol. That’s unexpected. That’s the one. And I’m not saying that they obviously are, should have absolutely won it. But I’m saying athlete me. Yeah, that’s, that’s the one.
Jason Concepcion: What’s your, what’s your prediction for this series?
Renee Montgomery: Man, you know, we, we shouldn’t doubt ourselves. Last time we were talking about the Suns series, we, we both kind of played around with would the Suns sweep somebody? Because they were that good. When they, when they played against the Lakers, they looked that good. I don’t think, I don’t think it’s going to be a sweep. But boy, do I think Suns in five. Like, I just really, they’re dominant right now. And for them to do that without Chris Paul, I just, that’s a good looking team. What are your thoughts?
Jason Concepcion: I’m going to, I agree with you. I’m going to give him one more game. I’m going to say Suns in six just because of the indefinite nature of Chris Paul’s absence and the fact that I think the Clippers have a lot of pressure off them, I think they’re going to be formidable in L.A.. But, yeah, I think the Suns. The way they’re playing right now, that is another team that has grown into itself as, as the playoffs have gone on and they’re just, it’s almost house money at this point. You know everybody is making a name for themselves, there’s no pressure on them until like a pressure game comes up, but they just look to be absolutely flowing. Devin Booker is magnificent. DeAndre Ayton is playing the best basketball of his career. They are on. Can’t be, there on a level right now.
Renee Montgomery: So I have a couple questions for you. One is the Kardashian curse like over? We see Dev—like I just need to know, like because you love to do the cross-culture stuff, you know? Like is that over yet? Like, Because Devin Booker, boy I’m telling you, he’s making a campaign for them.
Jason Concepcion: Well, it depends on how you define it. Right? Because Ben Simmons was also involved in the Kardshian universe and he’s had a very tough time. And I think that, you know, to me when we say Kardashian curse, what we really mean is: can this person manage their extremely busy social life with their career? And I think Devin Booker has answered that in the affirmative. And I think that a lot of people have struggled with that. Have struggled with the kind of burdens of being a celebrity and being a star on that kind of like national level, with the nuts and bolts job of being an NBA player. And I think Devon, whether or not the curse still exists, Devin Booker has answered that call, I think at this point
Renee Montgomery: I like, I agree. I don’t even think it ever existed.
Jason Concepcion: And now to baseball. After conducting a season long investigation, MLB is now enforcing, and really strictly enforcing penalties on players who use sticky substances, illicit foreign substances on baseball’s pitchers that allow them to get a grip. This is a thing that the MLB can at least anecdotally measure now with spin rate and their ability to kind of like zoom in with high def cameras and really look at the way the ball is spinning. Enforcement went into effect June 21st. This opens up a lot of discussions about how MLB policies and its players, but also how they market the sport at this particular time as their fan base continues to be pretty homogeneous. Older, white, conservative in the sense of conservative about progress with regards to its sport. So, man, this, I think this is a really interesting situation because cheating, if you want to call it that, and sticky substances have been part of baseball for as long as baseball has been around, for 140 years. And here they are changing it. All of a sudden it is having effects on, on pitchers. Pitchers being asked about it. Tyler Glassman said, quote, I 100% believe that the banning of substances contributed to me getting hurt. He had partially torn his ulnar collateral ligament and had a flexor strain. Is MLB handling this the right way? And is this what they had to do right now?
Renee Montgomery: You know, MLB has been caught in a lot of sticky situations. No pun intended. MLB is no stranger to people cheating, people breaking the rules, people using illegal substances. I think, you know, I’ve seen a lot of games in a sense that we cover a lot on TMZ, and with MLB, the lingering effects of the cheating of the previous seasons are still in this season. So I think MLB knows that they got to do something. Like whether it’s people banging on trash cans, whether they are illegal substances being used. Like, you know, like the MLB has problems. And so I think this is them, like basically acknowledging that, OK, maybe we got some problems we have to fix and we’re starting with the balls and we’re starting with the substances. But I think that MLB has a bigger problem and that’s that people cheat in MLB not every once in a while. It happens more frequently than maybe it should. So I think that is like horse racing. It’s time to clean it up. We saw that horse racing did something they never did before. I think that this is the clean-up time of America. I feel like 2020 put a lot of things on focus and everyone looks like leagues-wise businesses, corporations, brands, it looks like everybody’s starting to just clean up their house a little bit.
