Sports

Mad Dog Russo went there

Chris “Mad Dog” Russo (l.) and J.J. Redick

Chris “Mad Dog” Russo (l.) and J.J. Redick
Screenshot: ESPN

For Knicks fans born before 1990, Mike and the Mad Dog was a rite of passage for their fandom. The NYC afternoon radio show on WFAN ran from 1989 to 2008 and was a seminal source for New York Knicks talk. In addition, the show inspired many of the current Knicks YouTube creators, like Casey Powell, aka CP The Fanchise, who hosts KnicksFanTV and has cited the show as an inspiration.

Since the 1999 Finals, the James Dolan era has been dominated by what has been known as “LOL Knicks” coverage or “Knicks for clicks.” These pejorative terms describe a type of coverage that frames the Knicks as continuing to be run into the ground for over 20 years. To be fair, the franchise has been one of the worst in all sports since that Finals run. The team suffered its two worst periods under the direction of two Hall of Famers: Isiah Thomas and Phil Jackson.

Mike and the Mad Dog was always a respite from the senseless chatter. It was an honest and fair analysis from two die-hard Knicks fans. Listening to the two of them on drives home from work, just you and their floating voices, Knicks fans would feel a little less alone in their misery. If just for the ride home.

But like the tired, age-old adage, nothing good lasts forever. So recently, Chris Russo, the “Mad Dog” of the duo, has been invited as a recurring guest on ESPN’s First Take with longtime host Stephen A. Smith and former NBA player J.J. Redick.

Russo, known for his fiery takes and penchant for arguing, took no time in letting loose on a diatribe around his distaste for Golden State Warriors player Draymond Green.

“Just shut up and play, will you please [Draymond],” Russo said on the show recently. “America is tired of Draymond Green.”

Redick took umbrage with Russo’s comments and fired back, rather sharply, connecting Russo’s “shut up and play” language with Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s remarks a few years back on Lebron James’ and Kevin Durant’s criticism of then-president Donald Trump.

Ingraham commented on James’ remarks as “barely intelligible” and “ungrammatical” on her Fox News program, The Ingraham Angle.

“It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball,” she said. “Keep the political comments to yourselves. … Shut up and dribble.”

That rallying cry was an anthem for Fox News viewers, conservatives, and Baby Boomers, until former NBA player Enes Kanter used his platform to call out China’s human rights violations amid the league’s partnership with Nike, where their products are made. Kanter took multiple laps around the Fox News circuits and was lauded among many of the same voices which echoed Ingraham’s comments for James to “shut up and dribble.” It’s less about the messenger and more about the message.

This brings us back to Russo, who has apparent contempt for Green. Redick rightly pointed out that Green has a weekly Apple podcast, The Draymond Green Show, one of the more popular player-hosted podcasts. Redick also noted Green being the newest member of the hugely successful Inside the NBA show on TNT, which is considered by most to be the greatest sports show of all time. It should be noted that Inside the NBA also features Charles Barkley, a player who was once hated by conservatives for his outspoken views and bold personality, until the last few years, when he’s said things Republicans agree on and can share on Facebook, showing everyone they have a Black friend. Take for instance Ferguson, when he called looters “scumbags.” He has also mimicked conservative talking points by claiming the media as race-obsessed while making pro-cop statements during protests against police brutality and killings.

Only Russo himself knows where his comments stem from. While they reek of prejudice, they could also stem from another self-serving place. After years of having his words taken out of context and used as clickbait, Green has taken the media into his own hands to write his own narrative. After he was ejected for a lame Flagrant 2 in Game 1 against the Memphis Grizzlies, Green ignored the mainstream media and went on his podcast to discuss the ejection. It’s plausible that Russo and other media members covering the playoffs realized the power players like Green have. NBA players no longer have to rely on the media to have their voices heard. Even the lowest-paid player can afford a microphone and a web domain. They can record their podcast and disseminate their opinions free of the press.

Many Americans have become distrusting of the mainstream media, weary of spin from both sides of the political aisle. This has extended to NBA players. Green wanted to control his narrative, and by doing so, he exposed just how irrelevant voices like Russo might become.

Redick responded to Russo perfectly, without mentioning race. In fact, it was Russo who mentioned race first as a defense that his comments had nothing to do with Green’s skin color, even though Redick had said nothing about race up until that point. Redick had linked Russo’s diatribe to Fox News, perhaps there was a Freudian slip on Russo’s part to defend something he had thought, perhaps subconsciously, but had not said out loud.

But it goes both ways. Conservatives are not the only hypocrites in our divisive and toxic political discourse. Conservatives rightly roast the shrieking harpies on the left who argue for inclusivity and equality while remaining silent and championing censorship. Russo’s comments echo the thin skin of Boomers who want opinionated, outspoken Black athletes to shut up and just play basketball. Unless, that is, they say something they agree with.

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