The Future of Medium Rare Basketball

Basketball coverage has gone through four distinct eras.

Pre-ESPN

Before ESPN, the main basketball resource was the writer with the local newspaper or Sports Illustrated. This writer was always a seasoned professional who would go to the games, interview the players and coaches, and put together in-depth articles. The writer was part-historian, part biographer, part novelist. They deeply cared about getting the story right and not only would they write articles, but they would also write these 300+ page classics like The Breaks of the Game, The Jordan Rules, or Season on the Brink

We also had the sports guy on the local news and just a tiny bit of sports every 40 minutes or so on CNN. All in all, not a ton of video coverage.

The Sportscenter Era

Highlights. Analysis. Sunday conversations with players. From 1985 to 2000, basketball exploded in popularity – and a lot of that’s because of Bird, Magic, and MJ – but the main factor for all of the growth can be attributed to ESPN. As a fan, you could now see all these different players and teams in the span of a few minutes of highlights. And no sport has a better highlight than a dunk.

The Click Bait + Hot Take era

This started around 2010. There was a new site, Bleacher Report, who was part sports site, part SEO company. They mastered the formula for how to reach the top of the Google search results.

So you’d start seeing all of these click-bait articles at the top of the feed like:

NBA Trade Rumors: Where will LeBron James go?

NBA Mock Draft: Full First Round

10 overrated college basketball players

One cool thing that Bleacher Report did was they got the regular fan involved. I remember I was in college at the time and would write articles for Bleacher Report about the NBA and the Kansas Jayhawks. It was an exciting experience. I went from having maybe 20 views on my own blog to having 2,000+ views on Bleacher Report. They also awarded medals based on the number of views, number of articles. I loved it. What Millennial doesn’t love a good trophy?

Around this same time period, Skip Bayless was over at ESPN and he figured out another attention-grabbing formula. His approach: Insert yourself into the narrative. Become an outspoken LeBron James hater. Call him Prince James. Stir up some outrage. This collided perfectly with the 2011 NBA Finals when LeBron was the villain in Miami and also had a lackluster performance against the Dallas Mavericks. The whole next season became Skip vs. LeBron.

This ultimately gave birth to the one guy shouts at another guy TV show format, an “art form” mastered by Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith.

The Long Tail

But there are only so many hot takes a fan can take. It became tiresome and, as a result, new alternative blogs, podcasts, websites started to pop up. Their focus was to just simply cover basketball. That’s it. Share an appreciation for the game. Bill Simmons’ site The Ringer (formerly Grantland) and voices like Zach Lowe started to find an audience who was more than ready to abandon the clickbait. In a lot of ways, these were a return to that old school newspaper/Sports Illustrated writing, just in digital form.

We also had athletes themselves starting their own media companies. They were tired of their quotes being taken out of context or the media stirring up drama and gossip. The Players Tribune and LeBron’s Uninterrupted company pose a real short-term and long-term threat to newspaper companies as well as ESPN. It’s an interesting question – if fans can go directly to the athletes, is there a need for an in-between?

And the traditional watch highlights on Sportscenter model suddenly felt outdated. Why wait fifty minutes through different teams, different sports entirely to reach a 30-second highlight on your team when you could go right to the smartphone, right to Twitter and get the footage there. ESPN has started to figure this out now, but they were very slow to move their coverage from a broadcast TV format to a smartphone world.

Plus throw in all the fans making their own sites, blogs, and podcasts. The barrier of entry is hardly anything. If you have enough money to buy a microphone, a Soundcloud subscription, a WordPress site, you’re in. That’s it. This is the space where Medium Rare Basketball entered in 2017.

Medium Rare Basketball’s coverage has also gone through four distinct eras.

Let’s break them down real quick.

The Rookie Season

Medium Rare Basketball started simply enough, just me writing March Madness articles on my weekly blog (Medium Rare) over on ChicagoNow.

I noticed two things:

1) These were getting way more traffic than anything else.

2) I would see two or three new subscriptions sign up every article. But then a month later, when I went back to writing about things like escalator etiquette or how to avoid playing on the work league softball team, those recent additions would unsubscribe. And rightfully so. They were there for basketball, not my random collection of other stuff.

So I separated it out, made MediumRareBasketball.com. Went to Fiverr.com, had them put together this logo:

cropped-grill

Had everything up and running for the NBA Playoffs. Kept the momentum rolling into the off-season and then the beginning of next year’s college basketball + NBA seasons.

The All-Star Season

2018 was an exciting year for the site.

For college basketball, we started having dedicated blogs for Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina, and Notre Dame. We had one guy who would chip in articles on various teams. Chuck and I started a college basketball podcast, both of our first times in the podcast space. Doing a podcast with him in Indianapolis, me in Chicago was a mixture of being pretty difficult, but also not as difficult as you might think.

For the NBA, we launched a podcast called Fast Break Lunch Break (then changed it to “Mostly Basketball” out of fear since we saw Buffalo Wild Wings had something called “The Fast Break Lunch” deal). We also created “Traveling” which would be like The Skimm or Robinhood Snacks for basketball. And I think we found our new logo in the process.

bear ref

We released an ebook called Don’t Hate the Warriors and tested out an idea called Basement of a Bull, which was a strange mix of basketball, improv, and a fictional thriller. The premise – A group of fans has been kidnapped, but it turns out to be a really nice basement (the ultimate man cave) and all that was asked of them is they watch the entire Chicago Bulls season and provide commentary.