Jason Concepcion: That’s a good point, because, I mean, this is something we were talking about off mic, but sports in general, the three major sports football, MLB, NBA, basketball have been in this weird—COVID aside—in this weird, like crisis era. Right? With the NFL, it’s concussions and their players engaging sometimes in criminal and or problematic activities, and the response of the, of their teams to those players. And of course, diversity at the highest levels of the league. And then you have to [?], aging fan base. Games can take five and a half, six hours sometimes. Is there a way to speed it up? What do we do? How do we match our game to the changing tastes of a younger demographic? And then NBA, we have a TV ratings are going down. How do we change it? What do we do as we transition into an era in which we can envision LeBron moving from the stage. Are big markets too dominant? Like all of these conversations have engendered a kind of atmosphere of, of constant crisis, and I think this is, this, the sticky balls is just another one for MLB. They put out a statement.
Renee Montgomery: Did you just say the sticky balls?!
Jason Concepcion: I had to. There’s no way I could avoid saying it. And I was hoping you would just let it go. [laughs]
Renee Montgomery: [laughs] Oh my gosh. Of course not/
Jason Concepcion: So MLB came out with a statement said essentially why they’re cracking down, quote: It has become clear that the use of foreign substances has generally morphed from trying to get a better grip into something else, an unfair competitive advantage that is creating a lack of action and uneven playing field. I think one of the things that players, coaches and a lot of fans are asking for is just kind of like a MLB product that they say is OK. So batters use pine tar, right? And that’s allowed within the rules. Pitchers really don’t have anything. For a long time, they’ve been using rosin, which everybody’s allowed to have a rosin bag, but that combined with either sunscreen or some other substance, that can really give them a grip. But lately they’ve been using this stuff called Spider tack, which is, it’s crazy, like it’s basically glue. And that has allowed players to, you know, have super sharp edges on their control, get spin rates that are just kind of like super human and it’s one of those “this is why we can’t have nice things” situations. I think, you know, what the MDB need to do is be like, OK, you can use this. Here’s the thi,g you can use and that’s it. And everything else, if we catch you using it, then it’s a problem. But you can use this right now. And I think the other thing is, you know, with MLB it’s like, there’s a real addiction to a velocity. Like that is the pop in the, in, when, even in the marketing of baseballs. Oh my God, this guy is throwing 98, 101, 104, 105, like that is what it’s about. That’s the that’s the eye-popping stat that baseball and teams and pitchers and players use to market the sport right now, is oh my God, look how fast these guys are pitching. And in order to square that with not like killing somebody who’s standing at the, at bat, a lot of these pictures feel like they got to use something. And I think that that’ll be an interesting thing is how do you, how do you square this addiction to velocity with actual control that is possible to have without covering your hand in like glue? Dipping your hand in a vat of glue!
Renee Montgomery: This is like crazy to me. I have a question, though, because you named all of those things going on, baseball’s trying to fix it up. But one of the questions that we talked about is, is controversy actually good for growing a sport? So, like, what do you think? Like, is, is changing the rules, is saying out loud that we’re changing the rules so now fans might be coming to it saying, OK, they’re trying to make things better over there. Does that actually help?
Jason Concepcion: I think, I think it helps in this way. I think the kind of controversy that highlights the player and allows players to express themselves or that is about players either expressing themselves through the way they play the game or the way they, their flair for the game, I think that is generally good. Backflips. Guys staring at home runs. In the NFL, it would be celebrations in the end zone. That kind of that kind of controversy, I think is good because it highlights kind of what’s fun about the sport, even though it is like sort of illicit. I’m not sure that guy’s cheating is necessarily a thing that would help grow the sport. And like, you know . . .
