Andy speaks with veteran journalist Marc Spears about life in the bubble, how NBA players are engaging with social justice issues and their predictions for the post-bubble future of the NBA. Spears is one of the few journalists allowed in the NBA bubble and has been reporting from Orlando for almost 12 weeks. With the end of the season near, Spears looks back on the success of the bubble and how it allowed the league to finish its season.
“I think I had to be more creative. I’m a guy that thrives in a locker room, post-game, pregame, getting people at shoot around getting one-on-ones. That’s how he and now that’s been made a lot more difficult, you know, the walk with a guy as he leaves the arena. That’s kind of my bread and butter too,” Spears said. “I’ll be excited to get to the finish line because it has been extremely challenging to be creative to come up with something different when your access is limited. But I’m getting there. I’m kind of off the beaten path with the stories that I write. I just don’t do what everybody else does.”
Spears compared the challenges of the NBA bubble to cooking without your usual ingredients. He’s looking forward to wrapping up the season but also appreciates that the bubble has given NBA players a unique platform to talk about social justice.
“I do write about the game but much more about the social issues and the people and the issues surrounding it,” Spears said.
The NBA has helped players push social justice initiatives, decorated the areas with banners encouraging voter participation, and allows players to wear custom jerseys.
“I’ve always contended that we the media have given them a huge platform. If you’re LeBron James, and you post something on your Twitter, your posts on your Instagram, zillion people are gonna read it. But not everybody has that platform. George Hill was amazing. George Hill was the one that sparked the protest work stoppage from NBA players. But would you have been hearing from George otherwise?
“I think that the platform that we’ve offered the players here, basically has given them a bullhorn to talk about social injustice, police brutality, racism, and push people to vote over the last three months in a way that if they were just away from the game. Unless you’re a star, then they’re not really hearing you. I do think they got the most bang for their buck here. They did a great focus on pushing towards voting. I’m not sure what the numbers are, but there’s gotta be people out here that were inspired to register to vote by what they’ve seen from NBA players.”
Unlike other sports leagues, the NBA has allowed players to speak out and express their personalities and views on current events and social justice issues. Spears describes how NBA players are becoming global personalities.
“That’s what I think the NBA does differently, better than NFL, better than Major League Baseball better than NHL. They embrace their stars and their personality. Wear whatever shoes you want, wear social justice messages on your jersey. I don’t see that happening in the NFL. They didn’t do that, baseball didn’t do that. I think it’s something that’s helped make the NBA popular. It’s going to continue to get interest from kids. It’s just cool. It’s got the coolness factor that the others don’t have.”
In addition to closely following the social justice initiatives from players and the NBA, Spears says the bubble has allowed him to focus on players to watch.
“To see Dwight Howard kind of reinvent himself. He’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame. He’s had a great career. He certainly hasn’t had a lot of challenges in recent years on and off the court. To see him be a major factor in a series of this magnitude in the finals, I think is great,” Spears said.
“The resurgence of Jimmy Butler in the right place that fits him. I like people that I know where they’re coming from, there’s no guessing. And Jimmy Butler is certainly that. Yes, people say I’m one of those people. But that’s also can be an acquired taste. Not everybody can take folks that are straight up all the time, although that’s my preference. It works in Miami. It’s been good to see him find a home where there really isn’t any drama. There’s just basketball. And he’s beloved, he’s a leader and they’re bringing the best out of him,” Spears said.
Spears is also following Tyler Herro, who he feels will have a bright career in the NBA, and acts as an inspiration for many young basketball fans.
“I often talk about the lack of black coaches, and black front office players in the NBA, but I’ve also written about the lack of white American NBA players. The same way I think it’s great when there is a black doctor or a black lawyer or somebody that inspires a young kid who thinks that because they could do it, I could do it. I think it’s great for a lot of white kids to see a white American star. It’s important for kids of all races to see somebody that they can relate to, that can inspire them to do things. Most of the white stars are European. To see a young white star with swag and the shooting ability that’s like on a Ray Allen Reggie Miller level and score big and has such a bright future. I’m excited to see where he goes from here.”
Spears and Andy also discuss LeBron James’ legendary career and the Lakers star Anthony Davis. James is in his 17th season and Davis is in his 8th season with the NBA.
“Anthony Davis healthy is a monster. Now, he’s healthy. He’s playing at the top of his game.”
“The thing is, I kind of hate the guy who’s the greatest debate. Beauty is in the heart of the beholder. Just because we go to a restaurant and you want a steak and I want lobster doesn’t mean that lobster is better than steak. It’s what you prefer. When I start thinking about the greatest players of all time, I’m maybe in the minority, but Magic Johnson comes to mind. The youngest generation didn’t get to see him play live like I did. I was just stunned that somebody six-nine could play four positions and has the skill level that he has. That doesn’t mean Wilt Chamberlain wasn’t great. Or Bill Russell wasn’t great. Or Michael Jordan wasn’t great. Or Kevin Durant wasn’t great, or LeBron James wasn’t great.That’s, that’s just my preference.”
Both Andy and Spears agree that LeBron will be on the Mount Rushmore of NBA legends along with the late Kobe Bryant. Hear Spears share an exclusive story about Bryant and how the Mamba took his legendary mentality off the court.
“He got his jersey retired and he came up and gave me high-fives. On the night that was celebrating him, he thought it was important to come up and give me fives. It says a lot to me about the kind of guy he was, he always wanted to celebrate the people he cared about.”