It had the recipe of 10% great idea, 10% us wanting to do a basketball version of Hello from the Magic Tavern, and 80% a show that gets canceled after one season. 

The Torn ACL Season 

Our 2018 season was like a young Derrick Rose. Everyone had to be saying, “They can’t possibly keep playing at this pace.”

Sure enough, we couldn’t. And it wasn’t a bad thing. Everyone involved in the site has day jobs. Chuck has two kids. It was hard to keep the 2018 pace.

And personally, I started pouring all of my non-day job time into Long Overdue. I was (and still am) left to figure out if Medium Rare Basketball can be part of Long Overdue or if it enters that dangerous territory of “side project to the side project.”

2019 was limited to a few NBA and college posts, one NCAA Tournament preview, and a rough draft for another basketball ebook. Definitely a step backward.

The “So what’s next?” Season

Which takes us to the present day, late July of 2019.

I’m excited to say, we’ve found the right balance for next season (or at least we think so). Based on our own experience + looking back on the type of coverage we enjoyed in the different eras (Pre-ESPN, Sportscenter, Long Tail, and even the Hot Take/Click Bait era) we’re both comfortable with where we fit into the puzzle and are energized by what we can provide to the space.

But first, let’s separate the two – college from NBA – because they require two different approaches.

The NBA

82-games is a really long season. Especially when the first half runs during football season. And then during March Madness, the NBA all but disappears. But then the NBA Playoffs take over. The NBA Finals has become the most dramatic and most-watched seven-game series in sports.

Also, NBA fans tend to follow multiple teams. Multiple players. They like keeping tabs on the whole league.

So our approach to NBA coverage will be our weekly newsletter, Traveling. Similar to The Skimm or Robinhood Snacks, we will serve as an aggregator bringing fans the best of the internet. Could be a link to Game of Zones on Bleacher Report. Could be a video posted on Twitter. Could be a link to a Dunk’d on podcast. Just enough that both the hardcore NBA fan and the casual NBA fan can scroll through on a Friday morning and feel like they are caught up on what happened that week.

Then, during the NBA Playoffs, we’ll increase production. Especially during the NBA Finals as well as the Eastern and Western Conference Finals.

No more young Derrick Rose. We like to view our new strategy as a late-career Tim Duncan. Time to manage our minutes.

College Basketball

College basketball is a totally different animal. While NBA fans are interested in keeping tabs on the Lakers, the Bucks, the Jazz, in the world of college basketball, fans/alumni only care about their school. And that’s the way it should be.

Any article that tries to cover every school pleases nobody. You just scan through until the blurb on your team. And then I get angry if they didn’t give my team proper love in their rankings.

So we’re going all-in on team-specific coverage. We’re not chasing fair and balanced. While it may not be a good thing to enter into an echo chamber in the world of news and politics, in the world of college basketball I feel like that should be encouraged. It’s supposed to be an irrational love for our favorite team.

We’re not going to bite off more than we can chew in the college basketball space. For the 2019-20 season, we’ll start only with the Kansas Jayhawks (my favorite team), Michigan State (Chuck’s favorite team), and the Wisconsin Badgers (all of America’s second-favorite team).

Our goal is to take a page out of old school Bleacher Report’s playbook and turn the coverage over to students (ideally players too, but the NCAA gets weird about that) at those universities.

Medium Rare Basketball on Slack

Instead of trying to keep up with coverage every single day or every other day, we started a Slack as the hub for basketball discussions, sharing articles, videos, etc. We hope this becomes like a living breathing Reddit basketball thread.

Also provides a space for fans to form their own team-specific channels. Companies, churches, or just a group of friends can set up channels to arrange pickup basketball games.

To join the Slack, just fill out this quick Google Form and we’ll add you via email.

Quality Long-form articles and books/ebooks

I think there will always be a market for that old school newspaper/Sports Illustrated style. Good meaningful writing will always have a home, even if it doesn’t get as many clicks.

So, with that in mind, we’ve decided that everything on the actual website will have one criteria: Would a fan read this in 20 years?

So preseason previews, trade rumors, predictions on what will happen in March Madness, we’re going to phase those out. That’s best for Slack. Or maybe something emailed over.

The website itself will focus on longer-form essays (like this one) that bring a unique perspective; be that a focus on the art of the game, a historical lens, the agony and ecstasy of a fan-base, or first-hand accounts of a game – either as a fan or a player.

My overly optimistic goal is we can eventually publish the next David Halberstam, Jackie MacMullen, David Foster Wallace, or Chuck Klosterman on this site. 

Tournaments

Buried the lead a little bit here, but one of the coolest things we plan to start doing is organizing tournament fundraisers. Our first one is the Chicago Tech 3-on-3 tournament, a fundraiser for Future Founders taking place on Thursday, August 15th.

In conclusion

We’re not gonna reinvent basketball coverage. And we’re not going to change the world. What we’re doing really isn’t brand new either (except maybe the Slack channel).

But we do strive to be the ultimate first stop on the internet for all college and NBA fans. We hope that this becomes a great community centered around basketball and hey, we’re ready for a comeback season. 

Here we go!

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