Renee Montgomery: Well, not necessarily the cheating, but just the change of rules. Like if you’re coming out and saying we’re going to actually change rules, we’re going to actually, if they do in the, the further situation, we’re going to shorten the game. We know that the controversy is that the games are too long. We’re shortening the game. Like, is that now just taking the contri—like is, isn’t that helping the sport in a sense, the controversy has now turned into PR or? Like because let me give you an example. The WNBA, we rebranded and basically the rebrand was, all right, we’re going to let WNBA players be their authentic selves.
Jason Concepcion: That’s great, yes.
Renee Montgomery: So if you’re tatted up, if you’re if you’re a sneaker head, if you got dreads down you’re back, you know, if you’re a tomboy or, or if you aren’t feminine, we don’t care. We’re going to embrace that.
Jason Concepcion: Brittney Griner, we are steering into your vibe. We’re steering into your energy. We’re putting you front and center.
Renee Montgomery: We’re tapping into that, we’re leaning into that. And what’s the worst part about it is leaning into that is almost controversial, because as we know, the trolls and one of the big knocks was: none of the women look like women. Or are all getting the, you know, all those things that were you could call controversy surrounding a certain type of fan base of course. The WNBA has actually leaned into those things and now it’s become our selling point. The women have a voice. The women speak for themselves. The women stand up for causes that are close to them. The women are sneaker heads. They are more athletic than you sitting on the couch, you know? Like that all, that all has been embraced now, so, the whole controversy and honestly, the way the WNBA used to brand us before, you know, we had, I will never forget one of our, like, promo songs was [sings] This One’s for the Girls. And I was like, yo. This doesn’t not get me hyped for a game, man. And like, we can all go back and look at the photos that were a former WNBA players where that wasn’t the players swag, but the WNBA wanted it to be. The, they’ve gotten rid of that and become our most authentic selves. And I think that the WNBA has taken off for it. Those storylines. You know, those celebrations, to your point, but for a long time, leagues have tried to almost move against that. They wanted almost robots, we’d call it, and toy soldiers.
Jason Concepcion: Yeah, I think this is a particular problem in the MLB where, you know, a pitcher standing on a mound has legitimately the potential of seriously injuring someone who’s at bat. And I think part of the reason that baseball is, has been so aggressively against players like Fernando Tatis Jr. and others like expressing themselves, staring at their home runs, flipping the bats, etc. is because, man, if a pitcher gets mad, they can kill somebody. That said, I think to your, to your previous point about the NBA, the kind of controversy that could help grow baseball is the kind that highlights how cool, how fun, how charismatic, how personable their players are. And I think that ties back to the sticky stuff in the sense that less sticky stuff means more scoring, means more home runs, means more runs, means more players moving around the bases, means more chances for offensive players to express themselves in that way, which I think is cool.
Renee Montgomery: I have two questions. Because this is, this is interesting to me. I don’t really know baseball. So I want to ask you these two. How will umpires know if it’s sticky or if it’s not sticky? I don’t watch enough to know. And then, do people really care that pitchers are using sticky substances? I mean, maybe that’s a dumb question. I don’t know. But like, I know what you’re saying, now, that might be less home runs. But like is, I think too, half of the highlights that the MLB posts are when those balls are doing a crazy break, or like half of the way that they advertise is about that kind of stuff. So I’m trying to figure out where do they want to live.
Jason Concepcion: They can tell, I mean, with the, with the, with the cameras that they have now, they can, they can really tell. Like, they can count the revolutions on the ball.
Renee Montgomery: In real time? You’re talking about in real time?
Jason Concepcion: They can, they can tell and they’ll have people if you’re an opposing team, you’ll be in the dugout and be like, this guy is using it. They’ll complain to the ump and the ump will go up. So I think that there is, there is, it’s pretty easy. And then you just go up and you’re like, can I touch your hand? You know, like when we see the bill of hat.
Renee Montgomery: OK.
Jason Concepcion: Let me see your glove. Let me see this up. Now, like there is, Zuri, one of our producers said maybe they can have pitchers have to, like the ump will hold the glove until the pitcher goes to the mound and then the ump gives them the glove. At the same time, man, some of these guys have been hiding stuff everywhere. Al Leiter was a pitcher for almost 20 seasons, like he hid stuff everywhere, like on his pocket, on his pants, like on the bill of his hat.
Renee Montgomery: You see, that’s what I’m saying. In real time. How are the refs, are the umpires going to be able to police the sticky objects to call the game to, and now they can throw out players at their discretion. So, like, how far is MLB really going to take this? Because this could get interesting in a hurry if a ref throws out a player that he suspects is using sticky substances, and then maybe he isn’t, it’s just sunscreen that was on his arm for the game, to your point that you talked about earlier. So, like, how far can they, I don’t, I, just how much can you police this? I don’t know.
Jason Concepcion: But I think it will depend on if players complain and if they’re, continue to complain and if there is a rash of injuries amongst, amongst pitchers because you just have to grip the ball a lot harder if you don’t have stuff on your hand to get the control that you need. And that increased muscle tension leads to increased ligament tension leads to a different throwing motion, leads to you not having as many throws in your arm, leads to guys inevitably breaking down. I think if we see that, maybe they take their foot off the gas. But it really had progressed to a level where I mean, there was like six no hitters just in the first couple of months of the season, only one fewer than the modern record for the entire season. More strikeouts. It had come to a point where MLB was like, OK, like we need to do something because the pitchers have too much control. We’ll see what happens.
Renee Montgomery: For those of you who might have been living under a rock, this past Saturday was Juneteenth. The NBA held several events and initiatives to celebrate the day, as it continues to pursue racial equality and justice for Black men and women. Joining us now to talk more about this is the Executive Director of the NBA Foundation, Greg Taylor. Greg, welcome to Takeline.
Greg Taylor: Welcome. Welcome. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here today.
Renee Montgomery: Thank you for joining us. Well, Greg, last week, legislation passed making Juneteenth a national holiday. The NBA Foundation has been leading the charge in a number of Juneteenth initiatives. So just tell us about what the NBA and its players are doing to honor this day in history.
Greg Taylor: Well you know, Juneteenth is an incredibly important day in African-American history. We know that. It marked the end of slavery, when the slaves actually received the news of the ending of slavery. And I think that federal legislation is certainly a step in the right direction. But I do want to underscore that, you know, creating a holiday is a great move, but we need action and tangible progress moving forward. And so what this does is acknowledge that the vestiges of slavery were criminal and terrible, and so this is celebrates that end. I get that. But this is about things like equity in education, access to health, and like we need systematic and really practical change, practical change moving forward. So it’s a step in the right direction. I’m excited about that. But there’s so much more to do and I want to be clear that’s what we’re focused on in NBA Foundation.
Jason Concepcion: You’re the first Executive Director of the NBA Foundation. Can you talk about, talk about what spurred the creation of this role and what you hope to do?
Greg Taylor: Yeah, no, I mean, you know, the league has had a longstanding history of action around social justice and civil rights. But I would take you back to the bubble in Orlando when the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play. Well, we have a long-standing history and actually the Foundation had been up before that moment. I do think that was an inflection point and it caused the league to really think a little bit about how do we use our platform, what do we want to be known for, what’s our voice in the world? And I think the NBA Foundation was one of several efforts of the League that was created. So, yeah, January 4th, man, you know, I came on as the Executive Director of the League. I’ve been at the NBA for 8 1/2 years in other positions. Renee, that’s why I know you and your career, what you got going. And I get it. But it’s really about economic opportunity for Black kids. What we’re suggesting is there’s lots of social justice issues, but the issue we are trying to face and tackle is really closing the racial wealth gap between African-American and white families. We know it’s a 10 fold gap. And while we’re not grand and think we’re going to solve it for everybody, we do want to for those young people that participate in the organizations we invest in, we are trying to take a stand around meaningful employment, living wage, benefits, mentorship, professional opportunities. We’re trying to work in our NBA markets because we know our teams and the union and others. We’re all partners in this around the work but our teams represent anchor institutions on the economic side and we’re trying to tell positive storylines. Too often our young people are defined by stereotype or bad decision. And we’re saying: nah, these young people are producers and champions and leaders. And why, how best to use the NBA platform to get out that message about our young people. That’s what the NBA foundation is all about.
Renee Montgomery: Wow. I love everything about that, Greg. I got to talk to you after this about my foundation because I hear so much synergy. Seriously.
Greg Taylor: Let’s go. Let’s go.
Renee Montgomery: And so that makes me ask, you know, what initiative or effort are you most proud of or are you looking forward to? Because you talked about that ten-fold gap, you talked about telling positive stories, so, you know, like, what hits you, what hits closest to home for you?
Greg Taylor: What, really hits home for me is I’m amazed in this era of social unrest and social change, how many companies and corporations have made these bold proclamations about why to invest money? I’ve heard The Wall Street Journal may have been 50 billion, if I’m not mistaken, in terms of money pledged to these issues. So folks know there’s a need and they know there’s an opportunity. The challenge is I’m not sure many of those companies are really operationalized with that plan. What happens on Monday morning? How are you changing your hiring practices and how you’re preparing young people, in this case, Black youth? So what really excites me is I think the NBA has a bit of a halo and a positive brand that folks want to be associated with. We can build tables, have authentic and genuine conversations. You know, that what we’re hopeful is the outcome will be how you prepare and place young people in meaningful employment in different ways. So Renee, I’m super excited about that. Like, I’m super excited, like the hiring partners or the heads of the human resources department, or the diversity and equity and inclusion officers, to literally sit around the table in you know, other brand-recognizable companies, and really talk about what do we have to do differently to hire our young people in different ways? Our young people want to work. Our young people have perspective. Our young people can contribute to your bottom line. But this is about getting kids ready for companies, but also getting companies ready for kids. Right? And so how do we have that back and forth? So that’s what we’re about, and that’s what we’re trying to figure out. And we’ve got a long way to go. We know there’s lots of leaders in this space, but we’re, we’re here, too. And we want to have a conversation with anybody who wants a partner to do this differently because it’s about economic opportunity for Black kids. That’s what we’re very clear and un apologetic about.
Renee Montgomery: Love it.
Jason Concepcion: The Board of Governors has pledged 300 million over ten years towards these issues, leaving aside whether that’s enough, whether one million per team for 10 years is enough, how do you connect, to your earlier point about an action plan, how do you connect that money with actual solutions?
Greg Taylor: Yeah, first of all, you know, the Governors have been incredibly generous in their initial effort, and all of them have talked about this being a foundation that would last in perpetuity, that the 300 million over 10 years is simply meant to send the message that the League knows this is a long-standing problem. It takes significant resources to be a leader in this space or at least a partner in this space. But the expectation is that we will raise more money and that we will be a foundation in perpetuity going forwards. I want to be really clear about that. Lots to do, but that is the mission. You know, we have three strategies. We’re trying to build really strong, durable, lasting partnerships at the local level in our MBA markets between the NBA, like-minded companies that want to hire Black people, Black youth differently, and nonprofits that have a history of preparing those young people for work. So think about it as like a three-legged stool on the ground in community. The second is about meaningful employment. Far too often folks in the Black community are in retail, health care, or food service. And while my momma said there’s honor and all work, the reality is those are hyper-local and hyper-vulnerable jobs. We want to really be about recruiting employers in knowledge works, in digital, and fintech and other areas, of growth areas that really have a living wage, mentor, and professional development opportunities. And then thirdly, it’s about storylines. What I said a minute ago. Like we can no longer define our young people by socioeconomics or where they’ve been or poor decisions, we want to define them and get that information out to the larger public. And so to me, the real opportunity is to capture those storylines, create amazing content and utilize the NBA’s place in the content world, as a global media company, to really try to change hearts and minds and eliminate stereotypes around Black kids, that they are leaders and champions and producers, and that youth voice matters. So anyway, that’s what we’re doing. And those are the missions to try to operationalize our commitment.
Renee Montgomery: You know, I wanted to ask you about the athlete activists, because this has emerged. You know, it’s always been there, we’ve seen it since the beginning of time. But 2020 was just a time like no before. What are your thoughts? You too being former athlete, like, what are your thoughts when it comes to now athletes speaking up? You know, this is what happened with Milwaukee last year—that’s basically what the jump off point was, and it’s, it’s the culmination of all this athlete activism coming to a head. So what are your all’s thoughts and feelings on that?
Greg Taylor: Well, let me correct, a little bit of push back. So I was an athlete until Gary Payton took my spot in high school, and I ended up passing them the water bottle for the remainder of my youth.
Renee Montgomery: Once an athlete, always an athlete! Ok.
Greg Taylor: So I just want to be clear—
Jason Concepcion: One of Gary’s first [spiels?] we are hearing about, right? [laughs]
Greg Taylor: But I also want to be clear, we both made the League. So let’s just be clear about that. OK?
Renee Montgomery: OK. [laughs].
Greg Taylor: But I don’t promote me Renee, I haven’t earned that yet. No. I think to your point, there’s a couple of things. I mean, again, it opened up with history as we talked about who we are as a League and what our reputation has been. But we’re also enjoying, I think, an era where both our mega superstars and our everyday players are equally committed to social justice issues. And, and I think folks, you know, players understand that in order to be a leader in this space, you’ve got to do some research. You’ve got to be a student of the issues. You’ve got to get to walk before you run. And so I think to your point, you know, I, my read, I actually was in the bubble when Milwaukee decided not to play in Orlando. And I think that was just the culmination of a lot of effort. If you remember, prior to that, a number of the players, I think about Tobias Harris, a member of our board, who literally was using every one of his interview platforms to say, you know, “say her name” and was talking about the Brianna Taylor consciousness-raising. And I know you guys on the W side, Renee, are just leading the charge with other folk. And so I just think we’re blessed to be in that era. I think you couple that with, you know, the truism that there’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. And so you’ve got what’s happening in community. You’ve got the NBA recognizing that the brand matters and that we want to be on the right side of history on these issues. You’ve got players who are willing to organize and move forward and really lead. You’ve got owners, you got, everybody is stepping up. And the question is, how are we going to do it? And I think in many ways, one of those strategies is the NBA Foundation that I’m blessed to be a part of and try to add some leadership to. And, you know, look, let’s talk offline, Renee, if you’re doing something in the WNBA market, we want to know. Let’s go. Like seriously. So I’m excited to be here and good to talk about the stuff.
Jason Concepcion: He’s Greg Taylor, Executive Director of the NBA Foundation. We look forward to hearing more from you and from the NBA Foundation in the months and years to come. Thank you, Gregg, for joining us.
Renee Montgomery: Thank you Greg!
Greg Taylor: I really appreciate it. It’s good to see you [garbled] soon. And any time, I appreciate your words and your perspective and the issues you guys are tackling on here, and happy to be a part of it. We’ll talk soon.
Renee Montgomery: Yes.
Jason Concepcion: Renee, you’ve been working on a long-term project for us, making audio diary about just the things that that you’re experiencing as a first-time owner in the WNBA. We’re going to debut it right now. Is there anything you’d like to tell us about it before we roll it?
Renee Montgomery: Yeah, you know, being a player, you just don’t see the other side of things, the things you have to prepare for, what the days look like. My game days look different, but they’re still exciting. So, yeah, I had fun with this.
Jason Concepcion: Here’s Renee’s owner’s diary, chapter one.
Renee Montgomery: I wake up five minutes before my alarm, which is pretty standard for me, but I typically lay until the alarm clock goes off. It was hard to sleep anyway. I mean, the adrenaline from last night is still coursing through me. Last night was a culmination of a year in the making. My first game as an owner of a WNBA franchise, The Atlanta Dream.
[sounds of basketball game announcer] . . . start here for the Connecticut Sun as they close out and beat the Atlanta Dream 78 to 67.
Renee Montgomery: It’s the morning after our first game and we had a loss to the Connecticut Sun. And that game sticks in my mind because although I’m retired, I’m still such a competitor. But then I remind myself why I wanted to start this journey in the first place. The journey to be a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream was to continue to fight for change through sports.
[voice clip] Last February, as we all know, the Atlanta Dream and the WNBA approved the sale of the Dream to Larry Gottesdiener, Suzanne Abair, and a familiar name to Dream fans, Renee Montgomery.
[voice clip] Yeah, a two-time champion, an All-Star, and formerly with the Atlanta Dream so she’s no stranger to this organization. But now this adds player perspective to the executive office. She knows this team. She’s suit up with this team . . .
Renee Montgomery: So on top of planning for weeks and weeks on end about opening night, I had my family there. My parents were in the building to be able to see me. They saw my first game as a player and now they saw my first game as an owner.
[voice clip] Hey, good morning.
Every morning my fiancée, Sirena Grace brings me tea in bed, and then I roll out of bed and I got to go check on my son, Jr., because the kids are in virtual school and they love to act like it’s not working so I have to make sure that he’s logged in and ready for class. [computer sound] After I hop out of bed, it’s straight to business. My first Zoom is with the head of departments of the Atlanta Dream and I actually enjoy it because everyone gets up to speed on what we’re focused on that week and what we want to accomplish the next week. For me, I knew this year would be an enormous challenge in my life, but I had no idea it would be like this. Starting your first season in the era of COVID is, uh, to put it lightly, a logistical nightmare. Executive meetings, team management, even the WNBA draft was virtual.
[voice clip] The first clip in the 2021 WNBA draft . . .
Renee Montgomery: But that hasn’t stopped all the progress we made in branding this team and growing the sport.
[clip of Renee] Always feel free to remind me because I will forget.
Renee Montgomery: Today is exciting for me because I’m learning that the COVID protocols are relaxing, so we should be able to get a lot more fans in the building. We made it a point that when we became owners, we wanted to do more in terms of promoting and marketing our players. Media day was the first step. So when I first walked into the facility, I was super excited to see that things were running the right way again. It was also my first time seeing the players in person. Now, I saw them, but I didn’t really get to interact much because of the CVOID protocols, we had to be a certain distance apart. [crowd sounds] For me, it was tough because I like to be in the mix with players. Some of them were my former teammates, so I wanted to wrap up and talk with them. But at this time there are a lot of precautionary measures that are being taken. So I took my videos from a distance. I watched the players dance because we had a D.J. there for the vibes. I watched Odyssey’s son run around the set the whole time. I still felt connected, but just from a distance. I’m so proud of the work we’ve done so far to make our players feel valued and to make our players feel like professional athletes. [ding] Oh, OK, that’s a reminder for my daily TMZ sports hit. Time for me to look over the biggest news in sports from the previous day.
[voice clip] Every fan thinks that they can be a coach, right? So here we go, let’s see.
Renee Montgomery: So after TMZ is on to my next media job, which is cohosting Takeline with Jason! So today’s episode is about the NBA playoffs. I’m pulling for my Hawks and Jason is pulling for his formidable Knicks, too.
[clip of Jason] We have Reggie Bullock. We have Alec Burks. RJ Barrett has been, has been really shooting it well in stretches. But the guys you have are just like lights-out shooters. So that’s going to be real test.
[clip of Renee] But, but our health has been concerned all season long. The exciting part is that we had a lot of players that were just straight up out and not available. Now we have a lot of players that are day-to-day which like, you know, Red Velvet, Kevin Huerter, Gallo, Kris Dunn. Kris Dunn is day-to-day. Clint Capela . . . .
Renee Montgomery: It’s just a smart discussion about how the teams match up and what we expect to see in that series. After I’m done with that I sign off and then I call Susannah Abair, who is the co-owner and president of the Atlanta Dream for our weekly meeting. With COVID protocols lifting, we decided that we’re going to start giving away a certain amount of tickets to groups and foundations in Atlanta who may not be able to afford to come to the game, but we still feel that they deserve to have a good time. So they’re going to come for free. After that, my Atlanta Dream responsibilities are complete, but my day is not done yet. I head out to go cover the Hawks at State Farm Arena. I’m the analyst for the Hawks Live pre-halftime and post-game show
[clip of Renee] Let’s go.
[clip of Renee] What a fourth quarter to come back and take down the Seventy Sixers.
[clip of Renee] Yeah. You know that quarter, that showed a lot of heart, that showed a lot of hustle. A lot of people counted us out, even we went down big, but everyone stuck together. Coach Nate McMillan talked about it, in these tough times you had to stick together and that’s exactly what we did.
Renee Montgomery: So when the game ends, is another 40 minutes of show time, which makes me get home pretty late. [sounds of crickets] So when I get home around 11:30 or midnight, my 13-year old’s bedtime is usually 11, but on game nights, he gets a little extra time to stay up so he can tell me good night and so that we can talk about the Hawks game. [laughter] Once I talk to him and he goes to bed, my day is finally done, but the journey is far from over. Now the Dream have another game coming up and I know we’re fired up to bounce back from that previous loss. Sometimes I just can’t believe I’m here. But to be honest, this was always my dream. Today is more than a page out of the life of Renee Montgomery. It’s the culmination of so much hard work by so many people, and I plan to honor them every single day.
Renee Montgomery: Until next time, this is Renee Montgomery, owner’s diary. [music continues, ends with crowd cheering]
Renee Montgomery: OK, OK, OK, you already know, I don’t have to tell you that sound means it’s time for Buzzer Beaters, where we talk about some stories we didn’t get to cover because we covered a lot of good stories in the show, but because of time, we might have missed a couple. I’ll get the party started.
Jason Concepcion: Yes.
Renee Montgomery: The NCAA Supreme Court ruling. Thank goodness that the Supreme Court has some sense and they sided with the NCAA athletes. Bleacher Report said the NCAA cannot prevent colleges from providing educated, educated-related benefits like computers, graduate scholarships and internships to the athletes. It’s crazy that we have to even say that they can’t, like I just can’t even believe that we had to have this ruling. I’m glad we’re here. I’m glad where we are in all things name, image, and likeness, because you got to think a lot of athletes give their heart and soul. We know those athletes that were great in college maybe don’t go on to have an amazing pro career. So imagine if those college athletes that were megastars were able to make money during their time in school. I just don’t know why the NCAA would want to block anything that progresses that. But listen, I’m glad we’re here. I’m glad the Supreme Court ruling was the right ruling. And I’m glad that just college athletes are getting there just do, because I’m, you know, I was a college athlete and I think that I’m happy with my scholarship. I’m happy with the free ride, because I do know that a lot of people left college with a lot of debt. So I’m thankful for that. But I’m also excited to see a new era of athletes making money man, whether it’s college or not.
Jason Concepcion: My Buzzer Beater is going to be Jordan Clarkson, sixth man of the year in the NBA, the greatest Filipino basketball player of all time. Some may disagree, but I’m going to say that. Jordan came to the defense of a Filipino food truck in Utah that was covered in, was spray painted by vandals, racist vandals and anti-Asian slurs. Clarkson paid to clean that up. He also promoted the food truck. And that is just a great and absolutely great thing that Jordan Clarkson did. And I think one of the, you know, as you know, when I was growing up, nobody knew what Filipino was. It was like I grew up in a white area predominantly, so it was like: you are Asian or you’re Chinese. Nobody knew what this meant. And the kind of like broader awareness of our culture and cultures in general, a lot of, a lot of the entry point for people to learn about other cultures is food. And so this is a really important, a thing that should not be overlooked. And I’m super happy to rep Jordan Clarkson, again, the greatest Filipino basketball player of all time.
Renee Montgomery: We love to see it, Jordan!
Jason Concepcion: Folks, that’s been Takeline for this week. Follow and subscribe to us on Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe to Takeline show on YouTube for exclusive videos from this episode, plus my digital series, All Caps NBA, which airs every Friday.
Renee Montgomery: Yes!
Jason Concepcion: Check it out folks! Goodbye.
Jason Concepcion: Takeline is a Crooked Media production. The show produced by Carlton Gillespie and Zuri Irvin. Our executive producers are myself and Sandy Girard. Our contributing producers are Caroline Reston, Elijah Cone, and Jason Gallagher. Engineering, editing and sound design by Sarah Gibble-Laska and the folks at Chapter Four. And our theme music is produced by Brian Vasquez.
For a transcript of this episode, please visit crooked.com/takeline.